Chwyldro! Chartist events this autumn

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It’s going to be a Chartist autumn …

Sponsored by Our Chartist Heritage (OCH) and CHARTISM e-Mag:

10th Annual Newport Chartist Convention 2016
Saturday November 5th     09.30 – 16.30
Venue: JOHN FROST SCHOOL,
Lighthouse Road, Newport, NP10 8YD

The school (formerly Duffryn High School) is marking its adoption of the name of the iconic Newport Chartist leader
by hosting this year’s convention.
For programme details, location map and to book your place

GO TO  https://chartist-convention-2016.eventbrite.co.uk

Tickets are £10 with lunch
£7 without lunch
£3 student with lunch
£0 student without

This year’s keynote speaker is Professor Malcolm Chase (Leeds University), who will be exploring Welsh Chartism in the aftermath of the Newport Rising of November 1839
Throughout the day, pupils will pay tribute to the Chartists through musical and other artistic contributions.  Other speakers include: Dr. Katrina Navickas, Peter Strong, Dr. Elin Jones, Catrin Edwards, Sarah Richards and Les James.

 

ALSO JOHN  FROST is ‘APPEARING’ in the Australian made Film

‘DEATH OR LIBERTY’  touring SOUTH WALES
24th & 25th November 2016

Dr. Tony Moore (Monash University, Australia), author and film maker will introduce and discuss his film at Three Venues:

CARDIFF, NEWPORT and MONMOUTH

There will be a special OPEN FORUM held at GWENT ARCHIVES (Ebbw Vale) to discuss development of a transnational POLITICAL CONVICTS PROJECT attended by Tony Moore and other Australian guests.

See link below for full details of this Tour and the forum
and how to order your tickets

death-or-liberty

And finally:

Prof Paul Pickering, Dean of the Australian National University, will give a paper on the implication of Chartism on the international stage on Friday, 4 November at 7.30 pm at the Newport City Campus of the University of South Wales. This was arranged by Dr Richard Allen and is sponsored by the Humanities Research Institute of the University.


Knowing where you live

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It is just a bit disconcerting to realise that you can live somewhere for getting on for 40 years and not know everything about it. First there was the little house in the big woods: walking through the top of Castell Coch woods above my house in Tongwynlais, at just the right time of year, I realised that this

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was not upcast from an iron mine but the remains of an old cottage, built long-house style on a platform dug into the slope. Once you know it’s there you recognise it even when it’s covered with a deep carpet of wild garlic.

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Then it was the slope between the castle and the mini golf course. From the castle it looks as though the ground simply falls away steeply through the trees. But walking along the path above the golf course I realised there was something on the other side. Scramble up the bank, down the precipitous slope on the other side and you find this –

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a deep cutting running for several hundred yards

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terminating in a cliff face

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then above it a smaller cutting running up to the castle.

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I knew all about the quarrying that created the dramatic cliffs below the castle to the west. According to some correspondence in the Bute estate archives, an agent from Dowlais travelling to Cardiff in the early nineteenth century noticed that blasting in the quarry below the castle was shaking the ruins to their foundations. He contacted the Marquess of Bute who ordered the quarrymen to stop. But no-one seems to have recorded anything about quarrying on the other side of the castle. Was it digging for stone – or was it more digging for iron?

Back to the maps …

The Cross of Destiny

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Sometimes it’s the things that everyone knows that turn out to be the most puzzling – and also the most illuminating. A couple of years ago we had an interesting discussion on the medieval-religion Jiscmail list (http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/medieval-religion) about the Croes Naid, the fragment of the True Cross which was the most valued part of the regalia of the Welsh kings of Gwynedd. The name has been variously translated as the Cross of Destiny or the Cross of Refuge (by the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Wales’s equivalent of the OED: see http://anglonormandictionary.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/word-of-month-croes-naid.html and http://www.welsh-dictionary.ac.uk/ ). Seized by Edward I after his defeat of Llywelyn and Dafydd ap Gruffydd, it ended up in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where a carved boss still depicts its reliquary. But its journey there was anything but simple.

For Christmas my lovely husband gave me a book on the graveyards of the City of London (how well he knows me). I want to visit them all. We made a start on a recent visit by taking a line from Bunhill Fields to St Olave Hart Street. On the way we passed St Helen’s Bishopsgate: nice little graveyard, now a garden between high office blocks and in the shadow of the Gherkin.

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People were coming out of the lunch-time Bible study – men in expensive tailoring, students in jeans, lots and lots of people. In we went. The church was still full and buzzing, people eating sandwiches, other tourists wandering around, a couple of meetings in the transept. Eventually a welcomer came up to us, answered a few questions and lent us a copy of the church guide book. (Yes, we did go and buy a copy of our own.) The welcoming strategy was Good – let people look around first, approach them with a welcome, ask a few open-ended questions, decide they were academics, offer some literature, let them get on with it. Then she discovered we were Welsh and introduced us to the minister. He is Welsh. He speaks Welsh. We still get everywhere.

