Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bradbridge, William
BRADBRIDGE or BRODEBRIDGE, WILLIAM (1501–1578), bishop of Exeter, sprang from a Somersetshire family now extinct, but variously known as Bradbridge, Bredbridge, or Brodbridge. William Bradbridge was born in London in 1501. From the fact that he succeeded one Augustine Bradbridge as chancellor of Chichester, who was afterwards appointed treasurer and prebendary of Fordington, diocese of Sarum, in 1566, and who died the next year, it is possible the latter was a brother. One Nicholas Bradbridge was prebend of Lincoln in 1508, and a Jone and George Bradbridge were respectively martyred during the Marian persecution at Maidstone and Canterbury. William took his B.A. degree at Magdalen College, Oxford, on 15 July 1528, but whether as demy or non-foundationer does not appear. In 1529 he became a fellow of his college, M.A. on 6 June 1632, B.D. on 17 June 1539, 'being then arrived to some eminence in the theological faculty' (Wood). On 26 March 1565 he supplicated the university for a D.D. degree, but was not admitted. Yet Strype (Parker, book iv. 4) calls him D.D. He espoused the reformed religion, and had to flee with Barlow, Coverdale, and other fugitives in 1553. He is found, however, in England again in 1555, when, 17 May, on the presentation of Ralph Henslow, he was appointed prebendary of Lyme and Halstock, Sarum. He was also a canon of Chichester, and in 1561 a dispensation was granted him on account of this as regarded part of his term of residence at Salisbury. He subscribed the articles of 1562 as a member of the lower house of convocation, and when the puritanical six articles of the same year were debated in that assembly, in common with all those members who had been brought into friendly contact with the practice of foreign churches during the reign of Mary, he signed them, but was outvoted by a majority of one. He also subscribed the articles of 1571. Bradbridge was collated to be chancellor of Chichester on 28 April 1562, and was allowed to hold the chancellorship in commendam with his bishopric. On Low Sunday 1563 he gave the annual Spittal sermon, and on 23 June of the same year, allowing himself conformable to the discipline which was then being established, was elected dean of Salisbury by letters from Queen Elizabeth, in the place of the Italian Peter Vannes. Here he was a contemporary of Foxe, the martyrologist, and Harding, the chief opponent of Jewell. On 26 Feb. 1570-1 the queen issued her significavit in his favour to the archbishop, and he was duly elected bishop of Exeter on 1 March. After a declaration of the queen's supremacy and doing homage, the temporalities of the see were restored to him on the 14th. He is still termed B.D. (State Papers, Domestic, Eliz. vol lxxxii.) His election was confirmed the next day, and he was consecrated at Lambeth on the 18th by Archbishop Parker and Bishops Horne and Bullingham of Winchester and Worcester. Although Wood says 'he laudably governed the see for about eight years,' his administration was somewhat halting and void of vigour, the weakness of age probably colouring his judgment and prompting him to love retirement. He exerted himself, however, to collect 250l. among the ministers of Devon and Cornwall for the use of Exeter College, whence his name is inserted in its list of benefactors. Oliver believes that either by his predecessor, Bishop Alley, or by him, portions of the palace at Exeter were taken down as being superfluous and burdensome to the diminished resources of the see. The bishop still kept up his scholarship. In 1572 the Books of Moses were allotted to him to translate for the new edition of the Bishop's Bible, at least to one 'W. E.,' whom Strype takes for 'William Exon.' Hoker, however, says (Antique Description of Exeter): 'He was a professor of divinity, but not taken to be so well grounded as he persuaded himself. He was zealous in religion, but not so forwards as he was wished to be.' In 1576, when papists on one side and schismatics on the other were troubling the church, a glimpse is obtained of Bradbridge's administration. He tried to reason with some Cornish gentlemen who would not attend church, but could not induce them to conform. At length as he saw 'they craved ever respite of time and in time grew rather indurate than reformed,' in compliance with an order that such should be sent up to the privy council or the ecclesiastical commission held at Lambeth 'to be dealt withal in order to their reducement,' he wrote on the subject to the lord treasurer, and sent up three, Robert Beckote, Richard Tremaine, and Francis Ermyn. He begged the treasurer to prevail with the archbishop or bishop of London 'to take some pains with them,' adding that 'the whole country longed to hear of their godly determination, viz. what success they should have with these gentlemen,' In the same year another dangerous opinion in his diocese troubled bim. A certain lay preacher, a schoolmaster at Liskeard, affirmed that an oath taken on one of the gospels 'was of no more value than if taken upon a rush or a fly.' All Cornwall was greatly excited at this, and on the bishop proceeding to Liskeard the man maintained his view in writing. As the town was in such confusion that no trial could be held with any prospect of justice, the bishop remanded the case to the assizes. In the meantime he sent for Dr. Tremayn, the archbishop's commissary, and other learned divines, and consulted on the point, saying 'that truly the Cornishmen were, many of them, subtle in taking an oath,' and that if the reverence due to scripture were abated it would let in many disorders to the state. Unluckily Strype does not give the conclusion of these trials.
About this time the bishop was very uneasy regarding an ecclesiastical commission which he heard would probably be granted to several in his diocese. Dr. Tremayn headed a party against him, but the bishop withstood him, and wrote to the treasurer that the commission was not required, adding that 'he spake somewhat of experience, that his diocese was great, and that the sectaries did daily increase. And he persuaded himself he should be able easier to rule those whom he partly knew already than those which by this means might get them new friends.' Indeed he found the cares of his position so heavy that he earnestly supplicated the treasurer (11 March 1578) that he might be suffered to resign the bishopric and return to his deanery of Sarum, urging 'the time serveth, the place is open.' In his latter years he delighted to dwell in the country, which proved very burdensome to all who had business with him. Newton Ferrers was his favourite residence, the benefice of which, together with that of Lezante in Cornwall, the queen had allowed him to hold in commendam in consequence of the impoverished state of the see, as had been the case with his predecessors. Benefices were given to his successor also. At the age of seventy he embarked largely in agricultural speculations, which eventually ruined him. 'Hitherto,' says Fuller, 'the English bishops had been vivacious almost to a wonder; only five died in the first twenty years of Elizabeth's reign, Now seven deceased within the compasse of two years.' Among them was Bradbridge, who died suddenly at noon 27 June 1578, aged 77, no one being with him, at Newton Ferrers. Izacke (Memorials of Exeter) sums up the opinion of him, 'a man only memorable for this, that nothing memorable is recorded of him saving that he well governed this church about eight years.' When he died he was indebted to the queen 1,400l. for tenths and subsidies received in her behalf from the clergy, so that immediately after his death she seized upon all his goods. The patent book of the see records that he 'had not wherewith to bury him.' He was buried in his own cathedral, on the north side of the choir near the altar, under a plain altar tomb, and around him lie his brother prelates, Bishops Marshal, Stapledon, Lacy, and Woolton. A simple Latin inscription was put over him, now much defaced, recording that he was 'nuper Exon. Episcopus.' A shield containing his arms still remains, 'Azure, a pheon's head argent.' His will is in the Prerogative Office. No portrait of him is known to exist. His register concludes his acts with the old formula, 'Cujus animus propitietur Deus, Amen.'
[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 817: Strype's Annals of the Reformation, 8vo, Cranmer, Parker, i. 377. ii. 416; Cardwell's Conferences, p. 119; Le Neve's Fasti; Jones's Fasti Ecclesiæ Sarisb. pt. ii. 1681. pp. 388, 390; Hoker and Izacke's Memorials of Exeter; Fuller's Church History, 18th Century; Oliver's Lives of the Bishops of Exeter.]