William BARLOW

(Bishop of Chichester)

Born: 1498

Died: 13 Aug 1568

Father: Robert BARLOW

Mother: Anne ?

Married: Agatha WELLESBOURNE (dau. of Humphrey Wellesborne, mayor of High Wycombe)


1. Anne BARLOW (d. 1597) (m.1 Augustin Bradbridge - m.2 Herbert Westphaling, Bishop of Herford)

2. Margaret BARLOW (b. 1533 - d. 1601) (m. William Overton, Bishop of Lichfield)

3. Elizabeth BARLOW (b. 1538 - d. 1595) (m. William Day, Bishop of Winchester)

4. Antonia BARLOW (b. 1540 - d. 1598) (m. William Wickham, Bishop of Winchester)

5. William BARLOW (b. 1544– d- 25 May 1625)

6. John BARLOW (b. 1549 – d. 1634)

7. Frances BARLOW (b. 1551- d. 8 May 1629) (m.1 Matthew Parker - m.2 Tobias Matthew, Archbishop of York)

William Barlow was born in Essex, England in about 1498 to Robert Barlow, merchant and deputy customs officer of Colchester and his wife Anna. Details of his childhood and early education are still unknown. Both Oxford and Cambridge Universities have laid claim to Barlow, but there is no extant evidence.

An Augustinian regular canon, he is first mentioned as prior of Bromehill Priory, Weeting, Norfolk in 1525. Before that he probably entered St Osyth's Priory, near Colchester, in about 1516. Many authorities have suggested that, before Bromehill, Barlow had 'headed some smaller houses', beginning as early as 1507. He may have used the surname, Finch, during this period at Tiptree and Leighs in Essex and Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, and Bisham in Berkshire. However, this is very unlikely as there is no contemporary evidence for these earlier appointments, nor that he ever used the name 'Finch'. This theory would also put his year of birth back to around 1480, which is nearly twenty years before the suggested date of 1498, a date supported by a claim that he was 60 years old in 1559. The confusion may have arisen as many accounts 'conflate the careers of two, three, or possibly four persons'. Bromehill Priory was dissolved by Cardinal Wolsey in 1528, and Barlow was granted a yearly pension of 40 shillings. Already by 1526 he was in contact with the literature of the Protestant reformers, and he may have been the courier who brought a work of Johannes Bugenhagen to Thomas More. After 1528, Barlow spent some time on the continent and became familiar with the reformist doctrines of Martin Luther and others, many of whom he met. He also experienced the new social organisation brought about by the reformers. His written account was published initially in 1531.

There is little factual evidence to suggest that Barlow played a major role in the Court of Henry VIII. The main reference linking him with a courtly position is contained in one of Henry's letters to James V of Scotland. This letter of Oct 1535 introduces "our trusty and right welbeloved Counsaillour Mr Barlowe, Clerke, Pryour of the Monastery of Bisham, being sufficiently instructed in the specialities of certain grete and weighty causes". In Oct 1535 he was despatched on an important mission to James V with Thomas Holcroft.

Much has been made of his supposed involvement with the king's 'great matter'; his desire to rid himself of Queen Catalina by getting his marriage to her annulled. However, a careful study of all the available communications and other documents suggests that it was William's brother John Barlow who played the major role. It was certainly he who was closely associated with the family of Anne Boleyn, not William.

What is apparent is that William Barlow was appointed as prior of Haverfordwest Priory, in 1534; the position was in the gift of Anne Boleyn as Marchioness of Pembroke. He also suggested himself as a suffragan bishop in the diocese of St David's, a suggestion supported by John Barlow, but the bishop Richard Rawlins, soon to be a troublesome opponent, rejected him.

William experienced hostile opposition to his reformist ideas and teaching and, with the support of Thomas Cromwell, was moved from Haverfordwest and made prior of Bisham Priory in Berkshire. This he handed over to the king in 1536; but it was briefly a candidate to be upgraded to an abbey. His brothers Roger and Thomas Barlow were purchasers or grantees of Haverfordwest Priory in 1546, after its dissolution in 1536. Roger Barlow was married and founded the Barlow family of Slebech. He had been a merchant and a companion of Sebastian Cabot voyaging to South America; Thomas Barlow remained unmarried and was rector of Catfield.

