ARTHUR SAWLE, RECTOR OF PORLOCK, SOMERSET
By Tony Storey
This article was originally published in the August 2011 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Arthur Sawle was probably born in Gloucestershire in about 1525. Spelling was none too consistent in the sixteenth century and his surname also appears as Saule, Sale and even Sallie. In the 1540s Arthur attended Magdalene College, Oxford, where he gained a Master of Arts degree and earned a reputation as a theologian. He was a committed Protestant and with Edward VI on the throne it seemed that a successful career in the new Church of England was assured.
Edward was only nine years old when he became king in 1547 and by 1550 the real power behind the throne was his chief advisor, John Dudley, first Duke of Northumberland, who espoused Protestantism as a means to achieve his political ambitions. Northumberland had made many enemies among the Catholic nobles and churchmen, when in 1552 King Edward's health began to fail. Knowing that Edward's successor was likely to be his half-sister, Mary Tudor, and that a return to Catholicism would result in his ruin and possible execution, Northumberland arranged a marriage between his youngest son, Lord Guildford Dudley, and Lady Jane Grey, a devout Protestant and granddaughter of Mary Rose, the sister of Henry VIII.
King Edward died of tuberculosis in July 1553, but not before he had been persuaded to declare his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, illegitimate so that the line of succession passed to Jane Grey. Northumberland wasted no time in proclaiming his daughter-in-law Queen of England.
In the provinces there was widespread sympathy for Mary and within days Northumberland's support faded away and he was forced to surrender to Mary. He was executed a month later. Northumberland, Lady Jane Grey, her husband and her father were all executed and the Grey family lands and property, which included the manor of Porlock in Somerset, were forfeit to the Crown.
By this time, Arthur Sawle had wisely moved abroad and he lived under the protection of the Protestant princes of Germany throughout the reign of the Catholic queen. Although he is known to have had an altercation with an English government agent during his exile in Heidelberg, he was able to return to England after Mary died in 1558. Under the Protestant queen, Elizabeth, Arthur rose to prominence in the Church of England, and held senior posts in Salisbury and Bristol by 1559. In 1562 he was made rector of St Dubricius Church, Porlock, an appointment that had to be approved by the Crown.
Porlock looks on to the Bristol Channel and with steep hills at its back, the main access to the village was once the harbour at Porlock Weir, a mile to the west. The present church at Porlock was built in the thirteenth century but replaced a much older building.
Arthur Sawle was appointed canon of Gloucester and rector of Ubly, Somerset in 1565, rector of Doynton, Gloucestershire in 1566 and of Berkeley, Gloucestershire in 1575. He died in 1586 and in his will he left property to his five children, including his sons Arnold and William. There is no mention of a son called Arthur, although the records of Magdalen College, Oxford in 1572 mention an Arthur Sale, who might have been the chess master and/or secret service agent known as Arthur Saul (see The Mysterious Lives of Arthur Saul, Soul Search, August, 2006).
Porlock Church, Part of the lands forfeited following the execution of Lady Jane Grey