Catholic World – John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester

[NOTE. One of the noble traits in the lives of classic heroes was the enduring reverence in which they held the preceptors of their youth their mental parents. Ancient history has given us interesting records of the recollective veneration for those directors of the youthful mind who instilled ideas of virtue, honor, and desire for renown. But the only instance of ingratitude in the far past of a pupil to his preceptor that of Nero to the good and wise Seneca remained unimitated for fifteen centuries, until Henry VIII more than rivalled the Roman tyrant in the pagan barbarism of his conduct towards a saintly Christian prelate, the preceptor of his youth. Nero permitted his victim to die by the easiest of deaths. In the following pages it will be seen how far the destroyer of Rome and persecutor of the Christians was exceeded in the brutality of the sentence passed upon the venerable tutor of that monarch to whose prodigality, licentiousness, avarice, and injustice is mainly due the initiative of the change of faith called the English Reformation, consolidated, from selfish and political motives, by his daughter Elizabeth.]

JOHN FISHER was born in the reign of Henry VI, in the town of Beverly, where his family had been located for centuries. Young Fisher studied in Cambridge under Father Melton, a learned and pious divine. In 1491 he was ordained priest, “at which period”, says Bayley, “the almond-tree began to bud. All the arts and sciences were but his tools; but this his occupation.” In Cambridge his learning, humility, and piety won for him the esteem and love of “fellows, masters, and students; and there he remained until the university’s highest honors were conferred, or rather imposed, upon him.” The “good Margaret, Countess of Richmond,” aided by the solicitations of her son (Henry VII), induced Father Fisher to become her confessor and almoner. In this office Father Fisher gained the deserved respect of the good and benevolent countess and the royal family, who were ” for years governed by his wisdom and discretion.” He constantly recommended to his wealthy penitent the practice of charity in some amiable form such as the relief of persons of education who met with trials in the social ways of life; to succor orphans, especially females; to redeem captives; to promote the marriage of poor and virtuous maidens, giving to each of them a small dowry; to induce men to marry those whom they had dishonored; to repair bridges, that the poorer people might go to market; to look after the widow and her orphans; to reconcile village quarrels; to induce husbands and wives to love one another and set a good example to their children. These were the maxims which Fisher inculcated upon his royal penitent injunctions which her grandson obeyed in the hopeful morning of his life.

Cambridge in those days was in obscurity when compared to Oxford. The rise and progress of Cambridge are, perhaps, to be attributed, in part at least, to the presence of Erasmus and the munificence of his patron, Dr. Fisher. Dean Hook writes in fervent terms of the learning and the virtues which characterized the Bishop of Rochester. I cannot omit the following passage:

“To Dr. Fisher’s transcendent virtues and noble qualities justice, through the party spirit of Puritanism, has nevar been done. Fisher appointed Erasmus to the chair of the Margaret professor; and’ so great was his zeal in the cultivation of Greek literature that in his old age he desired to place himself under Erasmus as a student of that language. With the generous assistance of the king’s grandmother he did- more than any man in England to promote the cause of learning; and so wise and judicious were his measures that students in both the great universities are at the present hour receiving food and raiment from funds which his royal mistress placed at his disposal. Such was the man whom Puritans generally loved to defame, because he would not fall down with the costly sacrifice of an upright conscience before King Henry.”

In 1504 Dr. Fisher was appointed to the see of Rochester by Henry VII, which appointment was confirmed by Pope Julius II. He was at that time in his forty-fifth year. A contemporary has remarked that ” few priests or bishops ever went so much among the people, or preached so many sermons to them, as good Maister Fisher.” The cause of his promotion, it was alleged, arose from the interest he possessed at court; but this allegation was contradicted by the king, who declared that the ” pure devotion, perfect sanctity, and great learning which he had observed in the man was the cause which had induced him to recommend the name of Maister Fisher to the pope.”f The numerous friends of the new prelate had much difficulty in inducing him to accept the mitre; but when consecrated he brought all the energy of his vigorous mind and honest heart to promote the interests of religion. “The humblest and frailest had access to him, receiving relief, words of comfort and hope.” Nearly two hundred persons were fed daily at his expense; and the men of learning and science from foreign lands received a hospitable reception at his palace. The cause of his want of appreciation amongst ungracious Puritans may be found in the fact that when Luther’s writings were imported into England he denounced them in vigorous language, and stood forth boldly for the maintenance of the olden creed in all its integrity,” which won for him the secret hatred of worldly ecclesiastics and evil laity, of whom there were many in those days; but neither the efforts of the venal laity nor the subservient spiritual Convocation could influence his opinion as to what he styled the “coming storm.” A later synod having been convoked to ” take into consideration certain church reforms,” Dr. Fisher addressed the Cardinal of York and the assembled prelates in these words:

“May it not seem displeasing to your eminence, and the rest of these grave and reverend fathers of the church, that I speak a few words which I hope may not be out of season. I had thought that when so many learned men, as substitutes for the clergy, had been drawn into this body, that some good matters should have been propounded for the benefit and good of the church, that the scandals that lie so heavy upon her men, and the disease which takes such hold on these advantages, might have been hereby at once removed and also remedied. Who hath made any the least proposition against the ambition of those men whose pride is so offensive, while their profession is humility? or against the incontinency of such as have vowed chastity? How are the goods of the church wasted the lands, the tithes, and other oblations of the devout ancestors of the people wasted in superfluous riotous expenses! How can we expect our flocks to fly the pomps and vanities of this wicked world when we that are bishops set our minds on nothing more than that which we forbid? If we should teach according to our duty, how absurdly would our doctrines sound in the ears of those who should hear us! And if we teach one thing and do another, who believeth our report, which would seem to them no otherwise than as if we should throw down with one hand what we build with the other? We preach humility, sobriety, contempt of the world; and the people perceive in the same men that preach this doctrine pride and haughtiness of mind, excess in apparel, and a resignation of ourselves to all worldly pomps and vanities. And what is this otherwise than to set the people in a stand, whether they shall follow the sight o^their own eyes or the belief of what they hear? Excuse me, reverend fathers, seeing herein I blame no man more than I do myself; for sundry times, when I have settled myself to the care of my flock, to visit my diocese, to govern my church, to answer the enemies of Christ, suddenly there hath come a message to me from the Court that I must attend such a triumph or receive such an ambassador. What have we to do with princes’ courts? If we are in love with majesty, is there one of greater excellence than Him whom we serve? If we are in lovewit’h stately buildings, are their roofs higher than our cathedrals? If with apparel, is there a greater ornament than that of the priesthood? Or is there better company than a communion with the saints? Truly, most reverend fathers, what this vanity in temporal things may work in you I know not; but sure I am that in myself I find it to be a great impediment to devotion; wherefore I think it necessary that we, who are the heads, should begin to give example to the inferior clergy as to those particulars whereby we may all be the better conformable to the image of God in this trade of life which we now lead neither can there be likelihood of perpetuity or safety to the clergy as we remain at present.”