Missions to Scotland

William Barlow, then Prior of the Monastery of Bisham, was sent to Scotland in Oct 1534. He went again to James V of Scotland with William Howard in Feb 1536. Barlow wrote to Cromwell discussing the miseries of the English border people who were not well served by the judiciary, and compared their situation to the rule of a corrupt Abbot whose officers live in luxury and support his power whilst the brothers live in grievous wretchedness. In Edinburgh, Barlow encountered the suspicions of the King's Catholic advisors, who feared he had come to preach or take away Henry VIII' sister Margaret Tudor. Howard in his letter of 25 Apr 1536 referred to Barlow as 'My Lord of Saint David', and regretted that Barlow could not advise him during his meeting with James V at Stirling Castle on Good Friday.

Howard and Barlow were in Edinburgh in May 1536, and learnt of a plan for James V to marry his mistress Margaret Erskine although they thought it was 'against the heart of all his nobles'. They heard that James had sent a messenger to the Pope asking him to forbid James to meet Henry VIII. Barlow stayed in Scotland some days after Howard's return at request of Margaret Tudor, and he joked to Cromwell that it would be no more unpleasant to leave Edinburgh than for Lot to pass out of Sodom.

When Arthur Pole died, Lady Salisbury and her son, Lord Montague, did not wish the widow Jane Lewknor to remarry, which would deprive the Pole family, and Arthur's heirs, of her fortune. They coerced Jane to become a novice at Syon Abbey. Jane was eventually released from her vows by William Barlow, who was residing in his priory of Bisham. She said to Bishop Barlow, 'Can I leave the veil at pleasure?'; 'Yes, for all religious persons have a time of probation. You are only a novice and could leave your nun's weeds at your pleasure. I bind you no further...', he said. Later, Jane married Sir William Barentyne, Sheriff of Oxfordshire & Berkshire.

In 1536, he was successively Bishop of St Asaph and then Bishop of St David's. His appointment at St Asaph was made during his absence on a diplomatic mission to James V of Scotland, with William Howard and Robert Ferrar.[2 Some historians have argued that he must not have been consecrated because there is no direct reference to it in the archbishop's register. However, that register does record his election as bishop, the royal assent to it and his confirmation. Moreover, "the (separate) record of his consecration may easily have been lost or stolen", as clearly happened on other occasions. His consecration as a bishop is important in the issue of the validity of the Church of England's claim to have maintained the apostolic succession of bishops. These were condemned as null and void by Leo XIII in 1896: the following year the archbishops of England replied in Saepius Officio. Barlow was one of four consecrators, and the principal one, of Matthew Parker (John Hodgkins was also a con-consecrator of Parker; he was consecrated bishop on 9 Dec 1537, by John Stokesley of London, Robert Parfew of St Asaph and John Hilsey of Rochester, two of whom, Stokesley and Parfew, were Roman Catholic prelates recognized by the Pope; Scory and Coverdale, the other two, had been consecrated using the English Ordinal of 1550 - each of the four men who consecrated Parker had been consecrated by men with the Roman Pontifical before or after the break with Rome - Stokesley and Cranmer were consecrated in 1530 and 1532 before the break with the Rome). As bishop, he was also a Lord Spiritual of the House of Lords. However, the Lambeth Registers mention that he was elected in 1535 and his consecration took place on 22 Feb 1535, while Henry Wharton in his Anglia Sacra states that he was consecrated on 23 Feb 1535.

He was involved in quarrels with his chapter, who sent up a series of articles addressed to the President of the Council of Wales, denouncing him as a heretic. Nevertheless, he carried on a campaign against relics, pilgrimages, saint-worship, and other Catholic practices. He tried to suppress the cult of St David, in St David's Cathedral. The statue of Our Lady of Cardigan, at St Dogmaels Abbey was a particular target, mentioned in his correspondence with Cromwell; the abbey was suppressed in 1536.

In despair of the western district around St David's, he sought to transfer his see to relatively central Carmarthen. He established the later custom of the bishops residing at Abergwili, a village within two miles of Carmarthen; but the see did not move. He alienated the rich manor of Lamphey from the see. He tried to maintain a free grammar school at Carmarthen, and succeeded in obtaining the grant of some suppressed religious houses for the foundation of Christ College, Brecon, and of a grammar school there (19 Jan 1542).

