Dr.Thomas Stanley - Rector and Bishop Back to the Main Historical Society page
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Dr.Thomas Stanley - Rector and Bishop

from The Barwicker No.68
Dec. 2002

Rev. FS Colman, in his book 'The History of the Parish of Barwick-in-Elmet', devotes a chapter to the lives and times of his 44 predecessors as rector here. At No. 22, he includes Dr Thomas Stanley who held this office from 1527 to 1568. He begins with a harsh criticism of the man and ends with an ironic comment about the state of the Church at the time. He gives us another example of the way many past incumbents have used the income from the rectorship here for their purposes. Unusually for Colman, parts of the passage are not easy to understand, as he uses some unfamiliar terms. So his words have been modified and additions made for greater understanding.

"Thomas Stanley DD occupied the rectory with very little credit for over forty years. The date of his presentation is 22 February 1526/7 but his induction is not recorded. It is said that he was the natural son of Edward Stanley, second son of Lord Monteagle, he was educated at Oxford and at another university beyond the seas".

In 1513 he became rector of Badworth (Wigan), a post he held until 1549 and shortly after he was appointed rector of Barwick, he became prebendary (canon) of Thorngate from 1528 to 1530. He was elevated to the high office of Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1542. His diocese was removed from the province of Canterbury and united with that of York, and his opposition to this move led to his being deposed in 1545. "Queen Mary restored him in 1556 and at the same time appointed him Governor of the Isle of Man. It is uncertain whether he held the see till his death, the 'History of the House of Stanley' denies it, at any rate his successor was not consecrated until 1570."

During the time of his suspension from the bishopric he became on 10 April 1552, rector of the valuable living of Winwick in Lancashire on the presentation of the Earl of Derby, and on 23 December 1557, Rector of North Meols (Wigan). "Even yet he was not satisfied for on 10 May, 1558, he obtained the rectory of Wigan." Terry Munro (see 'The Barwicker' No.33) suggests that, "He (Stanley) appears to have been appointed rector (of Barwick) solely for the purpose of obtaining money for his bishopric, which was the least endowed in the province." However Colman points to a more personal and venal cause.

"We know how he treated his responsibilities, for Bishop Pilkington, of Durham, writing to Archbishop Parker, of Canterbury, and giving a deplorable account of the clergy of the Northern Province, says,

'The Bishop of Man liveth here at ease and as merry as Pope Joan'.

It is possible that he added a stall (became a canon) at Durham, where he was living in idleness. He died in 1568 but we are as ignorant of the place of his burial as of his origin."

Some year after his death a dispute arose concerning certain dispositions he had made regarding the rectory of Winwick. The cause was brought to the ecclesastical court in 1618, when it was stated in evidence that while he was Bishop of Sodor and Man, he held the benefices of Winwick, North Meols, Wigan and Barwick. He leased Winwick for 90 years reserving only 120 of the income to his successors and leaving them with the obligation to carry out all repairs and to pay all temporal and spiritual duties (and he presumably pocketed the remainder).

He appears to have been well supported in his activities by his superiors who seemed only too anxious to grant him 'dispensation' to hold more than one office.

"It was stated that the King granted him a dispensation to hold two livings, notwithstanding his illegitimate origin; that after he was consecrated bishop by 'foreign power', the Pope dispensed him and, when he added two more valuable livings to his spoils, he got dispensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The story is a a striking illustration of what was possible in a Church that had lately shown the inspiring influence of Henry VIII."


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