Bishop Godwin

One of the important memorials to which we will be able to give much more prominence in the refurbishment of the church is the memorial plaque and the floor memorial (or ledger) to Bishop Godwin.  They are currently in the vestry but will be relocated in the north aisle with greater prominence.  Indeed the location of all the ledgers will be improved.

Wokingham in the early part of the sixteenth century was a busy medieval town. All Saints Church had been recently refurbished and remodelled, having been enlarged from the earlier Norman chapel. The tower and clerestory were built, and the white chalk pillars were put in place. The chantry of St Mary had been erected in 1443 on the north side chancel aisle under the supervision of Adam Moyens, Dean of Salisbury.

It would have looked very much like the church we know today.

The tracks that are now etched into Wiltshire and London Roads led to Warfield in one direction and in the other to the hunting lodge at Easthampstead Park. And in front of the church was Rose Street. This was the location of the weekly market held each Tuesday. Today there are twenty houses in Rose Street that date from or before this period. And in one of these lived Thomas Godwyn.

Thomas had been born of poor parents in 1517. Unlike many of his background in that period Thomas received an education.

John Norreys, who owned the estate to the north-west of the church, and John Westende another wealthy inhabitant of Wokingham had provided the endowment to the chantry. They had also provided for a school ‘within the said chantry’ where twenty-eight year old Robert Ayres was both priest and teacher.

The young Thomas must have been an outstanding pupil for he came to the attention of a certain Dr Richard Layton. Layton was Archdeacon of Buckingham and saw that Thomas was bright and capable. The Archdeacon effectively adopted the young man and sponsored his education and progression to the extent that in 1538 Thomas entered Magdalen College, Oxford. Thomas was twenty-one years old.

Thomas Godwin, the pauper child from Wokingham, was a student at Magdalen College in 1538, having been adopted by the Richard Layton subsequently Dean of York. Thomas graduated in 1543, became a Fellow and then earned his Masters in 1547. His reformist leanings caused a breach with his colleagues, and he resigned his Fellowship and took up a post as a teacher at Magdalen College School, Brackley, subsequently becoming its Master.. While at Brackley he married Isabella Purefoy and with her subsequently had nine children. But these were turbulent times and with the arrival of Queen Mary on the English throne in 1553, Thomas decided that he should find a more secure haven. He returned to Oxford and qualified to practise medicine in 1555. The Counter-Reformation ended in 1558 with the death of Mary and ascension of Elizabeth. Thomas decided that now was the time to follow his true vocation and returned to divinity.

Thomas was a remarkable preacher and soon came to the attention of Queen Elizabeth. His career progressed swiftly. In June 1565 he was appointed Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and in 1567 to Dean of Canterbury. He stayed at Canterbury until 1584 when the Queen appointed him Bishop of Bath and Wells.

The widowed Thomas fell out of favour with the Queen after he married a much younger woman – and argued with the Queen’s favourite Walter Raleigh who had tried to purloin some church lands.

It had been a long journey from the small charity school in Wokingham. He was suffering with gout and recurrent bouts of malaria. Thomas returned to the town of his birth in 1590 and succumbed to his illness.

Currently, in the choir vestry, there is a plaque erected by his son. In translation it reads:

In sacred memory of a very dear parent, and truly reverend father, Thomas Godwyn, Doctor of Divinity of Christ Church Oxford first, and then Dean of Canterbury; afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells; who was born in this town, and here also (whither he returned on the advice of his doctors to regain his health) was consumed by the quartan fever and died on the 19th day of November 1590, in the 7th year of his consecration; and lies here awaiting the coming of the great God. Erected by his son Francis Godwyn, Sub Dean of Exeter.

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