Wednesday, March 9, 2016



U.K. PRICE: £3.86
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"It is wonderful the interest that is taken in the peccadilloes and sins of “the cloth," an English journalist observed in 1849. Of course, the great majority of Victorian churchmen led blameless lives, attended countless fetes, worked tirelessly among the sick, the poor and the outcast and retired to tend their bees and borders. But, "a really good clerical scandal, well-spiced and judiciously prolonged," never failed to avidly interest the great British public. In this first volume of CLERICAL ERRORS: A VICTORIAN SERIES, Tom Hughes recounts the tribulations of five such men of the Church of England:

A married London clergyman is accused of writing a "depraved and obscene letter" [published here for the first time] to his supposed mistress. If he didn't, who did?

A country curate was sued for jilting his much older fiancee. During the trial, the newspapers published hundreds of the couple's more than 900 love letters to the amusement of readers across Britain.

"Clergyman in the Divorce Court" was a headline that always sold papers; in a Manchester suburb, a young curate was accused of stealing the affections of a wealthy cotton merchant's wife. A bollocksed "Assignation in Blackpool" was just part of the alleged plot.

In a small Yorkshire parish, outnumbered by Dissenters, a young vicar lived with his sickly wife. In 1891, they advertised for a "plain cook." A pretty, some said "buxom," young lady from Leeds answered the ad. It did not end well.

And finally, in Berkshire, a vicar and a female parishioner set out on a footpath to a nearby village. A sensational slander trial followed as the clergyman was forced to sue a farmer who claimed he walked in on the two of them in a remote copse. The intruder claimed to have found them in a position that was, well, "unfit for publication."

Delightfully told, scrupulously researched in the contemporary press, and informed with period detail, these stories have much more than ecclesiastical interest. The issues raised also explore the greater Victorian issues of gender, class, divorce and the law.

Tom Hughes is also the author of Blame it on the Devon Vicar and Blame it on the Norfolk Vicar, county collections of Victorian clerical scandals published in 2008 by Halsgrove of Somerset. He is a contributing writer to The Marylebone Journal in London.

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