Dr. Fisher concluded by giving a solemn warning as to the assumption of “spiritual headship” by the king.

“Beware,” said he, “that you leap not out of Peter’s Ship to be drowned in the waves of all heresies, sects, schisms, and divisions. ‘Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops to rule the church of God,’ was not said to kings, but to bishops. We cannot grant this unto the king without renouncing our unity with the see of Rome. In doing this we should forsake the first four General Councils. We should thereby renounce all canonical and ecclesiastical laws of the church of Christ. We renounce thereby the unity of the Christian world. The first General Council acknowledged the authority of Sylvester, Bishop of Rome, by sending their decrees to be ratified by him. The Council of Constantinople did acknowledge Pope Damasus to be their chief by admitting him to give sentence against the heretics Macedonius and Sabellius. The Council of Ephesus admitted Pope Celestine to be their chief judge by admitting his condemnation on the heretic Nestorius. The Council of Chalcedon admitted Pope Leo to be their chief head; and all General Councils of the world admitted the Pope of Rome to be the supreme head of the church. And now, fathers, shall we acknowledge another head? or one head to be in England and another in Rome? By this argument Herod must have been the head of the church of the Jews; Nero must have been the head of the church of Christ. The king’s highness is not susceptible of this donation. Ozias, for meddling with the priest’s office, was thrust out of the Temple and smitten with leprosy. King David, when bringing home the ark of God, did he so much as touch the ark or execute the least priestly function? All good Christian emperors have ever refused ecclesiastical authority. At the first General Council of Nice certain bills were previously brought unto Constanstine to be confirmed by his authority; but he ordered them to be burnt, saying: ‘God hath ordained you priests, and given you power to judge over us.’ Valentine, the good emperor, was required by the bishops to be present with them to reform the heresy of the Arians. He answered: ‘As I am one of the lay people, it is not lawful for me to define such controversies, but let the priests, to whom God hath given charge thereof, assemble when they will in due order.’ Theodosius, writing to the Council of Ephesus, saith ‘ it is not lawful for him that is not of the holy order of bishops to intermeddle with ecclesiastical ,- matters.’ And now, venerable fathers, shall we cause our king to be head of the church, when all good kings have abhorred the very last thought thereof, and so many wicked kings have been plagued for so doing? Truly, my lords, I think they are his best friends who dissuade him from it; and he would be the worst enemy to himself if he should obtain it. Lastly, if this thing be, farewell to all unity of Christendom. For, as that holy and blessed martyr, Saint Cyprian, saith, all unity depends upon that Holy See as upon the authority of Saint Peter’s successors; for, saith the same holy father, all heresies, sects, and schisms have no other rise but this, that men will not be obedient to the chief bishop. And now for us to shake off our communion with that church, either we must grant the Church of Rome to be the church of God or else a malignant church. If you answer she is of God, and a church where Christ is truly taught and his sacraments rightly administered, how can we forsake, how can we fly from such a church? Certainly we ought to be with, and not to separate ourselves from, such a one. If we answer that the church of Rome is not of God, but a malignant church, then it will follow that we, the inhabitants of this land, have not as yet received the true faith of Christ, seeing that we have not received any other gospel, any other doctrine, any other sacraments than what we have received from her, as most evidently appears by all the ecclesiastical histories. Wherefore, if she be a malignant church, we have been deceived all this while. And if to renounce the common father of Christendom and all the General Councils be to forsake the unity of the Christian world, then the granting of the supremacy of the church unto the king is a renouncing of this unity, a tearing of the seamless coat of Christ in sunder, a dividing of the mystical body of Christ, his spouse, limb from limb, and, tail to tail, like Samson’s foxes, to set the field of Christ’s holy church all on fire. And this it is which we are about. Wherefore let it be said unto you in time, and not too late, Look you to that.”

Bayley says of this synod: ” After Dr. Fisher uttered these and many other such words to this effect, with such gravity as well became him, they all seemed to be astonished, by their silence; and the lord-cardinal’s state did not seem to become him.”

The address to the synod was evidently levelled at the Cardinal of York and one or two wealthy bishops who were profuse in their style of living. “Rich priests or rich bishops I look upon as bad men. As the shepherds of Jesus Christ theyrcannot indulge themselves in slothful ease, living on many dainty dishes and drinking exciting wines, whilst the sheep and poor little lambs are wandering about cold and hungry. The shepherd must be stirring with the lark, watching and seeking out the stray sheep, and bringing them back to the one true fold again. A priest must submit to every privation and hardship; he must have no family cares; he must use all his judgment and temper to bring back the fallen; he must execute this holy office by gentle remonstrance, by never-ceasing prayer to the Lord Jesus and the High Court of heaven, and by good example, which has at all times had a powerful effect on sinners.”

Such were the words of Bishop Fisher to the Dean of Rochester a few months before he was committed to the Tower. A man of these views could not have been very acceptable to the men who favored and compassed the “new learning” or were careless in the practice of the Catholic creed.

In Dean Collet’s sermon before the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury, preached by the special desire of Archbishop Warham, there is a powerful appeal -made to the prelates and clergy to become “less worldly in their occupations, to preach sermons, to distribute alms, to give good example to the people, and to study no other calling but the salvation of souls.” Some Catholics have denounced Collet as a “heretic,” and Anglican writers assert that he was “a hidden Protestant.” He was neither, but rather an austere man, who wished to see churchmen living according to the discipline of primitive Christianity. This was not altogether possible; still, some approach might have been made to primitive practices, ordaining no man who was not possessed of “a calling for the sacred office,” or, in the words of Bishop Fisher, who was not ” well tested and purged of worldly motives, by refraining from secular occupations and the amusements of the laity.” Collet was, therefore, in no favor with the seculars, or with those bishops or abbots who were seeking at court advantages for themselves or their families. Collet “called out in Convocation and in synod for a more strict discipline of the clergy,” for “constant preaching, for visiting and instructing the poor and reclaiming sinners.” He had a high opinion of the Carthusian fathers. He never dissented from any Catholic doctrine, but the reformation at which he aimed was that of “morals and discipline.”

Ambrose Asham (a Franciscan) represents Collet “as a vain, proud, restless man, who thought himself the most unblemished shepherd.”

