Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Culmer, Richard

CULMER, RICHARD (fl. 1660), fanatical divine, was born in the Isle of Thanet, most probably at Broadstairs, where in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries his family was of considerable importance. He was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, where he was head boy out of two hundred scholars. He was admitted to Magdalene College, Cambridge, in July 1613 (Reg. Mag. Coll.), and took his B.A. in 1619, although he remained at the university till 1621. While there it was said of him that ‘he was famous for football playing and swearing, but never thought to be cut out for a Mercury.’ His first preferment seems to have been the rectory of Goodnestone in Kent, which he obtained in 1630, and from which he was suspended by Archbishop Laud ab officio in 1634–5, for refusing to read the ‘Book of Sabbath Sports,’ ‘in revenge whereof he accused Mr. E. B. (?), a gentle (whom he suspected to have been instrumental therein), of treasonable words before the council, where the matter being heard, the accusation was found to be false and malicious, whereupon Culmer was committed to the Fleet’ (Wharton, Collect. i. 77). From this time, Wood says, ‘he became an enemy to Archbishop Laud, to the cathedral at Canterbury, and to all the prelatical party at the beginning of the rebellion raised and carried on by the disaffected party’ (Wood, Fasti Oxon. i. 447, ed. 1815). Culmer remained silenced for nearly four years, of which he complained bitterly, as he had seven children so small that he was able, as he says, to carry them all on his back at once (see Baker, Tryal of Archbishop Laud, p. 344). He seems to have resided at Canterbury; for in 1642 the mayor and certain of the inhabitants published a declaration, in reply to numerous scandals, that ‘the said Richard Culmer of the said city was a man of exemplary life and conversation.’ After the death of Isaac Bargrave [q. v.], in 1642–3, Culmer was presented to the rectory of Chartham, Kent, where he speedily made himself very unpopular, and shortly afterwards, according to Wood, was made vicar of St. Stephen's, near Canterbury, in place of a minister ejected for refusing to take the covenant. This preferment he probably obtained on account of a petition on his behalf the mayor and town council of Canterbury sent to the committee of parliament for ejected ministers in 1643. In spite of this, however, he was so unpopular among the citizens that a report to the effect that he had broken the pipes which conveyed water into the town was readily received. Shortly before his death Laud is said to have absolved Culmer, who was then selected by Dr. R. Austin, incumbent of Harbledown, Kent, to assist him. The parishioners, according to the account given by his son in ‘A Parish Looking-Glasse,’ speedily took a violent dislike to him, owing to his endeavours to suppress Sabbath sports and drunkenness. The people said they did not care what minister they had so long as it was not Culmer. This author also states that his father assisted Colonel Robert Gibbon, the governor of Jersey, in a survey of the places in the Isle of Thanet at which an enemy might find a landing-place. Culmer was one of the ministers appointed by the parliament in 1643 to ‘detect and demolish’ the superstitious inscriptions and idolatrous monuments in the cathedral, and he distinguished himself by destroying much of the painted glass with his own hands, which so enraged the citizens that it was necessary to send a company of soldiers to escort him from the cathedral to his lodgings. It also became known that he had persuaded his father to make over his whole estate, which was considerable, to him, and had then allowed the old man to be in want. About this time he wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘Cathedral News, or Dean and Chapter News from Canterbury,’ which was published in 1644, and in which he heaped together all the scurrilous stories he could find against the archbishop and other dignitaries of the cathedral. This produced two answers, in one of which, ‘Antidotum Culmerianum, or Animadversions upon a Late Pamphlet,’ &c., his impudence, covetousness, and other shortcomings were unsparingly described. In 1644, upon the ejection of Meric Casaubon [q. v.], Culmer was appointed by the committee to the living of Minster in Thanet, where he commenced his career by a violent quarrel with the curate. In order to ingratiate himself with his parishioners, he reduced the rent of his glebe lands to a shilling an acre. A number of his former parishioners visited Minster in order to set the people against him. The loose women of the district determined to meet him on the borders of the parish when he came to take possession; but an unfortunate squabble for precedence among them saved him this indignity. The parishioners in vain petitioned the Westminster Assembly to appoint some one to supplant Culmer. In order to read himself in he had to break and get through a window, as the people had locked the door and hidden the key. After the ceremony they opened the door, dragged him out of the church, beat him till he was covered with blood, and then jeered at him for being a thief and a robber, who had got into the sheepfold otherwise than by the door. On his requiring a parish servant they refused to allow him any girl who was not illegitimate—an insult of which he violently complained. At this time the spire of Minster church was surmounted by a large wooden cross, and this again by one of iron. These ornaments Culmer chose to believe ‘monuments of superstition and idolatry,’ and engaged two labourers, who destroyed them, ‘after he had himself before day, by moonlight, fixed ladders for them to go up and down.’ The people then taunted him with having done his work by halves, as the church was built in the form of a cross, and he himself was to them the greatest cross in the parish. He also defaced the church by breaking the stained windows, and pulled down part of the parsonage. The parishioners continued to petition against him without any effect until they had spent some 300l., and then many of them refused to pay tithes, which caused him considerable inconvenience, as well as loss. After a prolonged struggle, they offered to pay him the whole revenues of the living for his life if he would consent to go away and give them leave to appoint, at their own charges, another minister in his place. This he also refused to do. One of his peculiarities was a distaste for black, and his habit of wearing a blue gown caused him to be known throughout the district as Blue or Blue-skin Dick of Thanet. For many years any gross fabrication was known in Minster as ‘Culmer's news.’ After the Restoration, in 1660, he was ejected from the living, when he went to live at Monkton, also in Thanet, and was soon afterwards suspected to have been engaged in Venner's conspiracy. On this suspicion he was arrested and committed to prison in London. During one of the several examinations he underwent he was asked why, when he broke a stained-glass window which represented the Temptation in à Becket's chapel in Canterbury Cathedral, he had destroyed the figure of Christ and not that of the Devil, and he replied that his orders from the parliament had been to take down Christ, but they had said nothing about the Devil—an answer which gave a valuable hold to his enemies. As nothing could be proved against him he was speedily liberated, and returned to Monkton, where he is believed to have died about the commencement of 1662. Archbishop Laud described Culmer as ‘an ignorant person, and with his ignorance one of the most daring schismatics in all that country’ (Kent), and Wharton says he was a man ‘odious for his zeal and fury.’ Besides ‘Cathedral News,’ he wrote ‘Lawless Tythe Robbers discovered, who make Tythe-Revenue a Mock-maintenance,’ 1655, and ‘The Ministers' Hue and Cry, or a True Discovery of the Insufferable Injuries, Robberies, &c., enacted against Ministers,’ &c., 1661.

[Baker's Tryal of Archbishop Laud; Wharton's Collect. i. 77; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. 1815, i. 447; Kennet's Parochial Register; Hasted's Hist. of Kent, iv. 276, 328, &c.; Richard Culmer, jun.'s Parish Looking-Glasse, &c.]

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