Saturday, 24 December 2016

John Wolton, Bishop of Exeter, c.1537-1593

Joannes Wolton tomb in Exeter Cathedral

When I first found this monument to John Woolton, who was one of my 11 x great grandfather's, I was at first a little disappointed.

I had expected that as a Tudor Bishop of Exeter that he would have had one of those  grand tombs complete with an effigy, like that of Bishop Valentine Carey of Exeter who died in 1626 and which is shown below. 

Perhaps I hoped that I might be able to see what he had looked like.

Bishop Valentine Carey. [1] 

However as I looked at the tomb in more detail, and had overcome my initial disappointment, I began to realise that it was actually telling me a great deal about what John Woolton had probably hoped to be remembered for, and that by its very difference from the tombs of other Tudor Bishop's both at Exeter and elsewhere, he was sending us a clear message.

The sides of the tomb are covered with what looks like Elizabeth attempts at Classical symbolism. It draws its motifs not from Medieval or even English vernacular tradition that the other tombs used, but from Renaissance works sourced from Italy, going back to the Classical tradition.

I was then struck that while similar work is present in houses and other monuments built in England, these appear to have been first built in the period after 1600, a decade or more after Woolton's tomb had presumably been erected.  

End detail of John Woolton's tomb in Exeter Cathedral

He seems (or his executors seem) to be telling us that here was a Bishop who hoped to be seen as a moderniser and thinker.

This opinion is supported by the letter that the Earl of Bedford wrote to Lord Burghley, and which appears to have led to John's appointment to the see.

The Earl of Bedford to Lord Burghley.

1578, Oct. 10. Trusts that before this time he is recovered. Cannot but remember his lordship for a good bishop in this diocese, and, now that the progress is ended, trusts there will be time to consider thereof. John Russell told him how well Burghley took the letters written in that behalf, adding, if the Earl had written for any particular man, his lordship would have been willing to further him. Has small judgement in the choice of a bishop, and his chief desire is that a meet man might have the place. There is one Mr. Woolton, a canon of this church, a man well learned, of honest life and conversation, wise in government, and a very good and diligent preacher; has very often attended Burghley for causes between the Queen and the Church. Is well thought of in this country, and was brought up under the Dean of St. Paul's. Some speech there is in this country that Mr. Townsend should be in the election. Thinks him nothing fit for the place, and conceives so much the worse of him for that part he once played (which his lordship may well remember) for the College at Manchester.—Exeter, 10 October 1578. [2]

Endorsed :—“Mr. Wolton to be preferred to the bishoprick of Exeter.”

On August 2nd 1579 John Wolton was consecrated Bishop of Exeter at Croydon Palace by Edmund [3] Archbishop of Canterbury, John [4] Bishop of London, and John Bishop of Rochester [5] [6].

John's appointment was no doubt aided by the fact that he had been "brought up under the Dean of St Paul's" who was in fact Alexander Nowell (1507- 1601), his brother in-law.

Alexander Nowell, Dean of St Paul's

 Alexander Nowell's brother, Robert Nowell (born circa 1517-20 died 1568) was already well known to Lord Burghley because he had been appointed Queen's Attorney of the Court of Wards on 8th February 1560-1.

Robert who died in his chamber at Gray's Inn on the 6th of February 1568-9, had for many years acted on behalf of the Lord Burghley who took a key interest in the many under age heirs of major estates and titles, who had been placed under the control of the Court of Wards. In some cases he ensured the future prosperity of his own family by making dynastic marriages to these orphans and heiresses to members of the Burghley family.

John Woolton's brother, James Woolton worked as a clerk for Robert Nowell, and after his death he became one of his executors along with Alexander. Robert had died leaving an immense fortune arising from his legal work, but with no heirs of his own.

He however left a will, which instructed that the money should be used for good purposes. James Woolton and Alexander Nowell followed these instructions, and between the years of 1568 and 1580, the dispersal of Robert Nowell's legacy is recorded in "The Spending of the Money of Robert Nowell of Reade Hall, Lancashire: Brother of Dean Alexander Nowell, 1568-1580."

How did John Woolton reach a position to become Bishop of Exeter?

Well besides having influential friends in high places, it is also clear that he was a powerful and influential preacher. He had been very active across Devon throughout much of the 1560's and 1570's preaching in many locations.

This ability is brought out in the following letter dating from 1568.

To Archbishop Parker, July 2, 1568.

Salutem in Christo. I am desired by my very good friends, Sir Peter Carew [7]and Sir John Chichester[8], to pray your grace to grant dispensation of non-residence to one John Wolton, preacher. I hear very good of the man, and his desire is to have dispensation, not for that he intendeth to neglect his cure, (for he is reported to be a man of very good conscience,) but that he may more freely preach abroad in your grace’s province, and elsewhere, and yet to avoid the danger of the promoters, who are most busy against the best men. In consideration whereof, I pray your grace to shew favour to the said Wolton concerning the premises, which I nothing doubt but he will use to the more ample setting forth of God’s glory. God keep your grace! From my house at London, this second of July, 1568.
Edm. London.[10]

John Woolton (c.1537-1594), had been born at Pendleton in Lancashire, where his family had lived as tenant farmers from at least as early as 1425.

Wolton’s of Pendleton.

