16 May 2020
I was writing earlier this week about the different houses once owned in the Lichfield and Tamworth areas by the Comberford family. Although the Comberford family had been strong Catholics for much of the Elizabethan era, and Henry Comberford, Precentor of Lichfield, died in prison in Hull on 4 March 1586 for his Catholic beliefs, it is interesting how the Comberford interests in the Glover and Lewis portions of the manors of Mancetter and Dosthill provide a link with two Protestant martyrs of the Reformation era, Robert Glover and Joyce Lewis.
Humphrey Comberford (ca 1568-1609) was living at both Comberford Hall and at Mancetter Manor, near Atherstone, in 1599. By then, the Comberford family was acquiring large tracts of lands on every side of Tamworth, and within a decade or two Humphrey Comberford’s son, William Comberford (1551-1625), was described at the Visitations of Warwickshire as ‘de Cumberford et Kingsberrow,’ or Kingsbury, Warwickshire.
This probably referred to Thomas Comberford’s interest in the Manor of Mancetter and his two-ninths share in the Manor of Dosthill.
Dosthill is about 2.5 miles south of Tamworth, while Mancetter is about 10 miles south-east of Tamworth near Atherstone, and 13 or 14 miles south-east of Comberford. Mancetter had previously the home of the Glover family, and in 1625, shortly before he died William Comberford bought another part of the manor from George Lewis. Another portion of the Manor Dosthill was also owned by the Glover family.
The bulk of the old village of Mancetter, including the church, the almshouses and the manor house, is built round the Nuneaton-Atherstone road, a little to the south of the Watling Street. The Manor House, south-west of the church, once the home of Robert Glover, is a timber-framed building dating from about 1330 and preserves a great deal of the original building despite many later alterations.
Robert Glover, who was born at Mancetter, near Tamworth, was a Protestant martyr who was burnt at the stake in Coventry in 1555.
Glover was educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge (BA 1538, MA 1541), and was a fellow of King’s College until 1543. During the reign of Henry VIII, Robert Glover and his brothers, John Glover of Bexterley and William Glover, were attracted to the Reformation and the views of the Reformers. Indeed, Robert Glover married a niece of Bishop Hugh Latimer, who had preached regularly in Saint Edward’s Church, Cambridge, and was burned at the stake in 16 1555, alongside Nicholas Ridley.
The Bishop of Lichfield, Ralph Baines, sent a commission to the mayor and sheriff of Coventry in 1555, ordering them to arrest all three Glover brothers. Bishop Bayne was especially anxious to question John Glover. However, the mayor of Coventry was friends with the Glover family and gave them notice of his plan to arrest the three brothers.
John and William Glover fled, but Robert Glover, who was sick, was arrested on his sick bed, although the mayor tried to prevent the arrest. When he was arrested, the mayor offered to release him on bail, but Glover refused this offer.
He was examined by the bishop at Coventry and then taken to Lichfield, where he was kept in a dungeon and questioned by the Bishop of Lichfield, the Chancellor of Lichfield, Anthony Draycott, and a prebendary of the cathedral. I sometimes wonder whether Henry Comberford, Precentor of Lichfield, was also involved in these interrogations.
Finally, Glover was returned to Coventry, where he was handed over to the sheriff to be executed. Shortly before his execution, he was attended by Latimer’s friend and biographer Augustine Bernher. He was burnt at the stake in Coventry for heresy on 20 September 1555, along with Cornelius Bungey, a cap maker.
Glover was survived by his wife Mary and their children. His letters to his wife and to the ‘mayor and bench’ of Coventry were printed by John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
Joyce Lewis, also known as Jocasta Lewis, was executed in Lichfield two years later in 1557, and is another Reformation martyr with family links with Mancetter. She was the only daughter of Thomas and Anne Curzon of Croxall in Staffordshire, and a granddaughter of Sir John Aston of Tixall. Her first husband was Sir George Appleby of Appleby, Leicestershire, and they were the parents of two sons.
Her husband died in 1547 at the Battle of Pinkie, and Joyce then married Thomas Lewis of Mancetter on 10 September 1547. Thomas Lewis had acquired part of the manor of Mancetter during the reign of Edward VI, and the family lived at the Manor Farm, south of the Manor House.
At the time, it is said, Joyce Lewis was a pious Catholic. However, according to John Foxe’s partisan accounts, she began to question her faith after Lawrence Saunders was burnt at the stake in Coventry on 8 February 1555.
Her decision to become a Protestant was also influenced by her neighbour, John Glover of Mancetter, a brother of Robert Glover who was executed the same year. Her previously devout Catholicism was replaced by ‘irreverent behaviour in church.’
Her ‘irreverent behaviour’ was reported to the Bishop of Lichfield, Ralph Baines, who sent a citation which, it is said, Lewis forced the official to eat. The bishop then bound her husband to a sum of £100 to bring his wife to trial within a month, which he did in spite of pleading from her friends.
Joyce Lewis spent a year in jail in Lichfield before she was taken to be burnt at the stake in the Market Place, beside Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, on 18 December 1557. Like Robert Glover, she too was comforted at the stake by Augustine Bernher.
