Chapter 3 – 1: The final deliberations of Archbishop Matthews and the task at the Minster (July to September 1617[1])


Here begins the second volume of Matthew Brearley, his booke, commencing with the verdict upon Roger Brierley in York…

Even after the best part of a year of enquiries, Matthews – the Archbishop who Brierley had considered to be his closest ally on the case (and yet, the very man who many back in Grindleton considered to be amongst his greatest enemies[2]), was still in two minds as to whether he was preaching some sort of strange, separate religion or not. After all Crashawe’s questioning, all the statements from ministry and lay witnesses alike, there was still some residual doubt in his own mind. And all this was not purely down to the specificities of Brierley’s case. Indeed, it was every bit as much about other matters. At the back of that mind must still have been the worry that this was precisely the sort of incident that Canterbury would utilise against him, against York, in  effect. They would use it like a battering ram against the doors of the Minster; the logic being that if he could not keep his own house in order then they would have to do so for him. He valued York’s degree of independence, its distance – not merely physical – from the Southern centres of power, that most convenient of heritages going back hundreds of years. And he was keeping matters in order; just in a fairer way than Canterbury would have been doing!

Therefore he had to be absolutely sure in his own considerations that he was coming to the right decision. There was no room to leave a heretic preaching and poisoning. On the other hand, he knew well enough that Brierley was essentially ‘a good man’. He could not really have preached all those contrary things! Who knows with what conditions he had had to make do? Crashawe had reported back that Brierley had emphasised how little knowledge of Christ there had been when he had arrived in Grindleton. He would not have made that up; that was absolutely how it would have been. A minister only had to wander through those parts for him to realise that: one tale from the Gospel would be met with a combination of incredulity and a range of questions, focused for the greater part upon which side of the border such events had taken place! Literally, they knew so little! And in an ignorant corner of the land such as that the peasantry might easily misinterpret a well-meaning minister’s words, take them for something they never had been, mould them into confirmations of their own previously-held, erroneous thoughts. In reality, it might well simply be the case that he said very godly things that ignorant peasants simply did not understand and they took it upon themselves to view this as a new form of Christianity. Furthermore, they might have had such respect for him that they never argued with him when he did his godly utmost to correct them. And there were others around him of course: the likes of Eglin – clever enough people but, above all, manipulators – manipulators of both words and folk in fact. Exaggerators of plain facts, too! Perhaps he even considered further investigations for their like?

But then – no! – he would make his mind up and then and draw a definitive line beneath his decision and nobody would subsequently cross that line[3]. He would throw down his staff and there would be no more vipers[4]. After all, it was ultimately his decision. Further deliberations regarding the theological positions of some of Brierley’s most dangerous followers would only undermine his authority. And by them, he did not necessarily care to imply the most obviously errant – a cordwainer’s woman claiming that their bodies were occupied by the Holy Ghost and the like. No, dangerous minds are always and everywhere the better educated ones. Neither would they be those who shouted loudest. No, the really dangerous ones said nothing at all for the time being; they were too busy formulating. A clear and firm decision would do no harm on any front! And he considered that Brierley understood him well enough too. That had been a carefully chosen, well selected and cleverly sourced selection of old books he had managed to obtain from somewhere. It was the sort of considerate gesture he always appreciated anyway.

However, in the meantime he would get the best advice he could. Enough of the likes of Crashawe – sad little sycophant – and a poorly qualified one at that when it really came down to it! Perhaps that was a little harsh: he had done what he was supposed to and had kept the records he was required to maintain meticulously enough; perhaps even rather more than he actually need have done! His type always followed the rules to the letter, did they not?