Halmote of the Manors of Penhulton, Chatburn, and Worston, held at Clederhow, on Tuesday next after the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 3 Henry VI. [6thFebruary, 1424-5]
The Jury from Penhulton, viz., John de Wolton, Thomas de Marseden, Richard Dissher, and Thomas del Chaumber have nothing to present. 

Although his father was evidently of relatively humble origins, his mother was Isabella, was a younger daughter of John Nowell (d 1525) of Read Hall, near Whalley, and the sister to Robert, Alexander and Laurence Nowell and twelve other siblings. It is very likely that the Nowell family was the more prosperous and important of the two families, and it would appear that the Woolton family may have sent the boys to take up service within the Nowell family household.

It is clear that the connections between the Woolton and the Nowell family were close, both as neighbours and fellow tenants of the nearby Whalley Abbey. John Nowell had had at least fifteen children, and as such he must have had to draw on the children of many of his neighbours as possible, in his search for suitable marriage partners for his many offspring. 

Indeed, so far and wide did John Nowell cast his net, that his offspring married into many other Lancashire families, and as a result, and through later marriages occurring during the 18th and 19th Century, I find John Nowell occurring in my family tree on two occasions

The area they all came from lay under the southern and western slopes of Pendle and was dominated by the Abbey at Whalley, which was to become the scene of one of the climatic events of the Pilgrimage of Grace when in October 1536, Nicholas Tempest and other leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace arrived at the Abbey and persuaded Abbot John Paslew and eight other monks to take the rebel oath.

Ruins of Whalley Abbey. [11]

The major centre of the rebellion had initially been in Louth in Lincolnshire (the Lincolnshire Rising, 2nd October 1536) and then in East Yorkshire, (the Pilgrimage of Grace, 13th October 1536) before it spread to Westmoreland and Cumbria by the following Spring.

The central Government very quickly suppressed the rebellions in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, before commencing a reign of terror on the local populations, many of whom were executed. Paslew would have quickly have become aware of the rebellions in East Yorkshire because of the close links that existed with the Pendle area.

Many families including the Nowell family were involved in droving young cattle across the Pennines as their keep ran out during the autumn via Wakefield (where the Nowell's also owned property, and grazing land) and then on to the south via the Great North Road to the pastures in East Anglia and close to London.

 What Paslew had probably not appreciated, such was the slowness of communications, was that those rebellions, had been crushed within 12 days, and were almost certainly over, by the time he had declared for the rebels.

All too soon the Kings officials were at the Abbey arresting him. He was tried and executed at Lancaster Castle in March 1537, and his body was placed into a Gibbet in the fields behind his families house in Wiswell. The Woolton land backed on to the Paslew land, so they must have been only too aware of the perils of non-conformity or rebellion.

The opposite end of the tomb, now playing the prosaic role as a repository for hymn books.

We cannot know what the Nowell and Woolton families thought about the fate of Abbott Paslew, however it is clear that they were less enamoured with the established Catholic Church than were many of their neighbours, and sometimes even close relatives.

This may have been down to their experiences as tenants of Abbott Paslew. The accounts for the Abbey survive in extraordinary detail, and they clearly show a change between 1478 and 1521, with expenditure on food and high living greatly increased towards the later year.  Paslew raised the rents and tithes, to pay for an expensive new Abbott's House. [12]

Was it their experiences as Abbey tenants, and when witnessing at close quarters, the extravagance that started to turn these families towards the Protestant cause?

John Nowell, part of the previous generation appears to have had conventional religious views, and at one point he intended to establish a Chantry at Burnley Church.

“His father, John Nowell, esquire, was twice married.  By his first wife, Dowsabel, daughter of Robert Hesketh, esquire, of Rufford in Lancashire, he had an only son, Roger Nowell; whose issue male, in a direct line, enjoyed the family estates for more than two centuries. By his second wife,Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Kay of Rachdale, he had four sons, Alexander,Laurence, Robert and Nicholas, and several daughters. In the reign of Henry VII. He obtained leave of the crown to inpark his estate at Read; and, in later life, gave a rent-charge in trust, to endow a chantry in the parish church of Burnley [13]; a design, which, owing perhaps to the mutability of the times, seems not to have been carried into effect; but he who projected the pious deed, we may presume, did not neglect to impress the infant minds of his children with congenial principles, to which Providence afterwards gave a better direction.” However for reasons that remain unclear, this never seems to have happened.

There is also evidence of a festering dispute that existed with the Abbot of Whalley, as is evidenced in the following note from 1535, although sadly, it does not give any details.

Order by the Erle of Derbye that enquiry to be made in a dispute between the Abbot of Whalley, and Sir Robert Hesketh and Roger Nowell, esq. whereupon he will make an award. [15]

What is clear, however is that John Woolton, followed the Nowell brothers educational path most probably at the urging of his mother, when he was educated at Middleton School.

Middleton Old School, founded by Thomas Langley in 1421. 

Thomas Mawdsley was the teacher at the school when Robert, Alexander and Laurence Nowell attended, and he must have been both a very good teacher, as well as having had a profound effect on the boys. Somehow he was able to educate the boys, from this rural upland backwater to the point that they could enter University, and would go on to greatly influence Tudor life.

I cannot establish whether Mawdsley was still present during the latter years of the 1540's when John and James Woolton went there. [16] Alexander and Lawrence Nowell went on to attend Brasenose College Oxford, where they were exposed to the works of a number of Protestant teachers including several who originated in Germany and who brought brought over doctrine developed by Erasmus and the other pioneering German Protestant thinkers.

