‘Wise, Prudent and Just’: the Archbishop buried in Croydon

MARVELS OF THE MINSTER: Croydon Parish Church, as it was known, has a history that stretches back a thousand years, and much of it is inextricably linked with the Archbishops of Canterbury – six of them are buried there. Here, DAVID MORGAN tells the story of the earliest of those interned

Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of Canterbury, the first to have his final resting place at Croydon Minster

There are many historical links between the Archbishops of Canterbury and Croydon. A reason for this is that one of their palaces was situated here in the town, down by where the River Wandle flowed, next to the parish church which is now Croydon Minster.

Some of the Archbishops are better known than others. Some will know Archbishop Sheldon, appointed by Charles II. He left his money to Oxford University to build the Sheldonian Theatre and he has a striking memorial in Croydon’s parish church.

One who is less known is Robert Kilwardby, the Archbishop in the 1270s, at the time of the Crusades in the reign of Edward I. After taking office he arranged for a detailed survey of Croydon in order to gain a better understanding of his estate. In 1278, he set off for Rome on hearing that he was appointed a Cardinal, and he decided to take all the previous records of the Croydon Palace with him.

He died at the papal palace in Viterbo, 60 miles from his destination, The Vatican. It was darkly rumoured that he could have been poisoned. Whatever the cause of death, the records he took with him vanished, never to be seen again.

Most in Croydon will be familiar with the name Whitgift, if only for the shopping centre or the school. They both owe their title to Archbishop John Whitgift, buried in Croydon Minster in 1604 and whose legacies have supported the education of young people and the care of the elderly for the five centuries since.

A less well-known archbishop of the Tudor era with a strong link to Croydon was Whitgift’s predecessor, Edmund Grindal. He, too, is buried in the Minster, the first of six Archbishops of Canterbury to have their final resting place here.

Walk into Croydon Minster and continue through the building towards the great stained glass window until you come to the office. There, to the right of the wooden door is a severely damaged tablet mounted on the wall which is all that remains of the memorial to Grindal, who was buried here in Croydon in 1583.

Croydon Minster today was largely rebuilt in the 19th century, after a devastating fire which destroyed Grindal’s tomb

His tomb was destroyed in the fire of 1869.

Before its destruction, people could see the tomb near the communion table against the south wall. A full-length statue of the archbishop with his hands in a posture of prayer was carved from stone.

The sculptor carved his long, somewhat forked beard and gave him eyes that were seemingly rather pale, in acknowledgement of his failing sight.

Grindal was a fascinating character who held the most senior post in the Church of England from 1575, during the reign of Elizabeth I, until his death eight years later. Being a clergyman in Tudor times was, to say the least, challenging, and negotiating a way through the Reformation, its changes and demands, was often tortuous.

Edmund Grindal was born in around 1517 in Crosshill House in the small Cumbrian village of St Bees. His father, William Grindal, was a tenant farmer of St Bees Priory and occupied one of the few large stone buildings in the village.

Two stories have survived about Edmund’s childhood. One is that he was saved from being killed by a stray arrow because he was holding a thick book under his cloak. The second is that he saved his father from drowning by pulling him back from the edge of a bridge, which moments later collapsed into the raging torrent. Cumbria had its floods back then, too.

He studied at Oxford, at Magdalene College, later at Christ Church and subsequently becoming a fellow of Pembroke Hall. He was awarded his MA in 1541, was ordained deacon in 1544 and made Proctor and Lady Margaret Preacher 1548-49. The Lady Margaret’s Preachership was founded in 1504 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII, the first Preacher being nominated by the Margaret herself.

Grindal was clearly a highly regarded churchman, well-connected with the monarchy, and he was appointed to be one of the Chaplains to the young Edward VI, Henry VIII’s only son, after he was crowned in 1547.

As illustrated in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, being a priest in 16th Century England was a high-risk occupation

Grindal is one of the few prelates who have held all three of the English churches’ main offices, becoming in succession the Bishop of London, Archbishop of York and Archbishop of Canterbury.

He was supported to become Bishop of London by Nicholas Ridley, who had known Grindal when Master of Pembroke Hall, and who would become Bishop of London himself. When Ridley held that office, he made Grindal one of his chaplains and gave him the precentorship of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Grindal was making a name for himself as a scholar and priest in newly Protestant England, and even attracted praise from John Knox. Grindal benefited greatly from the patronage of Ridley and Sir William Cecil during this period, to the extent that on June 11, 1553, he was nominated to be Bishop of London.

But only a month later, frail Edward was dead, and his successor was his oldest sister, Mary. Catholicism was about to be reinstated in England, and many of those who had prospered and advanced their church careers since the Reformation were now hunted down and feared for their lives as heretics.