No, Advocate Crashawe should actually have been commended upon what he had done. But that did not imply that there was not a desperate need for change in order to draw matters towards some sort of conclusion. He would put his best people on to it now, making clear that he wanted Brierley to return to work. He was a capable preacher and he had enough to do in that remote den of sin. Proof of Brierley’s essential innocence lay not in his responses to a thousand theoretical questions put to him by the likes of Crashawe but rather in what was likely to be happening back in Grindleton in his absence. It was essential to be pragmatic! True, he did not know for certain what was happening there – but the few reports he had heard from there in the meantime were hardly optimistic: it was spreading underground the way some evil tare does in a palace garden, corrupting everything from below. Some of them had been clear about it themselves, had they not? They didn’t need Brierley: they had their own assurance, their own ordinances directly from the Father. Yes, without Brierley there that little nest of vipers, rather than being starved, would be overfed on their own, unharnessed imaginings. In some ways it would be best if he sent Brierley back there as soon as was practically possible, a neat and convenient solution to this mess could then be implemented – with a very firm warning, mind! The warning would have to come from his best people: Hodson[5] and Meriton[6].

In that light, perhaps he had let Crashawe have too much freedom, allowed him a little too much leeway on the case. He would not have done so had he not been so occupied with other matters. It was not every year that the King of England and Scotland came to visit York and had to be entertained there. That had been a major distraction during that Spring and it had kept Hodson occupied during that time too[7]. Meriton had been too fresh then. But really, could a man like Crashawe really be expected to discern that finest of lines between heterodoxy and actual heresy? Fair enough, in technical and theoretical terms he was studied in those matters…

Brierley would get additional time with these two[8] to consider whether he was really willing to conform to the Book of Common Prayer (he knew full well that he would have to enforce that with regard to the accused whilst everyone saw that many of Brierley’s immediate neighbours flouted it!) and, perhaps, worse still, Canon 36[9]. Hodson brought a great deal of experience with him having been Chancellor for six years so he would know what he was doing. Meriton was still fresher in his current post, having only been appointed Dean at the beginning of the year, but he too was a wise fellow. Everyone who knew him said that Matthews could always spot that potential early on. He wanted to progress in his career and he would be driven by ordinances from above. The focus of the investigation would be shifted somewhat, away from all that wild heterodoxy amongst his wayward followers and onto more traditional ground for cases against the godly. That way some progress could, surely, be advanced?

Between the two of them they would make the position clear to Brierley but they would not overstep the mark. It was a fine balance which required a degree of subtlety. That was exactly why such matters could not simply be left to the likes of Crashawe. It would be made patently clear to them that, barring Brierley actually saying anything obviously heretical, he wanted him back in service. But the situation would be a humbling one for Brierley and would focus his mind more than a little. Hodson and Meriton were certainly both capable of exercising the ‘better’ part of Brierley’s mind – none of this ‘Mind of God’ stuff, of course! He would have to be a whole lot more careful regarding the spouting of that rubbish in future. And that needed to be clear in his mind too for Matthews had read those very words elsewhere…

And Hodson and Meriton were absolutely capable of engineering such a result. Furthermore, Hodson wanted to go one step further and Matthews could hardly have any fundamental objection. Brierley was to be set a test – one which he was hardly likely to fail: a man of his abilities! He would be asked to preach in the Minster of York itself. If his performance there was at least acceptable – that is to say, not only not riddled with the sort of heterodoxies to which the Commission had been forced to listen for so very many months but also absolutely in line with the Canons – then he would be back in Grindleton, a reinstated man, in a matter of days. And there was never any doubt about the absolute quality of his ministry, was there?

Never any doubt… Anne would have been proved absolutely correct about him! I should never have doubted her[10].


[1] Progress towards the termination of Brierley’s first High Commisssion case is actually intriguing.

In June 1617, it would appear that Matthews decided to give Brierley more time to deliberate on whether he wished to conform to the Book of Common Prayer and the 36th Canon of the Church. To facilitate this he had to confer with Phineas Hodson and George Meriton. In truth, it seems most unlikely that these were the sole outstanding issues. Note here that, athough Matthew does not register it, there also appears to have been a marked shift in the tone of the investigation to arrive at the above considerations. What had started out as a most unusual case, littered with heterodoxies and potentially worse, heresies, had been transformed into one which was broadly conforming to the standard investigation of a typical Non-Conformist Puritan, focussing around the use of the Book of Common Prayer rather than anything such as a ‘motion of the Spirit’.