Rodolphus Agricola

Soon, Alexander, was himself lecturing at Brasenose on the works of Rodolphus Agricola, who had been born in either 1443 or 1444, Agricola had died at Heidelberg in October 27, 1485. [17]
Rodolphus is thought to have originially come from Frisia. He had been educated in Holland and in Italy, and was one of the first of the later Medieval Scholars to study Greek as well as Latin.

Agricola became a close friend of Alexander Hegius, who was headmaster of Erasmus’s school at Deventer. He was publicly associated by Hegius with the school’s avowed purpose of teaching the tenets of the “devotion moderna”, and Erasmus met Agricola shortly before the latter’s death when he visited the school.

While at Brasenose it is said that Alexander shared rooms with John Foxe, later, the author of the famous book on the fates of the Protestant Martyrs during the reign of Queen Mary, to which both Alexander and Laurence Nowell contributed testimony.

“When he [Nowell] quitted the University, we find him in a conspicuous situation in the metropolis, as Master of Westminster School; where that excellent topographer, William Harrison, was, as he modestly says of himself, “sometime an unprofitable grammarian under him”. [18]

With the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the King and Thomas Cromwell had effectively destroyed much of the existing educational system in England. We cannot, tell if this was deliberate, but it was to have a profound effect on England for a couple of generations, as monks and clergy had provided schooling for thousands of boys every year.

It rapidly became clear to King Henry VIII that he had to establish schools for a new Protestant leadership in lieu of the monastic schools. One of his first foundations was Westminster School, that took place inside the precincts of Westminster Abbey directly opposite the Palace of Westminster. Alexander Nowell was chosen in 1543 to be the first Second Master, due no doubt to his ability to deliver Protestant doctrine to the students. This renowned seminary claims Henry VIII. as its founder; and Nowell was the second master on the new foundation, appointed in 1543, with the approbation, no doubt, if not the particular choice of the king,…”

Nowell is credited with having introduced the practise of the reading of Terence to the boys, and on one day of every week reading St. Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles in Greek with the elder scholars.

In 1551 Nowell has presented by King Henry VIII to one of the prebendary stalls at Westminster, which had become vacant following the death of John Redmayne.

It is believed that it was to Alexander that John Woolton owed his education and perhaps also his religious beliefs.

Following the death of King Henry VIII, on January 28th 1547, the nine year old King Edward VI came to the throne. Edward was strongly Protestant in his beliefs, and men like the Nowell's were in the ascendant. [20] This was the period when the majority of the churches were stripped of all their religious effigies, and when the Protestant Doctrine was imposed most strongly.

It was also period when huge controversies were created, and enormous cultural damage was inflicted, so that today the interiors of our churches are but a bare remnant of what they had once been. It was the nearest we came to a "Cultural Revolution."

On July 6th 1553, the King died at Greenwich, and sister half sister Mary became Queen.

On 26th of October 1553, only weeks after the accession of Queen Mary, John Woolton became a student at Brasenose College, Oxford, were Alexander Nowell was already a fellow.

Nowell had recently been elected member of Parliament for West Looe in September 1553, and was soon in trouble. He had previously been made a Canon of Westminster, which should have disqualified him from becoming an MP. The new Parliament was the first of the new Queen's reign.

Queen Mary was strongly Catholic in her beliefs, and almost immediately she set to work to return England to the old religion. The Nowell brothers were amongst the most prominent members of the Protestant establishment, and they soon came under pressure.

Laurence Nowell who had been ordained Deacon by Bishop Ridley, and who had been a school master at Sutton Coldfield was the first to flee to to Europe in 1554, travelling via Pembrokeshire and Carew Castle, where he was hidden by Sir John Perrot, for a while until a ship could be found. He is believed to have spent his time in exile first in France and then at Padua in Italy. [21]

The new Bishop of London, Bishop Bonner wished to restore the site to its former position as a monastery.

“In his [Alexander Nowell's] retreat from parliament there was perhaps no immediate personal danger. His escape out of England was not effected without imminent hazard; as we have the account, though less circumstantial than might be wished, from the quaint pen of Thomas Fuller, in his Worthies of Lancashire. It happened that he was fishing upon the Thames, an exercise wherein he much delighted; and while he was intent upon catching fish, Bonner, understanding who he was, was intent upon catching him; in which he had succeeded, and had sent him to the Shambles, had not Francis Bowyer, at that time a merchant, afterwards Sheriff of London, safely conveyed him beyond the seas.” [22]

Alexander had fled before May 1554, first to Strasbourg and then onto Frankfurt.

Woolton supplicated for the degree of BA on 26 April 1555, aged about eighteen.  Woolton was still up at Brasenose in October 1555, however, he is believed to have fled abroad soon afterwards to join his and possibly his brother Robert joined his uncle in exile in Frankfurt, where it is thought that he was a servant in the household of Alexander Nowell, where they remained until at least January 1559.

On 17th of November 1558, Queen Mary died in Westminster, and her half sister Elizabeth, who had been in confinement under what amounted to house arrest, was brought to the throne

This must have been extraordinary moment for the Protestant exiles in Germany, Switzerland and France, when the news reached them, for now they could consider returning to England.

