Matthew Parris - The Great Unfrocked: Two Thousand Years of Church Scandal (Robson 1998)
An original Sin The Nun of Watton: Then the Affair was Turned Over to the Virgins Costumery Cross-dressing Clerics: Frock Shock for Flocks Butchery James Hackman: I Could Murder a Sandwich George Abbot: 'An angel might have miscarried in that sort' Henry Timbrell: Methodist Preacher Castrates Sleeping Apprentices John Ball: The Mad Priest from Kent Lechery Giacinto Achilli: 'A profligate under a cowl Tom Tyler: A Case of Baggy Underpants Lust, Pride, Anger, Envy and Gluttony Tele-evangelists: 'Where in the Bible does it say a church has to be non-profit?' Tragedy Harold Davidson, Rector of Stiffkey: ‘I do not know what the buttock is’ Dr William Dodd: ‘I am now a spectacle to men and soon shall be a spectacle to angels’ Mystery John Wakeford: A Period Drama Charles Vaughan: ‘What I have just written may perhaps surprise’ Wrangling Parsons Edward Drax Free: A Shoot-out at the Rectory? The Curse of Lincoln: Britain’s Unhappiest Cathedral Messiahs Abiezer Coppe: ‘Hills! Mountains! Cedars! Mighty men! Your breath is in your nostrils!’ Henry James Prime and john Hugh Smyth—Pigott: ‘The Lord hath need of £50. The Spirit would have this this made known to you. Amen’ Treachery Judas Iscariot: ‘Woe unto that man by whom He is betrayed!’ The Crime Not To Be Named Percy Jocelyn: The Arse Bishop John Atherton: 'The first of my profession that ever came to this shameful end’ John Church: ‘Yea! They had forgotten me in the Sunday News!’ Anglicanism and Homosexuality: Recent Agonies 'Can you tell me how you got hold of this?’ Runaway Romeos Eamonn Casey: 'Off with the collar and off with the nightie!’ Roderick Wright: ‘There are no more women. Just these two’ Feet of Clay St. George of Cappadocia...or was it Alexandria? Purveyor of Pork and Patron Saint of England William Jackson: ‘Doctor Viper’ James Cannon: A Methodist on the Stock Exchange Henry Ward Beecher: ‘A dunghill covered with flowers’ A Liar Titus Oates: A Shame to Mankind A Pirate Lancelot Blackburne, Archbishop of York: ‘The jolly old Archbishop of York’ A Journalist Henry Bate: ‘l have stuck the fork in the dunghill, up came Mr Bate' Other News Assorted Miscreants ‘They will come to see me prosecuted but not hear me preach’ Epilogue Roger Holmes: ‘The Knicker Vicar of North Yorkshire’ Afterthought: a researcher writes
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Parsons are more imaginative sinners than politicians, Times columnist Matthew Parris has discovered. Runaway bishops and naughty vicars are a staple of today's tabloid newspapers, but as he reveals in The Great Unfrocked, they're only part of the tradition of colourful clerics dating back centuries.
From Judas Iscariot to the Reverend Roger Holmes, the self-declared 'knicker vicar of North Yorkshire', disciples, bishops and parsons have been falling from grace. This entertaining and informative book, successor to the best-selling Great Parliamentary Scandals, brings to light some of the most unusual tales.
Along the way we learn the secrets behind St George, currently patron saint. of England, but formerly bacon seller to the Egyptian army; and behind Pope Joan, exposed as a woman before a crowd of thousands when she gave birth riding a horse. We hear how eighteenth century London was gripped by’ a frenzy of grief when the fashionable preacher Dr Dodd was led to the scaffold, And we discover what drove the notorious Rector of Stiffkey, the 'prostitutes' padre‘, who exhibited himself in a barrel on Blackpool promenade and died denouncing the Archbishop of Canterbury in the jaws of Freddie the circus lion in Skegness.
Matthew Parris's funny and well-researched study draws heavily on many previously unpublished sources and offers engaging proof that people don't always practise what they preach.
In the absence of a News of the World/ Sunday People retrospective, The Great Unfrocked is possibly the closest thing we have to a book length celebration of randy priests, arse bishops, cross-dressing Pope's and pregnant nuns, though there's a hefty sting. Author Parris is at pains to stress that, what began life as a fun project eventually soured when he learned just how the NOTW came by evidence of the 'Knicker Vicar' and partner's bedroom exploits. You can read the that particular episode here, thanks to it's revival as a court exhibit during the Leveson Inquiry into phone-hacking and other despicable press practice. A jolt of reality has a habit of ruining the fantasy.
The Nun of Watton: Then the Affair was Turned Over to the Virgins: Twelfth century horror story of a randy young lay brother thrown to the novices when the Abbess learns of his corruption of one of her charges. The nun in question endures torture and her pregnancy crudely terminated. The Monk does not get off quite as lightly. As recorded by Cistercian monk, Aelred of Rievaulx, on this evidence a twelfth century Kelvin Mackenzie/ DeSade hybrid.
