Bickley, Thomas (DNB00)

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BICKLEY, THOMAS, D.D. (1518–1596), bishop of Chichester, was born at Stow, in Buckinghamshire, and began his education as a chorister in the free school of Magdalen College, Oxford. He afterwards became demy, and in 1541 was elected a fellow of the college. He acquired considerable reputation as a reformer and preacher of reformed doctrine, and soon after the accession of Edward VI was appointed one of the king's chaplains at Windsor. It is hard, however, to believe a story told by Fuller (Worthies, p. 131), that, to show his contempt for the doctrine of transubstantiation, he on one occasion broke the Host in pieces in the college chapel at evening prayers and trampled it under his feet. Anyhow, he was too notable a man to stay with safety in the country during the reign of Mary, and accordingly he retired to France, where he spent most of his time in study at Paris and Orleans. Returning to England after the accession of Elizabeth, he enjoyed rapid promotion, being made, within ten years, chaplain to Archbishop Parker, rector of Biddenden in Kent, of Sutton Waldron in Dorsetshire, archdeacon of Stafford, chancellor in Lichfield Cathedral, and warden of Merton College, Oxford.

He was made bishop of Chichester in 1585, consecrated at Lambeth on 30 Jan., and enthroned by proxy on 3 March. He was diligent in discharging the duties of his office, and was much respected and beloved in the diocese. Some of the returns to articles of inquiry made at his visitations have been preserved amongst the episcopal records, and supply curious information respecting the condition of the church at that time. The altars had, as a rule, been moved out from the east end, and complaints are numerous that 'the floor was not paved where the altar had stode.' The walls of all churches were required to be 'whyted and beautyfied with sentences from Holy Scripture.' A quarterly sermon from the parish parson was considered a sufficient allowance; but even this was not always regularly given, and in some parishes it is stated that there had not been any sermon for a year or more. Bishop Bickley died in 1596, and was buried in the cathedral on 26 May, when 'his body was accompanied to the earthe with dyverse woorshipfull persons' (note in Heralds' Office; Kennett). He bequeathed 40l. to Magdalen College, to be expended on ceiling and paving the school, and 100l. to Merton for the purchase of land, the revenue of which was bestowed annually on one of the fellows who preached a sermon to the university on May day in the college chapel.

A tablet to Bickley's memory is attached to the north wall of the lady chapel in Chichester Cathedral. The inscription (in Latin) states that he administered his diocese 'piously and religiously, with sobriety and sincerity, the highest justice and singular prudence.' The tablet is surmounted by a small kneeling effigy of the bishop, 'which shows him' says Wood, 'to have been a comely and handsome man.' If so, ideas of manly beauty must have changed very much since Wood's time.

[Fuller's Worthies, p. 131; Wood's Athenae Oxon. ii. 839; Bickley's Register in Chichester Cathedral; Lansd. MSS. 982, f. 238.]

W. R. W. S.