In the course of tracing up that branch of the Smithson family which was settled in Cumberland in the early part of the sixteenth century, the name and career of William Burbank, Archdeacon of Carlisle, who was a kinsman of Rev. Anthony Smithson of Cliburn, comes prominently forward. A most interesting monograph on the seal of William Burbank has been written by Rev. James Wilson, M.A., an accomplished antiquary in Cumberland: and may be read in vol. xv. of the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian Society; in it he traces the career of William Burbank very fully, and makes reference to various authorities. There are, however, a few sources of information which have not been mentioned by Mr. Wilson, which still further elucidate his career.
He was probably a native of Cumberland, and must not be confounded with his namesake, Wm. Burbank, jun., who was also a priest. Another of the same name, Thomas Burbank, or Bourbank, had been Archdeacon of Carlisle between 1509 and 1520. Bishop Nicholson records that there was a window in Greystoke Church to the memory of Archdeacon Thos. Bourbank, who may have been uncle to Wm. Burbank, his successor. Rev. James Wilson, M.A., in his monograph gives an impression of the seal, which is oval, 2½ inches by 1½, inches, and shows, under a triple canopy, supported by pillars in the Renaissance style, the Blessed Virgin, with the Holy Child on her right arm, the head being encircled with rays. Below there is a shield of arms, charged quarterly, but the charges are indistinct, and supported from behind by a cherub or angel with expanded wings. The legend is: SIG * WILLYM * BYRBANKE * DECRET * ORV * DOCTOR * ARCHI * KARLIOLEN. From Mr. Wilson's notes we learn that Dr. Burbank as early as 1488 was in the service of Richard Bell, Bishop of Carlisle. As his chaplain he was often engaged on diocesan affairs, or sent to direct the bailiffs in the managements of the Bishop's estates. He was a native, perhaps, of Penrith or its neighbourhood, and was educated at Cambridge, where he took the degree of Bachelor of Canon Law. In 1508 he was nominated by the Austin Priory of Conysheved, in Lancashire, as one of their proctors to the diocesan synod of Carlisle, by virtue of their being appropriators of the Church of Overton, in Westmoreland, a parish of which he seems to have been the incumbent. In the same year Cardinal Baynbridge, Archbishop of York, and a, member of an old family near Appleby, was sent as ambassador to Pope Leo and at Rome, and Burbank went with him as one of his secretaries. In Rome he made the acquaintance of Erasmus, as Erasmus himself tells us, and this led to a lifelong friendship. Cardinal Baynbridge was unfortunately poisoned by one Rinaldo, of Modena; and the two letters written by Burbank, one of his executors, to Henry VIII. on the death of his patron, are in the British Museum (Vitell, B. ii., ff. 94-97), and were printed by Sir Henry Ellis in 'Original Letters,' first series, vol. i., pp. 99-108. In them he seriously compromises Silvester de Giglis, Bishop of Worcester, who, he says, paid Rinaldo for carrying out the dastardly act. The Bishop in return defamed his accuser as 'that scoundrel Burbanke,' and says that he 'does not know under heaven a greater dissembler.' The wretched Rinaldo, after being tortured, committed suicide. The Pope tried to patch up the quarrel, absolved the Bishop under seal, of all complicity, and made Burbank a prothonotary Apostolic, and strongly recommended him to King Henry's favour. Shortly after his return to London he received a post in the household of Wolsey, the new Archbishop of York, whom he accompanied to Cambridge in 1520, and there received the honour of being made Doctor of Decrees, as we find him entitled on his seal. In the same year (1520) he succeeded Thos. Burbank as Archdeacon of Carlisle. In that year he made a notarial certificate of the oaths of the Commissioners of Henry VIII. and Charles V. to certain treaties which had been made in the chapel of the Royal Palace of Greenwich. After this he was employed continually by Wolsey in various ways, and especially in carrying out the dissolution of some of the smaller monastic communities, and applying their funds to the foundation of his new Cardinal's College at Oxford.