The Cross-dressing Clerics: Frock Shock for Flocks: Pope Joan, "Miss Davidson" - a late eighteenth century who put two young sisters up the spout - and the backgammon-loving abbess of the Nunnery of the Holy Cross, exposed as a man-in-drag by Princess Clotild following an alarming rise of convent pregnancies. Also some poor bastard given that special The Sun treatment.
James Hackman: I Could Murder a Sandwich: London, 1779. Unable to lure Miss Martha Ray from the clutches of Olympic-standard lecher, Earl Sandwich, an infatuated Rev. James Hackman shot her dead outside a Covent Garden theatre, then turned the gun on himself. And missed. The Rev eventually hung for murder - like he gave a shit by that point.
George Abbot: 'An angel might have miscarried in that sort': A hugely unpopular Archbishop of Canterbury and hapless archer, one of whose wayward arrows killed a gamekeeper on the spot.
Henry Timbrell: Methodist Preacher Castrates Sleeping Apprentices: Henry Timbrell, the mad bogus minister, who thought to make a few bob by promoting his bastard sons as opera singers ....
John Ball: The Mad Priest from Kent: The brains behind Wat Tyler's peasant's revolt warrants inclusion for his participation in the mob murder of Archbishop Sudbury, a lackey of Richard II and prime mover behind the poll tax. Other than this one lapse, there are some of us might consider the fellow a national hero, not that it would do him any good. He was hung, drawn and quartered before the treacherous monarch.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
One has to wonder if "Matthew Paris" is a pseudonym, or simply a writer on "religious" topics who happened to have the same name as the celebrated thirteenth century monk, chronicler and artist (his work really is rather beautiful).
If I were editing such a volume, I would have to include an excerpt (a la Haining) from Ronald Firbank's Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli. The opening chapter, I think, in which the good Cardinal presides over the baptism of a rather fond lady's lap-dog.
His is a quite recognisable name if you live here. He was a Conservative MP for several years under Margaret Thatcher, an odd mix of humane ideas and monetarist ideology, and now a leading columnist.
The Vicar of Stiffkey, (pronounced 'Stookey'), who, from the back page is covered in his book (and the inspiration for the film The Missionary) was a sad and amazing character, quite possibly innocent. He spent so long saving 'fallen women' in London that he was known to cycle up the nave in his home village at the very last minute to conduct his services. I wrote the following brief summary when I was writing about another larger than life character, J Maundy Gregory - it got edited out as too peripheral, so at least it will see some use here:
Gregory does seem to have had one genuine friend: his former classmate Harold Davidson, the Rector of Stiffkey in Norfolk. Best known as ‘the Prostitutes’ Padre’. Davidson worked tirelessly to save the fallen women of London’s East End. Too tirelessly, his parishioners said. The press circled, then closed in. His bishop called a consistory court. It left no rule unbent. He was defrocked. He struggled to raise funds to appeal the verdict, including by exhibiting himself in a barrel. True to form Gregory failed to save him. Broke and broken, rejected by the church, Davidson turned to the circus instead. He would enter the big cats’ cage, protected only by his faith. He trod on a lion’s tail and was mauled to death. His dying words were said to be ‘Did I make the front page?’
Parris writing a compendium of church scandals is logical; he's basically reprising the hit bestseller he had some years back with "Great Parliamentary Scandals: Four Centuries of Calumny, Smear and Innuendo". Apparently his main difficulty when writing it was how to keep a collection of tales of British political sleaze and corruption down to a mere 400 pages.
That's a sad and amazing tale about the Bishop of Stiffey... I mean Stiffkey [let's have no more of that, my lad - Ed.] Thanks, Sam, for sharing that deft, perfectly composed summing-up. I'm sorry the item went to the chopping block but isn't it so often the way?
Oh God a Thatcherite potentate... it figures. I played a couple of clips on y.t. yesterday of Gillian Anderson's over the top performance as the Bloody Baroness in a current television/internet serial. She was playing opposite Olivia Colman who turned in a much more plausible impersonation of the Queen. In the second clip, I was started to hear the Queen speaking of her admiration for Thatcher. I have really read nothing about their working relationship so have no idea if this reflected reality or was simply another example of TV scripting history to suit somebody's agenda or preference--we have had a great deal of that since the creaking turn of the Millennium.
Most of what I know (or recall) of the Bloody Baroness comes from reading some issues of Private Eye an English friend used to show me back when I lived on Taiwan in the mid 1980s.
He's a good columnist when he's doing politics (he still has very good connections) and gay rights, rather dull when he's talking about his restored home in Catalonia. He did an interesting World in Action (a defunct current affairs programme of the 1980s) in which he had to live on the then weekly social security dole. Like the rest of the viewers I got ready to hiss the Thatcherite villain but he was actually quite human. He splashed out on a secondhand B&W TV for company and ran out of money for food.
