John Best, Bishop of Carlisle, to William Cecil, 19 July 1561 (SP12/18/21, f.111r-111v)
This is Best’s lively account of the state of religion in the diocese of Carlisle. His experience in Carlisle itself is positive but he is more critical of the northern marches, especially those under the influence of Lords Wharton and Dacre.
It is my bounden duty (right godly & mostly prudent council) not only for your manifold deserts towards me & all that be of godly religion to have you in remembrance in my prayers but also being far distance from you to visit you with my letters, the express image of my faithful heart towards you. Namely seeing god hath placed you in such position [office] that my writings declaring to you the state of them of the country may be unto your wisdom as it were a means to redress things amiss. But because your honour may better understand ye state of things here by my doyenges [activities] since my coming hither. I will briefly recite [explain] them unto you. First after three sermons made in the cathedral Church (unto which a great number of all parties adjacent did resort) the common people with much rejoice affirmed they had been deceived which also happened throughout all my visitation in the diocese ye two next weeks following. The gentlemen of the country received me in every place with much civility but the entertainment of my lord Wharton & my lady Musgrave, his daughter, for the gospels sake I cannot express & the same they continue still towards me. My lord is a worthy wise man & in the country very well loved in whose time they report ye country was never so well governed The priests are wicked imps of Antichrist & for ye most part very ignorant & stubborn past measure false & subtle only fear makes them obedient, only three absented themselves in my visitation & fled because they would not subscribe of ye which two belong to my Lord Dacres & one to ye Earl of Cumberland unto which I have assigned days under danger of deprivation. About 7 or 8 Churches in Gilsland all under my Lord Dacre do not appear but bearing themselves upon my lord refuse to come In. & at Stapleton & sundry of ye other have yet Mass openly at [where?]
My lord & his officers wink [ignore] & although they stand excommunicated, I do no further meddle with them until I have some aid from my lord president & ye council in ye north [The Lord President of the North and the Council of the North] lest I might trouble ye country with those that in manner are desperate & yet I doubt not but by policy to make them obedient at my Lord Dacres coming into ye country. But I well perceive he is something too mighty in this country & as it were a prince & ye lord warden of ye west marches of Scotland & he are but too great friends. It is judged of them that are wise, that he suffered ye Scots to do harm in England unpunished of policy, ye rather to draw home his friend my Lord Dacres, which is too long (as his friends here think) detained at London. It is thought he put off ye days of mercy and justice upon offenders for ye same cause. God knows the truth of all. Who I beseech, god long keep you in the fellowship of his gospel & prosper all your godly council & doyenges [doings] to his glory & your comfort Amen…