But it was especially as the friend of Erasmus that Wm. Burbank was notable. He was one of those, like Erasmus himself, who wished for the removal of abuses, without breaking up the visible unity of the Church. Mr. Wilson says that he can find only one occasion when Dr. Burbank seems to have gone down to Cumberland after he had become Archdeacon of Carlisle. That was when he paid a visit at Rose Castle to Bishop John Kite (1521-1537). Bishop Kite wrote to Wolsey in 1522 that he had kept Burbank to entertain him for the favour he bore to the Court he came from. From Wood's ' Athenæ Oxon ' we learn that a William Bourbanke, A.M., was appointed to the Vicarage of Staines, in Middlesex, June 5, 1521, which he resigned before August 2, 1522 (cf. Bishop FitzJames' Register, quoted by Bishop Kennet). There is some difficulty in distinguishing between him and a namesake and kinsman of his who was an ecclesiastic, and who was presented under the name of William Burbank, alias Smythson, to the Church of Arthuret, in the dio. of CarlisIe, in 1517 (cf. Pat. Roll, 9 Hen. VIII., p. 2, m. 3). The Patent Roll of 1531 (22 Hen. VIII., p. 1, m. 6) records the presentation of Wm. Bourbanke, alias Smithson, S.T.P., to the Prebend of Fenton, in York Minster, on the resignation of William Burbanke, D,D., who was appointed in 1512. This roll is dated Feb. 14, 1531. On April 1, same year, the Prebend of Tockerington, in York Minster, was filled up on the resignation of William Burbanke, S.T.P., appointed in 1524, and resigned. Jortin says that the friend of Erasmus was made Prebendary of South Grantham, in Lincs., in Sarum Cathedral. This he resigned in 1527. He was also Rector of Terrington, Yorks, by appointment of Archbishop Bainbridge, from 1508. Le Neve gives Wm. Burbanke, LL.D., as appointed to the Prebend of Welton, in the Cathedral of Lincoln, on March 13, 1518; and another person of the same name, alias Smythson, was collated June 13, 1527, by the title of Exorcista, and resigned in 1531.
Some light is thrown on these rather confusing records of two who were evidently relatives by the De Banco Roll of 1533 (25 Hen. VIII.), Westmoreland, in which a record is found of an action against Anthony Smythson, clerk, of Clybourne, co. Cumberland, Robert Smythson, late of Tyrington, (originally Tyverington) co. Cumberland, clerk (evidently a mistake for Terrington, co. York), and John Smythson of Alenby, co. Cumberland, yeoman, executors of the will of Wm. Burbanke, clerk, lately called W. B., senr., Archdeacon of Carlisle, and against Michael Burbanke, late of Morton, co. Cumberland, yeoman, exor. of the will of W. B., junr., Rector of the parish church of Calbek. The latter of these two is evidently identical with the Prebendary who had the alias of Smythson, and succeeded his kinsman as Prebendary of Fenton and of Tockerington, and they must have died within a short time of each other. It is probable that the Smythsons were nephews of the Archdeacon, and brothers of the Rector of Calbeck.
The loss of these wills, however, which no longer exist, has been a serious difficulty in the tracing out of the relationship between the Burbanks and Smythsons. There are no wills now in Carlisle Probate Registry prior to 1564. We learn from the Lives of Erasmus that he had a large share of favour from most of the household officials of Wolsey, and particularly from Burbank. When we consider the all-important part played by Erasmus in the revival of the study of the New Testament, and also in the exposure of monastic abuses and in the internal reform of the Church, and that no name stands so high in the ranks of learning at that period, it adds great distinction to the sagacity and fame of Archdeacon Burbank to have persuaded him to come to England. The family to which Burbank belonged was well known afterwards, and members of it are on record as having founded schools and left lands for the benefit of the Church.