A Life of Henry Bright (1562-1626)
Henry Bright (1562-1626) was Headmaster of the King’s School in Worcester for nearly forty years from 1589 until his death in 1626.
He was highly regarded for his learning, his teaching skill and also for his personal piety and inspirational preaching. He held several ecclesiastical appointments whilst headmaster and in 1618 was made a Canon of Worcester Cathedral by a Royal Charter from James I. In 1622 he became Treasurer of the Cathedral. He died in 1626.
Henry, the son of a Worcester hosier and glove-maker was probably educated at the King’s School himself. He went to Brasenose College Oxford but transferred to Balliol College to take his degree in 1584 and an MA in 1587. In 1589, Dean Willis and the Cathedral Chapter appointed the young Henry as Headmaster at the King’s School. In the same year he married Maria Tovey from Broadwas; they had one daughter, Mary, born in 1596.
Sometime before 1606 his wife Maria died and Henry married Joan Berkeley, daughter of Rowland Berkeley. This was a significant marriage; Berkeley was a wealthy clothier and Member of Parliament. He founded the Spetchley Estate and was the patron of the parish of Tredington where Henry was appointed Rector.
Joan and Henry had three daughters and one son (Robert) who was about ten when his father died.
Henry was elected a Canon of Hereford Cathedral in 1607 and he purchased Brockbury Estate at Colwall in 1609. He became Rector of Upton Warren and Warndon in 1615.
The salary of the King’s School Headmaster at this time was £15.02 shillings annually together with £3.18 shillings for “table and commons” and four yards of cloth at 5s per yard for an outer garment. This total of £20 per year was a considerable salary, which Henry Bright was able to enhance with church appointments. For the last fifteen years of his life he held two Rectorships and two Canonries in addition to his Mastership of the King’s School and additional income derived from fee paying boys at the school. His second wife was also wealthy and he was thus able to buy the estate of Brockbury in which his family established.
In 1604, King James I granted Henry by Royal Charter the next vacant Stall in the Cathedral Chapter. In 1619 he succeeded to the Vth Stall and became a Canon of Worcester Cathedral.
This promotion would have brought him an additional £20 per year. He was by then 56 years old, but far from being a semi-retired, inactive member of Chapter he became Treasurer of Worcester Cathedral, a post he held from 1622. He died in 1626 and Joseph Hall, who was then Dean of Worcester Cathedral, wrote his epitaph, which can be seen today in the Cathedral.
Henry was very highly regarded during his lifetime and was still being applauded long after his death, his long tenure at the King’s School being regarded as a “Golden Age” for the School.
Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) in his work “Worthies of England” pub. 1662 writes
“…this Master Bright [was] placed by divine Providence in this city in the Marches that he might equally communicate the lustre of grammar learning to youth both of England and Wales”.
Anthony Wood (1632-1695) in his work “Athenae Oxoniensis: An Exact History of All the Writers and Bishops Who Have Had Their Education in the University of Oxford; To Which Are Added the Fasti, or Annals of the Said University” pub. 1691 writes of Henry
“He had a most excellent faculty in instructing youths in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, most of which were afterwards sent to the universities, where they proved eminent to emulation. He was also an excellent preacher, was resorted to far and near … The posterity of this Hen. Bright do now live in genteel fashion in Worcestershire.”
Perhaps best placed to assess Henry’s qualities was Dr Joseph Hall. As Dean of Worcester Cathedral he had worked with him for ten years, and his tribute to him, inscribed on a memorial tablet, can be seen today in Worcester Cathedral.
“Stay, stranger and read.
Here lies Henry Bright, renowned headmaster, who, for as many as forty years, with utmost praiseworthiness had charge over the King’s School established nearby.
Than he no other was more diligent, or more learned and skilled in teaching right successfully the Latin, Greek and Hebrew tongues.