Laurence Nowell was the first of the Nowell exiles to return. Whatever was the exact time of his arrival, his brother Laurence, who had also been abroad, obtained preferment before him; for he was installed Dean of Lichfield on the 29th of April, 1559.

His predecessor in that dignity had been John Ramsridge, D.D. of Merton College, a zealous papist, who was made dean in the first year of queen Mary, and leaving England without any compulsion, in the accession of Elizabeth, being much troubled at foreseeing the alteration of religion, he went into Flanders; where wandering about in great discontent, he was accidentally met by thieves, who robbed and murdered him.” [23]

Laurence was shortly afterwards appointed by Sir William Cecil as tutor to the Earl of Oxford.

“The new Dean was entrusted by Sir William Cecil with the education of the young earl of Oxford, his ward who afterwards married his beloved and accomplished daughter,Anne Cecil; and on prospect of leisure when he was about to be released from his honourable charge, he submitted a proposal to the Secretary, expressed in very elegant Latin, offering to frame and present to him an exact map of England.”[24]

His pupil was Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford who has in recent years been put forward as a possible alternative author of Shakespeare's plays. Whether Edward did, or did not write these plays is quite outside the scope of this blog, however he certainly went on to become a successful court poet.

Alexander Nowell appears to have returned to London by the 28th of May 1559. Presumably John Woolton as part of his household would have returned to England with Alexander Nowell. Nowell would shortly become Dean of St Pauls, and go on to become a key member of the Synod that in 1564 set out the basic form of the Protestant services that were introduced following the accession of Queen Elizabeth, and the return to the Protestant Church.

With Protestantism restored, John Woolton was able to take Holy Orders when he was ordained as a priest on the 25th of April 1560, by Dr. Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London, who he probably knew well through having both been in exile. [25]

On the 15th of August 1561, he was instituted to the living of Sampford Peverel, which was held by Sir Anisy Paulett [26]   This might be a misspelling for Sir Amias Paulet (1532-26 September 1588.)

Amais Paulet was the son of Sir Hugh Paulet and Philippa Pollard, and his name is sometimes spelt 'Amyas.' Sir Hugh Paulet had been made Governor of Jersey in 1550, and Amias went with him. The situation in the Channel Isles was a very serious ones with constant raids and piracy occurring,which involved the Paulets in considerable difficulties. They were trying to rebuild Mont Orguiel Castle, however they were struggling to get sufficient funding.

Sir Amias Paulet (1532-26 September 1588.)

Amias Paulet is known to have been strongly anti-Catholic, and when the first Huguenot refugees began to leave France and to arrive in Jersey in 1558 he appointed some of the priests amongst them as Rectors.

These priests were Calvanist and they soon established a reformed church. A second wave of refugees arrived in 1568, who were also welcomed by Amias despite his father’s misgivings.
Sir Amyas Paulet who came from Hinton St. George in Somerset made many diplomatic visits to France including one starting on the 25th September 1579 when he landed at Calais as Ambassador. He returned in November of that year.

Paulet, a strict Protestant, together with Sir Drue Drury were later appointed gaolers at Tutbury of Mary, Queen of Scots, by Elizabeth in January 1585, replacing a more tolerant earlier gaoler, Sir Ralph Sadler.  Paulet remained her gaoler until Mary's execution at Fotheringhay Castle on 8 February 1587.

Sampford Peverel Church.

It appears that it was while at Sampford Peverel that John was in contact with Sir Peter Carew.

John was made a Prebendary at Exeter on the 22nd of March 1566. [27] and on the 26th of May 1568 John Vowell, alias Hooker wrote a long letter to Sir Peter Carew from Ireland where Carew had estates, which he was trying to recover.

Sir Peter Carew.

“My Lord Chancellor being very sick in the gout, and my Lord Justice Fitzwilliams in an ague, neither of them being able to write their letters of commendation as they appointed, have willed me in their behalfs and in their Ladies’, to do the same unto you. My commendations to my Lord Bishop and to the Lady Rogers, and also to Mr. Mayor and his brethren, with an excuse for my absence. I trust you will not forget to bring with you your two physicians, namely Mr. Wolton and Mr. Narcissus. If Sir Gawen Carwe’s cook do depart from you,deal with Mr. Treasurer for his Nicholas.

Dublin, 26 May 1568.

John Vowell, als Hoker. [28]
The reference to Woolton's medical abilities is intriguing, because he became well known for his curing abilities, especially when as Bishop of Exeter he treated many townspeople in the course of an outbreak of the plague.

It was the support of Sir Peter Carew and Sir John Chichester, that first brought about his licensing to preach more widely outside of his own parish, and John Woolton began to travel widely across the county of Devon preaching in services in many churches. Devon was a deeply conservative community, and the new religion was by no means popular, so there must have been considerable hostility to much that John was preaching. Men like Paulet and Carew had witnessed the Praybook Rebellion, and knew just how precarious the position of the Protestant Church was.

What is believed to be the old Vicarage at Sampford Peveril.

John's abilities as a powerful preacher were recognised when as Johannes Wolton, on the 4th of May 1570 he was made Perpetual Vicar of Brampton. In Archbishop Parker’s register he is described as a preacher (concionator).

In order to support John in his role as a Canon at Exeter, where he read a divinity lecture twice a week, and where he preached twice on Sundays.

