The Vicar of Bray

From Academic Kids

The character of The Vicar of Bray appears in a traditional English folk song with that title.

The eponymous vicar was the clergyman of the parish of Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire. The lyrics recount his adaptability (some would say amorality) in embracing whichever form of liturgy, Protestant or Catholic, was favoured by the monarch of the day in order to retain his position. See Annotated Lyrics to The Vicar of Bray.

Historical basis

Several individuals have been proposed as the model for the Vicar of Bray.

Brome argues that the model for the song was the 16th century cleric Simon Alwyn (15401588), who lived in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, but the most frequently sung words refer to 17th century monarchs. Therefore, a later proposed model is Simon Symonds, who was an Independent in the Protectorate, a Church of England believer under Charles II, a Roman Catholic under James II, and a moderate Protestant under William and Mary. The lyrics may have been written by "an officer in Colonel Fuller's regiment," according to one source. The story remains the same in all circumstances: a clergyman changes with the religions of the monarchs and determined that, regardless of the contortions of principle involved, he will remain the Vicar of Bray.

Thomas Barlow (16071691), bishop of Lincoln, is another candidate.

Population Genetics

In recent years the phrase has been used as the name for a hypothesis as to the adaptive benefit that sexual reproduction offers to a species in the theory of evolution. This theory points out that the offspring of a population of sexually reproducing individuals will show a more varied selection of phenotypes and that they will therefore be more likely to produce a strain that can survive a change in the ecology of the environment in which they live. A mathematized version of this theory was accepted by most biologists as being one of the most important reasons for the prevalence of sexual reproduction in the natural world until the implicit group selectionist character of the argument was re-examined in the course of the Williams Revolution. The newer theory for sexual reproduction, which is now accepted by most evolutionary biologists, is the Red Queen hypothesis.


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