St Helen’s (formerly the nunnery of St Helen) is one of the City of London’s few surviving medieval churches, with a stunning collection of medieval and post-medieval tombs and a remarkable claim in the guide book. We were told that in 1285 Edward I gave the church a cross called Neit which he had ‘found’ in Wales. So if the Croes Naid was in Bishopsgate, what was in Windsor?

Back home, I sent a hopeful email enquiry to the church. I was worried that relics and relic cults could be tricky for evangelical Anglicans but the current and previous building managers got back to me with encouraging speed. The guide book was based on the Survey of London volume – which referenced Edward I’s wardrobe accounts and the Rolls Series edition of his chronicles – then I found my notes from the earlier discussion on medieval-religion with some online articles and a few more references to edited texts. Back to the literature. I’m still happiest if I have some paperwork.

We still don’t know where the Croes was before it was surrendered to Edward I. In Celtic Britain and the Pilgrim Movement (p 100) Griffith Hartwell Jones says it was on Llywelyn’s body when he was killed, but he gives no source for this and the sources he quotes for the hand-over of the Croes don’t say where it was found. Personal reliquaries were common, and it is quite possible that Llywelyn would have wanted this precious relic as near to him as possible: but if he was killed by an English raiding party (and his body was subsequently mutilated and his head taken and placed on Traitor’s Gate in London) how did the relic remain in Welsh hands to be surrendered the following year? Other traditions suggest it was kept by the Cistercian monks of Aberconwy. It was certainly at Conwy that it was handed over to Edward. The Aberconwy community had been moved from Rhedynog-felen, near Clynnog, by Llywelyn’s grandfather Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, who wanted them nearer to his palace at Deganwy. Llywelyn ab Iorwerth himself took the monastic habit at Aberconwy shortly before his death and was buried there.

The Welsh Rolls of Edward I describe the Croes being handed over at Conwy by ‘Einion son of Ynor, Llywelyn, Dafydd, Meilyr, Gronw, Deio and Tegnared’: as a reward they were released from any other royal service. (Rot. Wal. 2 Edw. 1 m. 1; Rymer, Foedera, i, 63). On the other hand … according to the chronicle of William Rishanger, a monk of St Albans (online at https://archive.org/stream/willelmirishange00rish#page/104/mode/2up ), it was Dafydd ap Gruffydd’s secretary who brought the relic to Edward. This was presumably the Hugh ab Ithel who was given a scholarship at Oxford as a reward (Hartwell Jones found this in the royal wardrobe accounts for 1284). The royal warrant recording its surrender stated that the relic had been passed from prince to prince down to the time of Dafydd ap Gruffydd. It looks rather as though the relic had been in safe keeping somewhere, but not necessarily at Conwy, which was in Edward’s hands by the end of 1282. The rulers of Gwynedd had close links with the abbey of Cymmer and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was buried at Cwm-hir. Both are possible candidates.

Dafydd was still alive when the Croes was handed over. In September he suffered the horrific death of a traitor, being hanged, drawn and quartered, the four parts of his body sent to the four quarters of the kingdom and his head placed on the Tower of London. All this rather puts paid to Edward’s claim to have ‘found’ the relic in Wales. This was more than a simple surrender: it was forcible translation of the relic, on a par with Edward’s ‘acquisition’ of the Stone of Scone a few years later.

Edward took the Croes to London in the spring of 1285 and carried it in a great procession to Westminster Abbey on 30 April (Flores Historiarum iii, 63). A few days later, on 4 May, with another great procession, he took it to St Helen’s Bishopsgate and presented it to the community of nuns there (Chronicles of the Reigns of Edw. I and Edw. II (Rolls Series) i pp 93-4). We have no idea why the nuns were the recipients of this stunning piece of royal generosity: it may have seemed appropriate, as the community was dedicated to St Helen, mother of Constantine and finder of the Cross. The first mention of St Helen in connection with the Croes Naid was not until 1354, when Edward III petitioned the Pope for a relaxation of penance for those visiting St George’s Chapel. In the petition he said that the chapel contained a cross brought by St Helen and destined for England. It is possible that this reflects an earlier tradition linking the Croes with Helen: she appears in Welsh legends, including the Dream of Macsen Wledig in the Mabinogion. In his Historia Regum Britanniae Geoffrey of Monmouth had included the story that Helen brought a fragment of the True Cross to Britain, but did not identify it as the Croes Naid.

