Curwin (Curwen, Coren), Hugh (c.1507–1568), catholic and Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin, was born in High Knipe, in the parish of Bampton, Westmorland. He attended Brasenose College, Oxford, graduating BCL in 1528 and DCL on 5 July 1532. Over the next two decades he received numerous ecclesiastical appointments, becoming among others rector of Ferriby, Lincolnshire (1533); vicar-general of the diocese of Hereford (1535); prebend of Hunderton in the diocese of Hereford; vicar of Great Mongeham, Kent (1538); dean of Hereford (1541); prebend of Alvely, Shropshire (1542); rector of Eaton Bishop, Herefordshire (1552); and rector of Lugwardine, Herefordshire (1553). He was also appointed keeper of the spiritualities in the see of Hereford following the death of Bishop Edward Fox in 1538, a post he also held in 1551 following the death of Bishop Skip. By April 1542 he had become chaplain to Henry VIII.
Upon the accession of Queen Mary in 1553 Curwin became both her chaplain and an enthusiastic supporter of the restoration of the Roman catholic faith in her dominions. As a result he was provided to the archbishopric of Dublin on 21 June 1555, being consecrated on 8 September in St Paul's Cathedral, London. Appointed lord chancellor of Ireland on 13 September, he arrived in Dublin on 20 October and took the oath of the office on 24 October. He was sworn a member of the Irish privy council in 1556.
Curwin's first act as archbishop was to restore to Christchurch cathedral the marble statute of Jesus which had been removed by his protestant predecessor. He also supervised the re-establishment of St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, a development eagerly encouraged by both the queen and the Dublin diocesan clergy. In 1556 he held a provincial synod in Dublin that passed laws relating to the re-establishment of catholic worship, and on 1 June 1557 he read out to the Irish parliament the papal bull of Pope Paul IV pardoning those in Ireland who had previously broken with Rome. He served as lord justice with Sir Henry Sidney (qv) from 5 December 1557 until 6 February 1558, when Sidney became sole lord justice, suggesting that Curwin may not have impressed in that post.
In 1558, upon the accession of Queen Elizabeth, Curwin rapidly returned to protestantism and was confirmed in his offices by the new queen. The following year he arranged to have the litany sung in English instead of in Latin in Christchurch, which caused many catholics to suspect that their religion would be suppressed. A priest called Richard Leigh secretly placed a blood-soaked sponge inside the crown of thorns on the statue of Jesus in Christchurch. At the next service there, the sight of the blood seeping down the statue provoked uproar, and those that were in on the ruse exclaimed that the statue sweated blood because heresy was about to be reintroduced into Ireland. Curwin retained his composure and ordered an examination of the statue, which quickly exposed the fraud. Leigh and three of his accomplices were soon discovered and forced to stand for three Sundays before the pulpit at Christchurch with their hands and legs bound.
This incident is said to have persuaded Elizabeth to order the banning of religious images. Curwin had the statue taken down on 10 September 1559, had the walls of St Patrick's cathedral painted over, and ordered the banning of all statues and other religious ornaments from churches in his diocese. When the Irish parliament met in January 1560, he supported the reintroduction of the royal supremacy and of protestant worship, taking the oath of supremacy in February. In 1562 he consecrated Adam Loftus (qv) as archbishop of Armagh. Protestant writers would later place great importance on this event as providing the link that preserved the apostolic succession within the Church of Ireland.
As lord chancellor and archbishop, Curwin was one of the most important ministers in the Irish administration and attended nearly every meeting of the Irish privy council. However, particularly after the accession of Elizabeth, he appears to have been merely going through the motions, showing little interest either in his administrative or his spiritual duties. In November 1560 he pleaded to be transferred to the English diocese of Hereford, and three years later he was prepared to resign his offices in return for a pension. However, the queen did not make a sufficiently generous offer and he limped on, the target of mounting criticism from his colleagues and suffering increasingly from poor health. His two most trenchant critics were Loftus and Hugh Brady (qv), bishop of Meath, who questioned his commitment to the protestant faith and with some justification. Having convinced the queen of his loyalty, he did nothing to advance protestantism and acted as patron for the sizeable contingent among the existing Dublin diocesan clergy who remained opposed to the new doctrines. Under his supervision, the cathedral chapter of St Patrick's became a bastion of survivalist crypto-catholicism, which by virtue of its role as the administrative fulcrum of the Dublin diocese largely stymied the progress of the Reformation within the royal capital for over a decade after 1558. From 1564, Brady and Loftus urged that St Patrick's cathedral be dissolved and its revenues used to fund a university in Dublin to train protestant clergy. Curwen raised a host of objections to this scheme, some reasonable, some patently spurious, but to no avail; in 1565 the crown forbade him from making further appointments to the cathedral chapter and ordered him to reform the cathedral in conjunction with Brady and Loftus. By April 1566, he had admitted defeat, but controversy in England over the ongoing secularisation of church property meant that St Patrick's cathedral narrowly avoided dissolution.
Nonetheless, his relationship with his conciliar and episcopal colleagues remained fraught. After the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, described Curwin as senseless and speechless in April 1567, the queen finally permitted his transfer to the see of Oxford and his resignation as lord chancellor on 10 June. On 11 August he left Ireland and settled in Swinbrook, Oxfordshire, where he drew a salary as bishop of Oxford but was in no condition to exercise the functions of his office. He died at Swinbrook in October 1568 and was buried at Burford church on 1 November. He never married, which could be another indication that this arch-conformist retained an attachment to the old faith.
His career is representative of many conservative English clergy who grudgingly accepted the break with Rome while at the same trying to preserve traditional rituals, paraphernalia and doctrines. Over time, these conservatives and their theological heirs more whole-heartedly embraced the Church of England, playing a more dynamic role within it in order to mould it according to their religious sensibilities. This process is exemplified by the career of Curwen's grand-nephew and protégé Richard Bancroft: the one time prebend of St Patrick's cathedral rose to become archbishop of Canterbury and a noted persecutor of radical protestants. Many of Curwen's Irish clerical clients chose a different path eventually breaking openly with the established protestant church and becoming defiantly Roman catholics. By presiding over the re-invigoration of catholicism in Dublin during 1555–58 and then by shielding its foremost champions among the Dublin clergy from a hostile protestant state during 1559–1567, Curwen can be said to have played a formative role in the survival of catholicism in Ireland.