Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davies, Richard (d.1581)

DAVIES, RICHARD (d. 1581), bishop of St. David's, was the son of Davydd ab Gronwy, and Janet, daughter of Davydd ab Richard. Though his father was said to be descended from Ithel Velyn, lord of Ial, and his mother from one of the fifteen tribes of North Wales (Humphrey's additions to Wood, Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss) i. 462), the former was only a poor curate of Gyffin, just outside Conway town, while his mother must have been one of the ‘focariæ’ who were almost allowed to the lower parochial clergy in Wales down to the Reformation. He was born at Plas y Person either about 1501, if it is true that he was eighty when he died, or about 1509 if he were, as is also said, fifty when consecrated bishop (Strype, Parker, ii. 50). There is a story that when young he won a prize at an eisteddfod (Cambrian Register, iii. 157). He was educated at New Inn Hall, Oxford, a house much frequented by Welsh students, especially civilians and canonists, before the foundation of Jesus College. His degree in arts, says Wood, is unknown, but he had become D.D. before 1560 (Fœdera, xv. 577), though Wood says he received that degree so late as 1566. He was made rector of Maidsmorton and vicar of Burnham in Buckinghamshire, the latter living being conferred upon him by Edward VI in 1550 (Willis, Survey of St. David's, p. 123). Already married and a decided reformer, he lost his preferments under Mary, and sought refuge at Geneva. His name, however, is by no means prominent among the Marian exiles, though he is once mentioned in the famous tract on the ‘History of the Troubles of Frankfurt’ (p. 168) as among those who in 1557 joined E. Horne and Chambers in subscribing objections to the ‘new discipline.’ He must therefore have belonged to the party desirous of conforming with the Book of Common Prayer in their worship. Sir John Wynne (History of the Gwydir Family, p. 94, ed. 1878), who knew Davies's sons at Oxford, says that after his flight to Geneva his exceeding poverty compelled him to live on the alms of the fugitives there, but adds that ‘in three years he learnt the French language so well as to be able to serve a cure in that city, and thus support his family.’ During this period two sons were born to him. Though there is no evidence that he took any part in the preparation of the ‘Geneva Bible,’ yet the whole atmosphere of the place seems to have stimulated his zeal for biblical translation.

On the accession of Elizabeth, Davies returned to England and received back his old preferments. His enthusiasm and sufferings commended him to the new government. In July 1559 he was placed on a commission to visit the four Welsh dioceses and the adjacent sees of Hereford and Worcester, which at a session held in Stratford-upon-Avon Church deprived John Lloyd, dean of St. Asaph, for contumacy. He was among those marked for preferment in a list of Cecil's, and on 4 Dec. he was elected by the chapter, on 18 Jan. confirmed, and on 21 Jan. 1560 consecrated by Parker at Lambeth as bishop of St. Asaph, a post vacant by the deprivation of Thomas Goldwell. His temporalities were restored on 29 March (Fœdera, xv. 577), but as they were only worth 10l. a year and the only other revenue of the see was 177l. of spiritualities (Strype, Annals, i. i. 227), he was allowed to hold in commendam not only Burnham and Maidsmorton, but also a prebend in his cathedral and the sinecure rectory of Llansantffraid yn Mechain for the term of five years (Fœdera, xv. 560). He at once set to work with vigour, and in August received an appointment to visit the diocese as the archbishop's commissioner (Strype, Parker, iii. 76). His letter to Parker on the state of his diocese shows clearly enough the need for action. Some of his clergy were still boys, others not yet in holy orders, others were studying at Oxford. Of the residents many would not or could not keep hospitality. There were only five gospel preachers (‘concionatores evangelici’) in the whole of the diocese (Willis, Survey of St. Asaph, ii. 136–47). He was translated in the spring of 1561 to the slightly richer (300l. a year) (Annals i. i. 227) and much larger diocese of St. David's. The chapter received orders to elect him on 20 Feb., but his inability through ill-health to attend in London, and some doubtful proceedings of Thomas Davies [q. v.], his successor, seem to have delayed matters so that the actual translation was only effected on 21 May, and the temporalities restored on 2 June (Fœdera, xv. 614).

