The Archbishop’s Fall from Grace

On June 7th, 1842, an occurrence befell the aristocratic Archbishop of York, Dr. Edward Harcourt, which may have caused harm to his dignity rather than his person.  The incident was reported with some glee in the local and national press, including that most respected of journals, The Times:

On Tuesday the venerable prelate consecrated the [new] church and churchyard …. at Ardsley, whence his Lordship proceeded, shortly after 2 o’clock, by railway, to the palace at Bishopthorpe, accompanied by the Rev. W. H. Dixon, one of his Grace’s chaplains [and vicar of Bishopthorpe].  Before dinner the Archbishop took a walk in the fields in the vicinity of the palace, accompanied by Mr. Dixon, and as they were crossing an ancient drain, arm in arm, the united weight of the two gentlemen caused the arch of the drain to give way, and they both instantly plunged into the filthy water and mud beneath, almost up to their chests.

Fortunately, Mr. Egerton Harcourt, one of his Grace’s sons, who was walking at a short distance in the rear of the two reverend personages, witnessed the occurrence and immediately hastened to their assistance.  Owing to the perpendicular construction of the drain, their release was a matter of some difficulty; but we are happy to say that it was effected without other injury, either to the venerable prelate or to his chaplain, than what may arise from their sudden and involuntary immersion.

After undergoing the requisite lustration and changing his apparel, his Grace partook of dinner as usual, and was, we understand, not a little jocose upon the consternation which their sudden intrusion into the domains of the frogs and tadpoles must have occasioned the reptiles in the vicinity of the accident.

His Grace consecrated the new church at Clifford on the following day (Wednesday); and we are glad to be able to say that his Grace had not experienced any unpleasant consequences from the accident.

Indeed, the Archbishop’s accident did not appear to have caused him any harm whatsoever.  He lived for a further five years, dying at Bishopthorpe Palace on 5th November 1847 at the age of 90, having served as northern primate for a record 40 years.

The Times, 14 June 1842, p4.

York Herald, 18 June 1842, p2.

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