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Clergyman's chance to clear his name from beyond grave; BOOK HELPS TO END 'MADMAN' TAG 350 YEARS AFTER DEATH.

Byline: RACHAEL MISSTEAR West Wales Editor

A CLERGYMAN who 'thought outside the box', but was labelled a 'madman' by his opponents has been exonerated more than 350 years after his death.

Born in Roath, Cardiff, in 1604, William Erbery was a radical Independent theologian who was accused of heresy and although acquitted, the stigma followed him to the grave.

Over centuries he has become better known by those who have written about him - as a mentally unbalanced blasphemer.

Now in a new book, The Honest Heretique, Erbery's opinions are given a fresh airing, allowing him to speak for himself for the first time.

Containing 500 extracts from all of Erbery's writings, the book presents the background to Erbery's life and thoughts. Author Rev Dr John Morgans, originally from Tylorstown, in the Rhondda, said Erbery was a pioneer who challenged the orthodoxies of his day.

"The last twenty years of his life often saw him hit the headlines, but after his death in 1654, he has been quietly forgotten.

"He was instituted in Cardiff on the August 7, 1633. Almost immediately his Puritan views resulted in his being viewed as a dangerous schismatic.

"The King had instructed that The Declaration of Sports, issued on October 18, 1633, should be publicly read from every pulpit at Sunday worship.

"The declaration was targeted at 'Puritans and precise people' and encouraged 'lawful recreations and honest exercises upon Sundays, and other Holydays'."

The Bishop of that Diocese was tasked with ordering all clergy to conform or to leave.

"Erbery refused to read the royal commandment and there followed a lengthy struggle between Erbery and William Murray, Bishop of Llandaf," said Dr Morgans.

"The controversy may have begun with Murray, but it soon reached the ear of Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and even the King.

"Erbery rocked the boat, he thought outside the box, he was a presser forward in a period often described as the Puritan Revolution.

"By many he would have been admired as a pioneer who challenged the orthodoxies of his day. Unfortunately he became known to future generations not through his own work, but through the writings of those who saw him as a blasphemer."

Some went further and described Erbery as a madman, 'probably buried in bedlam'.

Erbery, a graduate of Oxford and Cambridge universities, became the curate of St Woolos, Newport and vicar of St Mary's and St John's in Cardiff.

He was tried for his Puritanism at Lambeth Palace in 1653 and resigned as a priest of the Church of England.

Although acquitted, he was dismissed as a heretic and slurred as a 'madman' - this stigma not only stuck to his name for the duration of his life, but followed him into the second half of the twentieth century.

Professor Wynn Thomas of Swansea University said Erbery is one of Wales's hidden writers who was unjustifiably dismissed.

"So unorthodox and daring a theological thinker was he, and so controversial was his outlook, that many of his own and later times dismissed him as mentally unbalanced. A fullscale 'rehabilitation' of him, such as that attempted in Dr Morgans' groundbreaking study, is as welcome as it is overdue."

Dr Morgans, who now lives near Llanidloes, Powys, studied British and American Puritanism during the 1960s in Swansea, Oxford and Hartford, Connecticut.

In 1967 he was ordained to the ministry and served the United Reformed Church in Llanidloes, Manselton, as Moderator for Wales. He and his wife then served the community of Penrhys and began the new ecumenical church of Llanfair. The Honest Heretique is his fifth book.

"Erbery is a truly interesting character. He was clearly a key figure in the Puritan circle seeking the reform of the Church."

EARLY DAYS OF WILLIAM ERBERY William Erbery was born in 1604 in Roath-Dagfield, Cardiff.

His father, Thomas Erbery, was a merchant who had probably come across from the West Country of England to establish an iron foundry in the Merthyr Valley before moving to Cardiff. It is probable that Thomas married Elizabeth, daughter of Rees David, a Cardiff cordwainer.

William entered Brasenose College, Oxford in 1619, graduated in 1623 and proceeded to Queens' College, Cambridge, where he earned a second degree in 1626.

He subscribed for deacon's orders in the diocese of Bristol on December 23, 1626, and became curate in St Woolos in Newport in 1630.

He remained at Newport until 1633 when he became vicar of St Mary's in Cardiff.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 21, 2013
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