03 June 2015

Three new books from two
cathedrals at the weekend

Three books for reading this week ... from two cathedrals last weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I often find I am reading more than one book at the time. At present I am working my way through three new books that came into my hands in two cathedrals last weekend.

In the past, Ryanair restrictions on hand luggage restricted book buying on quick visits, but last weekend, I managed to do some book shopping in the Lichfield Cathedral Bookshop, and was still able to pick up two more books as presents at Birmingham International Airport.

While I was in Lichfield Cathedral on Saturday morning, I visited the Cathedral Bookshop and bought two books, Edward Hicks, Pacifist Bishop at War by GR Evans (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2014), and Acts and Omissions by Catherine Fox (London: SPCK, 2014).

Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge ... Gillian Evans is a former fellow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

In the case of Gillian Evan’s biography of Edward Hicks, the life story of the author is as interesting as that of her subject. Gillian Evans is Emeritus Professor of Mediaeval Theology and Intellectual History in the University of Cambridge and she was British Academy Research Reader in Theology from 1986 to 1988.

She went to school at King Edward’s High School, Birmingham, and studied at Oxford and Reading. She taught at Queen Anne’s School, Caversham, and Bristol University before moving to Cambridge, where she has been a Fellow of both Fitzwilliam College and Sidney Sussex College.

Her PhD at Reading University was based on Anselm of Canterbury, and she has written on a wide range of other mediaeval authors, including Augustine of Hippo, Pope Gregory the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux and Alan of Lille. She has also written The Language and Logic of the Bible (Cambridge University Press) and Faith in the Mediaeval World (InterVarsity Press). She co-edited The Anglican Tradition (London: SPCK, 1991) with J Robert Wright.

Some years ago [December 2009], the Independent claimed that for almost two decades she had been “a thorn in Cambridge University’s side, making the lives of successive vice chancellors a misery and forcing the ancient university to change its ways. She has harried it through the courts, in the press and through the institution’s democratic structures.”

Although she was rejected for promotion year after year, she continued to apply for a professorship. She was a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College when her college voted to recommend her for promotion in 2001. But again, Cambridge turned her down.

When she took the university to court she won her first case, forcing the university to adopt more transparent procedures. Her battle with the university included three High Court cases, an independent inquiry and several hearings before an employment tribunal. Throughout all this, found time for legal training, and qualified as a barrister.

But she failed when a judge finally deemed her Cambridge complaint to be a private rather than a public law matter. At one point she said: “I learnt that CP Snow did not exaggerate.”

When she was appointed Professor of Mediaeval Theology and Intellectual History in 2002, she had made her peace with the university, writing a history of Cambridge to mark the 800th anniversary of the university, The University of Cambridge: A New History. She now lives in Oxford.

In this latest book, she tells the story of the Bishop of Lincoln, Edward Hicks, who was an outspoken Anglican pacifist bishop, and she throws new light on the problems of conscience created by World War I.

Edward Hicks was regarded as a maverick for his stance on the education of women, teetotalism, social justice and voting equality. Hicks was an active bishop, visiting his diocese thoroughly.

He came from a different class to that of most bishops, and when World War I began he was a rare dissenting voice at a time when the majority in the Church of England were vocal in expressing their support for the morality of the war.

In this book, Gillian Evans draws on Hicks’s detailed diaries to reveal him as a man battling with his own conscience and principles, not least at seeing his sons go off to fight – one never to return. He died on 14 August 1919, just a few months after the close of World War I.

In a series of background notes and after-thoughts, we are introduced to delightful potted biographies of some key characters encountered in this biography of Edward Hicks, including Bishop Edward King, Bishop Charles Gore, Archbishop Randall Davidson, Bishop John Hine, Henry Scott Holland, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set. There are accounts of the Christian Social Union and early debates about the ordination, and readers are even entertained to an account of the scandals that surrounded Archdeacon John Wakeford.

Gillian Evans names Bertrand Russell among her inspirations. It is not surprising that she should name one of the most influential British philosophers of the 20th century. But given the subject of this book, it is surprising she has chosen the former President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and chair of the Committee of 100, and not some of the great Anglican pacifists. In the past they have included Anglican bishops and priests such as Dick Sheppard, George Appleton, Percy Hartill, Charles Raven, John Collins, Sidney Hinkes, Gordon Wilson and Paul Oestreicher.

However, unlike the other background notes, we are given no details on the inspiration and influence Bishop Hicks had on the inter-war pacifists, including George Lansbury and Canon Dick Sheppard and the formation of the Peace Pledge Union in 1934 and the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship in 1937. Even an account of the pacifism of Vera Brittain and Evelyn Underhill, both committed Anglicans, might have helped to paint a more complete portrait of an Anglicanism that was not always monochrome in its reflections of the debates about war and peace.

