Curll, Walter (DNB00)

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CURLL, WALTER, D.D. (1575–1647), bishop of Winchester, was born at Hatfield in Hertfordshire in 1575. His father was probably the same William Curll who was auditor of the court of wards to Queen Elizabeth, and who has a monument in Hatfield church. At Hatfield Walter Curll came under the notice of the Cecil family, and their influence had a great deal to do with his subsequent success in life. In 1592 Curll entered at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and was eventually elected fellow of his college. Shortly after his election he travelled for four years on the continent, still holding his fellowship, and receiving also a small annual sum from the college towards defraying his expenses. In 1602 he took holy orders, and held in turn the livings of Plumstead in Kent, Bemerton in Wiltshire, and Mildenhall in Suffolk. He was admitted to the degrees of B.D. in 1606, and D.D. in 1612. He resigned his fellowship in 1616, receiving from the college one year's profits in addition to what he was entitled to; this was a mark of the esteem in which he was held, but it was rather hard upon his successor. He was appointed chaplain to James I, prebendary of Lyme and Halstock in Salisbury Cathedral, and dean of Lichfield in 1621, in succession to William Tooker. While dean of Lichfield he was elected prolocutor of the lower house of the convocation of Canterbury. He was consecrated bishop of Rochester in 1628; was translated to Bath and Wells in 1629; and finally, through the influence of Archbishop Laud, was chosen to succeed Neal as bishop of Winchester in 1632. He was also lord high almoner to Charles I. It was at once seen that in the new bishop of Winchester Laud had secured a most zealous co-operator in his efforts for removing abuses and restoring something of the dignity and beauty of divine worship. ‘In the first year of his accession to this see,’ says Milner, ‘he [i.e. Bishop Curll] set on foot many improvements respecting the cathedral. Several nuisances and encroachments were removed; the south end of the cathedral had been so blocked up that there was no way northward of going into the close without going through the church itself; these obstructions he removed, and opened a passage where the houses had stood.’ He also at great expense decorated and improved the interior of the cathedral. Great abuses had sprung up under the two previous deans, Abbott and Morton, but Dean Young cordially seconded the bishop's efforts. The altar was restored to its original position, and duly railed in according to the archbishop's regulations. Suitable plate and sanctuary hangings were provided, and four copes which were to be used on all Sundays and holidays. The prebendaries were solemnly bound by oath to make a reverence before the altar when entering or leaving the choir. The bishop did not confine his attention to the cathedral, but throughout the diocese similar customs were most rigorously enforced. In 1636 the archbishop, in his annual report on the state of the southern province, represents the diocese of Winchester as ‘all peace and order,’ so zealously had Curll worked. Events soon showed, however, that beneath this outward uniformity there was a vast amount of smouldering discontent. In July 1642 civil war broke out. Farnham Castle, which had been placed by the bishop at the king's disposal, was captured on 3 Dec.; on the 13th Winchester fell, and the cathedral was plundered. But towards the close of 1643 Winchester was once more in the hands of the royalists, and the bishop was living there in state. With him were Dr. Heylyn and Chillingworth, author of ‘The Religion of the Protestants.’ In March of the following year the city again fell into the hands of the parliamentarians, and the bishop escaped, probably to his palace at Waltham; but this also fell into the hands of his enemies after a gallant resistance (9 April). According to local tradition, the bishop escaped in a dung-cart, hidden under a layer of manure. The palace was burnt and has never been rebuilt. The bishop is next heard of at Winchester, which had once more been deserted by the parliamentary party. On 29 Sept. 1645 Cromwell appeared before the city and demanded the surrender of the castle, which was held by Lord Ogle for the king, at the same time offering a safe-conduct to the bishop if he chose to leave the city before the siege began. Curll refused the offer, and took his place with the defenders in the castle. After the bombardment had commenced, however, he repented, and sent to say that he would accept Cromwell's offer. But it was now too late, and the bishop had to take his chance with the rest. On 5 Oct. the garrison surrendered, and were allowed their liberty. The bishop was deprived not only of his episcopal income but even of his private property. He retired to his sister's house in the village of Soberton, Hampshire, and took no further part in public life. In 1647 he journeyed to London to seek advice concerning his health, and died there the same year in his seventy-third year. His body was taken back to Soberton to be buried. He left a widow and several children. There is an entry of the baptism of one of them in the parish register of Bromley in Kent (26 Dec. 1629): ‘William, son of Walter Curll, Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells.’ Edmund Curll, writing in 1712, states that the tombstone remains over the bishop's grave, but that the pieces of brass containing the inscription have been broken off and stolen by sacrilegious hands. There is still a monument there to his grandson Sir Walter Curll, on which are the arms vert, a chevron ingrailed or, with the arms of Ulster impaling or, a fess between three wolves' heads couped sable. Walker, in his ‘Sufferings of the Clergy,’ says that this prelate ‘was a man of very great charity to the poor, and expended large sums in the repairs of churches.’ He contributed largely to the building of a new chapel for his college at Cambridge; promoted the costly work of producing the Polyglot Bible; and out of his very slender means at the last helped many a starving royalist. As an author he is known only by one sermon preached by him when dean of Lichfield, before James I, and published in 1622 by special command of his majesty.

[Cassan's Lives of the Bishops of Winchester, vol. ii.; Milner's Hist. of Winchester; and a short Life of the bishop, written by Edmund Curll, 1712.]

W. B.