Archbishop John Williams, Life & Times

The History of Deganwy Group met on the 3rd Thursday in January to hear Vicky Macdonald, our Secretary deliver an interesting talk on the life of Archbishop John Williams. Vicky has been engaged in researching this intriguing character for her latest book and we settled down in the schoolroom of Peniel Chapel to hear about her findings. The following is an outline of the talk.

John Williams, a member of the Wynn family, was born in Conwy in 1582. The family lived In Parlwr Mawr, Chapel Street which was demolished in 1950. His mother died when he was three and at the age of six he was sent to board at Ruthin School where he spent the next ten years. From an early age it was clear that he was exceptionally clever and in 1598 he went to St John’s College, Cambridge which he later endowed with a library.

Parlwr Mawr, Conwy (Conwy Archives)

In 1605, aged twenty-three, John entered the church. His first living was Honnington in Suffolk where he endowed many scholarships – a pattern he followed wherever he went. He rose quickly through the ranks of the clergy, becoming vicar of Walgrave in 1614, followed by an appointment by King James 1st as Dean of Westminster in 1620 and Lord Bishop of Lincoln in 1621. He then became Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England, a senior judge and Lord Chancellor and was now a powerful figure in the legal and ecclesiastical world. He endowed the Library at Westminster Abbey and provided many of the books.

King James 1st, who had supported John’s career, died in 1625. Johns’ relationship with the new king Charles 1st appears to have been a strained one. Charles removed the Great Seal from John and banished him from court. John retreated to Buckden, the palace of the Bishops of Lincoln which he filled with young Cambridge undergraduates. He continued his good works and built a beautiful garden. However, he was charged with treason for giving certain advice in a court case, fined £10,000 and spent three years in the Tower of London. This may have been due to the influence of Archbishop Laud.

On his release John’s relationship with the king continued to be strained although he was appointed Archbishop of York. At the beginning of the English Civil War John asked for a safe conduct from Charles in order to go back to Conwy and protect its castle for the Royalists. This request was granted. To ensure their safekeeping John took into the castle the treasured goods of local landowners. However, John was removed as Governor of the Castle in 1644 when Rupert of the Rhine, the Royalist commander, appointed Sir John Owen as Governor. John went to live at Cochwillan, near Talybont, and petitioned the king for the return of the landowners’ goods but his efforts were unsuccessful.

Archbishop John Williams

The Royalists suffered major defeats over the next two years and in 1646 at a secret meeting with Parliamentarian generals at Gwydir John Williams changed sides. He now supported the Parliamentarians. The attack on Conwy began. Sir John Owen held the castle for three months but the town fell to the Parliamentarians. Our speaker described the barbarities inflicted by the Parliamentarians and the powerful sermon preached by John Williams in St Marys Church, a sermon in which he cited Psalm 144 to advocate the destruction of enemies

When Sir John Owen eventually surrendered the castle to the Parliamentarians John wrote to Cromwell asking for the return of the landowners’ goods and this was granted, However John was regarded by many as a traitor. He was badly affected by the execution of Charles 1 and in debt he retired to Gloddaeth Hall where he spent his final days. He died in 1650, aged 68 and is buried in Llandegai Church

This was a fascinating talk. Our speaker’s extensive research and collection of slides brought the life and times of John Williams to a very appreciate audience. We look forward to the book….

Diane Williams

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