4 April 2019

Whatever happened to Sir John Tregear?

Fr Tregear* would be the shadowiest of shadowy Tudor clerics if he had not done one very remarkable thing. During the reign of Good Queen Mary, he produced a manuscript translation of some Homilies produced for use in the London diocese under the auspices of Bishop Bonner, and which still today have catechetical force. He did a translation of them into Cornish. So here, only a few years ofter the worthy yeomen of Cornwall (and Devon and Oxfordshire and several other shires) had risen in rebellion against the government of Edward Tudor, we find a Cornish priest doing his bit to catechise the people of the Duchy by means of the ancestral language that many of them still spoke, and to fortify them with every resource of the New Learning against the resurgence of heresy.

Tregear was apparently an Anglican papalist. He was made Vicar of St Allen in Cornwall in 1544 and died, still vicar, in 1583. So he was not one of those whose heroic witness in 1559 led to their deprivation; he was not one of the academic and Humanist high-flyers of Duffy's glittering Marian Church who were able to go off to or return to foreign universities. He was, it seems, a simple pastor (not a graduate) who stuck around. How many inches of his head he put above the Elizabethan parapet we are unlikely ever to know. He may have been another Parson Trichay (whose accomodations we read in Duffy's Morebath). But, curiously, when he died, Tregear, unlike Trichay, was not buried in his own parish, but in St Newlyn East.

One wonders if, perhaps, Elizabeth Tudor's unwholesome writ failed to run in West Cornwall, as it failed to in other parts of the 'Celtic' fringe (her government had to reconcile itself to many painful anomalies in Ireland, outside the Pale). Perhaps Tregear was never deprived because he never refused an oath because no oath was ever tendered to him. Even in the Close at Exeter, right under the nose of government agents, there were blurred edges. Conservative men had endured the changes between 1533 and 1552 because they happened gradually, even if with increasing momentum, over two decades. Now they had to say Yes or No to the whole package more or less overnight, But ... the regime was not particularly stable ... so why not, before putting yourself out of your preferments, wait ... prevaricate ... a little ...? The Bishop and the Dean of Exeter were deprived in August and the Treasurer before the end of 1559; yet the fate of Thomas Nutcombe, the Subdean, is a little mysterious. He was installed in the last year of Queen Mary and in February 1560 a successor was appointed 'because of his deprivation'. But that clergyman seems never to have been installed and Nutcombe occurs in the returns of 1560 and 1561/2. Not until 1566 was Nutcombe deprived for the second time (and succeeded, this time, by a clergyman who did manage to get his hands on his preferment). Another Marian appointment, the Precentor, is recorded in 1560 and 1561/2 as staying at a university outside England (could it be that if they couldn't find you to tender an oath, it wasn't so easy to deprive you?). His successor was not appointed until 1571. Most interestingly of all, the Chancellor, Leveson, made his peace with the new order and hung around until, like Tregear, he died in 1583. But in 1561 he was found to be harbouring two recusant former colleagues, prebendaries of Exeter Cathedral, in his house in Hereford, where they were part of a very in-your-face recusant colony which flaunted its religion in public processions and ceremonies, and where it is clear that the Government did not yet have religion under any control.**

Did Tregear just carry on as if nothing had happened? The Vicar of Kilkhampton, with chutzpah and wonderful  faux naivete declared in 1584 that he had "never heard" of the Prayer Book. (The Sarum) Mass was still being said publicly in St Columb Major in 1590. Is this the tip of a very agreeable iceberg? Did Tregear perhaps take the oaths, and then ... just carry on as if he hadn't? In 1586, a list was made of some twenty Cornish parish clergy who were in very much that position - clerical 'Church Papists'. Or did he relocate to a recusant safe haven in Newlyn without resigning his benefice? After all, why should he make it easier for the government to intrude a Protestant into his parsonage and his stipend?


D H Frost, Glasney's Parish Clergy and the Tregear Manuscript, Cornish Studies 15, 2007.
** See Volume XII of the new Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae (Le Neve), published 2007.


Ben of the Bayou said...

"Did Tregear perhaps take the oaths, and then ... just carry on as if he hadn't?" We all remember well, of course, that the Jesuits were heavily involved in supporting the Catholics during this time. The Jeuits, brave and sometimes heroic men, to be sure, but who are also rather famous for a moral theory of "say one thing and think another."

Thorfinn said...

Knox's "Let Dons Delight" -- perhaps you have it memorized, or internalized, considering your position! -- was indeed a delightful perspective on the various attitudes toward prevarication or temporization in the Elizabethan era and beyond.

I am sure much of the subtlety escaped me, having neither laid eyes on Oxford nor (particularly) studied English ecclesiastical history, but still a fun and thought-provoking read even on the surface.

Oliver Nicholson said...

I seem to recall a ledger stone in Exeter Cathedral to an 18th century Canon called Canon Nutcombe Nutcombe. I rather assume that the family comes from Nutcombe in Clayhanger parish, next to Ashbrittle right up on the Somerset frontier.