William Barlow (bishop of Chichester)

For other people named William Barlow, see William Barlow (disambiguation).

William Barlow (Barlowe; alias Finch) (died 1568) was an English Augustinian prior turned bishop of four dioceses, a complex figure of the Protestant Reformation. Aspects of his life await scholarly clarification. Labelled by some a "weathercock reformer",[1] he was in fact a staunch evangelical, an anti-Catholic and collaborator in the Dissolution of the Monasteries and dismantling of church estates; and largely consistent in his approach, apart from an early anti-Lutheran tract and a supposed recantation under Mary I of England.


An Augustinian regular canon, he became prior of Bromehill Priory, Weeting, Norfolk in 1524, having headed some smaller houses. It was dissolved by Cardinal Wolsey in 1528.[2][3][4]

Already by 1526 he was in contact with the literature of the Protestant reformers, having brought a work of Bugenhagen to Thomas More.[5]

Court circles

He certainly was closely associated with the Boleyn party at Court, and so with the anti-Wolsey faction, but the details are unclear. His brother John Barlow was a member of the household of Anne Boleyn.[6] It is said that William was sent by Henry VIII as a courier to William Knight in Rome, on the divorce negotiations; but this is also doubted, as more likely his brother John, at the end of 1527. He was also chaplain to George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, and owed advancement to the Boleyn interest at court.[7][8] There is a further confused story about presentation to the living of Sundridge, Kent, and a verbal muddle with Tonbridge.[9]

What is apparent is that William Barlow was later appointed as prior of Haverfordwest Priory, in 1534; the position was in the gift of Anne Boleyn as Marchioness of Pembroke.[10] He was also suggested as a suffragan bishop in the diocese of St David's, but the bishop Richard Rawlins, soon to be a troublesome opponent, rejected him.[9]

Haverfordwest Priory was soon suppressed, and Barlow was made prior of Bisham Priory, with the support of Thomas Cromwell. This he handed over to the king in 1536; but it was briefly a candidate to be upgraded to an abbey.[11] His brothers Roger and Thomas Barlow were purchasers or grantees of Haverfordwest Priory in 1546, after its dissolution in 1536. They founded a Barlow family in Slebech. Roger Barlow was a merchant and a companion of Sebastian Cabot[12] voyaging to South America; Thomas Barlow was rector of Catfield.[2][13]

Missions to Scotland

William Barlow, then Prior of the Monastery of Bisham, was sent to Scotland in October 1534. He went again to James V of Scotland with Sir William Howard in February 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. At Holyroodhouse they presented the King with the ornaments of the Order of the Garter. 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 April 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.[14]

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.[15]

Bishop in Wales

He was successively Bishop of St Asaph in 1536, and 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.[16] 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",[17] as clearly happened on other occasions. His consecration as Bishop is important in the issue of apostolic succession, his own consecration of Matthew Parker holds an important place in the question of the validity of Anglican orders, from the Catholic perspective.

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.[3][18] 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.[19][20][21]

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, and stripped the lead from the episcopal palace at St. David's; 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 January 1542).[3][10][22][23]

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.[3] 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 Goodrich were the most advanced reformers on some matters of doctrine.[24][25] In 1547 he supported Cranmer's Homilies campaign, preaching at St Paul's Cross, early in the new reign.[26]

Bath and Wells

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.[27] 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.[3]

He was now married to Agatha Wellesbourne. 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.[28]

Later life

When Mary I of England came to the throne he resigned his bishopric, because he was married.[28] He was a Marian exile in Germany, and Poland, after imprisonment in the Tower of London. He travelled with Catherine Willoughby, 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby and Richard Bertie.[2][29] He also had an English congregation at Emden.[3]

Under Elizabeth I he was bishop of Chichester. Almost immediately she compelled him by Act of Parliament to give up manors, including Selsey.[3][30]


It has been argued that heretical pamphlets by Friar Jerome Barlow (or Barlowe) were by William Barlow.[2][31][32] 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[33]

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.[34] George Joye accused Thomas More of being the real author.[35]


His five daughters each married clergymen who were to become bishops:

William Barlow (1544–1629), writer on magnetism, was his son.[37]

His wife Agatha died in 1595; there is a memorial to her in Easton, Hampshire.[38][39]


  1. Chamber's Biographical Dictionary (1912).
  2. 1 2 3 4 "The National Library of Wales :: Dictionary of Welsh Biography". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7  Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1885). "Barlow, William (d.1568)". Dictionary of National Biography. 3. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  4. "Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Bromehill". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  5. Alistair Fox, Thomas More: History and Providence (1982), note p. 129.
  6. Warnicke, p. 155.
  7. Warnicke, p. 69 and p. 82.
  8. "Preface". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  9. 1 2 Eric William Ives, 'The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (2004), p. 261-2.
  10. 1 2 "History of Pembrokeshire". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  11. "Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Bisham". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  12. Skelton, R. A. (1979) [1966]. "Cabot, Sebastian". In Brown, George Williams. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. I (1000–1700) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  13. "Slebech Estate Records". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  14. State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 5, part IV part 2 (1836) 7, 17–20, 36–38, 42
  15. State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 5 part IV part 2, (1836), 46–49, Howard and Barlow to Henry VIII and Cromwell, 13 May 1536; 52, 23 May 1536.
  16. Samuel Kinns, "Six hundred years"; or, Historical sketches of eminent men and women who have more or less come into contact with the abbey and church of Holy Trinity, Minories, from 1293 to 1893 (1898), pp. 196–9; PDF.
  17. F.O. White, "Lives of the Elizabethan Bishops of the Anglican Church" (1898), p.8.
  18. Duffy, p. 404.
  19. http://www.shrinesofourlady.com/_eng/shrines/ceredigion.asp?cid=3&ccode=wal
  20. http://www.welshabbey.org.uk/english/dissolution/
  21. Robert Hutchinson, Thomas Cromwell (2007), p. 161.
  22. "Friends of Carmarthen Museum". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  23. "Sir Henry Vaughans Company: Reenacting the Great Civil War at Carmarthenshire County Museum". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  24. Maria Dowling, Humanism in the Age of Henry VIII (1986), p. 131.
  25. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (1996), p. 294.
  26. Duffy, p. 449.
  27. Rambridge, Kate (2013). The Bishop's Palace. A guide to the palace and gardens. The Palace Trust. p. 10.
  28. 1 2 Peter Sherlock, Monuments, Reputation and Clerical Marriage in Reformation England: Bishop Barlow's Daughters, Gender & History, Volume 16 Issue 1, Pages 57 – 82; Published Online: 12 May 2004.
  29. http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/Bios/CatherineWilloughby.htm[]
  30. "Selsey". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  31. A. Koszul, Was Bishop William Barlow Friar Jerome Barlow? (1928).
  32. Listed in the DNB article as: 1. 'The Treatyse of the Burial of the Masse.' 2. ' A Dialogue between the Gentyllman and the Husbandman.' 3. 'The Clymynge up of Fryers and Religious Persones.' 4. 'A Description of Godes Words compared to the Lyght.' 5. 'A Convicyous Dialoge against Saynt. Thomas of Canterberye. (unpublished).
  33. "Jerome Barlowe". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  34. Peter Marshall, Religious Identities in Henry VIII's England (2006), p. 39.
  35. Rainer Pineas, George Joy's Controversy with Thomas More, Moreana No. 38 (June 1973), p. 31; PDF, p. 3.
  36. Dictionary of National Biography
  37. http://www.barlowgenealogy.com/england/famous/williammath.htm
  38. Peter Sherlock, Monuments and Memory in Early Modern England (2008), p. 121.
  39. "Southern Life – Latest News Around the World". Retrieved 2 April 2016.



Further reading

Church of England titles
Preceded by
Henry Standish
Bishop of St Asaph
Succeeded by
Robert Warton
Preceded by
Richard Rawlins
Bishop of St David's
Succeeded by
Robert Ferrar
Preceded by
William Knight
Bishop of Bath and Wells
Succeeded by
Gilbert Bourne
Preceded by
John Christopherson
Bishop of Chichester
Succeeded by
Richard Curteys
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