As wives of the Archbishop of Canterbury go, Lady Rosalind Runcie was cut from a different cloth. She rejected the role of the meek and slightly stuffy clergy wife, famously declaring that “too much religion makes me go pop”.
A feisty figure, she was positively tiger-like when it came to defending her marriage to Robert, who as Archbishop of Canterbury was the Church of England’s most senior cleric throughout the Eighties.
She sued one tabloid newspaper over suggestions that their union was less than secure, winning a sizeable settlement and using the money to remodel the gardens at Lambeth Palace.
However, it has now emerged that the year before she pursued that legal action she had indeed been involved in an extra-marital relationship which had the potential to rock the Church.
The Reverend Victor de Waal, now 91, has admitted for the first time that he had conducted an “inappropriate” relationship with Rosalind Runcie which, when it was revealed, led him to resign as Dean of Canterbury. “I offered to resign,” said the Rev de Waal, who was married with four sons.
Of his relationship with Rosalind he said: “It was not a sort of a big relationship really, it was just a friendship. But it could have been misinterpreted so it was better to leave it. “Someone talked about it, I think, and it looked as if it might cause, you know, some upset so it seemed sensible to go quietly really at that point.”
After the discovery of his relationship with Rosalind, known to her friends as Lindy and a talented classical pianist, he went to see the Archbishop, who, he said, helpfully “wasn’t angry”.
“We talked about it and it seemed inappropriate and I apologised for that and we left it at that. We talked about it, about my doing something else. Various other things were options.”
By that time Rev de Waal had served as Dean of Canterbury for 10 years. “I had been planning some other things,” he insisted. “I was just about to write a new major book and I wanted to have time to myself ... so I went and did that. I think the relationship was not really relevant to that. Or only just relevant.”
He spent much of the following 16 years until his retirement as a priest as the chaplain to a convent – The Society of the Sacred Cross in Tymawr in deepest Gwent, in South Wales.
Meanwhile the matter was quietly hushed up and, despite various rumours, it remained so for the following 34 years. The potential loss of face for the Church’s first couple would have been catastrophic had the truth emerged.
A few years into his tenure, they had taken the extraordinary step of releasing a statement reiterating their closeness, describing their marriage as “a union of duty and delight”.
The Rev de Waal said his own wife had handled the matter of his “inappropriate” friendship with Rosalind Runcie admirably, as had the Church itself in his opinion. “I was treated very well. It was all very amicable,” he said. ‘You know how it is in a marriage sometimes. “There comes a point when something, one or the other, husband or wife, has a friendship which isn’t really appropriate and the other partner doesn’t really like it very much, but anyway we got over that.”
His wife was, however, “sad in some ways to leave Canterbury,” he said, adding that he still likes to revisit the city himself. As for Archbishop Runcie, the Rev de Waal insisted “we remained on very good terms right up until his death”.
Archbishop Runcie is not the only incumbent of Canterbury in recent times to have harboured secrets. Four years ago, Justin Welby, the current Archbishop, discovered that the man he had grown up believing to be his father was not his biological parent.
He had considered Gavin Welby to be his father but in 2016 a paternity test revealed that he was actually the son of Sir Anthony Montague Browne, who had worked as private secretary to Sir Winston Churchill with his mother, Jane, in the Fifties.
His parentage was only disclosed after The Daily Telegraph conducted research and he agreed to a DNA test. The disclosure prompted Lambeth Palace to check canon law as for centuries there was a bar on anyone born illegitimately from holding the position. However, that impediment had been removed shortly before his birth in 1956.