One of the arguments advanced for the Protestantism of Collet is that he “did not make a popish will, having left no moneys for Masses for his soul’s health, which shows that he did not believe in Purgatory.” All his sermons proved the contrary; and the fact of his frequent visits to the Carthusians confirms his thorough Catholicity.

In 1529 the statutes for regulating the clergy met with vigorous opposition from a few of the peers. Fisher spoke in indignant terms of the irreligion and dishonesty of the Commons. On the measure for “breaking off spiritual intercourse with Rome”, Bishop Fisher, in a speech of great power and vigor, denounced the proposition. “Is his holy mother,” he said, “the church, about to be brought like a bondsrnaid into thraldom? Want of faith is the true cause of the misfortunes impending over the state.” The Duke of Norfolk replied in a speech wherein he used some harsh language towards the aged prelate. The peer told the bishop that the greatest clerks were not always the wisest men; to which Fisher replied that he “did not remember any fools in his time that had proved great clerks.” The Commons, at the instigation of their Speaker, Audley, expressed great indignation at the bishop’s observations, and sent a deputation, headed by Audley himself, to the king to complain of ” how grievously they felt themselves injured by being charged with lack of faith, as if they had been infidels or heretics.” The deputation were conveniently carrying out the king’s policy: his highness gave them a flattering reception, blandly sympathized with their ” Avounded feelings,” and sent for Dr. Fisher to rebuke him for his “bad discourse.” The venerable bishop appeared before the king with undaunted mien, but loyal and respectful bearing. He said “that, having a seat and a voice in Parliament, he spoke his mind freely in defence of the church which he saw daily injured and oppressed by the lordly and territorial classes, whose office it was not to judge of her manners, much less to reform them.” f The king seemed astonished at this bold reply; but, knowing the high integrity of his ancient preceptor, he perhaps secretly admitted his judicious views of church government. He dismissed the bishop with these words: “My good lord of Rochester, use more conciliatory language in. future. Harsh words never mend a quarrel.”

Reginald Pole, who was personally acquainted with Dr. Fisher, describes his virtues in glowing terms. In Pro Ecclesiastics Unitatis Defensione he says, as to his highness the king, “that if an ambassador had to be sent from earth to heaven there could not among all the bishops and clergy be found so fit a man as John Fisher; for what other man have you at present, nor for many years past, who can be compared with him in sanctity, in learning, in zeal and careful diligence in the office and various duties of a bishop? Above all other nations we may justly rejoice in having such a man; and if all the parts of Christendom were searched there could not be found one man that in all things did accomplish the parts and the degrees of a bishop equal to John Fisher.” Sir Thomas More also bears testimony to Fisher’s disinterested zeal in the cause which he sustained with his words and example.

Dr. Fisher preached a series of sermons against Luther, one of them at Saint Paul’s Cross, which was attended ” by Cardinal Wolsey, ten bishops and five hundred ecclesiastics, and an immense concourse of people.” He also delivered public lectures on the same subject at Westminster Abbey and in many of the metropolitan churches. He was most energetic in his opposition to the men of the ” new learning,” but that opposition was confined to moral means alone: he himself never persecuted nor recommended others to do so; yet he has been stigmatized as the “bloudie bishop.” His opposition to the divorce of Katharine of Arragon evoked the enmity of the king and of Dr. Cranmer. Before the new form of oath was tendered to him as a spiritual peer Cranmer and the king were aware that he would not accept it. The honor and integrity of the man were not doubted by any of his enemies; and the king himself declared to Maister Rich that he ” looked upon John Fisher as the most able man in his kingdom; that his conscientious character and general honesty could not be doubted; that he esteemed and loved him all his life, and would raise him to the highest position in his councils, if he only agreed to take the oath of Supremacy.”* Papal and anti-papal notables were sent to remonstrate with him on his “obstinate perseverance against the command of the king.” Audley, Crumwell, Suffolk, and Cranmer argued the question with him on several occasions; and then came Gardyner, Tunstal, and Bonner, impressing “loyalty and menacing the terrors of the law.” To all Fisher was alike indifferent, declaring that he could not take the oath proposed without a violation of a higher and more sacred obligation to his Eternal Creator. Dr. Fisher in Convocation denounced the seizure of the smaller monasteries, and in an expressive allegory indicated the motives and predicted the result. He told the bishops and abbots that if they gave permission to the crown to destroy the smaller monasteries it might possibly lead to the destruction of the larger ones. “An axe,” he remarked, “which wanted a handle came upon a certain time into the wood, making his moan to the great trees that he wanted a handle to work withal, and for that cause he was constrained to sit idle; therefore he made his request to them that they would be pleased to grant him one of their small saplings within the wood to make him a handle. But now, becoming a complete axe, he so fell to work within the same wood that, in process of time, there were neither great nor small trees to be found in the place where the wood lately stood. Now, my lords, if you grant the king these smaller monasteries you do but make him a handle whereby, at his own pleasure, he may cut down all the cedars within your Lebanon.” The agents of the king in Convocation denounced Fisher’s allegory as “seditious and presumptuous language.” But it proved true.

The advice of Crumwell and Cranmer was now acted upon, and the king, laying aside all hesitation, confirmed his dire career of blood and despotism by summoning before the council his aged preceptor. Before leaving Rochester the bishop bade farewell to his palace, his servants and retainers, and set out for London, accompanied by a vast crowd of people. One of his quaint biographers describes the scene: “Passing through the city of Rochester, there were a multitude of people gathered together, both citizens, countrymen, and women too, and many scores of children, to whom the goodly bishop gave his blessing, riding by them all the while bareheaded; and the people were all crying and sobbing, for they knew that he would never return to them amore; and others in the crowd cursed those that were persecuting their good old bishop, who was so long amongst them like a father. And as the people thronged round he had a good word for every man, woman, and child, and would have them to pray for his enemies. Then, raising his voice very loud, he said warning words to them, to stand by the old religion of England; and the people all held up their hands, and the women and young maidens were sore afflicted at the sight, and prayed God to send him back safe; but, alas! he never came that road again. And in this way and manner the holy bishop did ride on his horse, and reached London City about the night of the same day.”