Barlow also took part in general ecclesiastical politics. He signed the articles drawn up in 1536. He shared in composing the Institution of the Christian Man, and supported the translation of the Bible. He vainly tried to substitute a milder policy for the Six Articles of 1539. Extreme Erastianism, which maintained that simple appointment by the monarch was enough, without episcopal consecration, to constitute a lawful bishop, he shared with Thomas Cranmer. But the other opinions he maintained—that confession was not enjoined by Scripture; that there were just three sacraments; that laymen were as competent to excommunicate heretics as bishops or priests; that purgatory was a delusion—were extreme and incautious for the end of Henry VIII's reign. At this period he was one of Cranmer's few close allies on the evangelical wing of the bishops: they two with Hugh Latimer were the main clerical supporters of humanist education, and with Thomas Goodricke were the most advanced reformers on some matters of doctrine. In 1547 he supported Cranmer's Homilies campaign, preaching at St Paul's Cross, early in the new reign.

Early in the reign of Edward VI Barlow commended himself to Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset by preaching against images. In 1548, he was translated to become Bishop of Bath and Wells. On 20 May of the same year he sold to the Duke seven manors, together with the Bishop's Palace, Wells, and other estates and profits of jurisdiction belonging to the see, for, it is said, £2000; of this he appears to have received £400. Bath Place and the Minories went to the Duke's brother, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. He also sold the lead from the great hall at the Bishops Palace. Barlow himself was lodged in the deanery. Finding that Dean Goodman had annexed the prebend of Wiveliscombe, Barlow deprived him. The dean in return attempted to prove him guilty of praemunire, the deanery being a royal donative. Barlow had to accept the king's pardon, but the deprivation stood. Barlow was in complete sympathy with the rulers and reformers of the time, but Cranmer did not trust him.

He was now married to Agatha Wellesbourne, daughter of Humphrey Wellesborne, mayor of High Wycombe. This marriage or relationship apparently anticipated the formal lifting of the requirement of clerical celibacy; the subsequent tradition around the large family of the Barlows has been attributed to compensatory apologetics. Some records say Agatha was a nun before the Dissolution of the Monasteries and others that she was a "runaway abbess of Norfolk".

When Mary I of England came to the throne Barlow resigned his bishopric, either because he was married, or because of his extreme Reformist views. After imprisonment in the Tower of London he fled overseas, becoming a Marian exile. He probably landed at the little seaport of Emden in Northern Germany, where another refugee bishop, John Scory was minister. The long-held view that Barlow was the minister in Emden is based, not on any contemporary evidence, but on a book written about 100 years later by Thomas Fuller. By the end of 1555, Barlow had joined the party of Catherine Willoughby and Richard Bertie in Wessl, where he was elected pastor of the small English congregation there. A year later, however, following disagreements between the English and the local council, Catherine and her husband left, taking Barlow with them, and travelled to Weinheim where they were offered refuge. An envoy sent by Queen Mary caught up with them. He carried documents which Barlow insisted on seeing to find out if they were letters or orders to return. After further discussions, the envoy was neither able to persuade nor coerce the party to return to England. From Weinheim, the group travelled on to Poland. It is likely that Barlow's wife and children were with him in exile; Agatha Barlow's memorial in St Mary's Church, Easton in Hampshire, clearly states that she was "A Companione with him in Banishmente".

Under Elizabeth I he was bishop of Chichester. Almost immediately she compelled him by Act of Parliament to give up manors, including Selsey.

It has been argued that pamphlets by Friar Jerome Barlow (or Barlowe) were by William Barlow. Scholars remain divided on the issue. It may be that the independent work of both men has been compounded as that of a single author.

A work A dialogue describing the originall ground of these Lutheran faccions, and many of their abuses from 1531, printed by William Rastell, was reissued in 1553. It takes Martin Luther to be a heretic, and in it Barlow explains that contact with Lutherans had led into a temporary apostasy.

His wife Agatha died in 1595. Her daughter Frances erected a monument to her in Easton, Hampshire.

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