But Edward’s generosity was a fragile thing, and the Croes did not stay in Bishopsgate. The priory was still being described as thepriory of Holy Cross and St. Helen in 1299 (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol9/pt1/pp1-18#fnn33 ), but by 1296 Edward had reclaimed the relic. That year, he took it on his Scottish campaign, and it was on the Croes that Wishart, bishop of Glasgow, was forced to swear fealty to the king. Edward may initially have intended to ‘borrow’ the Croes, but once it was back in his custody he hung on to it. We can trace its movements round southern and eastern England in the royal wardrobe accounts for 1300 (online at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=C4QPAAAAIAAJ&pg=PR1&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false ): at Windsor on 2 Feb (p. 28), at Stratford Langthorne Abbey on 3 April (p. 32), at the Dominican friary at Stamford (Lincs) on 3 May (p. 35) and in the chapel of Wisbech Castle (Cambs) on 19 May (p. 36). On each of these occasions Edward offered money to the Croes and to a thorn from the Crown of Thorns. Was this another relic which had been surrendered to him in Wales, or had he acquired it elsewhere? The Croes went north to the Scottish borders in the autumn of 1300: in September it was at the abbey of Holm Cultram, near the Solway Firth. Edward took it to Scotland again on his final campaign in 1307. After his death it was kept in the Tower of London until Edward III gave it to Windsor.

It is just possible that the Croes was returned to Wales for a while. A story in the collection of miracles of St Thomas Cantilupe describes an incident in Conwy in 1303. (Susan Ridyard and Jeremy Ashbee have just finished a study of the story as part of a larger work on the miracles of St Thomas Cantilupe. Susan Ridyard has kindly sent me the final draft of this fascinating study, with all its circumstantial detail of everyday life and social tension in what was still a garrison town.) A small child fell into the castle ditch and was thought to be dead. According to some of the subsequent depositions a burgess of the town vowed to St Thomas that if the child recovered he would go on pilgrimage to St Thomas’s tomb in Hereford. Immediately the boy recovered. But an alternative version of the same story credited his recovery to the Holy Cross of the church of Conwy ‘for which God very often works miracles in the town’. The Holy Cross of Conwy may have been one of Wales’s many miracle-working rood carvings, though it is surprising that no poetry mentioning it survives. Alternatively, it could be a memory of the Croes Naid, recalling either its time at Aberconwy Abbey or its return to Wales on one of Edward’s visits. The last of those visits, though, was in the spring of 1295 (according to the List & Index Society’s Itinerary of Edward I). By 1303 the Croes was back in England. It is still possible, though, that what Conwy had was a contact relic, possibly something that had housed the Croes and still retained some of its power.

The Scots have managed to get the Stone of Scone back but the Croes Naid was almost certainly destroyed during the reign of Edward VI. Does it matter? Should the Welsh still feel sore that a scrap of wood was taken from Conwy when we lost so much else as well? Supposing it turned up at Windsor … or supposing we found the famous statue of the Virgin Mary, hidden at Penrhys … or the bones of St David … what would it mean to us now?

Medieval Trelech

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In the summer of 2003 the Gwent County History Association went to Trelech to look at Ray Howell’s excavations there. The late great Mike Anthony spoke very convincingly on his ideas on the layout of the medieval borough and subsequently sent us an outline of his theories – click on the link below for his article.

I have a cunning plan, my lord

Mike’s death in 2010, at a tragically early age, deprived Welsh medieval archaeology of one of its most enthusiastic advocates. Mike worked as a librarian before coming to what was then the Gwent College of Higher Education in 1994 to study for the MA in Celto-Roman Studies. He went on to do an M. Phil. on medieval Welsh ceramics and worked for some years as a freelance archaeologist. He was then appointed by the Council of British Archaeology to supervise planning consents for listed buildings in Wales. Tragically, he was then diagnosed with motor neurone disease. He dealt with his illness by ignoring it when he could and working round it when he had to. With the aid of a squad of volunteers, the help of his wife Fay and the wholehearted support and assistance of the CBA he continued working until very near his death.

Though not religious, Mike was fascinated by the history of religious belief and church archaeology. We worked together on one of his later projects, an online database and survey of medieval tomb carvings in Wales. I have carried on the project: it’s somehow fitting that a survey of tomb carvings should have become a memorial to him.

Grosmont: borough and village street

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We had some epic days out with the Gwent County History Association. In 2004 a day school on the history of Grosmont was followed by a tour of the ‘village’ . Grosmont should probably be called a village now, but it was until the nineteenth century a fully-fledged borough with a mayor and a market hall. It was one of the boroughs of the Marcher lordship of the Three Castles, between Monmouth and Abergavenny. Grosmont Castle was the one that the lords used as a residence –  mainly as a hunting lodge – and the first Duke of Leicester was called Henry of Grosmont because he was born there in about 1310. The town has a suitably large and impressive church with some fascinating tomb carvings – more on those again.

Here are the notes which local historian Philip Morgan, who guided us round the town, sent us afterwards for the Newsletter

Grosmont Borough and the Village Street

The Abergavenny Pax

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More from the newsletter archive of the Gwent County History Association.