It was an open secret that the Queen disliked Thatcher, whom she found pushy, domineering and notably humourless. She has reportedly got on OK with all the other Prime Ministers during her reign. It helps that they tend to be far more star struck and deferential than they expected before meeting her, especially the Labour ones. There were strong rumours that she was unimpressed by David Cameron's running away after Brexit, given her own dedication to a life of public service dating back to WW2, and which will probably see her die in post.
Thank you for your remarks about the precis of poor old Harold Davidson.
True, but World in Action had a particular ethos and audience, and was seen by the then government as a thorn in its side. It wasn't likely to attract too many Tories, I'd imagine and Thatcher openly criticised it
Sam, I recently saw a video of Glenda Jackson being interviewed in 2000 (when of course she was in the midst of her career as an MP) about her performance in Elizabeth R--which I still think is one of the best things ever produced and aired on UK TV. Granted, I am an American so I only see a tiny selection of what runs on the "boob tube" over there.
Anyhow I loved the quiet, completely undramatic way in which Glenda spoke of taking whatever steps were needed to depose "that abomination Margaret Thatcher" from her position in power. This was in response to a question (edited out of the actual tape) of somebody asking Glenda to compare ER I with Thatcher. Glenda went on to describe Thatcher as "a man in drag" which I thought was an interesting way of phrasing it. I'm sure you saw the footage of Glenda railing against Thatcher after her death at some Parliamentary session which was intended to vote some kind of posthumous honor for the late PM.
The clip I mentioned is a scene in which the Queen presents Thatcher with the Order of Merit in a private meeting in the Palace.The time setting is after Thatcher has finally been dislodged from her death grip on No 10. It was good theater but felt like a rather forced attempt to rewrite history because no matter how vile people are, today the public always seems to need to feel that "there's a human being in there, somewhere."
I'm afraid I've never watched The Crown (I'm poor company when shouting 'that's historical bollocks' at the TV, but I reel at the occasional list of fabrications in the episodes printed in Private Eye. Since by tradition the monarch doesn't sue, the makers can get away with whatever they like. Feels a bit unfair to me.
Elizabeth R was and is stunning and in my belief sadly unmatched by anything the BBC makes now (I'm looking at you last year's The War of the Worlds and A Christmas Carol. Jackson was riveting. If you like it have you also tried I Claudius, which has the same mix of cheap sets, superb source material and excellent acting? The 1970s and 80s seem to have been a golden age of BBC historical drama. There was also a recent programme A Very British Scandal which was rather good, based on a stranger than fiction true story that didn't need embellishment.
Thanks for those notes, Sam. I watched as much of I, Claudius as I was able to do when it ran over here. I was in college in a dorm room sans television set. In the 1990s I saw the whole thing on VHS tapes I borrowed from the library. And I just sprang for a 35th anniversary DVD set so will watch it again at some point. It was superb.
I was watching an episode of Elizabeth R a couple of weeks ago about the events leading up to the launching of the Spanish Armada. And while the acting, costumes, writing and all of it were stunning all I could keep thinking was "Gee, under absolute monarchy the rulers were actually educated and spoke in complete sentences! Extraordinary!" Not a reflection I care to impart on "social media" in this "enlightened" age.
I mostly watch old Brit telly these days. I'm currently watching the Edward Petherbridge/Harriet Walter Lord Peter Wimsey series from the 1980s. Other fave raves have included Blake's 7, Mystery & Imagination, Undermind, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, the 1977 Supernatural series... you get the drift.
There was also a recent programme A Very British Scandal which was rather good, based on a stranger than fiction true story that didn't need embellishment.
I really enjoyed that series when it was on CBC last winter (?). Hugh Grant did a good job, IMO.
I've never watched the Crown either & don't intend to start; a biography of the Royal Family I read a few decades ago was good enough. Not enough time in the day already for the Vault, books, other tv/online (video) content and, oh yes, real life.
I watch very little broadcast TV these days apart from the news, a classic film channel and BBC4. Funnily enough if I want sustainedly well-written television it tends to be US fare of the Sopranos, Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad type. A lot of UK TV now imitates that style, but fails at it. I know it makes me an old f*rt, but things like 70s Ghost Stories for Christmas or Dr Who seem to stand head and shoulders above the current attempts. I have two now teenage daughters and began at an early age showing them old films and the television I grew up with, so we've had the pleasure to have watched together The Avengers, Monty Python, The Prisoner, Porridge, I Claudius, Elizabeth R, The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth, Fawlty Towers, Reggie Perrin, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, the Sweeney and many, many more. I'm glad to say they loved most of them and by request we are now rewatching some of them. At the moment we all sit down on the weekend to revisit the 1970s Upstairs Downstairs.