Davies took no very prominent share in general English affairs. He was in January 1562 present at the convocation which drew up the Thirty-nine Articles. He signed the canons of 1571, and he joined the majority of the bishops in petitioning the queen in 1566 to offer no impediment to the Articles Bill which she had stayed in the House of Lords. In Wales, however, he was a very important person, active in the administration and reformation of his diocese, the trusted adviser of Parker and Cecil on Welsh affairs, and the ardent advocate of all schemes for the intellectual and religious enlightenment of his countrymen. The scanty revenues of his see were supplemented by three livings and a prebend of his cathedral held in commendam. Yet he suffered the many great episcopal houses to fall into ruin, and at Abergwili, where he resided, his successor complained that he had left the palace in most extreme disrepair. He sold the collations to prebends of St. David's and Brecon, and of most livings in his gift worth ‘10l. by the year.’ The lands of the see, even to the very doors of his palace, he let on long leases, and, careless of what came after him, supported himself on the fines made on granting them. The records of the chapter leave no doubt that his dealings with the property of his see nearly approached simony, and rivalled that of some of the worst of his English contemporaries. By sending Cecil all the ancient manuscripts and ‘monuments’ connected with his see, he denuded the diocesan registry of all ancient records. Lavish and improvident rather than dishonest, Davies employed his doubtfully won means in bountiful hospitality. He always kept ‘an exceeding great port.’ He had in his service the younger sons of some of the best houses of North Wales, giving them good ‘maintenance and education’ along with his own sons. He showed a strong clannish love for his compatriots of North Wales, many of whom he advanced to livings, ‘having ever this saying in his mouth, “I will plant you, North Welshmen; grow if you list.”’ But his followers and kinsfolk showed a lawless violence which suggests some blame for his too easy temper. Towards the end of his life one of the council of Wales forwarded a series of grave charges against Davies, based on his connivance of the outrageous behaviour of his son-in-law, Mr. Penry (State Papers, Dom. Eliz. cxxxi. 43, 1). Davies's answers to the charges (ib.) are not very satisfactory.

Davies was a member of the council of Wales, he was frequently put in commissions of the peace, and in 1578 was appointed with John Barlow to take measures to detect pirates and their abettors in the principality, and especially in the sea-girt region surrounding his remote cathedral village (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 604). His position at Ludlow enabled him to supplement the imperfections of the jurisdiction of his consistory court by reference to the president and council of Wales (ib. p. 597). He also enjoyed the close friendship of Parker, who encouraged him in his difficulties and corresponded with him on questions of British antiquities as well as official business. He was sufficiently trusted by Cecil to be able to tender strong advice as to the filling up of Welsh bishoprics, to warn him against men ‘utterly unlearned in divinity,’ and to press the claims of his own allies for preferment. He failed, however, to obtain the see of Bangor for his friend Huet, precentor and head of his chapter. Another great ally of Davies was Walter Devereux, earl of Essex [q. v.], who, with the possession of the old episcopal mansion of Lamphey, had acquired great influence in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, and was a strong friend of the reforming principles to which the bishop also was devoted. In 1576 the foundation of Carmarthen grammar school was due to the efforts of Essex and Davies, who, with some of the townsfolk, petitioned the queen with this object. When the earl died in Dublin, Davies preached an eloquent funeral sermon in Carmarthen church. The sermon was printed at London in 1577 by H. Denham, ‘for the benefit of the young earl absent,’ and threw a clear light on the state of the diocese over which Davies ruled so long. As a councillor as well as a bishop he could complain of the careless and bad justices and sheriffs, the timid and superstitious churchwardens, who thwarted all his efforts for reform. But he had to deal also with great earls and courtiers, greedy for church spoils and contemptuously intolerant of the church's rulers. It was noted as a proof of uncommon boldness that he ‘stoutly confronted’ Sir John Perrot, the president of Munster, a Pembrokeshire gentleman of large estate, as well as a prominent statesman (Wynne, Gwydir Family, p. 94, cf. Archæologia Cambrensis, 3rd ser. vii. 118). Again, he struggled to vindicate the rights of the see against a ‘commission of concealment’ granted to one Carey, a groom of the queen's chamber, who, not contented with an advantageous lease by which it was attempted to buy him off, obtained the verdict of a jury that Llanddewibrevi was a ‘college concealed,’ and robbed the see of the patronage of that important living, and of twelve other churches annexed to the prebends of the dissolved college as well. Carey afterwards claimed the churches of Llanarth and Llanina as parcels of Llanddewi, and, not daunted with a first defeat in the law courts, persevered until he obtained a new verdict in his favour. Even after Davies's death he sued his widow for the arrears of rent due when the property was in her husband's unquestioned possession (Strype, Annals, iii. i. 175, iii. ii. 226–8; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 328).