An insight into medieval piety

Since this was written, the Abergavenny Pax and the Kemeys Inferior crucifix have been moved to our National History Museum at St Fagans. The Kemeys crucifix was the inspiration for the newly carved crucifix in St Teilo’s Church at the National History Museum.

As part of the Experience of Worship project (http://www.experienceofworship.org.uk/) a lot of liturgical artefacts were commissioned, including a rather simpler version of the pax. We used this in the two iterations of the Mass that we did as part of the project. Those of us who were part of the congregation were encouraged to work on roles that we could play. I spent some time as a rather obstreporous pilgrim, then moved on to be a servant in the big house. One of the singers from the afternoon services was in the congregation for Mass and decided to cast himself as a bedesman who had been influenced by Reformed thinking. As a result he didn’t actually kiss the pax when it was offered to him. I decided to take him up on this and (in role as a trusted old servant of the lady of the manor) said I’d seen him just pretending to kiss it. He admitted that he’d had three seconds of absolute panic thinking he was going to be hauled before the courts and accused of heresy, before he realised it was only play-acting.

We all learned a lot from the project – about the dynamics of the medieval congregation, about the mixture of deep devotion and very secular concerns, and about the logistics of medieval worship.

 

Llangwm School

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Continuing with extracts from the newsletter archive of the Gwent County History Association:

Children of the Parish

Gwent historians owe a great deal to the Rev. William Price of Llangwm, the late nineteenth-century clergyman who was responsible for restoring Llangwm Uchaf church and reconstructing its magnificent rood screen. (He seems to have lost the Doom wall painting in the process but hey, no-one’s perfect.) But William Price also did a great deal for the secular life of the community in which he worked – notably by establishing and promoting the first village school. This study of the early years of the school was written by a student at the then University of Wales, Newport, Lisa Drewett, as part of a module on Reading Everyday Lives.

The Politics of the Royal Bed

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… or ‘the politics of The Royal Bed’ – this being the title of Sion Eirian’s English-language adaptation of the Saunders Lewis play Siwan. Yes, it’s a play that puts the female perspective centre stage; yes it’s a good part for a mature woman, yes it’s about medieval Wales, yes Sion Eirian’s translation shares all this with a wider audience. Well worth going to the premiere at Newport’s Riverfront theatre in mid February, or catching it on its Welsh tour.

But. I can’t help feeling it’s a pity that modern drama about the period still focusses on Siwan’s affair with the young Marcher lord William de Breos and its emotional fallout. It’s the same episode that forms the centrepiece of Edith Pargeter (aka Ellis Peters)’s novel The Green Branch and Sharon Kay Penman’s Here be Dragons. There was so much more to Siwan than that. Illegitimate daughter of King John of England, she was married to Llywelyn ab Iorwerth of Wales when she was only 15, as part of a peace treaty. Her knowledge of the framework of power at the English court was invaluable to her husband. She was able to act as his channel of communication first with John and then with her half-brother Henry III, and she was a major power behind the scenes in a crucial period of the struggle for Welsh independence.

It’s a pity to neglect all that in favour of a love affair.

‘The Disaster of our Estate’: Anthony Kitchin and the diocese of Llandaff

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Persevering with the rescuing of articles from the Gwent County History Association’s Newsletter: this is roughly the text of a lecture to the Friends of Llandaff Cathedral based on my article ‘The Cloister and the Hearth: Anthony Kitchin and Hugh Jones, two Reformation bishops of Llandaff’ in the Journal of Welsh Religious History vol 3, 1995. The article has notes of all the sources I have used. At the end is the original Newsletter article, the rather pathetic survey of his property at the time of his death.

Anthony Kitchin is not perhaps the most auspicious of our bishops. He served as bishop of Llandaff all through the religious turmoil of the middle of the sixteenth century, under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth. He has been repeatedly accused by historians of greed, ignorance and ineptitude as well as total lack of principle. My lecture was therefore in some senses the speech for the defence.

The case for prosecution stands in the outline of his career. A monk from the great Benedictine abbey of Westminster, he rose to become abbot of Eynsham, near Oxford. He surrendered his abbey without protest in 1538, showing none of the courage in resistance offered by men like John Houghton of the London Charterhouse and the abbots of Glastonbury, Reading and Colchester. Having been made bishop of Llandaff in 1545, he clung to office through the reigns of Edward and Mary, again showing none of the brave resistance of Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley, or of the Edwardian bishop of St David’s, Robert Ferrar. He was one of only two Marian bishops to accept the Elizabethan settlement (the other, frequently forgotten, was John Salisbury of Sodor and Man). On the face of it, then, his defence is a virtually impossible task.

