For those of us who learnt it at school – and can now only remember the first verse and the chorus (below) – it’s impossible to visit Bray without thinking of this song. The Vicar of Bray charts the ideological contortions which the eponymous vicar has to perform each time a new monarch comes to the throne, and hence the religious direction of the country changes, between the Restoration and the advent of the House of Hanover (1660–1714).
The identity of a real-life model for the vicar has been the subject of much debate. The likeliest candidate is Simon Aleyn, who really was Vicar of Bray (and Cookham) and had to change his religious allegiance more than once between Protestant and Catholic. But he served from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, thus predating the chronology of the song.
To confuse matters further, the song has inspired the writing of a comic opera set in the 18th century and the making of a film in 1937, starring Stanley Holloway, set in Bray, Co Wicklow in Ireland. Nonetheless, the underlying theme is timeless; in the eternal battle between holding principles and holding office, the Vicar chooses the latter. So, all together now …
In good King Charles’s golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Furious High-Church man I was,
And so I gain’d Preferment.
Unto my Flock I daily Preach’d,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn’d are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord’s Anointed.
Chorus: And this is law, I will maintain
Unto my Dying Day, Sir.
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!
Want to find out more about the history of the Chilterns & the Thames Valley? Check out our comprehensive guide: