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Thomas Godwin (1517-1590)
Born: 1517 at Wokingham, Berkshire
Bishop of Bath & Wells
ied: 19th November 1590 at Wokingham, Berkshire

Thomas Godwin was born in 1517 at Wokingham in Berkshire, of poor parents, and sent to the free school. Dr. Layton, Archdeacon of Buckinghamshire, adopted Godwin, gave him a classical education and, about 1538, sent him at his own cost to Oxford. Godwin seems to have found other friends on his patron's death in 1545, by whose help he was enabled to remain at the university. In 1644, he graduated as BA and was elected a probationer of Magdalen College, becoming a full fellow in 1545, and proceeding MA in 1548. Godwin shared the principles of his early patron, a 'zealous reformer,' and was obliged to leave Oxford and resign his fellowship between July 1549 and July 1550, on account of disputes between himself and 'certain papists' at his college.

Godwin was, however, appointed headmaster of Brackley School, just founded by Magdalen. He probably went thither in 1549 and was the first master. He remained at Brackley till the end of the reign of Edward VI but, under Mary, was forced, on account of his religious principles, to leave the school and, having married in the meantime, Isabel, daughter of Nicholas Purefoy of Shalstone in Buckinghamshire, studied physic to support his wife and family. He was licensed to practice medicine on 17th June 1555.

He turned to divinity after Elizabeth's accession and was ordained (about 1560) by Nicholas Bullingham, Bishop of Lincoln. He was Bullingham's chaplain, and a member of the lower house of convocation, subscribing to the articles of 1562 and also signing the petition for discipline. Godwin rapidly became a popular preacher. Elizabeth was so pleased with his 'good parts' and 'goodly person' that, in 1565, she appointed him one of her Lent preachers, a post which he held for eighteen years. In June 1666, he was made Dean of Christ Church, and proceeded BD and DD on 17th December at Oxford. In the same month, he was installed prebendary of Milton in Lincoln Cathedral whence, in 1575, he was transferred to the prebend of Leighton Buzzard, which he resigned in 1584. When Elizabeth visited Oxford in August 1560, Godwin was one of the four divines appointed to hold theological disputations before her. Lodgings were prepared for her at Christ Church and the dean went out to Wolvercote to receive her. Among the Parker MSS (at Corpus Christ College, Cambridge) is a sermon preached by him before the Queen at Greenwich during this year (1566). The winter after her visit to Oxford, Elizabeth promoted Godwin to the Deanery of Canterbury.

He was sent on a commission to visit the diocese of Norwich and preached the first of a series of sermons, endowed by Archbishop Parker, in the 'Greenyard' at Norwich in June 1567. At Canterbury, Godwin had to deal with a turbulent set of canons. Constant complaints were made by them against him to the Archbishop, while the Dean was, at one time, obliged to appeal to the justices of the peace, one canon having threatened "to nail him to the wall with his sword". He practically rebuilt the Deanery after a fire in 1568. In 1578, Parker accused Godwin of breaking the statutes and consuming the cathedral's goods. The Dean strenuously denied the charge and, in October 1573, he received the living of Ruckinge in the Canterbury diocese, probably as a proof of the Archbishop's forgiveness. In 1576, he became one of the ecclesiastical commissioners.

In September 1684, Godwin was made Bishop of Bath and Wells, a see which had been void for three years. Godwin was the second Protestant bishop consecrated. He had been a widower for several years, but was misguided enough to marry a second time, when "aged, diseased and lame of the gout". Raleigh had been scheming to get the manor of Banwell from the bishopric on a hundred years' lease. He now told the Queen that Godwin had married a girl of twenty for her money. The Earl of Bedford warmly defended Godwin by stating that the Bishop's wife was a widow and had a son over forty. This appears to be the more likely case. Her name was Sybil, although she is sometimes recorded incorrectly as Margaret, daughter of William Brennan or Boreman of Wells (who first remarried William Martin of Totnes). This was the second wife of the bishop's eldest son, Thomas. The Queen, however, took Raleigh's part and, after sundry sharp messages from her, Godwin, to save Banwell, had to part with another manor. "He neither gave Wilscombe for love nor solely for money, but left it for fear". Disgraced, and broken in health, suffering from a quartan ague, the Bishop retired to his native air of Wokingham, where he died, aged seventy-three, on 19th November 1590. He was buried in the chancel of Wokingham Church, with an inscription to his memory by his son, Francis, the historian and Sub-Dean of Exeter. In person, he was 'tall and comely'. Though he published nothing, he was an eminent scholar; and he was hospitable, mild and judicious.

Edited from Leslie Stephen & Sidney Lee's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1890).


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