November 18 – An 85-year-old bishop and his sad end

Nov18,2022 #Cuthbert Tunstall

On this day in Tudor history, 18th November 1559, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, eighty-five-year-old Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, died.

At the time of his death, Tunstall was in the custody of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth Palace.

The bishop’s career had begun under Henry VIII, and he’d been imprisoned in Edward VI’s reign, released by Mary I, and the confined again by Elizabeth I. Find out more about Cuthbert Tunstall’s interesting life and career…

Cuthbert Tunstall

On this day in Tudor history, 18th November 1559, eighty-five-year-old Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, died while in the custody of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth Palace.

Tunstall had had an amazing career, which spanned the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I. However, he fell from grace in Queen Elizabeth I’s reign after he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy and refused to participate in the consecration of Matthew Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Let me tell you a bit about this man…

Facts about Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham

Cuthbert Tunstall was born in 1474 in Hackforth, Yorkshire. He started out as the illegitimate son of Thomas Tunstall of Thurland Castle, Lancashire, but Cuthbert’s mother did marry Thomas so Cuthbert became legitimate. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, and King’s Hall, Cambridge, and then travelled to Italy, where he spent six years at the University of Padua. He studied mathematics, law and theology, and he was awarded a doctorate in law.

In 1505, he returned to England and worked as a rector before becoming Archbishop William Warham’s chancellor and auditor of causes. He was officially ordained as a priest in 1511, but carried on doing duties for Warham.

In Henry VIII’s reign, Tunstall worked his way from being Canon of Lincoln and Archdeacon of Chester, to becoming Bishop of London and then Bishop of Durham. He also served as Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, acted as a diplomat, and negotiated with Charles V after the Battle of Pavia. He was also involved in negotiating the Peace of Cambrai, and served as President of the Council of the North. He was also involved in censoring heretical books with Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More.

During the Great Matter, Henry VIII’s quest for an annulment, Tunstall acted as one of Catherine of Aragon’s counsel, but then changed sides when he realised the way the wind was blowing, and accepted the annulment. He did, however, oppose religious reform.

In Edward VI’s reign, Tunstall, even though he was Catholic, was fine at first due to his good relationship with Edward Seymour, who acted as Lord Protector. However, he voted against the “Act of Uniformity” and the abolition of chantries and clerical celibacy, and fell from grace when John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, became leader of the government. Tunstall was accused of misprision of treason for his alleged involvement in a planned uprising. He was confined to house arrest, then imprisoned in the Tower of London and deprived of his bishopric. He was later moved to the King’s Bench prison. He wrote a treatise on the Eucharist while imprisoned.

He was released from prison in August 1553, after the accession of the Catholic Mary I, and his bishopric was re-established. His treatise was also published in Paris. Unfortunately for Tunstall, Mary I’s reign was short, and he was imprisoned again in Elizabeth I’s reign. As I said at the start, he died in custody at Lambeth Palace on this day in 1559. He was laid to rest in St Mary’s, Lambeth, now the Garden Museum, on 29th November 1559.

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