Lewis was said to have been aware of the impact her own death would have and consulted her advisers to maximise the impact of her martyrdom. After she died, eleven of her supporters were summoned to account for their actions, and under pressure they all recanted.
A plaque on the side of Saint Mary’s Church in Lichfield recalls the martyrdom of Joyce Lewis in 1557 and Thomas Hayward and John Goreway two years earlier in September 1555.
Two decades after the deaths of Robert Glover and Joyce Lewis from Mancetter, Thomas Comberford was arrested in 1573 for sheltering priest who said Mass at Comberford Hall. Thomas, his wife Dorothy, and many other members of the family were fined on several occasions in Wednesbury and Leek in the 1580s for non-attendance at church.
Thomas appears to have more careful to conform for the rest of his life. Although he and his family were frequently in trouble for non-attendance, he appears to have avoided the punishments inflicted on him. However, in April 1588, his tenants, including Thomas Heethe’or Heath], were accused of harbouring seminarians and priests, including one ‘James Harryson,’ who is better known as James Harrison, one of the York martyrs.
Harrison and Heath were arrested at Comberford and were jailed in London, but were eventually released.
Harrison was born in the Diocese of Lichfield, perhaps in Comberford, although we do not know where exactly. He studied at the English College at Reims in the Champagne district of France. He was ordained there in September 1583, and he returned to England a year later, in 1584, to work with the Catholic mission in England.
Harrison worked for about four years without coming to the notice of the authorities, until he was apprehended and arrested in Comberford in 1588. After his release, he moved to Yorkshire.
By early 1602, Harrison was ministering among Catholics in Yorkshire and was living in the house of a gentleman named Anthony Battie or Bates. While he was there, he was arrested, and Harrison and Battie were put on trial in York and sentenced to death for high treason.
The charge against Harrison was that he performed the functions of a Catholic priest, while Battie was charged with harbouring Harrison. The judge left York without fixing the date of execution. But Harrison was informed on the evening of 21 March that he was to die the next morning. Harrison and Battie were hanged, drawn and quartered on the morning of 22 March 1602.
For many years, the English Franciscans at Douai kept Harrison’s head as a relic. Although he has not been canonised among the English Martyrs, he is counted among the York Martyrs, and he was declared ‘Venerable’ by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.
Humphrey Comberford sold his parts of Mancetter Manor in 1640 to Robert Wood in 1640. But the Comberford family links with people who lived in fear for their faith continued in the decades that followed. The Benedictine monk Father Francis Crathorne (ca 1598-1667), who was held in regard as a poet and a scholar spent, his last years at Comberford Hall.
He was born in Yorkshire ca 1598 and was professed at Saint Gregory’s in Douai on 29 June 1621, when Father Francis Atrobas was the prior. Saint Gregory’s, the oldest of the English Benedictine continental houses, was founded in 1606 in the town of Douai, now in northern France.
Crathorne was at Saint Vaast in 1624, a Benedictine monastery in Arras, then part of the Habsburg-ruled Spanish Netherlands until it was captured by France in 1640. By the 1630s, Crathorne was part of the English Benedictine community at Saint Edmund’s in Paris. Saint Edmund’s Priory was established in Paris in 1616 by a group of English monks from Saint Laurence’s, Dieulouard.
The Benedictines had continued to appoint titular abbot and priors to the cathedrals and abbeys run by the Benedictine before the Reformation, and in 1657 Crathorne was elected the nominal Prior of Rochester Cathedral. These were Cromwellian days and he was still living in exile in France.
Crathorne sat in the Chapter of the English Benedictines in 1657 as the Procurator of the Province of Canterbury. At the Chapter of 1661, he became a Definitor of the Regimen. By then, the Caroline Restoration had created a more tolerant climate for Catholics and Crathorne returned to England as a Benedictine missionary.
Robert and Catherine Comberford seem to have had a private Catholic chapel at Comberford Hall, and Crathorne spent his last days there, living with the Comberford family. He died at Comberford Hall on 19 April 1667, in his 69th year.
Robert Comberford died in 1669 at Comberford Hall in 1669, and was buried in the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth. His widow Catherine continued to live at Comberford until she died in 1718. But by then the Comberford estates in the Tamworth and Lichfield areas had been broken up and sold off.
Michael Greenslade, in his Catholic Staffordshire, believes the chapel in Comberford Hall survived until the mid-18th century, when the estate was sold.
Our churches remain closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but I am continuing to use the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections throughout this Season of Easter.
USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.
Throughout this week (10 to 16 May 2020), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on Climate Justice and the Church of Bangladesh. This focus was introduced in the Prayer Diary on Sunday morning by Rebecca Boardman of USPG.
Saturday 16 May 2020 (International Day of Living Together in Peace):
God of peace, we pray that you empower us to be peacemakers and peacebuilders in our world – today and every day.
The Readings: Acts 16: 1-10; Psalm 100; John 15: 18-21.
The Collect of the Day (Easter V):
Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
Grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.