Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/May, William
MAY, MEY, or MEYE, WILLIAM (d. 1560), archbishop-elect of York, was a native of Suffolk, and elder brother of John May [q.v.], bishop of Carlisle. He was educated at Cambridge, where he graduated LL.B. in 1526, commenced doctor in 1531, and became fellow of Trinity Hall. In 1537 he was elected president of Queens' in succession to Dr. Heynes [q.v.], and not master of Trinity College, as Wood states. During his tenure of the presidency the college acquired the Cambridge house of the Carmelites. The latter, aware of the imminent dissolution of the monasteries, proposed to surrender their buildings to the president and fellows of Queens' College; but this amicable transaction was interrupted by a royal commission directed to May and three others on 17 Aug. 1538 ordering them to receive the surrender of the Carmelite house, and to send an inventory of all the goods to the crown. On 28 Nov. 1541 May purchased of the king's officers all the stone, slate, &c., for 20l., and on 30 Nov. 1544 he bought the site of John Eyre of Bury, to whom it had been granted by the king, but whether on his own account or on behalf of the college is not clear (Willis and Clark, Architectural Hist. of Cambridge Univ. ii. 3-6).
May was a vigorous partisan of the Reformation in its early days; in 1532 he was chancellor to Nicholas West, bishop of Ely, became vicar-general to his successor, Bishop Goodrich, and acted as his proxy at his installation in Ely Cathedral on 2 May 1533; in the same year he was Cranmer's vicar-general in Ely (Brewer, Letters and Papers, vi. 1340). In July 1534 he was appointed Cranmer's commissary to visit the see of Norwich, and when Bishop Nix declined to appear, May declared him contumacious, and condemned him in penalties for obstinacy. On 27 March 1535 he was instituted to the rectory of Bishops Hatfield, Hertfordshire, on the king's presentation, but held the preferment under a dispensation from the archbishop, not being ordained deacon and priest until the following year. In 1536 he was one of the king's commissioners to visit the diocese of Ely (Addit. MS. 5808, f. 130), and in the same year signed, as proctor of the clergy of Ely, the Six Articles. He was one of those commissioned to compose the 'Institution of a Christian Man' in 1537, and on 12 April 1538 he was admitted, on the presentation of Goodrich, to the sinecure rectory of Littlebury, near Saffron Walden in Essex. On 17 Oct. 1540 he was collated to the prebend of Balsham in Cambridgeshire, and on 10 Sept. 1541 he was made by the charter of erection first prebendary of the third stall in Ely Cathedral (Willis, Cathedrals, iii. 381; Le Neve, ed. Hardy, i. 356). On 1 Nov. 1545 he was collated to the prebend of Chamberlainewood in St. Paul's Cathedral, and subsequently of Wenlocksbarn. On 16 Jan. 1545-6, May, with Matthew Parker and John Redman, were empowered to inquire into the possessions of the several colleges in Cambridge, and to ascertain how the statutes were Kept, and he accompanied Parker to Hampton Court to present a summary of their labours to the king, with the result that the colleges were saved from dissolution. On 8 Feb. 1545-6 he succeeded John Incent as dean of St. Paul's. In August 1546 he and Sir William Petre [q. v.] were despatched to Calais to treat with commissaries of the king of France. Sir William terms his colleague 'a man of the most honest sort, wise, discrete, and well lernyd, and one that shall be very mete to sarve his Majestie many wayes.' In the same year he was on the commission to reform the ecclesiastical laws.
The accession of Edward VI and the more vigorous prosecution of the Reformation brought May into still greater prominence, and there were few ecclesiastical measures in which he was not concerned. In September 1547 he appeared in St. Paul's Cathedral with the other commissioners for the execution of the edict of the council which commanded the destruction of images in churches and the discontinuance of all customs held to be superstitious, not in the cathedral only, but in all its precincts. On 14 Feb. 1548 he sanctioned by his presence the chanting of the litany and the reading of the gospel and epistle in English (Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London, ed. Nichols, p. 55); he consented to the abolition of all obits and chantries, though the loss to himself must have been considerable; on the second Sunday in Lent, after a sermon by Miles Coverdale [q. v.], the 'Sacrament of the Altar' in St. Paul's Cathedral was pulled down by May's command, and lie administered the communion at a table. In 1547 he became one of the royal visitors, visited in that capacity the dioceses of Salisbury, Exeter, Bristol, Bath and Wells, and Gloucester, and was present at convocation; in the following year he was on the commission for the visitation of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the college of Eton (Cal. State Papers, 1547-80, p. 11). He was a strong advocate of liturgical revision, and was on both commissions appointed to confer concerning the ecclesiastical laws (Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, II. i. 531) and the drawing up of the Book of Common Prayer. In January 1550 he was on a commission against anabaptists, on another to assist the lord keeper, and on a third to try Bonner (cf. Foxe, Acts and Monuments, i. 748-800, for a full account of its proceedings). On 12 April 1550 he officiated at the installation by proxy of Kidley as bishop of London, and in the sixth year of Edward he was master of requests.
