The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the Coronavirus crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored…..
The dictionary defines this as “a vicar of Bray; one who frequently changes his principles, always siding with the strongest party: an allusion to a vicar of Bray, in Berkshire, commemorated in a well-known ballad for the pliability of his conscience”.
I hadn’t heard of this phrase, although a film was made with the title of ‘Vicar of Bray’ in the 1930s, telling the story. Like most of these things, there are differing tales from other the centuries, it likely refers to Simon Aleyn who served as the Canon of Windsor between 1559 and 1563. He managed to shift from being a Catholic to a Protestant and then back to a Catholic, before finally changing back to Protestantism. I can think of some politicians like him….
The text of the ballad is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Vicar_of_Bray_(song).