We cannot even claim that Kitchin was the ‘reclusive child of the cloister’ described by Lawrence Thomas in The Reformation in the Old Diocese of Llandaff – that he could not cope with the challenges of the world outside his monastery. This is a fundamental misinterpretation of the religious life in the late middle ages. As abbot of Eynsham, Kitchin managed a budget several times that of his future diocese. Indeed, his pension after the Dissolution was only a little less than the total income of the diocese of Llandaff. (He surrendered his pension when he took on the diocese – which I think incidentally puts paid to the charge of greed.)

Nor had he a naive young man when he embarked on the religious life. He was aged about 34 when, in 1511, he entered the abbey of Westminster. He celebrated his first mass in 1517, at the age of 40. By this time, his intellectual abilities had already been noticed and he had begun his studies at Gloucester College, the Benedictine college in Oxford, where he proceeded B.D. in 1525. Though a competent theologian (the charge of ignorance will not stand, either), he was always an administrator rather than an academic. The year after his graduation, he was made prior of Gloucester College, a post he held until he was elected abbot of Eynsham in 1532. He did not however take his doctorate until 1538, shortly before he surrendered his abbey to the Crown. He may have been planning for a career change: or, like many of my best students, he may have been one of those whose serious academic work was done at the end rather than the begining of his working life.

The headship of Gloucester College was a challenging post, even for a mature student like Kitchin. Then as now, university life offered unaccustomed freedom to young students, even if they were monks. They had to balance obedience to their vows and to the rule of their order, and the regular performance of the liturgy, with intellectual freedom, the demands of study and the social opportunities of university life. In addition, the 1520s presented particular challenges. Reformed theology was beginning to filter into English universities, and was being met with increasing hostility by the establishment. The prior of students needed considerable pastoral skill to guide his charges through these temptations. He also needed negotiating ability. Gloucester College was not so much a unfied institution as a loose federation, a hall with individual ‘staircases’ owned or leased by particular monasteries. Groups of students from the greater abbeys had their own superiors, but Kitchin had to exercise supervision over all of them. He was also required to impose some sort of authority over the Benedictine monks who for various reasons were studying at other colleges. This was presumably where he developed the ability to negotiate, to compromise and to give in on some issues in order to preserve his priorities, the ability which has earned him so much criticism.

In later life, Kitchin was undoubtedly conservative in his religious sympathies. At Oxford, however, he responded to the intellectual excitement of the new theology and was even involved in the clandestine trade in Protestant books. As abbot of Eynsham, he was active in the crucial Reformation parliament of 1529-36. However, the reformers’ attack on his chosen way of life may have disquieted him. There were rumours early in 1537 that he and the abbot of Osney had been involved in support for the Pilgrimage of Grace. They were accused of unlawful assembly and disrespect to the King’s commission and of associating with other supporters of the Pilgrimage. The whole story is confusing and obscure and depends on the testimony of an informer, John Parkins, who may have been motivated by personal grudges.

Kitchin surrendered his abbey with apparent willingness in December of the following year. He has been accused of cowardice in this as in other things, but it is at least arguable that he proceeded from conviction. He had evidently made his peace with the Crown: he received a generous pension and was made a royal chaplain in ordinary. This was little more than an honorary post. He was in his sixties, and could have looked forward to a blameless retirement. Instead, a new career was ahead of him.

Like the other Welsh dioceses, Llandaff had been inadequately served by its bishops for generations. They were pitifully poor in comparison with the English dioceses, and had customarily been regarded as little extras for royal servants and abbots of the greater English religious houses. It was hardly to be expected that these outsiders would spend much time in Wales, though some bishops of Llandaff are known to have visited the episcopal palace at Mathern – as near to England, geographically and culturally, as one could get while still technically in a Welsh diocese. The most extreme example is perhaps George of Athequa, bishop of Llandaff at the time of Henry’s break with Rome. He was Catherine of Aragon’s confessor and one of her most loyal servants: but he spoke neither English nor Welsh, and he may only have visited his diocese once, while attempting to flee the realm after Catherine’s death.

Robert Holgate, who replaced Athequa in 1538, was the former master of the Gilbertine order. A distinguished theologian and capable administrator and a dedicated reformer, he was also yet another absentee with heavy governmental responsibilities elsewhere. In Holgate’s case, this meant the presidency of the Council in the North, which kept him away from his diocese for most of his time in office. A conscientious man, he attempted to keep in touch with his Welsh diocese through his commissary, and appointed as suffragan John Bird, bishop of Penrith: but when Bird was sent on an embassy to Germany in 1539 and appointed to the diocese of Bangor on his return, Llandaff was left without a resident bishop again until Kitchen’s appointment.

Holgate was eventually promoted to the archbishopric of York in 1545, and it is hard to see why Kitchin was chosen to replace him. He was however appointed at the height of the conservative, Catholic revival at the end of Henry VIII’s reign. Holgate’s reforming ideas had had little or no impact on his Welsh diocese, and may even have been counter-productive. After his earlier interest in reform, Kitchin had become just the sort of moderate conservative to appeal to the ageing king. If his conciliatory abilities had been recognised, he may even have been appointed as a troubleshooter in an attempt to win over a stubborn and difficult diocese.

