“Without Even Having Sacrificed His Whiskers” : Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln

Here is another – less troubling – monument to be found in Lincoln Cathedral.  It is slightly tucked away, but then it would probably be too large to move.  From a distance it appears to be a statue of the Pope, which would be a surprising thing to find in an Anglican Cathedral, but – as you will see – it is, in fact Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln between 1885 and 1910.  It is still unusual to find such a monumental monument to a Clergyman (the photograph does not really convey the size of the thing). It would be surprising if, for instance, Bishop Tim of Leicester were to be commemorated in this way after he vacates his Cathedra.

Closer to, he seems rather less intimidating and, indeed, rather kindly.  There is a hint, perhaps, of Private Godfrey putting his hand up to be excused.  (This photograph, incidentally, might give the impression that the statue is made of solid gold, but that it is not the case).

I must admit the name was unknown to me, but it appears he was certainly one of the better sorts of Bishop.  He was appointed at the age of 59, having spent most of his career in Oxford, as the Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology, Canon of Christ Church and founder of St Stephen’s House.  As Bishop, according to the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, he “won the affection and reverence of all classes by his real saintliness of character” and, according to another source was “the most loved man in Lincolnshire”.  His great strength seems to have been in the area of pastoral care.

The most dramatic incident of his career as Bishop was his trial before Archbishop Benson for “ritualistic practices” between 1888-1890.  Apparently this stemmed from a complaint lodged by a Solicitor from Cleethorpes named Ernest de Lacy Read.  In his opponents’ view

“By the work he maintained at Cuddesdon; by his apparently sincere regard for Romish playthings; by the display of gaudy gew-gaws at his enthronement; and by his self-conscious vanity in sitting to be ‘taken’ for the admiration of ‘the faithful’ without even having sacrificed his whiskers to the Catholic razor, he is unquestionably assisting in ‘digging the grave of the Establishment.'”

The outcome of the prosecution seems to have been a compromise, whereby he was allowed to continue with most of his “ritualistic practices” as long as it was understood that there was no sacerdotal significance to them.  He was allowed to have lighted candles on the altar, for instance, but only for the purposes of illumination.

In an interview with the newsletter of the Friends of Lincoln Cathedral, Rowan Williams gave his view of the trial (King might have struggled to understand the second sentence here)

“Here was one of the holiest, most learned, most pastorally engaged, most involved bishops in the Church of England going through a ridiculous process, which everybody was embarrassed about.  Archbishop Benson was clearly embarrassed about it, and I think that general embarrassment did teach Church and State something about the need to give the Church a little bit of room to work out its own disciplines on its own terms about worship, and to catch up with the flexibility and changes in worship practices that were going on on the ground.”

He also comments, rather feelingly –

“I think he would be amazed at the amount of paperwork and regulation that we’ve created for ourselves and that we’ve created in response to Government pressure, and I think he would be disappointed that we were focussed so much on rather short-term goals.  King was a deep man, and he believed that clergy ought to have depth; that they ought to have the kind of training that allowed them to go deep in their own faith, and the resources of the tradition, and of the Bible, and I think he would have said that we’re very much at risk of crowding that out, of creating people who are problem-solvers rather than thinkers and reflectors.”

Following his death, there were calls for King to be canonised, though he has had to make do with a lesser festival on the 8th March.  I don’t know how the monument was paid for, but it would not be surprising if it was by public subscription.  It is possible that he is shown in the act of making the sign of the cross with the flat of his hand (one of the “ritualistic practices” for which he was prosecuted) – one way, I suppose, of , as it were, showing two fingers to the Cleethorpes Solicitor.

Unlike his predecessor (Christopher Wordsworth) there is no evidence that King was a sporting man.  His nephew, the Rev. Robert Stuart King, however, played football for Grimsby Town and one match for England (a 13-0 win against Ireland).  His great-nephew (also Robert King) played one First-Class cricket match for Essex and later went on to umpire in the South African Currie Cup.


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