Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Scandal in the Church: Edward Drax Free, 1764-1843

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Scandal in the Church: Edward Drax Free, 1764-1843

Article excerpt

Scandal in the Church: Edward Drax Free, 1764-1843. By R. B. Outhwaite. (Rio Grande, Ohio: The Hambledon Press. 1997. Pp. xvi, 180. $40.00.)

Whether the century be the sixteenth or the twenty-first, a clergyman who fails to abide by his vows attracts far more media attention than does a member of the laity. Edward Drax Free proved to be the most notorious exemplar of clerical iniquity to be found in the early nineteenth-century Church of England. Himself the youngest son of a clergyman, Free earned B.A., M.A., B.D., and D.D. degrees and the status of fellow from St. John's College, Oxford. In 1808 that college appointed him to one of the "livings" under its jurisdiction, and Free became parish rector in the tiny (population 301) village of Sutton, Bedfordshire. That decision proved to be a gross mistake.

In the course of the next decade and a half, Dr. Free managed to seduce and impregnate a succession of youthful housekeepers and to become the father of at least five illegitimate children. He often neglected his duty to conduct Sunday services, and church attendance declined sharply. Frequently he quarreled with his parishioners over the fees that he sought to extract for baptisms and funerals and over the wages that he failed to pay his employees. He sold the lead roof from the church roof and the trees on the church land and pocketed the proceeds. He permitted his pigs to wander about the churchyard and uproot the gravestones.

All such iniquities might not have sufficed to remove him from his office had he not sued the local lord of the manor for failing to attend church. …

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