3 June 2017

Hugh Curwen (2)


I had better make it plain that, in cultural terms, Curwen was Archbishop of an English see. An Englishman himself, he went to a Dublin which, socially, politically, and religiously defined itself as part of the 'Englishry', as opposed to the 'Irishry' beyond the Pale ... in the rest of Gaelic or Gaelicised Ireland. The whole of Dublin's ecclesiastical structure was English; and one very amusing example of how this tension between the Englishry and the Irishry played out is provided by Curwen's predecessor, Archbishop Browne.

Browne, rather like Thomas Cranmer, had been so far infected by the new heresies that he had contracted a form of marriage, and maintained his floosy on a remote episcopal manor. But, when in 1541 Henry VIII attempted to reinforce the discipline of clerical celibacy, this left Browne in a very difficult position. His enemies knew of his marriage, and were able to use it to blackmail him in terms of policy. Of course, it was never in their interest to go for the 'nuclear option' of sending a full account to London; once you blow your information, you lose all hold over the victim of your blackmail. So matters were ... adjusted. Mrs Browne was disposed of to become Mrs Bathe; the archiepiscopal bastards were provided for. When the reign of Edward Tudor began, and clerical marriage was legalised, Browne heaved a great sigh of relief; the new King was of such tender years that the reign was clearly destined to be a long one. Mrs Bathe was sent for, and resumed the dignity of Mrs Browne.

But of course, the pious stripling was soon assumed to his eternal reward, and in the Marian restoration, Browne had to do some very nippy footwork with Cardinal Pole to regularise his position ... and Mrs Browne reverted to Bathehood. (Yes, I know you want to know what became of her ... after Bathe, she had three more husbands and lived until the 1590s. Clearly, she had been a young and lusty wench when first she graced the primatial couch. What a shame that no portrait of her is known to survive. She encapsulates the problems involved in gambling upon one's guesses during the decades of the Tricky Tudors.)

The significance of all this is that clerical celibacy was not merely an element in traditional Catholic discipline, but was something even closer to home: one of those things that the 'Englishry' of the Pale saw as distinguishing them from the Gaelic culture of the rest of Ireland ... where concubinage was rife among the clergy*. Celibacy was the proof that the Dublin clergy were 'English' rather than 'Irish'. It set the seal on a culture where English language, English law, and English cathedral structures (and the Sarum 'use' at the altar) were the order of the day. It was part of a public demonstration of the superiority of the English culture of the Pale over the despised barbarism perceived to reign in Gaelic Ireland.


*I once did a little research into the Medieval parochial clergy of the diocese of Ardfert, alias Kerry, the Kingdom of the West, where never ending 'dispensations from the impediment of bastardy' punctuate the succession of clergy who were obviously inheriting the family profession and business, generation after generation, from Dad.


Banshee said...

Re: generations, it could also have been one of the clans that maintained Irish legal marriages that did not fit canon law. For example, the wheeler dealer marriages that lasted only a year or two, for some political advantage or in an attempt to get kids to cement clan relations. Then the contract ended and the man and woman married someone else.

If you read Irish genealogies and calculate how many times noble people were getting married and having kids without previous spouses dying, a lot of kids would have been totally legal in brehon law but bastards in church law. The Irish concern was whether your parents were free or unfree, and what level of contractual obligation existed. The fostering system meant that your parents probably did not raise you anyway, so Mom and Dad's divorce was not supposed to affect you, other than adding complications to your parents' legal positions.

But yup, parishes and monasteries were often inherited by nephews or sons, but family monasteries were a European thing too.

There were also the abbots whose clans drafted them as kings in time of war against the Norse, because nobody more suitable existed within the three degrees of the adult male kinship. One of the guys actually managed to wring a promise out of his clan that they would not pressure him to marry or have kids, because that would break his vows of celibacy. I guess the others just had to deal with annoyance, since they neither married nor had kids.

Banshee said...

I forgot the polygyny thing. Even in late medieval times there were Irish men who had multiple legal secondary wives living in the household, even ones of high rank. So again, religious law would have regarded the kids as bastards, even though they were eligible for all the secular stuff.

E sapelion said...

All the dispensations from bastardy that I have seen for Englishmen specify the condition that the son be NOT permitted to inherit his father's benefice. But I have only been looking at a limited period.

El Codo said...

The Welsh had a cosy arrangement called a "clas" where married monks clubbed together. Probably safer.