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The Vicars of Bray

THE vicar of Bray, in Berkshire, was a Papist under the reign of Henry the Eighth, and a Protestant under Edward the Sixth; he was a Papist again under Mary, and once more became a Protestant in the reign of Elizabeth. When this scandal to the gown was reproached for his versatility of religious creeds, and taxed for being a turncoat and an unconstant changeling, as Fuller expresses it, he replied, “Not so neither; for if I changed my religion, I am sure I kept true to my principle; which is, to live and die the vicar of Bray!”

This vivacious and reverend hero has given birth to a proverb peculiar to this country, “The vicar of Bray will be vicar of Bray still.” But how has it happened that this vicar should be so notorious, and one in much higher rank, acting the same part, should have escaped notice? Dr. Kitchen, bishop of Llandaff, from an idle abbot under Henry VIII. was made a busy bishop; Protestant under Edward, he returned to his old master under Mary; and at last took the oath of supremacy under Elizabeth, and finished as a parliament Protestant. A pun spread the odium of his name; for they said that he had always loved the Kitchen better than the Church!

Editor’s Notes

 § A footnote is appended to this article in later editions of the Curiosities, and explains:

His name was Simon Symonds. The popular ballad absurdly exaggerates his deeds, and gives them untrue amplitude. It is not older than the last century, and is printed in Ritson’s English Songs.

 ¶ This brief article first appeared in early (1790s) editions of the Curiosities, in which it was entitled ‘Vicar of Bray,’ & began as follows:

The reader has frequently heard this reverend son of the Chruch mentioned: probably his name may have outlived the recollection of his pious manœuvres: he was in his principles a Sixtus the Fifth.