On Mary's accession May lost all his preferments, including the presidency of Queens' College, which he had hitherto retained, but he lived quietly and unmolested. Willis even states that he was made rector of Pulham in Norfolk in 1557, and had other benefices given him at this time, including the rectory of Long Stanton St. Michael, Cambridgeshire, on 3 Dec. 1557, but this is probably a confusion with another May (cf. Addit. MS. 5808, f. 130), for May, in addition to his conduct during Edward's reign, was married, and this would have proved an insuperable bar to preferment in Mary's reign.
The accession of Elizabeth again brought May into favour; on 23 June 1559 he was reinstated in the deanery of St. Paul's, and all his preferments were restored to him, including the presidency of Queens' College; in the same year he was put on the university commission and on the commission for the revision of the prayer-book. Parker in his 'History of Cambridge' wrongly states that he became vice-chancellor in 1560 (cf. Addit. MS. 5808, f. 130). On 8 Aug. 1560 by the queen's recommendation he was elected archbishop of York, but died on the same day at London. He was buried in the choir of his deanery, and an epitaph in Latin elegiacs commemorated his virtues until it was defaced by the fire of 1666. His funeral sermon was preached by Grindal.
May is said to have been of a mild and generous character; he was a genuine believer in the doctrines of the reformation, and Elizabeth held him in high esteem. He married the widow of Dr. Heynes, his predecessor in the presidency of Queens' College, and left a daughter seven years old at the date of his death, who became the wife of John Tedcastel of Barking, Essex.
[Addit. MSS. 5808 f. 130, 5813 f. 108, 5842 f. 376, 5884 f. 25; Strype's Annals of the Reformation, Memorials of Cranmer, Lives of Grindal, Parker, and Sir Thomas Smith, and Ecclesiastical Memorials, passim; Brewer's Letters and Papers, vi. 1340; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1547-80, For. Ser. 1547-53 p. 63, 1559-60 entry 323 (6); Wriothesley's Chronicle (Camel. Soc.), ii. 17, 114, 146; Machyn's Diary (Camd. Soc.), p. 241; Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London, pp. 55, 58, 69 (Camd. Soc.); Eymer's oRclera; Eighth Report of Deputy-Keeper of the Records, App. ii. 168; Foxe's Acts and Monuments, v. passim; Burnet's Hist, of the Reformation, passim; Dugdale's Hist, of St. Paul's, ed. Ellis, p. 229; Newcourt's
Repertorium, i. 47; Willis's Cathedrals, iii. 381; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 207, 553; Wood's Athenæ Oxon.; Fuller's Church Hist. iii. 160, iv. 27, and Hist, of the University of Cambridge; Bass Mullinger's Hist. of Univ. of Cambridge, pp. 110, 151, 174, 176; Willis and Clark's Architectural Hist. of Univ. of Cambridge, ii. 3-6, iii. 336; Le Neve's Fasti, ed. Hardy, i. 356, iii. 314, 446, iii. 114; Milman's Annals of St. Paul's, passim; K. W. Dixon's Church Hist. ii. 493; Wright's Elizabeth, i. 39; Clutterbuck's Hertfordshire, ii. 363; Blomefield's Norfolk, v. 391; Lingard's Hist. of England, v. 309; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. viii. 67, 133; Cardwell's Two Books of Common Prayer; Gasquet and Bishop's Edward VI and Book of Common Prayer; Luckock's Studies in Hist. of the Common Prayer, pp. 13, 24, 122.]