Upon the bishop’s arrival at Lambeth Palace he went through a series of captious examinations before Archbishop Cranmer, Sir Thomas Audley, and Crumwell; but he could not be prevailed upon to accept the new oath of Supremacy. After each discussion he received so many days u for further consideration.” But all proved in vain, and he was ultimately committed to the Tower upon Tuesday, the 20th of April, 1533. When Fisher was committed to the Tower Lord CrumweH’s agents visited his palace at Rochester, where the usual scene of confiscation and plunder took place. A monk named Jacob Lee, who professed the Reformation principles, was one of the parties who took an inventory of the bishop’s property, and called the attention of the inquisitors to a strong iron box which had been concealed in an apartment for many years, and was supposed to contain some golden treasures. Lee, on breaking open the box, exclaimed: “Gold, gold for the Roman Antichrist! Down with the pope!” The box contained a hair shirt and two whips which were used by Fisher at certain times in “punishing his own body.” Crumwell expressed regret that the box had been opened. The gold cup presented to the bishop by Henry’s own mother, as well as the memorials of Henry’s grandmother, the good Countess of Richmond, were confiscated. Bishop Fisher’s benevolent and interesting will was subsequently cancelled by the king, upon which Bayley observes: ” He that made void so many men’s wills had his own made void in every particular.” When confined in the Tower the king again commanded Gardyner, Tunstal, and Bonner to remonstrate with Fisher on the imprudence of his conduct in questioning the royal supremacy. Bonner told him that it looked like treason; and Gardyner said that pious men “should be obedient to the powers that be.” Tunstal, taking him by the hand, said: “Beloved brother, do not be obstinate; try and please the king, if you can do so without violating your conscience. The king regards you much, and we all love you.” His reply was: “My very good friends, and some of you my old acquaintances, I know you wish me no hurt or harm, but a great deal of good; and I do believe that upon the terms you speak of I might have the king’s favor as much as ever. Wherefore, if you can answer me one question, I will perform all your desires.” “What’s that, my lord?” said several prelates. “It is this: ‘What will it gam a man to win the whole world and to lose his own soul?'” Gardyner and Bonner became silent; indeed, it would not have been prudent for them to express any opinion in the presence of the king’s spies. And again Dr. Fisher said:

“My lords, it does not grieve me so much to be urged so sorely in a business of this kind as it doth wound me grievously that I should be urged by you, whom it concerns as much as me. Alas! I do but defend your cause, whilst you are pleading against yourselves. It would indeed better become us all to stick together in repelling the violence and injustice which are daily put upon our holy Mother, the Catholic Church, where we have all in common, than to be divided amongst ourselves to help on the mischief. But I see judgment is begun at the house of God; and I see no hope, if we fall, that the rest will stand. You see we are besieged on every side, and the fort is betrayed by those who should defend it; and since we have made no better resistance, we are not the men that shall see an end of these calamities. Wherefore, I pray you, my lords, leave me and my cause to the Almighty God, in whom alone there is comfort which no man can deprive me of. You have often told me of the king’s heavy displeasure against me; I therefore pray you to remember me to his highness, and tell him that I had rather exercise the duty that I owe unto him by praying for him than in pleasing him in the way and manner you ask me to do.”

Thomas Crumwell, imitating the example of Maister Rich, visited Fisher in the Tower, in order to discover his opinions on the Supremacy and other questions. The bishop was courteous but unbending at the interview, and Crumwell would have him to believe that he and Cranmer held him in high esteem. After “much preliminary discourse Crumwell came to the matter of fatal importance to Fisher.” ” My lord of Rochester,” said he, “what would you say if the pope should send you a cardinal’s hat? Would you accept of it?” Bishop Fisher replied: “Good Maister Crumwell, 1 know myself to be so far unworthy of any such dignity that I think not of it. But if any such thing should happen, assure yourself that I should turn that favor to the best advantage that I could in assisting the Holy Catholic Church of Christ, and in that respect I would receive it upon my knees.” Crumwell reported this conversation to the king in whatever form suited his policy or his malice. Henry became indignant on hearing of Fisher’s reply to his minister. ” Yea,” said he, “is the old man yet so lusty? Well, let the pope send him a hat when he will; Mother of God! he shall wear it on his shoulders, then, for I will leave him never a head to set it on.”

Upon Dr. Fisher’s arrest his private property was seized, as had been his public, and his very clothing taken from him. Without “any consideration for his extreme age, he was allowed nothing but rags, which scarcely sufficed to cover his body.”

Many of the evil actions perpetrated against Dr. Fisher whilst in the Tower have been attributed to Crumwell or Audley; no one imagined that the king was the author of the falsehoods intended to induce his acquiescence. It is now important to know that King Henry himself specially instructed Lord Crumwell to send word to Dr. Fisher that “his friend, Sir Thomas More, had just agreed to take the oath of Supremacy and was about to be released from the Tower.” This falsehood was suggested by Henry to induce the bishop to abandon his principles; but John Fisher was not the man to be moved by such reports. He was grieved at the statement, and expressed himself surprised to learn that Sir Thomas More proved to be so weak-minded, and thought he would act otherwise. “Perhaps,” said Dr. Fisher, “my poor friend was induced to give way through his natural tenderness for his numerous family, who are now starving. But there is no such excuse for me; no, none whatever. I am a minister of the Gospel, and am particularly bound to give good example and to stand by ‘Peter’s Ship’ to the death let death come in what form it may.” When Henry heard of the failure of his false devices he muttered curses and spoke of the headsman.

After one year’s imprisonment in the Tower Dr. Fisher was placed on his trial (June 17, 1534) before Sir Thomas Audley and the High Commissioners in the Court of King’s Bench. Lord Crumwell and the Duke of Suffolk were among the commissioners. Fisher, who was attired in a black gown, was brought up in the custody of the lieutenant of the Tower. He was scarcely able to stand at the bar from infirmity, old age, and hard treatment in prison.

The charge preferred against him was that he had ” treacherously attempted to deprive the king’s highness of his title by maliciously speaking the following words: ‘The king, our sovereign lord, is not supreme head on earth of the Church of England.'” The only witness for the crown was Maister Rich, the solicitor-general, who, as the reader is aware, visited the bishop in the Tower, in a “friendly manner,” to “mend the quarrel between the king and him.” Rich turned a confidential communication into evidence, and appeared as a witness for the crown. In the history of judicial proceedings there is perhaps nothing recorded to equal Rich’s conduct on this occasion. Dr. Fisher stood alone, without counsel or friend, against the crown lawyers, judges, and commissioners. He spoke of the manner in which the evidence against him was elicited:

“Maister Rich, I cannot but marvel to hear you come and bear witness against me of those words. This man, my lords, came to me from the king, as he said, on a secret message, with commendations from his grace, declaring what good opinion his highness the king had of me, and how sorry he was of my trouble, and many more words not now fit to be recited, as I was not only ashamed to hear them, but also knew right well that I could in no way deserve them. At last he broke to me the matter of the king’s Supremacy, telling me that his highness, for better satisfaction of his own conscience, had sent him unto me in this secret manner, to know my full opinion in the matter, for the great affection he had Always for me tore than any other man. When I had heard this message I put him in lind of the new Act of Parliament, which, standing in force as it does, light thereby endanger me very much in case I should utter anything jainst its provisions. To that he (Rich) made answer, ‘that the king willed him to assure me, upon his honor, and on the word of a king too, that whatever I should say unto him by this his secret messenger I should abide no peril for it, although my words were ever so directly against the statute, seeing it was only a declaration of my mind secretly as to his own person! And the same messenger (Rich) gave me his solemn promise that he never would mention my words to any living soul, save the king’s highness himself. Therefore, my lords, seeing it pleased the king’s highness to send to me thus secretly to know my poor advice and opinion, which I most gladly was, and ever will be, ready to offer to him when so commanded, methinks it very hard to allow the same as sufficient testimony against me to prove me guilty of high treason.”

Dr. Fisher’s speech was received with demonstrations of applause. Almost every one present save the judicial lictors felt horrified at the conduct of Rich, who rose to reply undismayed or in any way abashed. He said that the prisoner had fairly stated what occurred between them. He excused his conduct by affirming in a solemn manner that* he ” said or did nothing more than what the king commanded him to do.” And then, as counsel as well as witness for the crown, he argued that, assuming the statement to be correct, it was no discharge in law against his highness the king for a direct violation of the statute. Sir Thomas Audley and the other judges were of opinion that this message or promise from the king neither did nor could by rigor of law discharge the prisoner from the crime; but in so declaring his mind and conscience against the Supremacy yea, though it were at the king’s own request or command he committed treason by the statute, and nothing could save him from death but the king’s merciful pardon.

Dr. Fisher then contended that as the statute only made it treason “maliciously” to deny the king’s Supremacy, he could not be guilty by merely expressing an opinion to the king himself, and that, too, by his highness’ own order.

Audley replied, in a triumphant tone, that “malice did not mean spite or ill-will in the vulgar sense, but was an inference of law; for if a man speak against the king’s Supremacy by any manner of means, that speaking is to be understood and taken in law as malice.”

Bishop Fisher raised another important question namely, that in high-treason accusations the law required two witnesses; whilst the crown produced only one in his case, and that one under the most discreditable circumstances that ever dishonored a court of justice.* This puzzling point was quickly overruled by Audley, who replied that as this was a case in which the king’s highness was personally concerned, the law requiring two witnesses did not, in his opinion, apply! He then addressed the jury for the crown in a speech which has been described as a ” literal perversion of law, equity, and truth/’ His manner was gross, insolent, and overbearing.

After a brief time of seeming deliberation the jury returned a verdict of guilt, to which the bishop replied: “I thank you heartily, Maister jurymen, for your verdict; and may the Almighty God forgive you and those at whose bidding you have outraged truth and justice!”

Sir Thomas Audley, assuming a solemn appearance, said:

“John Fisher, you shall be led to the place from whence you came, and from thence again shall be drawn through the city to the place of execution at Tyburn, where your body shall be hanged by the neck; half alive you shall be cut down and thrown to the ground, your bowels to be taken out of your body before you, being still alive, your head to be smitten off, and your body to be divided into foiir quarters, and afterwards your head and quarters to be set up wheresoever the king shall appoint. And God have mercy upon your soul!”

A scene of confusion followed which had scarcely a precedent in the records of what was termed the Justice Hall. The bar were astounded at the demeanor of Sir Thomas Audley. A lawyer who was present, in writing to Carlo Logario, says: “His countenance more fittingly represented the finisher of the law than the mild and merciful expounder of it.”

When order was somewhat restored the venerable prelate addressed the commissioners, protesting against the injustice of the proceedings against him, and concluded in these words:

“My lords, I am here condemned before you of high treason for denial of the king’s supremacy over the church of God; but by what order of justice I leave to God, who is the searcher both of the king’s conscience and of yours. Nevertheless, I have been found guilty (as it is termed), and must be contented with all that God shall send, to whose will I wholly refer and submit mjrself. And now I tell you more plainly my mind concerning this matter of the king’s Supremacy. I think, indeed, and I have always thought, and do now lastly affirm, that his highness the king cannot justly claim any such supremacy over the church of God as he now taketh upon him. Neither hath it ever been or heard of any temporal prince before his day aspiring to that dignity. Wherefore, if the king will now adventure himself in proceeding in this strange and extraordinary case, no doubt but he shall deeply incur the grievous displeasure of the Almighty God, to the great damage of his own soul and of many others, and to the utter ruin of this realm committed to his charge. Whereof will ensue some sharp punishment at the hand of God. I pray God his highness may remember himself in time and hearken to good counsel, for the preservation of himself and his kingdom, and the peace of all Christendom.”

Amidst a great parade of halberd-men, executioners, and jail attendants in their various liveries the condemned prelate was reconducted to the Tower. The lamentations of the populace, especially the crowds who came from Rochester, much affected him. At the Tower gate he thanked the officials for their attendance. “I thank you,” he said, “for the labor and pains you have taken with me this day; I am not able to give you any recompense, for all has been taken from me and I am as poor as Lazarus. Therefore I pray you to accept of the only thing I can give you, my thanks and good wishes.”

Erasmus has left on record a description of Dr. Fisher’s appearance as he left Westminster Hall upon receiving sentence of death:

“One would think that he was returning from some festive scene. His countenance was radiant with joy; his step was light and steady; his whole manner bespoke an interior gayety of heart. One could see that the holy bishop now felt that his soul was nigh to that harbor of eternal rest after which he had so long yearned.”

The few days of life now allotted to Dr. Fisher were chiefly occupied in prayer. Nevertheless he was cheerful and pleasant; he asked the cook for his dinner, and the former replied that he had “prepared none that day, because he had heard it rumored that his lordship’s head had been chopped off on yonder hill, and therefore he would not want a dinner.” “Well,” said the bishop, “my good cook, you see I am still alive, and am very hungry just now. Whatever you hear of me, let me no more lack my dinner, but make it ready, as thou art wont to do, and if thou seest me dead when thou comest, why, then, eat it thyself; but if I am alive I mind, by God’s grace, to eat never a bit the less.”

