Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

Vicars of Bray.

The vicar of Bray, in Berkshire, was a papist under the reign of Henry the Eighth, and a Protestant under Edward the Sixth; he was a papist again under Mary, and once more became a Protestant in the reign of Elizabeth.1 When this scandal to the gown was reproached for his versatility of religious creeds, and taxed for being a turncoat and an inconstant changeling, as Fuller expresses it, he replied, “Not so neither; for if I changed my religion, I am sure I kept true to my principle; which is, to live and die the vicar of Bray!”

This vivacious and reverend hero has given birth to a proverb peculiar to this county, “The vicar of Bray will be vicar of Bray still.” But how has it happened that this vicar should be so notorious, and one in much higher rank, acting the same part, should have escaped notice? Dr. Kitchen, bishop of Llandaff, from an idle abbot under Henry VIII. was made a busy bishop; Protestant under Edward, he returned to his old master under Mary; and at last took the oath of supremacy under Elizabeth, and finished as a parliament Protestant. A pun spread the odium of his name; for they said that he had always loved the Kitchen better than the Church!

1 His name was Simon Symonds. The popular ballad absurdly exaggerates his deeds, and gives them untrue amplitude. It is not older than the last century, and is printed in Ritson’s English Songs.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37