A great plague struck the city, and he and one other, were the only clergy who remained in the city, the others having all fled for safety.

He was also instituted to the Rectory of Kenn, on 15th October 1573. [29] This living belonged to Sir Thomas Prydeaux.

Whilst canon at the cathedral Woolton wrote a book in 1576 called “The Christian Manual, or of the life and maners of true Christians,” which is preserved in the Additional Manuscripts collection of the British Library [30]. Extracts of this book are published in “Society and Religion in Elizabethan England”, by Richard L. Greaves [31]. These extracts give a fascinating insight into the beliefs of my forebear.

John signed his introduction off “At Whymple, the 20 of November, Anno Dom. 1576.  Your workship’s humble John Woolton.”

The village of Whimple was in the deanery of Aylesbeare, about eight and a half miles from Exeter, on the road to Honiton. There was an annual fair at Whimple, chiefly for sheep, held on the Monday before Michaelmas.

The Christian Manual 1576

The book was dedicated to Sir William Cordell, (1524-81) Master of the Rolls [32], to whom “John Woolton Wisheth Prosperous Success in all worldly affairs, and in the life to come joy and immortal felicity.”

The manor of Whimple together with Aylesbeare, were the property of Sir Francis Englefield and Sir William Cordell, so that it is quite possible that John had been able to stay with William Cordell.

The Christian Manual was one of a considerable number of books and pamphlets that Woolton wrote and had published during the period from 1576 onwards.

The others include.
An Armour of Proufe; very profitable as well for princes, noblemen and gentlemen, as all other in authoritie,shewing the firm fortress of defence and haven of rest in these troublesome times and perilous dayes. Published London, 1576.

A Treatise of the Immortalitie of the Soule; wherein is declared the origine, nature and powers of the same, together with the state and condition thereof, both as it is conioyned and dissolved from the bodies.  Published London, 1576.

A Newe Anatomie of the whole Man, as well of his Bodie as of his Soule, declaring the condition and constitution of the same in his first creation, corruption, regeneration and glorification. Published London, 1576.

Discourse of the Conscience.  Published London, 1576.

The Castell of Christians and Fortress of the Faithfull besieged, and defended now almost sixe thousand yeares. Published London, 1577.

He seems to have believed in the importance of maintaining the out rigidly ordered society where everybody knew their place and maintained the status quo. The Elizabethan era was one of considerable social change with the development of a new moneyed middle class.

He asked everyone to live according to his calling, remembering, “that all men are fed and sustained of God, not to riot, but to live; and to learn with the Apostle, to ‘be content with that they have,’. [Phil.4:11].” [33] However he condemned courtiers and noblemen whose haughtiness and personal ambition made them hold themselves aloof from the lowly.  He believed that Anglican teaching required respect for superiors and gentleness towards inferiors as the means of preserving social tranquillity. [34].

The critical shortage of suitable schools for the sons of the local yeomanry and gentry had become really pressing across the country, and this led to the founding of Manchester College to which John Woolton was appointed to the Wardenship of in 1575. We also became Rector of Spaxton in the deanery of Bridgewater, although one wonders how he managed to travel between the two locations.  Presumably he must have employed curates at Spaxton.

A carved pew door from Spaxton Church showing a woollen manufacturer at work, belived to date from about 1536.

The death of Dr. Bradbridge the Bishop of Exeter opened up to John Woolton the vacancy at the See of Exeter, to which he was consecrated, on August 2nd 1579 John Wolton as Bishop of Exeter at Croydon Palace by Edmund[35] of Archbishop of Canterbury, John [36] Bishop of London, and by John Bishop of Rochester [37] [38]

Croydon Palace

Strype wrote in his “The Life and Acts”

Anno 1579.

I find the Archbishop in this Year at Croyden; so that either his Confinement was taken off, or rather he had leave for the sake of his Health to retire to his House at Croyden. And here John Wolton S. Th. P. was by him Confirmed Bishop of Exon, Friday July 24 and Consecrated Aug. 2. In the Chapel there, John Bishop of London, and John Bishop of Rochester assisting.  Thus we see how he exercised this part of his Archiepiscopal Function even under his Sequestration by Commission from the Queen.[39]
At the time of being appointed Bishop, John Woolton was so poor that he found it necessary to ask fifteen of his clergy to lend him £5 each so that he could afford to buy furniture for his palace; Exeter was at that time an impoverished see, worth only about £500 per annum. In order for Bishop Woolton to have sufficient funds to support his new role, he was allowed to hold two further livings in commendam: Lazant in Cornwall from 1584.

 At the time of John Woolton's consecration Archbishop Grindal was under what was effectively house arrest. By June 1576 Grindal had become concerned at the activities of a group of priests who were increasingly following the “way of Discipline in the Church, conformable to that practised at Geneva by Elders. Which was quite different from the ancient and present Government by Bishops and their Officers.”[40]

These followers of John Knox from Geneva were trying to introduce new forms of public prayer to replace the English Liturgy.  They were holding separate meetings across the country and trying to take over churches.

“But now they brake out in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire to act these Matters more openly to the making of great Hubbubs and Disturbances, by their Endeavour of setting it up in the Parish Churches.[41]

The Queen soon heard about these affairs, and shortly afterwards on the 7th of June 1576 Archbishop Grindal received letters from three of the most powerful of the Queen’s courtiers, led by the Earl of Leicester, followed shortly afterwards by a letter that arrived from Mr. Secretary Walsingham, and then another from the Lord Treasurer. From the latter, Grindal received the names of the two ringleaders.