Witness both Universities, whom he enriched with an abundant stream of his cultured pupils; but more, by expounding theology through all these years and even longer, and by his seven years laboring as Canon of this Cathedral, he did often here and elsewhere carry out with great zeal and effect the Holy Ministry of God.
A devout, learned, upright and temperate man, he deserved well of the Church and State.
After labours endured unremittingly by day and night from 1562 to 1626, he passed on the 4th day of March in that year peacefully into rest with the Lord.”
(A. Macdonald, 1936)
Alumni of the King’s School under Henry Bright
In 1590, a year after Henry Bright became Headmaster, the Cathedral Chapter Clerks began to compile a list of boys elected to King’s Scholarships and it is possible to follow the subsequent careers of many of them.
A few examples demonstrate Henry’s influence in seventeenth century England, Wales and even America. Many alumni were caught up in the turmoil of the Civil War, as Royalists and as Parliamentarians.
John Archbold and William Humphrey became Chaplains to King James I, Thomas Cecyll, to the Lord Chancellor, Francis Bacon.
Roger Manwaring became Dean of Worcester Cathedral but was condemned for his “popish innovations”, was imprisoned and died in poverty in 1653.
Royalist John Doughty resigned his appointments to avoid sequestration and after the Restoration became a Canon of Westminster Abbey.
Hannibal Potter was Vice Chancellor of Oxford University in 1648 but was forcibly expelled by “Parliamentary Visitors” (with a strong guard of musketeers). Fellow old boy of King’s School, Robert Harris, replaced him whilst Hannibal’s brother Francis was an early Fellow of the Royal Society.
John Beale, a student in the 1620s, was another FRS and an influential author on orchards and cider making in Herefordshire.
William Dugard, a pupil until 1623, was sent to Newgate Gaol for printing Royalist pamphlets but released following a visit from John Milton. He subsequently printed pamphlets for the Parliamentary side including “Defense of the English People” by Milton himself.
John Vaughan, educated at the King’s School 1613-1618, made his name and his fortune as a lawyer. He supported the Protestant Cause in 1641 but when Civil War broke out his Royalist sympathies forced him to retire to Wales. Switching sides again, he joined the Parliamentarians at the siege of Aberystwyth Castle in 1646. After the Restoration, Vaughan represented Cardiganshire as MP and in 1668 he became Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and was knighted.
Samual Butler was a poet and author of “Hudibras”, a satirical poem in the form of “Don Quixote” directed against religious sectarianism.
William Rowland converted to Roman Catholicism and migrated to France where he became a poet, dedicating his work to Louis XIV.
Edward Winslow, a King’s Scholar from 1606 to 1611, was a passionate Puritan and a leader of the Pilgrims who travelled to the New World on the “Mayflower” during the winter of 1620 to establish the colony at Plymouth.
John Wylde MP, sat in every Parliament from 1621 to 1659, serving James I, Charles I, Parliament, the Protectorate and finally Charles II. He died in 1669 aged about 80 years old.
Macdonald A., A History of the King’s School, Worcester. Ernest Benn Ltd. 1936
Craze M., King’s School, Worcester 1571-1971. Ebenezer Bayliss and Son Ltd. The Trinity Press. 1972
Payne D. (Ed), The King’s School, Worcester From 1541 into the 21st Century. The King’s School Worcester. 2015
Heaton V., The Mayflower. Mayflower Books New York, 1980
Leach A. F., Early Education in Worcester 685 to 1700. Mitchell Hughes and Clark, London 1913 (For the Worcestershire Historical Society)
Wood A., Athenae Oxoniensis. An Exact History of all the Writers and Bishops who have had their Education in the most ancient and famous University of Oxford from 1500 to 1690. Thos Bennet, London 1691
Purton R.C., Collections for a History of Kempsey. Additional Manuscript 27. Worcester Cathedral Library.
Fuller, Thomas et al. Abel Redevivus or the Dead Yet Speaking John Stafford London 1651