LUCY, William (b. 1594-1677)

LUCY, William (b. 1594–1677)

cons. 1660 bp. of ST DAVIDS

First sat 20 Nov. 1661; last sat 7 May 1668

b. 1594 4th s. of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, Warws. and Constance, da. of Richard Kingsmill of Highclere, Hants; bro. of Sir Thomas Lucy and Sir Richard Lucy, uncle of Sir Fulk Lucy and Richard Lucy. educ. Trinity, Oxf. BA 1613; Lincoln’s Inn, 1614; Gonville and Caius, Camb. 1615, MA 1616; ord. deacon 1617, BD 1623, DD 1623. m. 12 Feb. 1629, Martha, da. of William Angell, 5s. 2da. d. 4 Oct. 1677; will 3-29 Sept., pr. 15 Oct. 1677.1

Rect. Burghclere, Hants 1619-42, Highclere, Hants 1626-42; chap. to George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, c.1621; seq. 1651.2

Also associated with: Hurstbourne, Hants.

William Lucy, a stalwart supporter of Laudian churchmanship before the civil wars, and chaplain to the duke of Buckingham, was identified with the growing Arminian faction at the court of Charles I.3 After training initially in the law, he took holy orders, then settled to academic life and parish priesthood on the family estates in Hampshire. Sequestered during the Interregnum, his papers were frequently searched by the authorities.4 He was perceived by the court in exile as a loyal sufferer and elevated in the first tranche of consecrations after the Restoration.

His new diocese, ‘near a hundred miles long’, was plagued by structural weaknesses, including poverty, neglect, lay impropriations and a language barrier. The cathedral was in ruins, as were the bishop’s houses. By June 1663 he had spent £1,900 on diocesan repairs and augmentations.5 Taking up residence in Brecon, ‘the furthest point to which most Englishmen were prepared to venture’, Lucy was in the fortunate position of being able to appoint his own sons to senior diocesan posts.

In 1661, as ex officio dean of Brecon, Lucy intervened in the parliamentary election for Brecon borough, opposing the candidature of Sir Herbert Price against Kingsmill Lucy.6 His own parliamentary career began with the re-admission of the bishops on 20 Nov. 1661, when he was at last able to take his seat in the House. Of the 15 sessions held during his tenure of the bishopric, he attended only four, his parliamentary career circumscribed by the hazardous journey from Wales and his own increasing frailty. Over the course of his attendance he was named to over 30 select committees, 20 of these during his first session in the House.

Lucy attended his first session for 64 per cent of sittings, the bishops being re-admitted to the Lords six months into the session. He attended the House throughout the passage of the Act of Uniformity and followed up the act (by which 30 of his clergymen were ejected) with a visitation.7 Although Lucy was involved in provisions under the 1662 Act of Uniformity to translate the prayer book into Welsh, unlike his William Thomas, who succeeded him at St Davids, he was less concerned with evangelizing in Welsh than in ridding his diocese of political and religious radicalism. He encouraged the cult of the royal martyr, and the anniversary of the regicide became a day not only for ritual breast-beating but for the routine vilification of Puritan Dissent.8

Lucy attended the 1663 session of parliament for 54 per cent of sittings, missing the first 12 weeks of business. He was named to two select committees, the private bill involving George Morley, bishop of Winchester, and the bill for the observation of the Sabbath. During that year he embarked on a damaging wrangle with his fellow bishop, William Nicholson, of Gloucester, who held the archdeaconry of Brecon. Despite the intervention of Gilbert Sheldon, archbishop of Canterbury, the dispute over Nicholson’s archidiaconal visitation rights was finally settled in the court of arches which upheld Lucy’s understanding of Nicholson’s ‘largely ceremonial’ functions and deprived the diocese of archidiaconal visitations for two centuries.9

Registering his proxy in favour of Humphrey Henchman, bishop of London on 3 Mar. 1664, Lucy did not attend the spring 1664 session. He was present for the first day of the next session on 24 Nov. 1664 and attended nearly 60 per cent of sittings up to the prorogation on 2 Mar. 1665 but left no mark of his activities there. He did not attend the Oxford Parliament in October 1665 (entering his proxy in favour of Joseph Henshaw, of Peterborough) nor the following session from September 1666 to February 1667, when his proxy was registered in favour of Matthew Wren, of Ely.

In 1666 Lucy was still struggling to deal with the political reality that many of the Welsh gentry held attitudes towards nonconformity that were far less rigid than his own. In an attempt to combine secular and ecclesiastical authority he wrote to the deputy lieutenants, justices of the peace and captains of the trained bands in the Gower to co-ordinate efforts against a conventicler that he suspected of sedition.10 He excommunicated the ejected minister Stephen Hughes in December 1667 but could not prevent Hughes from benefiting from his connections, especially as Hughes, unlike Lucy, was fluent in Welsh and deeply involved in preparing and disseminating protestant devotional literature in the Welsh language. He claimed that ‘leading men of the country … whose frowns overawe the poor curates’, intimidated them into allowing Hughes to preach in parish churches. He once excommunicated over one hundred people in a single occasion for non-payment of the church rate. He complained to Sheldon of his impotence in dealing with Dissenters through the church courts alone and found that he could not enforce conformity without the assistance of the civil courts, whose officers were often reluctant to assist.11