Kitchin’s career as bishop has been fully documented, notably by Lawrence Thomas, Glanmor Williams and J. Gwynfor Jones. It is however possible to suggest an interpretation of his policies radically different from the traditional one. The strongest criticisms have often been directed at his mismanagement of the diocesan estates. We can easily dismiss his early seventeenth-century successor Francis Godwin’s claim that Kitchin found the diocese one of the wealthiest in the land and left it one of the poorest. This seems at first sight to owe more to Godwin’s second career as a science fiction writer than to his main occupation as a church historian. It is best interpreted as an argument in support of of his plea to be allowed to retain the sub-deanery of Exeter as well as several parishes on his appointment to Llandaff. In this context, it is worth remembering that the ‘greedy’ Kitchin held no preferments in commendam and no Crown office. This makes him virtually unique among bishops of Llandaff before the last century. It is also worth remembering that he sacrificed his pension and retirement for Llandaff, and that he died in considerable poverty. Godwin was himself accused of having resorted to bribes – the dreadful sin of simony – to secure both his appointment at Llandaff (and why did he want it so much, if it was worthless?) and his eventual removal to Hereford. Most of his time at Llandaff was spent working on his ecclesiastical history and ignoring the growing problem of recusancy. Not a very reliable witness, you might think …

The mid-sixteenth century was a period of sustained pressure on the estates of the secular church. Henry VIII began the process by a series of unfavourable ‘exchanges’ which deprived the wealthier dioceses of some of their lands and left them increasingly dependent on the exploitation of parochial income. During Edward’s reign, the increasingly straitened condition of government finances led both Somerset and Northumberland to demand the surrender of diocesan estates on the grounds that they were inappropriate to a reformed episcopacy. Meanwhile, the aristocracy and higher gentry, again led by Somerset and Northumberland, were demanding grants and beneficial leases of church property for their personal benefit.

The diocese of Llandaff was abysmally poor by English standards and had little land to lose, though this did of course make it more important to retain what there was. In fact, Kitchin did this with some success. Virtually no land was alienated outright during his episcopate. Generations of largely absentee bishops had leased out the diocesan estates at rents which had become ossified by tradition. After a century during which land values in Wales collapsed in the wake of famine, plague and civil war, the sixteenth century was a period of inflation and rising rents. The worst that Kitchin did was to fail to recognise this, and it was a failing which was shared by most of his contemporaries. Even the episcopal manor of Llandaff, leased in perpetuity to the Matthews family of Llandaff in 1553, was let subject to the traditional rent. However, most of Kitchin’s leases were for fixed terms and, in effect, by leasing out his lands for long terms and at the customary rents, he made them far less attractive to the Crown and the lay aristocracy. If this was deliberate policy on Kitchin’s part, it was extremely cunning; if it was accidental, he was fortunate, though it was not a policy which would recommend him to his immediate successors.

The only major permanent loss which the diocese suffered in the sixteenth century was its London residence, Llandaff Palace in the Strand. This Kitchin was compelled to surrender to the duke of Somerset, who demolished it (along with the houses of Worcester and Carlisle) to build the original Somerset House. The London palaces were however a diminishing asset, often in poor repair and hideously expensive to maintain. Norwich Palace was described as a ‘pigsty’ in 1528. The same could be said of the episcopal palace at Llandaff, virtually in ruins as a result of the complete neglect of a series of absentee bishops. It would have taken far more than the diocese was worth to restore these two houses.

The palace at Mathern had been kept in some sort of repair as a convenient base for occasional episcopal visits, and it was here that Kitchin lived. He has been accused of leasing even this central part of his estate, but it was certainly at Mathern that he died, and his successor lived there. The lease was to his neighbour William Lewis, son of Henry Lewis of St Pierre. The traditional view of the local gentry as enemies of the church in the sixteenth century is being re-assessed, and many of the activities which have traditionally been regarded as exploitation are now being interpreted as attempts to support the church.[i] Kitchin remained close to the Lewis family, and William Lewis was executor of his will. It may be that what we have here is a collusive lease, a device to tie up the manor and lands by handing them over to a trustworthy friend to keep them safe from expropriation.