“and withal the Names of two of the chief Sturrers of these Matters, viz. Paget and Oxenbridge.”[42]

Eusebius Paget (c1551 – 1617) was a Northamptonshire clergyman originally from Cranford St. Andrew.  He is thought to have become a chorister at Christ Church in Oxford as a twelve year old boy before matriculating at Christ’s College Cambridge on the 22nd of February 1564.  He later became vicar of Oundle and rector of Langton.  He had moved parishes to become Rector of Old, also in Northamptonshire, when on January 1573, he was cited before Bishop Edmund Scambler of Peterborough.  Bishop Scambler of Peterborough suspended Paget and some other clergymen including Arthur Wake of Great Billing, Thurston Mosley, George Gildred and William Dawson for openly defending work by Cartwright against Archbishop Whitcliff and established church.

In 1574 Paget was deprived of his living for his preaching. He then became a “posting apostle” in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire where he was one of the most outspoken Puritans.

Eventually Paget moved to Kilkhampton in north Cornwall, where at the request of Sir Francis Hastings, Sir Richard Grenville gave him the living. At this point he became a thorn in the side of Bishop Woolton, and in the following letter Woolton reports his initial difficulties with Paget.

May 20. [1582]

55. John Wolton, bishop of Exeter, to Lord Burghley (?). Unquiet state of the country by means of persons expelled from other places. Intends to suspend Padget for some disorders. Has prevented Matthew Eaton from appearing in Devon, against whom most grievous and unnatural crimes were charged. [43]

The situation continued to be tense, and in April 1585 six years after his consecration John Woolton was again attacked by the Revd Eusebius Paget Rector of Kilkhampton, in a series of articles of accusation.  These accusations must have been a very serious issue for John at the time, as they were sent up to the Archbishop of Canterbury, however for us today they are a fascinating read as they reveal a fascinating insight into his life and events in the Cathedral that would probably have otherwise remained concealed by the passage of time. [44]

John Woolton was Paget’s Bishop and previously;he had been sufficiently concerned about Paget to have made a visitation to Kilkhampton, which is located near Bude in North East Cornwall.

Following an investigation Paget was convicted by the Bishop of ignorance and wilful contempt of the laws. Paget was retaliating, and his articles against the Bishop charged as follows: -

  1. That he had never visited the whole diocese in his own person.
  2. That he had, in his first visitation, indirectly restored certain ministers into their places who had been justly thrust out by Dr. Townshend, one of the visitors, for their ignorance and lewdness.
  3. That, in his second visitation, not liking to have men of gravity, who loved the good of the church, he put into commission two unadvised and rash youths, to visit in his stead, who behaved themselves accordingly, to their discredit, his shame, and the grief of the godly.
  4. That, at his second visitation kept at Exon, in a church near his own house, yet he himself came not at it.
  5. That he preached very seldom; and that, in his own benefices, he might be presented for not preaching his monthly and quarterly sermons; yea, that he would be in his bed, or in his stables among his horses, or in his kitchen amongst his servants, when there were sermons in the church by his house.
  6. That he sold the vicarage of Newlyn for £100; and, at the same time, brought a benefice for his son, in Somersetshire, for 100 marks.
  7. That he borrowed a loan of the ministers of his diocese, towards the payment of his first fruits, which were forgiven him; but the loan not as yet repaid.
  8. That he gave the archdeaconry of Exon, in marriage with his daughter, to one Barret, an unmet person for such an office, having trained up as an ordinary serving man, and unlearned.
  9. And the archdeaconry of Totnes upon one Cole, who had little or nothing from it; and the profits were gathered up for the bishop, as one Bawton, the collector, confessed; and the said Cole died deeply in debt.
  10. And that since his death, the bishop gave the same to one Sweet, who must have nothing out of it for two or three years; and must resign it when the bishop shall appoint him. And the same person as before gathered up the fruits thereof, as he did before.
  11. That he gave the archdeaconry of Barnstable to one Law, his kinsman; who by his own confession, had but £20 by the year out of the same, and the benefice of Ashwater.
  12. That he made boys and ignorant men ministers, and that he made his own son minister, being but eighteen years of age.
  13. That he made his first wife’s father a minister, who had been the duke of Somerset’s cater, and a man unlearned, not having any understanding of the Latin tongue.
  14. That divers persons, priests, and others, were called before him for whoredom, and other notorious crimes; and he did not assign them penance, not yet release them, but kept their matters depending, that they might bring him in gain.
  15. That two harlots were got with child in his own house, which accused two of his men; but none of them brought to penance; yea, and still the men wait upon him.
Thomas Barrett[45], was Archdeacon at Exeter and John’s son in law began a visitation on the 6th of April 1583, which amongst other things demanded the clean defacement of all statues and other superstitious things in churches like roodlofts.[46] Thomas Barrett was married to Margaret Woolton, sister to Mary, one of my 10 x grandmothers.

On the 20thof October 1581, Thomas Carew, who was patron of Haccombe church gifted the living to John Woolton. [47]

Haccombe Church near Newton Abbott.

