A stunning confession about the archbishop and his wife's affair

The archbishop, his wife and her lover… what an unholy alliance! Robert Runcie’s wife Lindy adored Monty Python and hated sermons – but insisted her marriage was idyllic. Now, in a stunning confession, a retired cleric has told a different story

Most marriages are awash with ups, downs, twists, turns, love and misunderstandings — all glued together with lashings of patience, compromise and forgiveness.

For clerical wives (and husbands), achieving marital harmony sounds even more challenging — what with God being here, there and everywhere, all those pesky parishioners to look after, cakes to bake and endless clerical dinners at which to behave dutifully and demurely.

But the late Rosalind ‘Lindy’ Runcie and her husband, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, approached their union rather differently.

Rosalind ‘Lindy’ Runcie, who was married to Robert, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, striking a vampish tone with her pose

For starters, despite her husband holding the most senior job in the Church of England, Lindy was startlingly open about being ‘not terribly religious’, declared that sermons ‘switched her off’, loathed the sound of church bells and once remarked that ‘too much religion makes me go pop!’

Famously loathing the pomposity and pretence of the church, she avoided formal dinners and adored filthy jokes and roller skating — what better place, she joked, than the corridors of Lambeth Palace? 

She was once photographed splayed across the shiny top of a grand piano — she was a talented concert pianist — in a flowery ball dress, gazing vampishly up at the camera. On another occasion, she posed in a swimsuit.

To cap it all, it has now emerged that, in 1986, she enjoyed an ‘inappropriate liaison’ with the former Dean of Canterbury, Victor de Waal (a married father-of-four), which was conveniently hushed up by her husband, and, rather more alarmingly, the Church of England.

And all this the year before she sued for, and won, considerable damages from the Daily Star newspaper for alleging that her and Robert’s union was less than secure.

It was the 91-year old Reverend de Waal who outed their relationship this week in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

He also revealed that the whole thing was covered up by Runcie and senior church figures as de Waal and his impressively forgiving wife relocated to a remote convent in Gwent, South Wales.

‘I was treated very well. It was all every amicable,’ said de Waal. ‘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 . . . ’

Rosalind and Robert were always an unlikely couple. She was the fourth child of six in a family of Cambridge atheist academics. They first met when she was a schoolgirl and her sister brought Runcie home.

Dr Runcie (pictured right)’s marriage to Lady Rosalind Runcie (left) was riddled with rumours about infidelity

‘I thought “what a gorgeous man,”’ she once said. In an innocent childhood mistake, her sister said: ‘Of course, he’s going to be a celibate priest.

‘I’d never heard the word, so I looked it up in the dictionary and I was rather depressed. I thought: “What a waste of a lovely man”.’

They met again when, in 1956, he became Dean of Trinity Hall in Cambridge — where her father was the bursar — and Lindy began working as his secretary.

He was ten years older and already on the ecclesiastical fast track. She, meanwhile, was larky, jolly and vibrant, ‘like a naughty girl in the sixth form’ is how their son James, author of the Grant- chester mysteries, once put it.

When they became engaged, her parents were horrified. For some time, her father refused even to look at her, and Lindy did briefly consider calling it off, but decided she loved Robert too much.

The upshot was a fantastically awkward wedding at Great St Mary’s in Cambridge in 1957, where the believers sat on one side, the atheists on the other.

Not that Lindy gave a fig. She was in love, at the very centre of Robert’s world (alongside God). He adored his wife’s fire, her feminisim, her immaculate piano-playing and relentless independence.

Dr Runcie (right) watches his wife Lady Rosalind (left)working out as part of a Sport Aid event in 1986

But as he became more successful — rocketing up the ranks, first as Bishop of St Albans and later Archbishop of Canterbury — Lindy felt sidelined. 

She became increasingly eccentric, often embarrassing her children, if not her husband, and could be extremely rude. 

She’d walk out of dinner parties, standing up at nine o’clock at a party that had started at eight, declaring: ‘I’m going home to watch Monty Python.’ 

She also wielded considerable marital clout. When he was offered the Archbishopric of York in 1978, and Lindy didn’t fancy the upheaval of a move north, Robert turned it down.

His acceptance of the top job, in 1979, was apparently delayed because Lindy wasn’t keen on relocating to Lambeth Palace.

But for all that, in the early years of Robert’s tenure at the top, Lindy was very popular.

Commentators embraced her outspokenness, considered her a breath of fresh air, sympathised with her determination to be her own woman and welcomed the vast sums — over £500,000 — she raised for the church through concerts and recitals.

She organised restoration work at Lambeth Palace, and transformed the gardens.

Robert, meanwhile, drew strength from her humour as he faced an ever–increasing workload and often bitter controversies caused by his outspoken liberal views. 

Robert Runcie (pictured right) with the former Dean of Canterbury Victor de Waal (left) in 1980, who is believed to have had a relationship with Runcie’s wife

Never did the mood sour more markedly than after the Falklands conflict in 1982, when Runcie preached penitence and reconciliation at the service of thanksgiving, instead of the triumphalism the politicians, press and populace wanted.

Suddenly, the attacks started becoming personal. The privately-taken photo of Lindy draped over the piano found itself in a magazine, along with a second in a swimsuit. Private Eye put her on the cover with the title, ‘Gorgeous panting Lindy Runcie’.

Now the state of their marriage was put into sharp focus. Was it in trouble? Was someone else involved? When speculation was at its height, Lindy held a press conference to publicise her appeal for funds in the garden and more than 50 journalists turned up.

‘I knew they were only there for one thing,’ she said. So, after spotting their flimsy footwear, she led them out into the garden with its ankle-deep mud.

Her husband’s approach was different. Perhaps unwisely, instead of ignoring the rumblings, they issued a rather bizarre statement emphasizing their love, reassuring the public that they had been happily married for nearly 30 years, and that their marriage was ‘a union of duty and delight’.

But still the gossip swirled. And, as it now turns out, with very good reason. For ironically, despite Lindy’s relentless ambivalence towards the church, she’d fallen for another man of the cloth.

And the cat was very firmly out of the bag. As Rev de Waal put it this week: ‘Someone had talked about it and it looked as if it might cause, you know, some upset so it seemed sensible to go quietly really at that point.’

So he left his job as Dean of Canterbury, uprooting his forgiving wife, Esther, to move to a remote convent in Gwent. He remained friends with his Archbishop and said nothing. Not then.

And not the following year, when Lindy herself launched the legal action against the Daily Star.

Quite why the Rev de Waal has chosen to speak out now is unclear. Presumably, Esther — who missed Canterbury desperately — would not have thanked him. But she and Victor are now separated. The Runcies are long gone.

Perhaps the Rev de Waal feels that he’s done penance enough and wants to clear the air — and move on.

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