Ridley, for one, was martyred in 1555 – but by then, Grindal had fled England. In 1553, Grindal went into exile, initially staying in Strasburg. Over the next five years he travelled widely across the continent, meeting up with other Protestants. He helped John Foxe to produce a Book of Martyrs with Grindal providing testimonies of many who suffered in Mary’s reign.

Elizabeth I: Grindal was in favour during her reign

This book was published in Basle in 1559, the year Grindal returned to this country. Within months, he was made Bishop of London. It is recorded that there were many protests on a range of issues while he was in office. London was not an easy diocese to manage.

As Bishop of London, Grindal was faced with two major catastrophic events. First, on Wednesday June 4, 1561, St Paul’s Cathedral was struck by lightning and burnt down. Grindal was placed in charge of the rebuilding.

Then, in the summer of 1562, plague ravaged the capital: 17,400 people died from the disease. Grindal strove to ensure that the poor were helped. In urging the city to prayer as well as fasting, he asked that food not consumed through these weekly fasts be given to the most vulnerable.

Grindal’s academic qualities, particularly his skills in languages, proved to be important in his achievements in translating the Bible into English. In 1568, the first translation was published and became known as “the Bishop’s Bible”. The notes on that publication have the initials of each of the translators who were responsible for particular sections written at the foot of each relevant page. These show that Grindal, himself, was responsible for the translation of the books of the minor prophets of the Old Testament.

Grindal must have made a good enough job of his tasks in London, and in 1570 he was made Archbishop of York. Four years later, he was made Archbishop of Canterbury, thanks mainly to the influence of Elizabeth’s chief advisor, Cecil.

Grindal was chosen so he might take a strong line against Puritan preaching and “prophesying”. However, Grindal found it difficult to condemn much of the preaching, as he himself used this means of evangelisation.

In 1577 he was suspended from his legal jurisdiction and effectively placed under house arrest at his home, the Palace of Croydon. Initially, Grindal did not back down in the row. It took an apology to the Queen in 1582 before he was reinstated.

Grindal was an important Protestant scholar who did much work to translate the Bible into English

By this time, though – now in his 60s, a very great age in Elizabethan times – his health was in severe decline, in particular his eyesight. He had become virtually blind. He even considered resigning as Archbishop, but died, aged 63, before all the procedures for such an action could be completed. His successor as Archbishop was John Whitgift.

The most endearing monument to Edmund Grindal was the “free grammar school” he set up in his native St Bees in 1583. The school was built at a cost of £366 6s 4d. Just three days before his death, he published statutes for the school containing a series of specific regulations.

On the lintel above the door was inscribed the words “Enter so that you may make progress.” St Bees continued to operate as an independent boarding school for more than 400 years, until July 2015, when the governors announced its closure due to the harsh economic climate.

Throughout his life, Grindal retained a love of plants which had begun during his Cumbrian childhood living close to the Priory. He introduced the tamarisk plant to this country from the continent. He cultivated it in the garden of Fulham Palace, his official home as the Bishop of London.

A sketch of the detail of Grindal’s tomb, which was destroyed by fire in 1867

The pious and venerable shepherd, Old Algrind, mentioned in Edmund Spenser’s famous poem of the day, Shepherd’s Calendar, is a direct reference to Grindal, using an anagram.

There are warm words for Algrind in the poem, just as there were for Grindal in his lifetime. His approach was always one of conciliation and support rather than the hard-nosed confrontation shown by many of that time.

Reading the detail in his last will and testament reveals more of Grindal’s personal life. For Mabel, Anne, Barbara and Frances, the four daughters of his late brother Robert, Grindal left £50 each – in total, the equivalent of around £80,000 today. There was also the same £50 legacy to each of the four daughters (Dorothie, Katheren, Elizabeth and Isabel) of his late sister Elizabeth Woodhal. He bequeathed to his godson Edmund Woodhal one of his little standing cups with a cover.

John Scott, the steward of his household – the servant who will have kept Croydon Palace running in good order – was left his horse, named Old Marshall. Another servant, William Henmarshe, received a legacy of a ring, worth 20 shillings. John Chambers, Mr Wilson and Mr Robinson were his chaplains, Richard Frampton was his secretary and Richard Somerdyne his Yeoman of Horse, and all were mentioned in the will.

It was his wish to be buried under the choir in our Croydon Church with little fuss. On Grindal’s tomb in the church was an inscription containing the words: “Doctus, Prudens, Justus“: wise, prudent and just.

Croydon Minster is open every day, except Thursdays. If you would like a group tour or want to book a school visit, then ring the office on 020 8688 8104 or go to the website on www.croydonminster.org and use the contact page.

  • David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers to plan bespoke tours for groups or to provide illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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