“In stature,” says Bayley, “Dr. Fisher was tall and comely, exceeding the middle sort of men; for he was to the quantity of six feet in height; and being very slender and lean, was nevertheless upright and well formed, straight-backed, big jaws, and strongly sinewed; his hair by nature black, though in his latter days, through age and imprisonment, turned to white; his eyes large and round, neither full black nor full gray, but of a mixt color between both; his forehead smooth and large; his nose of a good and even proportion; somewhat wide mouth and bigjawed, as one ordained by nature to utter much speech, wherein was, notwithstanding, a certain comeliness; his skin somewhat tawny, mixed with many blue veins; his face, hands, etc., all his body, so bare of flesh as is almost incredible, which came by the great abstinence and penance he used upon himself for many years, even from his youth. In speech he was mild, temperate, and kindly.”

Those who approached Dr. Fisher at this juncture were struck with his heroic fortitude, and piety; he expressed something kind and endearing to all, even the executioner. On the morning of his death he asked the lieutenant of the Tower “to indulge him with a sleep of two hours longer,” adding: “I have been coughing half the night; I could not sleep; I am very weak; but remember, my weakness does not proceed from fear. Thank God, I have nothing to fear in meeting death.” At seven o’clock he arose, and dressed with more than ordinary care. “This is our wedding-day,” he observed, “and it behooves us, therefore, to use more cleanliness in preparing for the marriage table.” At nine of the clock a procession was formed, headed by the lieutenant of the Tower; the venerable prelate was so weak that he had to be carried in a chair to the place of execution, to which as the “king’s mercy” had changed the brutal sentence at Tyburn to decapitation on Tower Hill the distance was short. In one hand the bishop held the crucifix, in the other a copy of the New Testament. Having reached the scaffold, he seemed to have received renewed strength. The executioner made his usual address, “begging forgiveness,” etc., to which Dr. Fisher replied: “I forgive you very heartily, and I hope you will see me overcome this storm lustily.” When his gown and tippet had been removed ” he stood in his doublet and hose in the sight of the multitude; and they marvelled to see a long, lean, and slender body, having on it little other substance besides skin and bones, insomuch as most part of the beholders wondered to see a living man so consumed, as he was the image of death itself; and the people thought it mighty cruel for the king to put such a man to death, he being so near his end.”

Notwithstanding the death-like appearance of Dr. Fisher, his mind was still vigorous, and he addressed the populace in a clear and audible tone. Coming to the front of the scaffold, he said: “Christian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ’s holy Catholic Church, and I thank God hitherto my stomach hath served me very well thereunto, so that yet I have not feared death. Wherefore I desire you all to help and assist me with your prayers, that at the very point and instant of death’s stroke I may in that very moment stand steadfast without failing in any one point of the Catholic faith, free from any fear. And I beseech the Almighty God of his infinite goodness and mercy to save the king and this realm, and that it may please him to hold his hand over it and send the king’s highness good counsel.” And then, opening the New Testament, the bishop’s eye rested on these words: “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only True God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” Upon this Dr. Fisher closed the book, saying: “Here is learning enough for me to my life’s end.”

Having engaged about ten minutes in prayer, the holy prelate rose from his knees, and, looking towards the east, he said: “The sun shines upon the scene about to be enacted.” Then, surveying the vast crowd with compressed lips, he made the sign of the cross with great solemnity and surrendered himself to the executioners; his eyes were bandaged; an awful silence pervaded the vast multitude; he laid his head upon the block; a murmur thrilled amongst the on-lookers, and the throbbings of their hearts became painful; two minutes and ten seconds had passed, a signal was given, and at one blow the executioner severed the head of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, from the body. “The populace,” writes a spectator, whose words I modernize, “stood horrified; a hoarse sound of grief and terror arose from the men, followed by the wild shrieks of the women of Rochester domestics, old retainers, pensioners, and friends. The whole scene was one the like of which England had never seen before.” Another writer says: “The people were astonished to see so much blood flowing from so lean a body.” Bayley relates that the executioner put the head in a bag, intending to place it on London Bridge that night, as he was commanded to do; but the queen wished particularly to see the head “before it was spiked”; that it was ” carried to her” and looking at it some time, she said: “Is this the head that so often exclaimed against me? I trust it shall never do me more harm”” “The queen” writes Bayley, “struck it upon the mouth with the back of her hand, and hurt one of her fingers by a tooth that stuck somewhat more out than the rest did, which finger afterwards grew sore and put Jier to pain for many days; and when cured the mark of the tooth remained to be seen on the said finger” Henry Griffin, of Rochester, who was present at the execution, says that the headsman carried away the head in a ” white bag,” but makes no allusion to this shocking narrative respecting Anna Boleyn.

Margaret Lee relates “that on the morning of Fisher’s execution the queen received Holy Communion (the Lorde’s Bodye) and expressed herself troubled in mind for the bishop” If this statement be correct I do not think it possible that there is any foundation for the appalling story respecting the bishop’s head. At the time Bayley wrote the Catholic party had an intense feeling of hatred to the memory of Anna Boleyn. The Puritans became her champions, as she was reported to have been “a stanch Protestant”; whilst the Catholics execrated her as a renegade, and, judging of her history from the pages of Sander, Allen, and others, they looked upon her as not only false to Catholicity, but by birth something that was abominable and un natural.* Lingard observes that ” Catholic writers were eager to condemn, and the Protestant historians to immortalize, the memory of Anna Boleyn.” So much for the introduction of party feeling into the pages of what is supposed to be honest historical relations of other days.

In another work I have proved the errors of Sander respecting Anna Boleyn’s mother, the stainless Elizabeth Howard. However, Sander’s work was not published for some years after his death, so it is possible that the MS. underwent many changes and additions. It may appear strange to the Protestants of the present day, who have’ faith in Burnett and those writers who have adopted his statements, to learn that Anna Boleyn never abandoned the religion of her fathers. She utterly repudiated and ignored Protestantism. She was, however, thoroughly deceived by prelates like Archbishop Cranmer, who, whilst celebrating Mass daily with the most apparent piety, were at the same moment engaged in a gigantic conspiracy to overthrow the ancient religion of England. It is difficult to elucidate the truth where deception, fraud, and perjury have become interwoven and carried to a conclusion with a blasphemous courage that invokes the “Holy Trinity and the High Court of Heaven ” to attest the truth and equity of its proceedings.

It is true that King Henry himself accused the queen of being the cause of Sir Thomas More’s death; and the reader is aware that Wolsey had described her as the “night-crow,” who haunted his path and pursued him to the death; yet these are mere allegations, which have never been proved. Neither Protestant nor Catholic seems to have understood the construction of Anna Boleyn’s mind; and the problem is certainly not clearly solved even now.

