Saint or Sinner?

Whenever the name of Bishop William Barlow, Bishop of St. David's, 1536 to 1548, is mentioned, most people will immediately say " that's the man that who tore the lead roof off the Bishop's Palace and let it fall into ruins", and others will also say " he sold the lead in order to provide dowries for his five daughters" who by the way were not even born at that time.

So what is the truth behind this "medieval spinning" of the actual facts?

First let us deal with the Palace story. The Palace was built by Bishop Henry Gower, who was Bishop from 1328 to 1347, for the expected visit of King Edward III, which it seems never to have taken place. By the time of Bishop Barlow the buildings were already two hundred years old, and as Dean Wyn Evans commented in a lecture to the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society in September 2005 "that the buildings were constructed with very poor quality stone and by Barlow's days would probably have needed extensive repairs". Therefore Barlow would have needed to raise money for its repair. Where was the money to come from? Henry VIII at this time was dissolving the Monasteries, selling off Parish Tithes which led to a greatly reduced income for the Bishop. He did not have the luxury of applying to the Heritage Lottery for a grant as one would today.

It would seem he removed the roofs from the Great Hall and Chamber, but there is also evidence to suggest that part of the demolition was undertaken by an earlier Bishop. If one considers John Speed's map of 1610, you may see that the greater part of the Palace is still roofed and would possibly have been in use at that time.

What of the moving of the Palace to Abergwili? The Church at this time was undergoing great changes to its liturgy and general upheaval due to the Reformation. Bishop Barlow being the leader of the reforms in Wales, he needed a more central position in the Diocese to administer the reforms. Abergwili being more central suited his purposes more than St. David's. He also petitioned the Archbishop of Canterbury to move the Cathedral from St. David's to Carmarthen, but this was not granted. In later years further requests by both Bishops Lucy 1660 -1667 and Thomas 1677-1683 were also refused by the Archbishop, so Barlow's was not the only request for moving the Cathedral to Carmarthen.

What of the man and his achievements? The date of his birth is unknown but he died in 1568. He became an Augustinian Canon of St. Osyth Priory in Essex. He wrote many tracts such as "Burying of the Mass" and had very strong reforming views which got him into trouble in the early years of Henry VIII's reign. He then rose to be a prominent member of the Augustinian Order becoming Prior of Haverfordwest by 1534, acted as Chaplain to Henry VIII, and had led an embassy to Scotland on behalf of the King. In 1536 he was consecrated Bishop of St. Asaph followed by St. David's in the same year, being the the first Protestant Bishop to be appointed by the King and not elected. During the reign of Edward VI he was appointed Bishop of Bath and Wells He fled to the Continent after a short term of imprisonment under Queen Mary only to return under Elizabeth to be made Bishop of Chichester.

He was the only Bishop who played a part in the consecration of Mathew Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1559 who had been consecrated under the traditional forms of the Roman Church. Considered to be a distinguished father of the Protestant Church. What of his five daughters? They all married Bishops.

Saint or Sinner? I can do no better than quote Dylan Thomas, when Eli Jenkins prays that the Lord "will see our best side not our worst".

W. Arwyn Prie

First published in The Friend December 2005