On another occasion Davies was involved in a quarrel with the Earls of Leicester and Pembroke. In four peremptory letters they bade the bishop accept a Mr. Bowen as their presentee to an advowson to which there were already two pretenders with stronger claims. Bowen produced as evidence documents ‘counterfeit and devoid of truth,’ with only the chapter seal, ‘and that arbitrarily set on and taken from some old writing.’ So much was the bishop alarmed, that he tried to persuade Mr. Gwynne, the lawful holder, to resign that he might present Bowen himself. But Gwynne's refusal, the discovery of another claimant in the person of Samuel Ferrar, son of Davies's martyred predecessor, and a violent letter of the earls, rebuking him for injustice and chiding him for his delay, combined to give the bishop courage to resist. He piteously complained to Parker of their bad usage, and lamented how, in conjunction with ‘insatiable cormorants in his own diocese,’ his powerful enemies ‘defamed and denounced him.’ All the consolation he got from the archbishop was, ‘Better shall ye finally satisfy wise men by constancy to truth and justice than be tossed up and down at the pleasure of others; expertus loquor’ (Parker Correspondence, pp. 226, 279, Parker Soc.).

In the administration of his diocese Davies found more obstacles in the passive resistance of ignorance, vice, and indifference than from the more direct antagonism of catholic and puritan. In 1577 he was able to inform Cecil that there were no recusants in his diocese (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 564). In 1570 Davies forwarded to Cecil a detailed account of the ‘state of his diocese with suggestions for remedying the same’ (State Papers, Dom. Elizabeth, R. O., lxvi. 26 and 26, 1; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 362). In this document, which sheds a good deal of light on the state of the Welsh church at the time, Davies specially urges the council to provide competent stipends for vicars in the numerous parishes impropriated to the crown, whose condition had become far worse than before the suppression of the monasteries.

