ID: PH01_MCL / Elaine Barker

TitleMarried Clergy in the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth
AbstractGreat Wigborough and Peldon

The first official action in English history specifically permitting clergy to marry was presented to Convocation in December 1547 and then to Parliament by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. He himself had married in the early 1530s during the reign of Henry VIII after the break with Rome. The bill that was presented ruled that any laws preventing clerical marriages be utterly void.

Essex was a Protestant strong-hold and it seems the more Protestant an area was, the more marriage of clergymen was acceptable.

Arthur G Dickens wrote of the attractions of marriage to these clergymen released from a solitary life of celibacy

many a mundane glebe-farmer in a country vicarage must have seen marriage in terms of worldly convenience and natural impulse The English Reformation P 275

Edward VI was on the throne at the time and adopting the extreme Calvinist brand of Protestantism had swept away all the trappings of Roman Catholicism within the English church, causing the destruction of all the images of saints, and the painting over of the colourful medieval wall-paintings which decorated many churches.

Edward (1537 - 1553) was only nine when he came to the throne in 1547 and died by the age of 15 without issue. During his reign, because of his young age, the country was run by a regency council.

Following Edward's death in July 1553, Mary I came to the throne on 3rd August. A Catholic, she began to reverse all the changes in the church brought about by her father, Henry VIII, and her brother Edward. During her five year rule some 300 Protestants were put to death for refusing to relinquish their Protestant faith earning her the epithet 'Bloody' Mary.

Mary also decreed that married priests be removed from their benefices.

Edward VI's legislation in favour of clerical marriage was repealed and in December 1553 there followed a Royal proclamation that

after the xx day of December no prest that has a wyff shall not menyster nor saye masse Machyn's Diary

The effect of this proclamation was to suspend married clergy and it remained in force until the following March when formal proceedings to remove them were begun. In the meantime, curates or neighbouring ministers temporarily took over their parishes. Removing clergy from their parishes and replacing them began mid-March 1553/4 and continued through to December 1557.

Those who were prepared to separate from their wives, (with their wives' consent), would be pardoned after performing public penance and were appointed to new benefices. It was decreed they could, instead, receive maintenance from their old parish although there is no evidence this happened. It is believed that some continued a clandestine relationship with their wives but the removal to a different benefice was clearly intended to separate these married clergy from their former wives and children.

In all, there were eighty eight benefices in Essex which became vacant following the removal of married clergy during Mary's reign, more than a quarter of the beneficed clergy in the county.

The Reverend Edward Popley, the married Rector of Wickham Bishops (1539 - 1554) and of Tolleshunt Knights (1550-1554), anticipating his removal, leased his parsonage in Tolleshunt Knights to Jerome Songer. Deprived in 1554, records show that he was then 'reconciled' and instituted Rector of Mistley cum Manningtree on 25th January 1554/5 where the existing incumbent, Silvester Campion, had also been removed due to his marriage. One can only presume Popley had given up his wife in 1554 and had undertaken to serve once more as a Catholic Priest. All those who gave up their wives and did penance were given 'letters of reconciliation', to be produced on their appointment to a new parish.

Popley was subsequently instituted at St Stephens, Great Wigborough in 1556, being given the patronage by Queen Mary and Philip her husband.

In Peldon, The Reverend Edward Danyell had been the rector since 1523. Another one of those clergy who had married during Edward's reign, he also was deprived of his living in 1554 by Queen Mary.

As the Reverend Gough wrote in St Mary The Virgin, Peldon

At least we know that Danyell did not jettison his wife (or Reformation teaching) in order to keep his job (as we know William Gippes did at Salcott Virley).

Danyell's replacement at Peldon, Edward Ryly, was instituted by Bishop Bonner in 1554. Having two other parishes (Great Wakering and St Andrews Undershaft in London) the Reverend Gough believes Ryly may never have come to Peldon at all.

As for William Gippes, it seems he had been deprived of his parish in Arkesden, Saffron Walden for being married. He quickly divorced, did penance and was the first to be reinstated, being instituted to the church at Salcott Virley on 15th July 1554.

Mary I died in November 1558 and Elizabeth I succeeded her. Only four months after Elizabeth's accession, a Bill to restore Spiritual Persons that were deprived for Marriage or Heresies first appeared in the Commons. Repeatedly stalled (according to contemporary reports, Elizabeth herself found the marriage of clergy quite distasteful) the process of restoration began in August 1559.

Hilda Grieve, in her research The Deprived Married Clergy in Essex, found that by February 1560/1

at least 28 of the 88 priests deprived in Essex were reappointed after their deprivation

Out of the 36 whose movements could be traced with any certainty she found only eight were shown to have held any real objections to the reorientation of ecclesiastical policy

Only five ministers fled abroad rather than betray their principles, some clergy died in the interim and some will have taken a parish out of the county.

Silvester Campion who had been replaced by Popley at Mistley was to recover his old parish in Mistley during Elizabeth's reign but preferring to live in his new parish at Henny he never returned to Mistley. What's more he even married again!

In Peldon, Edward Danyell was reinstated in 1559, restored by the new queen. Returning to the parish in poor health it was said he would not be able to preach if age and contynuall sickness letted not.

Such men as Danyell must have, during their removal, relied on the help of friends and family and where he and his family spent those five years is not known. His will, proved on 17th January 1569, mentions his wife Joan, and son Francis and four daughters so it would seem he stuck by his wife and family and religious principles.

Edward Popley of Great Wigborough died in 1560, and his will survives at Essex Records Office. I was intrigued to find out whether, with the death of Queen Mary, he had taken his wife and family back. It would seem not, for in his will he makes no mention of a wife as such but refers to the children's mother. Two children bear his name, Edward and Besse Popley and five girls, Bridget, Margaret, Jane, Mary, Harriet the surname of Palmer. His executor is John Palmer to whom he makes several bequests. I think it likely that Popley's wife was a widow with six children when Popley married her and he supported them as his own along with his own two children. Whatever the case, Popley makes good provision for their upbringing. He requests that the legacies of Edward, Besse, Harriet, Mary and Jane (presumably the youngest children) be in the keeping of their mother and, should she marry again, her new husband is to be bound in an obligac[i]on of £20 to ensure the children's legacies are delivered.

In Hilda Grieve's research she concluded that the majority of the 88 married incumbents removed from their livings were in fact prepared to discard their wives and beliefs they'd acquired in the reign of Edward VI in order to secure a job in that of Mary.

Elaine Barker

Thanks to Sue Howlett for assistance with the transcription of Popley's Will

Read More
Will of Edward Popley Rector of Great Wigborough 1558/9
The Rectors of St Stephens, Great Wigborough

The Deprived Married Clergy in Essex - Hilda E P Grieve
The Reformation In Essex to the Death of Mary - James Edwin Oxley
The English reformation Page 275 - Arthur Geoffrey Dickens
Clerical Marriage and the English Reformation - Helen L Parish
Parish Clergy Wives in Elizabethan England - Anne Thompson

AuthorElaine Barker
SourceMersea Museum