But still this is a fascinating glimpse into the impact of World War I on one bishop, his family and those around him, those who waited at home – and tried to hold onto their humanity.

The Cathedral Close, Lichfield, the location of Lichfield Cathedral Bookshop ... and the inspiration for Lindchester? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I also bought Acts and Omissions by Catherine Fox (London: SPCK, 2014) in Lichfield Cathedral Bookshop at the weekend. The author has lived close to the bookshop in the Cathedral Close for many years when her husband, Peter Wilcox, was Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral. They have since moved to Liverpool, where he has succeeded Archbishop Justin Welby as Dean of Liverpool Cathedral.

She studied at Durham and London, has a degree in English and a PhD in Theology, and now teaches at Manchester Metropolitan University. I first got to know them when she was living in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield, and was delighted to invite them to preach and lecture at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in 2010.

Catherine Fox is a respected theologian and an established and popular author. Her first novel, Angels and Men was a Sunday Times ‘Pick of the Year.’ Her other books include The Benefits of Passion (Hamish Hamilton 1997), and Love for the Lost (Penguin, 2000), which explore the theological, spiritual and domestic themes with insight, humour and pathos.

Acts and Omissions was first blogged in weekly instalments in 2013 on her blog. I bought my first copy of this book a few months ago in Lichfield, but left it behind me in the Hedgehog in a forgetful moment. Now I am re-reading her sharp look, marked with wit and wisdom, at the Church of England in all its mess and glory, with all its follies and foibles.

This is her homage to Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles, set in the contemporary fictional diocese of Lindchester. But many people must be asking to what degree the fictional Diocese of Lindchester is modelled on the author’s observations of the Diocese of Lichfield and life in the Cathedral Close as we are taken through the year in the company of bishops, priests and lay people.

White cinquefoils in the sanctuary (above) and the south ambulatory (below), in Christ Church Cathedral … are they a play on the White Rose of the House of York? (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Back in Dublin in Christ Church Cathedral, I was deacon at the Festal Eucharist for Trinity Sunday [31 May 2015], reading the Gospel and assisting at the administration of Holy Communion.

Later, I was given a gift of a copy of The Dublin King by John Ashdown-Hill (Stroud: The History Press, 2015). The author claims this book reveals the true story of Edward, Earl of Warwick, Lambert Simnel and the “Prince in the Tower.” He asks whether Lambert Simnel was an impostor or a Yorkist prince, and whether DNA evidence can offer a clue to his legitimacy.

The DNA evidence he collected was significant in confirming the identity of Richard III’s remains when they were unearthed in a Leicester carpark in August 2012, leading to their recent burial in Leicester Cathedral [26 March 2015].

The ‘Bosworth Crucifix’ dating from the 15th century and said to have been part of Richard III’s chapel in a tent on Bosworth Field, was discovered around 1778 and ended up in the hands of the Comerford family when it passed to or was inherited by the Victorian book collector, antiquarian and notary, James Comerford (1807-1881). It now belongs to the Society of Antiquaries in London, and featured prominently in the exhibition ‘Making History’ (2008-2009).

In 1486, a year after Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth, a boy claiming to be a prince from the House of York, arrived in Dublin claiming to be the rightful King of England. In 1487, in a unique ceremony in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, he was crowned as Edward VI on 24 May 1487.

But who was this boy?

One Tudor historian said he claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the “Princes in the Tower.” Another said he claimed to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, a cousin of these “princes” and the son of George, Duke of Clarence. And some modern historians have suggested that he may really have been Edward V, the elder “Prince in the Tower.”

However, the Tudor government of Henry VII officially decreed that the boy was Lambert Simnel, an imposter who was a son of a craftsman living in Oxford. But Continental and Irish writers in the late 15th century insisted he was the genuine Earl of Warwick.

Whoever he was, after his coronation in Christ Church Cathedral, he invaded England and was defeated at the Battle of Stoke.

Dr Ashdown-Hill explores very possible boyhood of the Dublin King, traces the lead-up to his coronation, examines evidence of his reign and retraces the Battle of Stoke. He ends by exploring the after-lives of the Dublin King (in his various possible identities) and those of his supporters.

This book was launched in Christ Church Cathedral over three months ago [12 February 2015], and later prompted me to write about the hidden white cinquefoils in the tiles on the cathedral floor, and to ask whether they symbolised White Roses, hinting at this Yorkist legacy of the cathedral.