In autumn 1667 Lucy again travelled up to London to attend the House; subsequently attending the session for two-thirds of all sittings. On 20 Nov. 1667, together with John Cosin, of Durham, and Herbert Croft, of Hereford, he broke ranks with his fellow bishops over the impeachment of Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon and signed the dissent to the refusal to commit the disgraced chancellor. Having already been excused attendance on grounds of ill health at a call of the House on 26 Mar. 1668, Lucy attended the House for the final time on 7 May 1668. Increasingly unwell and immobile, he was forced to abandon his parliamentary duties. His proxy thereafter was registered on 13 Oct. 1669 and 9 Feb. 1670 with John Cosin, on 29 Dec. 1673 and 10 Apr. 1675 with Peter Mews, of Bath and Wells, and on 12 Feb. 1677 to Henry Compton, of London.

In 1672 Lucy was dismayed by the royal Declaration of Indulgence which resulted in 136 preaching licences being taken out in South Wales alone.12 In February 1673, just a month before the Declaration was withdrawn, he wrote to Sheldon about the dilemma he faced in dealing with nonconformity, for

if the parents may go to these licensed conventicles, who can be offended with their children that go with them or with them that carry their children since I know no provision made against them. My Lord ... I who am exceeding cautious in observing his majesty’s will, would be very glad to have your grace’s directions what I should do in those and the like emergencies … I shall question, suspend, perhaps excommunicate a schoolmaster, when I have done that he shall be licensed to preach, so may and will teach children as well as men.

Later in the same letter he described some of the options open to him, doubted their efficacy and repeated his fear of offending the king: ‘I have an awe with me of displeasing the king, that without I may be allowed it, I shall not adventure’.13

Despite his opposition to the Declaration, in January 1673, a month before the beginning of the new parliamentary session, he again excused himself from attendance. Now almost 80 years old, he was ‘so over-sensible of cold’ that he could not leave his fireside.14 Even after the Declaration was rescinded in March 1673, he was uncertain how to act and again sought Sheldon’s advice. This was a wise move since, as Sheldon pointed out in his reply, the lifting of the Declaration meant that the bishops could act ‘as formerly against such as for the future shall offend’ but that the imminent act of general pardon was likely to protect all who were currently under presentment or censure.15

Lucy failed to attend the second session of 1673, claiming that he was so unwell that he had not ventured more than a mile from home in 18 months. He was similarly excused from every other session during the remaining years of his life.16 He died on 4 Oct. 1677.

Lucy’s personal wealth is difficult to determine. He claimed to be the ‘poorest bishop’ in England or Wales, and at his death left his sons only £5 each. During his lifetime, however, he had not only provided well for his sons by means of office and preferments in the Church but claimed to have clothed ‘diverse poor’ at Christmas, kept a number of children in education, and supported the destitute offspring of Theophilus Field, the former bishop of Hereford.17 He also spent copiously on repairs to church property, not all of which would have been affordable on his annual episcopal revenue of some £500.18

Lucy made few, if any, concessions to Welsh language and culture, and he is not remembered well by historians of Welsh religious history.19 Yet to Anthony Wood he was the ideal churchman, and his epitaph on the imposing alabaster monument in the Collegiate Church of Brecon claimed that he was a ‘shining star in the … Church’ and ‘a strenuous ornament of the hierarchy’.20


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/355.
  • 2 Walker Revised, 187.
  • 3 N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists, 46.
  • 4 CCSP, iii. 220; W. Lucy, Observations, Censures and Confutations of Notorious Errours in Mr Hobbes Leviathan and other his Bookes, preface.
  • 5 Bodl. Tanner 146, ff. 126-7.
  • 6 HP Commons 1660-90, i. 507.
  • 7 W.L. Bevan, Diocesan Histories. St Davids, 186; Glam. County Hist., iv. 469.
  • 8 Jnl. of Hist. Soc. of Church in Wales, xii. 43; Corresp. of Isaac Basire ed. W.N. Darnell, 217-19; G.H. Jenkins, Foundations of Modern Wales, 1642-1780, p. 134.
  • 9 Brycheiniog, xxii. 17; Tanner 47, f. 51; Tanner 146, f. 139; Court of Arches ed. J. Houston, 157; Hist. Soc. of the Church in Wales, vii. 6.
  • 10 R.L. Hugh, Y Cofiadur, xviii. 31.
  • 11 Jnl. of Hist. Soc. of Church in Wales, xii. 38, 42, 50-53; Tanner 146, f. 138; Hist. Church in Wales ed. D. Walker, 81-82.
  • 12 Jenkins, 187.
  • 13 Tanner 314, f. 40.
  • 14 Tanner 43, f. 74.
  • 15 Tanner 314, f. 40; Harl. 7377, f. 44.
  • 16 Tanner 42, ff. 42, 142; Harl. 7377, ff. 49-50.
  • 17 Tanner 146, f. 133.
  • 18 Hirschberg, ‘Episcopal Incomes’, 214.
  • 19 Jnl. of Hist. Soc. of the Church in Wales, xxv. 25.
  • 20 Ath. Ox. iii. 1127; Brycheiniog, xxii. 58.