My great x 10 grandfather, John Baber was ordained as Vicar of Chew by Thomas Godwin, Bishop of Bath and Wells on 14th June 1589.[48]

We don't know how, or when John Baber, met Mary Woolton, the Bishop's daughter, however he was married in about 1590 to Mary Woolton.  We don’t know whether he had been at Exeter prior to his marriage however in 1591, the year following his marriage, he was appointed as a Prebendry of Exeter Cathedral in place of Thomas Langherne. He retained the position until his death in 1628, for Hugh Cholmeley replaced him on 14 August 1628.

Francis Godwin, (1562-1633) the second son of Bishop Godwin, married Susan, sister to Mary, on 13 August 1590, or shortly thereafter. He became a sub-dean of Exeter. Like John Baber, he was also a Prebend of Wells, as well as vicar of Weston Zoyland, and also Porlock.  Francis Godwin was a considerable scholar, and wrote many books, including what is now regarded as the earliest science fiction book, The Man in the Moone.

Bishop Francis Godwin, of Llandaff and Hereford.

The Man in the Moone details the adventures of one Domingo Gonsales, a Spanish adventurer who having had to flee Spain where he has committed a murder, goes to Teneriffe, and there he ends up befriending a flock of geese, who he trains to work in harness, and to draw him up into the air.

The Man in the Moone

After several weeks of successful flights, Gonsales unwittingly goes for another flight on the very day that the geese would have normally set off for their annual migration.  At that time Barnacle Geese were believed to migrate annually to the Moon.

Gonsales riding with his geese

After spending the winter on the Moon, the geese successfully pull Gonsales back to Earth.  

The book is still in print to this day, and is a great read.  What is however fascinating, is that the detailed knowledge that the book contains of the coast line of several Atlantic islands, the activities of the Jesuits in China and other matters that point towards Godwin having access to go intelligence material on the Spanish Empire.

This is not entirely surprising, because as a young clergyman at Exeter he would have met many of the late Elizabethan naval and merchant families from the West Country. Bishop Woolton had been tasked with developing Protestant Doctrines with which to combat the growing influence of the Catholic Counter Reformation that was spreading across Europe.

Living in Devon, the Bishop knew that he was potentially right in the front line of any conflict. Potential invasion forces were constantly being monitored along the Spanish coastline.

One of the Bishop's key appointments during this period was that of Dean Matthew Sutcliffe (c1550-1629.) Sutcliffe had been present with the English Army under the Earl of Essex in the Netherlands, where he had commenced writing his 1593 book, The Practice, Proceedings, and Lawes of Armes,
a pioneering study of strategy and the laws of warfare.

On the 27th of  October 1588 Sutcliffe became Dean of Exeter, a position that he held for more than forty years.

On the 9th of March 1607 he also became a member of the council for Virginia, and on 3rd of November 1620 of that for New England.

This busy man also founded Chelsea College in 1609, based on his previous work at Exeter, and Sutcliffe went on to train many of the translators who were to compose the King James Bible, one of the greatest works in the English Language.

The gateway into the Bishops Palace at Exeter. 

Although the windows are mainly later insertions, the earlier arrow slits of this early Tudor building survive.

The main palace building appears to have been largely re-built since John Woolton's time, however one other tangible item connected to the Bishop survives, which is a second monument set high up on the cathedral walls. It is not at all easy to get to a suitable angle from which to photograph the text.

Monument to John Woolton, believed to have been installed by Laurence Woolton, his heir, and a controversial Doctor in Exeter

One other "family" memorial survives in the cathedral. This is the following monument to Matthew Godwin, who was a younger brother of Francis Godwin.  He was appointed as organist and head of music in the cathedral, but died shortly afterwards, while only a young man.

Matthew Godwin, musician.

Francis Godwin was present in the Palace during John Woolton's last hours. Until two hours before his death, he was still writing letters, and when advised to take care of his health, paraphrased a quotation by Vespasian “A bishop ought to die on his legs.”[49] which were reputedly his last words.

John Woolton was survived by two sons, John and Matthew, and by five daughters, Margaret Barrett, Susan Goodwin, Mary Baber, Hester, and Alice. John, who had been a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, was imprisoned for a while by his father for converting to Catholicism

Mary Woolton married my 10x Great Grandfather the Rev John Baber of Chew Magna and Tormarton.  John had become a Prebendary of Exeter and this was presumably how he had come to meet Mary.

John Woolton has had a lasting impact on many lives, not least on mine, for he is one of my 11 x great grandfather's and tracking down his story has taken me into many aspects of Tudor life that I would have otherwise have been otherwise totally unaware. Thank you John.