[2] Charge 42

  1. That the Bishope of Yorke is a second Felix, for when he was about to pronounce sentence of silencinge against Mr Bryeley there fell upon him such a trembeling that he durst not doe it.

[3] One of the most surprising things about the Brierley investigations is that they do not seem to have been extended to cover the activities of those who were clearly supporting him. The logic behind this is still far from clear.

[4] Staff and vipers: the staff is a symbol of power an authority – potentially both good and bad – as it is used in the Old Testament. The staff and the snake appear in, for example Numbers 21: 8 but have been associated with one another in a wide range of Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures. Note here that the caduceus and the Staff of Asclepius, whilst both using the theme, are in fact separate symbols – although widely confused in the United States.

[5] Phineas Hodson was Chancellor of York from 1611, replacing William Goodwyn. He was later to be impeached in the Parliamentary period over the case of the Non-Conformist minister, James Smart, in 1641 but was bailed and survived, remaining Chancellor. Within York he paid for Protestant worship at York Castle. He died in 1646 with no apparent monument in York Minster but his wife who died in 1636 aged 38, apparently giving birth to her twenty fourth child, has an epitaph on the wall of the Cathedral. Hodson had begun his career working as chaplain to Archbishop Hutton (Archbishop from 1595 – 1606). Later he would do his best to fit in with Archbishop Richard Neile (1632 – 1640 and an Arminian sympathiser) but would nevertheless be pushed to one side. Matthews delegated Hodson to advise Brierley how he might reconcile himself with the Church – see B. S. Capp – ‘The world of John Taylor the water poet’, (OUP, 1994 p. 279).

[6] George Meriton: rather less is known about him than about Hodson. He was Dean of York although formerly Dean of Peterborough and had been educated at St. John’s, Cambridge. Had only just become Dean of York in March (27th) 1617 – so actually during the period in which Brierley was under investigation. He married Mary Rands, grand-daughter of Henry Rands, the Bishop of Lincoln. His descendant was the dramatist of the same name.

[7] The King had visited York in April 1617 and Chancellor Hodson had preached before James at the Manor. King’s Manor – a Grade 1 listed building – is still there and is now part of the University of York. It was originally built as accommodation for the abbots of St. Mary’s Abbey but following the Dissolution, Henry VIII wanted it to be the seat of the Council of the North and it was taken over by the Crown in 1561. In 1632 Hodson was enthroned at York as a proxy for Neile. Other important changes took place in York in 1617. In June the Puritan-leaning Henry Hooke had been appointed Archdeacon of York – see Borthwick Institute AB.3 f.488, taking over from Roger Acroide (or Ackroyde) who had died and was buried at Bolton Percy. The Corporation encouraged preaching and the Exercises which had been founded in 1581. The Exercises took place on the Sabbath afternoon and were organised by the city preacher. In 1615 this post had fallen to the aforementioned Henry Hooke. Hooke was the son of a knight and was therefore a member of the upper gentry – see S. E. Lehmberg – ‘Cathedrals under siege: cathedrals in English society, 1600 -1700’ (1996).

[8] These two: Hodson and Meriton implied.

[9] Canons 36 and 37, as well as committing to the Book of Common Prayer, also reiterated that the King was the Head of the Church of England as well as acceptance of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England as the word of God. The Canons were difficult for some on the Puritan extreme even during these years.

[10] Brierley is clearly shown in Act Book 5 (Borthwick Institute) – presumably reinstated – for 1617 alongside 244 other ministers working within the York diocese. It also seems that the final results of the investigations were so conclusive that Brierley was excused the Court costs.