Another revolting spectacle was that of the remains of the bishop being flung on a heap of sand by the headsman, and remaining in that condition, guarded by unfeeling halberdmen, until night, when an order came from Lord Crumwell that the body was to be immediately buried. Accordingly “two of the watchers took the corpse upon halberds between them, and so carried it to a neighboring churchyard named Barking, where, on the north side of the cemetery, near the wall, they dug a hole with their halberds, and therein, without any reverence, tumbled the body of the good prelate. No Christian rites were performed. Such was the funeral of the Bishop of Rochester.” * No priest, no friend, no relative was present. It is impossible to defend the clergy and bishops from a large amount of censure for their conduct at this period. The prelates were silent; there was no remonstrance, no petition, no supplication on behalf of their martyred brother. It is declared that Dr. Fisher had even to petition Lord Crumwell to grant him the favor of a confessor and a few pk>us books to read. There is some error in the statement that Dr. Fisher had to “petition for a confessor.” At that period there were several priests attached to the Tower chapel, where Mass was daily celebrated. Perhaps Fisher desired the services of some particular confessor from his own diocese of Rochester. In the case of Anna Boleyn, Lord Crumwell sent three priests to her of her own selection; and those clerics remained with her for several days and up to the last scene on the scaffold. But the king had a special hatred against his old preceptor. Surely the bishop and clergy of London could have prevented the outrages heaped on the remains of the dead prelate at Barking. Crumwell was not altogether such a monster but they could prevail upon him to give a suitable, or at least a Christian, burial to the king’s venerable preceptor, a Privy Councillor of the realm, a bishop, a peer of Parliament, and a man without a shadow of reproach during his long life. The conduct of Bonner, Gardyner, and Tunstal in relation to Fisher adds to the general odium attached to the memory of those prelates. Who can defend their conduct? They simply, and no doubt unconsciously, performed the work of the Reformers, and it followed that retributive justice haunted them to the death.

Three days later Dr. Fisher’s head was “spiked” on London Bridge beside the heads of the Carthusian fathers who suffered a short time previously in the same cause. Immense crowds of people came daily to look at the bishop’s head. Some prayed, and the thoughtless and unreflecting indulged in execrations against the king and Lord Crumwell. The public feeling, however, was one of intense indignation; the king and his council were severely censured; the bridge itself, and every avenue leading to it, was completely blocked up and business almost suspended. After fourteen days Lord Crumwell ordered the head to be thrown into the Thames.

On the Continent the excitement was great. Charles V sent for the English ambassador, and told him that Bishop Fisher was “such a man for all purposes that the King of England had not the like of him in his realm; neither was he to be matched throughout Christendom. “And then, with much feeling, imperial Charles added: “Alas! your royal master hath, in killing that goodly bishop, killed at one blow all the bishops in your England.” Francis I informed Sir John Wallop, the English ambassador in Paris, that ” his royal master must have a very hard heart to put to death his ancient preceptor and so good a bishop.” “I should,” continued Francis, “feel very proud indeed if such a prelate was a subject of mine.” f The execution of Dr. Fisher was the topic of conversation in every city and university in Europe; and there seems to have been but one opinion on the subject namely, that King Henry “was a monster who dishonored the name of monarch.”

I cannot help here remarking upon the system of misrepresentation still carried out in reference to English historical literature. Only a few weeks back (November 3, 1881) one of the best-written and the most influential of the London daily journals wrote as follows: “Henry VIII, as we now all know, was a much-maligned monarch, who killed his wives with the best intentions in the world.” With such public instructors in the press, the English people must remain in ignorance of the history of their country in the bygone. Many years back Patrick Fraser Tytler, an honest Presbyterian Scotchman, wrote these words: “The greatest historical heresy an author can commit is to tell an English reader the truth.” If the distinguished Scotch historian here quoted lived nowadays he would substitute “reviewer” for “general reader”; for, unfortunately, the English public are very generally led by newspaper commentary, especially where any question can possibly turn upon the history of the Reformation. It is sad to think so, but it is true.

To return to Dr. Fisher’s tragic story.

“In all things,” writes Bayley, .” belonging to the care and charge of a true bishop Dr. Fisher was to all the bishops of- England living in his days the very mirror and lantern of light.” “He pressed, as it were,” says Fuller, “into the other world, and expired in constancy and greatness.”

“He was one of the most worthy men of the side he espoused,” says Sharon Turner a marvellous admission from such a quarter. The Rev. J. H. Blunt, another high Anglican authority, observes that ” the good bishop’s death was worthy of him and of the Master in whose footsteps he was humbly travelling, while he felt for a light whose brightness he did not altogether see on this side of the grave.” Mr. Froude defends the deeds of King- Henry and his council as essential to the ultimate success of the Reformation. The learned gentleman favors pantomime over the closing scene. ” Many a spectacle of sorrow,” he writes, “had been witnessed on that tragic spot, but never one more sad than this. Let us close our lips and not speak of it.”

The author of Two Queens is more favorable to Dr. Fisher than Mr. Froude:

“A Yorkshire boy, born in the town of Beverly, though he went to Cambridge early, had not lost his northern grit and twang. His tones were rough, his phrases curt. What other men hardly dared to hint Fisher would throw into the simplest words. He called a lie, a lie; a knave, a knave; not caring who might take offence. This roughness of his speech, combined with his repute for piety and learning, took the world by storm. A thorough scholar, armed at every point, he feared no combat, and his nature was unyielding as a rock. But with this love of combat he combined a childlike veneration for the see of Rome…. Margaret, Countess of Richmond, had named him first of her professors. Henry, her son, had made him Bishop of Rochester. After Henry’s death the aged countess had placed him near her grandson by appointing him one of her executors. His roughand- ready talk amused the king. His High-Church views delighted Queen Katharine. He enjoyed such large favor at the court that, had he been more worldly and aspiring, he might well have thought the primacy within his reach. But John Fisher was a priest, and nothing could induce him to become a Privy Councillor or Secretary of State.” ” He was,” continues Mr. Hepworth Dixon, “the Cloth of his profession.”

Dr. Fisher’s warm sympathy for the poor and unfortunate was the most remarkable feature in his character. He had fixed days for visiting the hospitals and prisons of his diocese; and on such occasions he distributed alms in proportion to the necessities of the poor. He had always some kind words for prisoners or outcasts, and by his sermons to them ” turned many wicked people from the error of their ways.” He visited the humblest cottage and gave spiritual comfort to the sick and the dying. In his palace he dispensed a liberal hospitality. Men of learning from all nations were at times his guests. No sectarian feeling was exercised against the learned Jew, or Mohammedan, or any other Eastern thinker. Poor students were welcome to his board. The Irish monks were his special favorites. “They are in earnest in their Christian feeling,” was his remark to the learned John Leland. French and Spanish friars of learning were also among his guests. Three hundred people were fed daily at his different houses. He loved the people of Rochester, amongst whom he had lived for nearly forty years. He seldom went to court, which annoyed the king. Erasmus has drawn a genial picture of his fine social qualities, and the fashion in which Christmas was held in Rochester during the many years he ruled in that diocese.

