An Elizabethan poet, playwright and clergyman: Richard Edes 1555-1604

In Elizabethan times one of Worcester’s most well-known Deans had been a poet, playwright, and writer and was a very successful preacher. If you happen to walk near the west end of Worcester Cathedral you might notice a large tomb, with the effigy of an Elizabethan man lying on a canopy tomb. The man’s head is resting on a book (no doubt a Bible) which is resting on top of a large green pillow. This is the striking monument to Richard Edes, Dean of Worcester between 1597 and 1604, which was produced on the instructions of his wife Margaret. Edes went to Christ Church College, Oxford. He was made one of Queen Elizabeth I’s chaplains. He was famous for his preaching and conversation. He would have been involved in the Oxford University group appointed by King James to produce a new translation of the Bible. Unfortunately, he died in the same year before he could do much for this enterprise.

Besides Edes’ plays and poems, he made a description in Latin of a trip to the North of England with his friend Dr. Toby Matthew entitled Iter Boreale or Northern Journey. He also gave a sum of money to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. He was buried in the Lady Chapel of Worcester Cathedral.

Worcester Cathedral Library Dean Edes

Dean Edes’ Funerary Monument. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

From the cathedral’s archive it is possible to look in the Treasurer’s accounts for 1597-98. From this document one can see that Dean Richard Edes earned a salary of £133 6s 8d, while by comparison the Master of the Choristers was paid £11 6s 8d, and the Cathedral’s two vergers £3 each.

Nine of Dean Richard Edes’s sermons are in the cathedral’s collection, together with a tract. The sermons cover such subjects as the duty of a King, a meditation on the plague during James I’s reign, the principal care of princes to be nurses of the church preached before Queen Elizabeth in Lent 1594, the difference of good and evil again preached before Queen Elizabeth two years later, and one on a heavenly conversation.

Edes sermon on the prince’s role as nurse of the church deserves further discussion because of what it reveals of a late Elizabethan dean’s thinking on the relationship of the church and the monarch. Edes set out the right of the monarch to be head of the church as stated in the Bible.  He then showed that a Queen as much as a King was entitled to be head of the church citing Old Testament examples. Edes reminded his audience that Christ’s religion taught monarchs “wisdom to their policies, and life to their laws; obedience to their peace, and courage to their wars” and therefore a prince must “maintain the truth of his religion among the people”. Finally, he praised Queen Elizabeth for her many qualities including being “such a nurse to Cathedral Churches, as that by her late confirmation we may acknowledge her a new founder”.

From his other writings in the library, Edes was clearly a very intelligent clergyman whose knowledge of the Bible was thorough. If you look at the foot of his tomb you may also notice an epitaph in Latin. In English it contains various plays on his surname, and also has these nice final lines translated by William Moore Ede, Dean of Worcester Cathedral in 1925:

“Why O stone, do you also speak? Under me lies one who surpasses Orpheus;

This man does more than move stones, he makes them speak.

Why, O stone, art thou weeping also? I shed tears for a loss so great.

I’ faith, thou compellest me also, a traveller, to shed a tear.”

David Morrison

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