Paul Lay

A Decanter of Deacons

A Field Guide to the English Clergy: A Compendium of Diverse Eccentrics, Pirates, Prelates and Adventurers; All Anglican, Some Even Practising

By

Oneworld 175pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

That the Church of England is theologically flexible will come as no surprise to observers of the institution described by the High Tory poet C H Sisson as ‘the one Sun seen … through the mists of this island’. But even by the standards of the C of E, the career of Marco de Dominis was one of a Christian contortionist. Born in a part of Croatia that, in the 16th and 17th centuries, belonged to Venice, he became a propagandist for the Venetian cause, railing against the papal interdict inflicted on the republic for its insistence on nominating bishops in its Balkan territories. When Venice finally reached an accord with Rome in 1615, de Dominis fled to England, where he converted to Anglicanism and plotted with James I to bring Venice into the orbit of the C of E, an ambitious scheme if ever there was one. The Croatian was appointed dean of Windsor, a fabulously wealthy post in which he proved unpopular. Lured by the even more lucrative offer of a Sicilian bishopric, de Dominis converted back to Catholicism, a big mistake given that the Inquisition retained memories of the many duplicities of an individual described by an Anglican colleague as ‘odious both to God and to man’.

De Dominis is one of the more serious – and seriously unpleasant – figures to grace Fergus Butler-Gallie’s entertainingly erudite series of sketches of the Church of England’s capacious wing of ‘Eccentrics’, ‘Nutty Professors’, ‘Bon Viveurs’, ‘Prodigal Sons’ and ‘Rogues’. Some of the names will be familiar: William Spooner, the word-transposing warden of New College, Oxford, who gave us the spoonerism; Michael Ramsey, the ‘autistic’ Congregationalist convert who, despite being ‘totally unsuitable’ for the job, was made Archbishop of Canterbury at the behest of Harold Macmillan; Brian Brindley, the outrageously camp high churchman who died during his seventieth birthday dinner at the Athenaeum Club and became the subject of one of the great Daily Telegraph obituaries.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,
    • Time travel, bicycles and white horses populate @WomackPhilip's roundup of children's books by @marcussedgwick,… ,