In the early part of Henry’s reign he looked up to Dr. Fisher as a father. He once told the French ambassador that he felt assured that no monarch in Christendom could boast of having in his dominions a prelate so wise and so holy as the Bishop of Rochester. The great dignitaries of the Catholic Church throughout Europe held Dr. Fisher in the highest esteem. The Council of Lateran having been convoked, Dr. Fisher was chosen to be the representative of the University of Cambridge; but just as he was about to depart on his honored mission the king commanded him to remain in his diocese. The bishop obeyed the summons of his former pupil, and remained with the people whom he regarded with a father’s love.

If Queen Katharine was not defended in the divorce case by the most able and energetic theologians, she had certainly retained the most honest and disinterested man to be found in the upper ranks of the clerical body. His speech was a masterpiece, and was listened to for six hours on one day with breathless attention, when his broad Yorkshire accent rang through the Justice Hall. Thorndale says that the king paid marked attention to Fisher’s appeal, especially where he described ” those happy days when a certain young king and his lovely Spanish bride went ‘a-Maying’ like other young folks in the woods and on the sparkling waters, to the delight of the people, who thought that no other country was blessed with such a king and such a queen, both in the hopeful spring of life.”

Dr. Fisher concluded his powerful appeal to the Legatine Court, on behalf of Katharine of Arragon, in these words: “My lords, I contend that the marriage of our Sovereign Lord the King and the Princess Catalina [Katharine] cannot be dissolved by any power, human or divine. Nothing but death can dissolve an honest and lawful marriage. To this opinion I adhere in the face of every danger that may arise; and I am ready to lay down my life in its maintenance. As Saint John the Baptist, that Mirror of Purity, in the far-off days of the world, regarded it as impossible to die more gloriously than in the cause of defending the honor of the marriage state, upon the very existence of which society hangs, I cannot act with greater confidence, and regardless of all worldly consequences, than by taking the holy Baptist as my example. Then, in the name of Justice, I demand judgment in favor of my client, the lawful queen of this realm.”

This speech decided the fate of Fisher. The king poured out the vials of his wrath upon the courageous prelate. His denunciation of him was terrible. He assails the character and conduct of Fisher with unsparing violence and acrimony. Still, with that cold-blooded calculation which characterized the tyrant king, he reserved the period for his immolation.

For many years Dr. Fisher corresponded with, and frequently visited, the Carthusian fathers. This was another of the “treasonable practices” attributed to the good bishop by the king’s council, who detested the Carthusian community. Many Protestant writers of recent times have done justice to the memory of the pure and spotless brotherhood of the Charter-house. Mr. Green, for instance, describes the Carthusian fathers as ” the holiest and the most renowned of English churchmen.”

Dr. Fisher was not what the world might call a “great personage,” but he was that which no sectarian prejudice, no sentiment that acknowledges virtue can deny a good and holy Christian and a just man. He had very few equals on the long roll of English prelates; he used no weapons to enforce his convictions but those supplied from the armory of prayer and kindly counsel. His execution was the first deadly sin in the terrible calendar of judicial murders in England; and although the Carthusians had been favored with the semblance of a trial, Bishop Fisher’s case was the first which proved that the highest offices and attributes of the law were merely the preliminary instruments of legal assassination.

In concluding this inadequate notice of the martyred Fisher I cannot omit the following important attestation given by an eminent Protestant divine, Professor Brewer, as to the position and influence of the Papacy, and Henry VIII’s relation thereto. Such a testimony is well werthy the attention not only of the student of history, but of every honest lover of truth:

“The Papacy was not only the highest but it was the oldest monarchy of Europe. Compared with it all other royal and imperial offices of power and majesty were of a recent development no small consideration at a time when aristocracy and long descent were so highly valued. … It was fenced round with traditions mounting up to heaven. It had been the great and chosen instrument of God for propagating and preserving the law, the faith, and the love of Christ among ignorant and unsophisticated nations a prophet among babes, an apostle among barbarians. It had been the chief, at one time the sole, depository of wisdom, art, law, literature, and science to uninstructed and admiring men. . . . Circumstances quite independent of Saint Peter’s residence at Rome; deeds which the middle ages could understand; services of the highest nature rendered to mankind; the silent and even the obtrusive attestation of spiritual truths, of spiritual order and authority, rising above the confusion and the janglings of this world these and similar influences were the true causes of the Primacy of Saint Peter. For these warlike kings, emperors, and diplomatists felt themselves constrained to bow down before the representative of a heavenly authority, seeking reconciliation and forgiveness at the papal footstool.

“To be at amity with the Roman Pontiff, to be dignified with some distinction as his champion in the Faith, was an honor heartily desired by great men, especially intellectual men. It was the more highly esteemed because it was extended to a very few. To be one of so select a circle was to hold a higher rank in the comity of nations. To stand aloof, to be excluded, was to forfeit a distinction which ambitious monarchs and their more intelligent subjects appreciated and desired.

“Now, looking at the whole career of Henry Tudor, considering his education, the potency of long custom, his own character, his subtle influence pervading the very atmosphere of the time, it would be unnatural to suppose that he now intended to break entirely with Rome and stand alone in his defiance of the papal authority. It is unlikely that he would have braved the good opinion of Christendom had he not been betrayed into a position from which escape was impossible.”

The Rev. Mr. Brewer abstains from stating by whom the king had been “betrayed.” A close perusal of the State Papers and records of the period at once impeaches Thomas Cranmer.

A few words as to Archbishop Cranmer’s mode of action in his final preparation of the judgment of divorce against Queen Katharine. This affair has not been hitherto noticed with that critical nicety which the dark intrigues of the chief actor require. There is a paper preserved amongst the Cotton manuscripts in the Record Office in London, which has been strangely passed over by historians. The paper in question is the most damaging evidence ever produced against Cranmer in relation to the divorce of Queen Katharine.

In a moment of exultation King Henry assured Sir Anthony Brown ” that with Thomas Cranmer at his shoulder he could carry out any changes in the religion of the realm.” The king proved to be an excellent judge of character when he selected Archbishop Cranmer to become his tool.

text taken from “John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester”, Catholic World, 1882, author not listed