Wednesday, April 20, 2016

And George my lawful king shall be - until the times do alter

From Wikipedia. I love Wikipedia. Every now and then I come across a reference which rings a bell but which I can't pin down immediately. Recently, I came across the Vicar of Bray in a George Orwell essay. I recognize the name, but what is the context and background. I am drawing a blank.

Nowadays we laud a business or person who is alacritous in adapting to new circumstances. But sometimes adaptability and consistency are awkward mates.
The Vicar of Bray is a satirical description of an individual fundamentally changing his principles to remain in ecclesiastical office as external requirements change around him. The religious upheavals in England from 1533 to 1559 (and then from 1633 to 1715) made it impossible for any devout clergyman to comply with all the successive requirements of established church.


The figure described was Simon Aleyn between 1540–1588, as such, he preached the Bible and oversaw the baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial of his hundreds of parishioners in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth as the church minister of the 15 square miles (39 km2) almost wholly agriculturally cultivated parish, today much reduced, see Bray.

The main work of Thomas Fuller (d.1661), "Worthies of England", describes this man:[1]
The vivacious vicar [of Bray] living under King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, was first a Papist, then a Protestant, then a Papist, then a Protestant again. He had seen some martyrs burnt (two miles off) at Windsor and found this fire too hot for his tender temper.

This vicar, being taxed [attacked] by one for being a turncoat and an inconstant changeling, said, 'Not so, for I always kept my principle, which is this - to live and die the Vicar of Bray'.[2]

— Worthies of England, Published 1662
Here is one lyric recounting the moral gymnastics required from living in exciting times.
In good King Charles' golden time, when loyalty no harm meant,
A zealous high churchman was I, and so I gained preferment.
To teach my flock, I never missed: Kings are by God appointed
And damned are those who dare resist or touch the Lord's anointed!

And this be law, that I'll maintain until my dying day, sir
That whatsoever king may reign, Still I'll be the Vicar of Bray, sir.

When royal James possessed the crown, and popery came in fashion,
The penal laws I hooted down, and read the Declaration.
The Church of Rome, I found, did fit full well my constitution
And I had been a Jesuit, but for the Revolution.

When William was our King declared, to ease the nation's grievance,
With this new wind about I steered, and swore to him allegiance.
Old principles I did revoke; Set conscience at a distance,
Passive obedience was a joke, a jest was non-resistance.

When Royal Anne became our queen, the Church of England's glory,
Another face of things was seen, and I became a Tory.
Occasional conformists base; I blamed their moderation;
And thought the Church in danger was from such prevarication.

When George in pudding time came o'er, and moderate men looked big, sir
My principles I changed once more, and I became a Whig, sir.
And thus preferment I procured From our new Faith's Defender,
And almost every day abjured the Pope and the Pretender.

The illustrious House of Hanover and Protestant succession
To these I do allegiance swear - while they can hold possession.
For in my faith and loyalty I never more will falter,
And George my lawful king shall be - until the times do alter.

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