Edmund Grindal: Saint Bees’ Best Saint

I recently visited St Bees on Cumbria’s Western coast. It’s a pretty town with an ancient priory and lovely sea views. More impressive for me is its great son, Edmund Grindal. This man was born in the town in the early 1500s and was probably educated at the priory before going off to university. He was appointed Protestant bishop of London under the reforming King Edward VI, but the latter’s early death and Bloody Mary’s accession had Grindal flee the country for Strasbourg and Frankfurt. He returned under Queen Elizabeth to serve as London’s bishop, before being promoted to Archbishop of York and then Canterbury.

In 1575, the godly Archbishop was at loggerheads with his Queen. She wanted to stop all ‘prophesyings’- gatherings of puritan-minded clergy during which they preached outside of normal church services. Grindal refused to prevent this gospel preaching and she furiously sought to deprive him of his office. Elizabeth was a raging bull when crossed, he bravely writing to her:

‘I choose rather to offend your earthly Majesty than to offend the heavenly majesty of God. 

The matter dragged on, though he died of natural causes before he could finally retire. Grindal was a genuine evangelical whose reputation endured even among the seventeenth-century puritans who were normally ill-disposed towards prelates.

In 1583, Grindal determined to pay for a school in his native St Bees. In his application to the Queen, he wrote that the town’s district

“is the ignorantest part in religion and most oppressed of covetous landlords of any part of this realm to my knowledge.

Perhaps the town has returned to this state of affairs. I saw little gospel witness in its priory church, though I appreciated some information boards for the stained glass windows which mentioned spiritual things and not just historical trivia. And as for the school he founded, it is still there, using some of its original buildings. It charges around £15k per annum for day students, which it ironic considering that Grindal envisioned the foundation as a remedy for covetous landlords- ie the rich.


Perhaps St Bees needs another Edmund Grindal- the nation certainly does.