If you are aware of other material relating to Bishop Woolton, or indeed any of the other main characters in this blog, I would be very pleased to hear from you. I can be contacted on

Exeter Cathedral

[2] 'Cecil Papers: October 1578', in Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House, Volume 2, 1572-1582 (London, 1888), pp. 208-224 [accessed 28 February 2015].
[3] Edmund Grindal
[4] John Aylmer.
[5] John Young.
[6] n Apology for the Doctrine of Apostolical Succession: with an Appendix on ... By A. P. Perceval, page 196.
[7]Probably Sir Peter Carew, 1514-1575, of Mohun’s Ottery, Devon.  A younger son of Sir William Carew and Joan, daughter of Sir William Courtnay of Powderham.  He had been a soldier of fortune in France and Italy, then became M.P. for Tavistock.  He played a part in suppressing the Prayer Book troubles in Devon under Henry VIII.  A strong Protestant, he became one of the leaders of the Western Rising in 1554.  He fled to France, from where he planned a landing in England.  He narrowly escaped assassination by Catholic Agents in Venice.  He may have turned coat, as it is believed that he engineered the capture Sir Cheke by Philip of Spain’s agents.  A very good article appears on him in “The Marian Exiles” by Christina Garrett, pages 104 to 108.
[8] Sir John Chichester, d 1569. Married to Gertude, daughter of Sir William Courtnay of Powderham.  Like Carew above he was involved in piracy, and was a local MP.  He was involved in suppressing the 1549 insurrection, but although he was knighted early in Queen Mary’s reign he came under suspicion in the Western Rising of 1554.  See The Marian Exiles” by Christina Garrett, pages 118 to 119.
[9] The Remains of Edmund Grindal: Successively Bishop of London and ..., Volume 19, By Edmund Grindal, page 299.  Original in MS. C.C. Coll. Camb. Cxiv. 195.
[10] The Court Rolls of the Honor of Clitheroe in the County of Lancaster, page 159.
[11] From Kate Ash-Irisarri's excellent blog on Whalley Abbey.
[12] History of Whalley by T. D. Whitaker, LL. D. 1800. P.143.
[13] Revd. Ralph Churton, Life of Dean Nowell Published Oxford 1809.  Dedicated to the Right Reverend, the Lord Bishop of St. David’s.  Churton was Archdeacon of St. Davids, and Vicar of Middleton near Banbury. Page 4.
[14] See and also Thomas Dunham Whitaker, An History of the Original Parish of Whalley and Honor of Clitheroe for many more details.
[15] FILE  - ref. DDHE 57/14 - date: 20 Jan. 1535/6
[16] See for an excellent article on the school, and the Nowell connection.
[17] For a really good set of articles about the lasting effect, the learning of Agricola had see Rodolphus Agricola Phrisius, 1444-1485 : Proceedings of the International ...  edited by Fokke Akkerman, Arie Johan Vanderjagt
[18] Churton page 9, and also as the original source Holinshed, vol. I. P. 151. 2nd ed. 1587.
[19] Churton page 10.
[20] See for a good article on the boy King.
[21] The Marian Exiles, a Study in the Origins of Elizabethan Puritanism.  By Christina Hallowell Garrett published 1938.  Page 238 & 239. & 
[22] Churton page 20.
[23] Churton page 35.
[24] Churton page 39.  See the original in the Burghley MSS. Brit. Mus. Vol. Vi. No. 54. June 1568.
[25] History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster, By Edward Baines, page 198. Published 1836.
[28] Calendar of the Carew Manuscripts: 1515-1574,  By Lambeth Palace Library, George Carew Totnes (Earl of), page 384.
[29] Lives of the bishops of Exeter: and a history of the cathedral, with an ...  By George Oliver. Page 141.
[30] British Library. Additional Manuscript  MS 35,324, f. 18r.  This book was republished in Cambridge in 1851.
[31] “Society and Religion in Elizabethan England”, by Richard L. Greaves published Minnesota Press 1981.
[33] “Society and Religion in Elizabethan England”, by Richard L. Greaves, page 16.
[34] Greaves page 22.
[35] Edmund Grindal
[36]John Aylmer.
[37]John Young.
[38] An Apology for the Doctrine of Apostolical Succession: with an Appendix on ... By A. P. Perceval, page 196.
[39]Strype, Life of Grindal. Page 242.
[40] Strype, Life of Grindal. Page 215.
[41] Strype, Life of Grindal. Page 215.
[42] Strype, Life of Grindal. Page 215.
[43] 'Queen Elizabeth - Volume 153: May 1582', in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Elizabeth, 1581-90, ed. Robert Lemon (London, 1865), pp. 53-57
[44] History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster,  By Edward Baines published 1832, page 198 onwards.
[45] Thomas Barrett, son in law of Bishop John Woolton, was instituted Archdeacon on the 14th January 1582-3, on the presentation of James Woolton, of London, gent. and William Brewton, of Exeter, notary public.  He died on the 25th of November 1633, aged 82, after 50 years in the post.  The History of Exeter, by George Oliver (of St. Nicholas' Priory, Exeter.) xxiii.
[46] Medieval English Roodscreens with special reference to Devon, a thesis by Michael A Williams, University of Exeter, June 2008. Page 98.
[47] Probably Sir Peter Carew, 1514-1575, of Mohun’s Ottery, Devon.  A younger son of Sir William Carew and Joan, daughter of Sir William Courtnay of Powderham.  He had been a soldier of fortune in France and Italy, then became M.P. for Tavistock.  He played a part in suppressing the Prayer Book troubles in Devon under Henry VIII. A strong Protestant, he became one of the leaders of the Western Rising in 1554. He fled to France, from where he planned a landing in England. He narrowly escaped assassination by Catholic Agents in Venice. He may have turned coat, as it is believed that he engineered the capture Sir Cheke by Philip of Spain’s agents. A very good article appears on him in “The Marian Exiles” by Christina Garrett, pages 104 to 108.
[49] Last Words of Saints and Sinners: 700 Final Quotes from the Famous, the ...  By Herbert Lockyer, page 59.

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