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The Blue and Golden Porcupine.

Sidney Sussex College Mascot

Some local people have done very well in life, and we can take one of the founders of Sidney Sussex College Cambridge,  as an example.

Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex.

Lady Frances Sidney (1531–1589), Countess of Sussex, Foundress of Sidney Sussex College

Our Sidney Sussex area,  clearly owes its name to Sidney Sussex College, which in turn was founded under the will of Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex who died in 1589.

Her executors were charged with executing her wishes and consequently did so, on Valentine ’s Day. 1596, seven years after her death.  The two executors concerned were both important members of society, being Sir John Harington and Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Essex.

They in their turn were supervised by Archbishop John Whitgift who strangely enough was a local boy.

The choice of these important men seemed to be sensible except that the funding was not really enough and was complicated because of their very different personalities.

The amount bestowed was £5000 and the College was to have a strong Protestant ethos and providing ‘some good and godlie monument for the mainteynance of good learninge’.

This was right up John Whitgifts street!  He was the eldest son of Henry Whitgift, an important local merchant in Grimsby. His uncle, who was responsible for his early education was, Robert Whitgift, Abbot of our local monastery, Wellow Abbey.

It was on his advice that John was sent to London where he matriculated at Queen’s college under the tutorship of a John Bradford.

John Whitgift was highly influenced by Bradford’s views.  Bradford was an English reformer, though he had at one time been a servant of John Harrington (one of the executors mentioned above) and was nicknamed ‘Holy Bradford’ for his devotion to the Protestant cause.

When the Catholic Mary Tudor ascended to the throne, he was soon arrested and placed in the Tower of London, at one time sharing a cell with three other reformers, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Bishop Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.   All were burned at the stake.

There were many such executions at the time and Bradford is credited with inventing the phrase ‘There for the grace of god go I, a phrase he used when watching earlier executions.

Moving back to John Whitgift, he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1583 which for the Grimsby lad was clearly a great achievement.  However he became a little expensive in his attitudes and sometimes visited towns accompanied by a retinue of about 800 horsemen.

He was a high churchman and shared the view of Elizabeth 1st regarding hating Puritans and eventually made Puritanism, a legal offence.

He was at the deathbed of Elizabeth and crowned James 1st.  He died in 1604 at Lambeth Palace.

It seems strange therefore, that one of the earliest pupils at the College was  Oliver Cromwell who eventually became the leading Puritan of his day, as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.

It seems equally odd that the money was bequeathed by Lady Francis to found a Protestant College, when her husband was an important and loyal Catholic.

But there are many other twists in the story and surely it is equally strange that whilst Cleethorpes owes much of its development to the College, the College would have perhaps failed without the funds provided by Cleethorpes.

Both should be grateful to Lady Francis Sidney and it is certainly appropriate that Sidney College has as its mascot emblem, a blue and golden porcupine taken from the Sidney family crest.