Perhaps a more fundamental criticism of Kitchin as a churchman is the apparent ease with which he acquiesced in a series of radical religious changes. He compares badly with the Marian martyrs, and with those conservative bishops who suffered various degrees of imprisonment under Edward and Elizabeth. He was not incapable of standing up for his opinions, but he was, perhaps understandably, reluctant to push his opposition to the point at which he could be removed from office. It seems to me that we should be careful in our assumptions about what we expect from people of principle. In an age of democracy and relatively free speech, we need to remember the potentially appalling consequences of arguing with the Tudor monarchs. We also need to consider whether a head-on challenge was always the most productive course of action. Men like Cranmer had no choice. For others, there were the alternatives of escape to the Continent (like William Barlow, former bishop of St David’s) or a quiet life in a country parish (like Matthew Parker, future archbishop of Canterbury). I would like to suggest that it is equally ethical (and possibly equally brave) to make a decision to remain in your post and to do what you can from a position of power to mitigate the impact of policies which you deplore.

For example, in spite of his early involvement with reform, Kitchin always opposed the idea of clerical marriage, and stood out against it in the 1549 Parliament. He also opposed the Government line on the theology of the Eucharist. In 1554, again, he took his own line when, on the reconciliation of the kingdom with Rome, he was the only bishop not to seek absolution from the sin of schism. In his own mind, he does not seem to have considered himself a schismatic, and he could well have argued that he had also protected his diocese from sin.

In 1559, along with the other Marian bishops, Kitchin voted in the Lords against the restoration of the royal supremacy and the Act of Uniformity. The Elizabethan settlement is yet another area of sixteenth-century history which has been the subject of recent re-appraisal. The traditional view was that Elizabeth was pushed towards a more radical settlement than she wanted by Protestant opinion in the House of Commons. Recent studies have argued that Elizabeth and her advisers got more or less the settlement that they wanted, but that they were held up for some time by the determined opposition of the bishops in the Lords. It was not until some of these intransigents could be manoeuvred into a position where Elizabeth could remove them that the supremacy legislation could be passed. Kitchin was either sufficiently flexible, sufficiently conscienceless or sufficiently wily not to be manoeuvred, but he was eventually outnumbered. Characteristically, faced with a situation in which he could only lose, he backed down rather than fight and be defeated. Jennifer Loach has even suggested that the initial episcopal opposition to the Supremacy was counterproductive, and forced Elizabeth into dependence on more radical churchmen in order to secure her title to the throne. It would be the ultimate irony if Kitchin, who has for so long been vilified as a spineless turncoat, should now be criticised for his intransigence.

Kitchin’s willingness to compromise could thus be justified on the grounds of realpolitik. Grand gestures of defiance are all very well, but there are times when it is ultimately more fruitful to give in and live to fight another day. Kitchin also seems to have had an awareness of his pastoral duties, and of the need to preserve some sort of continuity of care in his adopted diocese. This pastoral approach is seen most clearly in his dealings with the only Marian martyr in the diocese, Rawlins White.

According to Fox’s Acts and Monuments, Rawlins White was a simple illiterate Cardiff fisherman who sent his son to school so that he could read the Bible to his father. The two studied together and the older man became a preacher and a convinced Reformer. He was arrested on Mary’s accession and burned as a heretic in 1555. There is a touching story that on the day before his execution he asked his wife to send him his wedding shirt – his best shirt, in which he would have been buried – so that he could go to his death as to another wedding.

However, if we read between the lines of this story we can see that White was no simple fisherman but but the leader of a group of extreme radicals. He was arrested in 1554, when only the most notorious Protestants were being attacked, and a long time was taken over his case. Part of the delay, though, was due to Kitchin’s extreme reluctance to proceed with the rigours of the law. He attempted to reason with White, to pray with him, and to persuade him to accept a form of words which would save him from punishment. All else having failed, he kept him under such open confinement that escape would have been easy. White was the leader of a group of Cardiff protestants, many of whom visited him in prison, but none of his associates was proceeded against. It seems that only White’s own determination brought him to the stake in spite of all Kitchin’s efforts.

Kitchin himself was always prepared to accept the face-saving compromise and the adroit verbal formulation. His refusal to take the oath of supremacy nearly cost him his diocese in 1559, but he eventually accepted a curiously-worded submission in which he promised, without details, ‘to set forth … and cause others to accept … the whole course of religion now approved in the state of her Grace’s realm’. Opinion is divided as to whether this was in effect an acceptance of the supremacy, but Kitchin apparently felt he had made his point. He was also allowed to refuse Elizabeth’s mandate to consecrate Matthew Parker as archbishop of Canterbury, a refusal which has subsequently called into question the validity of all Anglican orders. J.C. Whitebrook’s theory that Kitchin did in fact consecrate Parker in a private ceremony is intriguing but at best unprovable. It would certainly be in line with Kitchin’s other actions to refuse publicly but to act privately to ensure the continuity of a validly ordained ministry.

The extent of Kitchin’s success as a pastoral bishop, and the justification for his sacrifice of principle, is seen in the condition of his diocese at the time of his death. Llandaff was perhaps the poorest of the Welsh dioceses: the diocesan income was a little higher than Bangor’s, but individual parishes were generally poorer. And where Bangor was in a way insulated from the worst consequences of its poverty by the fact that North Wales society was generally poor, the diocese of Llandaff was in the wealthiest area of Wales, so the church suffered by contrast. The diocese was thus hit disproportionately hard by the crisis in clerical recruitment in the 1540s and 1550s, with few ex-religious and chantry priests to fill the resulting vacancies. The survey of the clergy in the winter of 1560-61 showed many gaps in the parochial ministry, caused partly by the slump in clerical recruitment and the devastating effects of the influenza epidemics of the late 1550s and partly by absenteeism. Some of the absentees were pluralists, some were studying at Oxford or Cambridge, but some at least had left their parishes because they could not accept the Elizabethan settlement. By 1563, however, the situation had improved considerably. Few parishes were without incumbents, though there was still much pluralism; several absentees had been persuaded to return; and there had been a marked upturn in recruitment. This basic resilience must owe something to Kitchin’s pastoral skills and ability to negotiate and persuade.

Kitchin died in October of 1563. He had been too old and ill to attend the parliament of 1562; oddly enough, one of the men who he asked to vote on his behalf was Edmund Grindal, the Puritan bishop of London. We have a survey of the contents of Mathern Palace made on Kitchin’s death because he died in debt to the Crown. He was responsible for collecting the taxes which the clergy of his dioces owed to the Crown and he had simply not done so. Laziness – or a recognition that the clergy for the most part simply could not afford to pay? Kitchin knew by then that he was dying; he had no dependents and precious little for the Crown to distrain on. It may have been his final act of quiet defiance. His possessions make pathetic reading. Old clothes, shabby furniture, a little silver plate, a well-equipped kitchen with huge cauldrons and roasting trays and the little dish in which his eggs were cooked. It all looks very much as though he had gone to the 1538 equivalent of a clerical outfitters and ordered one of everything, and had not done much shopping since. He may have been blind by the time of his death, but he still had forty books in his library: unfortunately, the surveyors did not think to list the titles. He also had some old vestments which he must have rescued from Eynsham at its dissolution.

The final argument in favour of his willingness to compromise lies in the events after his death. Nearly three years passed before a replacement was appointed. This was not Elizabethan parsimony: the diocese was so poor as to be hardly worth the effort of exploitation. Rather it was that no suitably-qualified candidate could be found to take the post. Parker himself admitted that the see was ‘so impoverished .. that few who were honest and capable could be persuaded to meddle with it’. Edmund Grindal once suggested that it should be given to his old friend and mentor Miles Coverdale, the Biblical translator. It is intriguing to speculate what sort of bishop Coverdale would have made: he is certainly the most famous bishop we never had. With his linguistic skills, he would have had no difficulty in coming to terms with the Welsh language; he might even have initiated a translation of the whole Bible before William Morgan’s, and the whole grammar of literary Welsh might in consequence have leaned more on south-eastern than northern forms. Coverdale had been bishop of Exeter under Edward, but his ideas had become more radical in exile during Mary’s reign and he was not prepared to return to his diocese on Elizabeth’s accession. Although virtually destitute, he had refused several other posts, and it was with some difficulty that Grindal persuaded him the following year to take the parish of St Magnus Martyr in London. It was therefore unlikely that, even if he had been offered the diocese of Llandaff (as the Tercentenary Tracts suggest he was), he would have accepted it.

The diocese was eventually given to Hugh Jones, the rector of Tredynog in the Usk valley. It may have been an appointment born of desperation, but the new bishop was at least a local man, a preacher, and the first bishop for over three hundred years who could actually speak the language of the majority of his people. He had long been one of the senior clergy of the diocese and may have functioned as Kitchin’s unofficial deputy: he was certainly prepared to follow his policies of conciliation and compromise.

One of the great unanswered questions of the Reformation in Wales is why the people of Wales, against all the odds, failed to rebel against religious change. All the evidence suggests that the Welsh were happy with traditional Catholic piety and saw no need for reform. But faced with the destruction of shrines and monasteries and a prayer book in an alien language, they made no open protest. The consequences of such a rebellion would probably have been disastrous, in a country which was only now recovering from its last struggle for independence. By the time Jones died in 1574, the New Testament and the Book of Common Prayer were available in Welsh; fourteen years later, with the publication of the whole Bible, public opinion in Wales as articulated by the popular poets swung squarely behind the Elizabethan settlement. In spite of the localised and increasingly marginal Catholic resistance, the Reformation was well on the way to being secured: and it is at least arguable that it was the tolerance of men like Kitchin and Jones, rather than the confrontational policies of men like Jones’s more famous successor William Bleddyn, which helped to secure peace, religious stability and the future of the Anglican church in Wales.

Mathern Palace in 1563

[i] see, e.g., J.A. Scarisbrick, The Reformation and the English People (Oxford, 1984) esp chs 4-7

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