Davies set himself energetically to work to provide a vernacular theological literature for his country. He enlisted the co-operation of his neighbour in the Vale of Conway, William Salesbury [q. v.], to whose almost single-handed efforts had been already due the first books printed in Welsh. In 1563 an act of parliament was passed (5 Eliz. cap. 28), enjoining the four Welsh bishops and the bishop of Hereford, under penalty of 40l. each, to procure to be printed before 1566 Welsh versions of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, copies of which were to be placed in every parish church in Wales. In the same year a royal patent gave William Salesbury and the printer, John Waley, exclusive license to print the above Welsh versions for the term of seven years (Lansdowne MS. 48, f. 175). Davies at once set to work with energy, though he complained, however, that he found ‘small help’ from any one except Salesbury. Davies was himself also busy in revising the English translation. It was not until 1567 that the firstfruits of their efforts appeared. In that year was printed the first Welsh edition of the New Testament. The bulk of it was the work of Salesbury, but Huet, chantor of St. David's, had translated the Apocalypse, and Davies 1 Timothy, Hebrews, St. James, and 1 and 2 Peter. Davies also contributed a long epistle to the Welsh (‘Epistol at y Cembru’), of which the full title is ‘R. episcop Menew yn damuno adnewyddiat yr hen ffydd catholic a golauni euangel Christ ir Cembru oll, yn enwedic i bop map eneid dyn o vewn ey episcopawt.’ It combines a good deal of rather questionable history with some sounder divinity. It was reprinted with the Welsh version of Jewel's ‘Apology’ in 1671. It is written, says a recent critic, in a more vigorous and easy style and with less archaic diction than Salesbury's translation. The New Testament, a well-printed black letter quarto, was printed at London by Henry Denham, ‘at the costs and charges of Humfrey Toy,’ a Welshman from Carmarthen, whose family was subsequently associated with the bishop in founding the grammar school of that town. In the same year appeared the Welsh prayer-book (‘Llyfr Gweddi Gyffredin,’ &c.), printed in folio by Denham, also at Toy's cost. For this Salesbury and Davies seem to have been jointly responsible; but it is impossible to determine their respective shares in the undertaking. A prospect of the completion of the translation of the Bible was held out in Salesbury's dedication, but the work seems to have languished. Sir John Wynne tells a story that Davies and Salesbury quarrelled over the meaning of some single word, and that in consequence the co-operation which had hitherto produced so much result came to an end. Not until after Davies's death did William Morgan publish in 1588 a complete Welsh bible; but in his preface he bears strong testimony to the great work of Davies. On the literary merits of the version opinion has been more divided, but the praise or blame of that more rightfully belongs to Salesbury than to Davies. (On all points connected with the literary characteristics and sources of the Welsh Testament, see a lecture on W. Salesbury's New Testament by the Rev. T. C. Edwards in ‘Transactions of Liverpool Welsh National Society, First Session,’ pp. 51–81.)

In 1568 appeared the first edition of the ‘Bishops' Bible,’ on which revision Davies had also been actively engaged. In a list drawn up by Parker the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 and 2 Kings was assigned to Davies; but in the printed copy his initials are at the end of 2 Samuel, and as no other initials occur after the end of Deuteronomy it seems clear that Davies's work was confined to these books (Parker Correspondence, p. 335). But there is nothing very original or important in this revision. It closely followed the ‘Great Bible,’ and when original readings were attempted they were not always happy (Westcott, History of the English Bible, p. 241). Davies was also a writer of Welsh verses, many of which are preserved in the voluminous manuscript collections of Welsh poetry in the Addit. MSS. at the British Museum. Davies died on 7 Nov. 1581, and was buried in Abergwili church. His will, dated 13 Sept. 1581, left nearly all his scanty property to his widow, Dorothy. ‘He died poor,’ says Sir J. Wynne, ‘having never had regard to riches.’ In his will he mentions his sons Peregrine, Richard, and Pearson, and two daughters, Margaret, betrothed to Hugh Butler, and another married to the William Penry whose violence brought his father-in-law into some difficulties (Kennet, Collections in Lansdowne MS. 982, f. 18).

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon., with Humphrey's additions, i. 462, ed. Bliss; Strype's Annals of the Reformation, and Lives of Parker and Grindal; Parker Correspondence, Parker Soc.; Grindal's Remains, Parker Soc.; Sir John Wynne's Hist. of the Gwydir Family, pp. 93, 94, 96, ed. 1878; Rymer's Fœdera, vol. xv.; Browne Willis's Survey of St. Asaph, ed. Edwards, i. 103–4, ii. 136–147; Willis's Survey of St. David's, 123, 194; Thomas's Hist. of St. Asaph, 85–9, 225–6; Jones and Freeman's Hist. of St. David's, 331, 337; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80; Nasmith's Cat. of MSS. in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, pp. 149, 154; Bishop Morgan's Preface to Welsh Bible, 1588; Llewelyn's Historical Account of the British Versions of the Bible; Rowlands's Cambrian Bibliography and Transactions of the Liverpool Welsh National Society, First Session.]

T. F. T.