The 16th Century Prebendary of Carlisle
By Eric L Sewell
This article was originally published in the April 2002 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
The origins of the SEWELLs in Cumbria remain obscure (see Soul Search Vol 2, No 4 ), there being no convincing evidence of their presence before about 1490.
The absence of parish registers before the mid-17th century is another handicap in linking the SEWELLs mentioned in 16th century records. Several SEWELLs were prominent traders and craftsmen in Carlisle and one served as mayor in 1503, 1513 and 1518. It was therefore of particular interest to find a detailed account of Hugh SEWELL written by Dr M A Clark in the Cumberland & Westmoreland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Journal Vol XCI 1991. I am grateful to the Society for allowing me to extract material from this article.
The cathedral-priory of St Mary the Virgin, Carlisle was, until the Dissolution in 1540, an Augustinian foundation. The Augustinians, unlike the Benedictines, were not an enclosed order but combined the role of monk with that of parish priest. Hugh SEWELL had probably joined the Order at Carlisle by 1538. The Cambridge registers show that Hugh SEWELL BA 1531-2, MA 1534, was a fellow of Christ’s College 1532-7 and that at Oxford he was awarded a doctorate in 1561.
In the aftermath of the Reformation the Priory church was re-established as the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, and the stalls of the new chapter filled by Augustinian canons from the Priory. Hugh SEWELL was included amongst their number. Hugh was evidently a convert to the reformed religion. Letters from local justices to Henry VIII asserted that Hugh SEWELL had reported that a pre-Reformation Cathedral service book was still in use, which commemorated St Thomas à Beckett and mentioned the Pope. Fortunately this accusation was not followed by disciplinary action nor was Hugh SEWELL treated by the other members of the Cathedral chapter as an informer. Indeed, he was apparently rewarded with the benefices of Appleby (1541-73), Ousby (1560) and the rich living of Caldbeck (1560). None of these need have taken up much of his time, the day to day offices of these churches no doubt being left to curates. In 1549 he was promoted becoming one of the four Prebendaries of the Cathedral and appointed, by royal approval, a King’s Scholar. Clearly he was held in high regard.
Charged with profiting from the lease of Cathedral property to other SEWELLs in Carlisle, Hugh was summoned to London in 1555 and committed briefly to the Fleet prison. Amongst the holders of Cathedral leases were Randall, Robert and Barnabas SEWELL. The suspicion was that he favouring members of his family. Was he related to the earliest recorded SEWELL, namely Hugh SEWELL who in 1476 held land on the edge of Carlisle as a tenant of Lord Humphrey Dacre? It is also conspicuous that when Hugh SEWELL was presented to the living of Appleby his sponsors were Ralph SEWELL of Culgaith and John SEWELL of Ousby. There were other coincidences, such at Thursby where Lancelot SEWELL (merchant and bailiff of Carlisle) shared the presentation of Hugh’s successor. Also at Ousby where Barnabas SEWELL, yeoman of Caldbeck, nominated Hugh’s replacement.
When in 1584 the living of Ousby and the prebend fell vacant the cause seems to have been due to Hugh SEWELL’s death. The Roman Catholic Church, however, thinks otherwise since in the same year, on 1st September, a Hugh SEWELL arrived at the English College in Reims and on 17 March 1590 was re-ordained. At the risk of execution if captured, he was sent back to England but escaped detection. Had the former Augustinian canon, now in his seventies, repented and returned to the old faith?
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