Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors – Bishop Fisher and Henry VII, 1509

detail of a line engraving of Saint John Fisher; 1697 by Gerard Valck, based on a work by Adriaen van der Werff; original work in possession of the National Portrait Gallery, London, England; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

To poor sick persons he was a physician, to the lame he was a staff, to poor widows an advocate, to orphans a tutor, and to poor travellers a host. Wheresoever he lay, either at Rochester or elsewhere, his order was to inquire where any poor sick folks lay near him, which after he once knew, he would diligently visit them. And when he saw any of them likely to die he would preach to them, teaching them the way to die, with such godly persuasions that for the most part he never departed till the sick persons were well satisfied and contented with death. Many times it was his chance to come to such poor houses as, for want of chimnies, were unbearable for the smoke, yet himself would there sit three or four hours together when none of his servants were able to abide in the house. And in some other poor houses where stairs were wanting, he would never disdain to climb up a ladder for such a good purpose. And when he had given them such ghostly comfort as he thought expedient for their souls, he would at his departure leave behind him his charitable alms, giving charge to his steward daily to prepare meat for them if they were poor.

“He never omitted so much as one collect of his daily service, which he used commonly to say to himself alone, without the help of any chaplain, not in such speed or hasty manner to be at an end, as many will do, but in most reverent and devout manner, so distinctly and tractably pronouncing every word, that he seemed a very devourer of heavenly food, never satiated nor filled therewith. Insomuch that talking on a time with a Carthusian monk, who much commended his zeal and diligent pains in compiling his book against Luther, he answered again, saying that he wished that time of writing had been spent in prayer, thinking that prayer would have done more good and was of more merit.

“And to help this devotion he caused a great hole to be digged through the wall of his church at Rochester, whereby he might the more commodiously have prospect into the church at Mass and Evensong times. When he himself used to say Mass, as many times he used to do, if he was not letted by some urgent and great cause, ye might then perceive in him such earnest devotion that many times the tears would fall from his cheeks.”

After reminding our Lord of His promise that the Gospel should be preached throughout the world as a testimony to all nations, he recalls how the Apostles were but soft and yielding clay till they were baked hard by the fire of the Holy Ghost, and then offered a prayer to be fulfilled in himself. “So, good Lord, do now in like manner again with Thy Church militant, change and make the soft and slippery earth into hard stones. Set in Thy Church strong and mighty pillars, that may suffer and endure great labours watching, poverty, thirst, hunger, cold, and heat which also shall not fear the threatenings of princes, persecution, neither death, but always persuade and think with themselves to suffer, with a good will, slanders, shame, and all kinds of torments for the glory and laud of Thy Holy Name. By this manner, good Lord, the truth of Thy Gospel shall be preached throughout the world. Oh! if it would please our Lord God to show this great goodness and mercy in our days, the memorial of His so doing ought, of very right, to be left in perpetual writing, never to be forgotten of all our posterity, that every generation might love and worship Him time without end.”

In his funeral sermon on King Henry VII, Fisher said: “The cause of his hope was true belief that he had in God, in His Church, and in the Sacraments thereof, which he received all with marvelous devotion; namely, in the Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of the Altar, and the Sacrament of Aneling the Sacrament of Penance with a marvelous compassion and flow of tears; the Sacrament of the Altar he received at Mid-Lent and again upon Easter Day with great reverence. At his first entry into the closet, where the Sacrament was, he took off his bonnet and kneeled down upon his knees, and so crept forth devoutly till he came unto the place itself where he received the Sacrament. The Sacrament of Aneling, when he well perceived that he began utterly to fail, he desirously asked therefor, and heartily prayed that it might be administered unto him; wherein he made ready and offered every part of his body by order, and as he might for weakness turned himself at every time and answered in the suffrages thereof. That same day of his departing, he heard Mass of the Glorious Virgin, the Mother of Christ, to whom always in his life he had singular and special devotion.”

On hearing news of his promotion to the sacred purple, from personal humility and contempt of honour, he remarked that if the Cardinal’s hat were laid at his feet he would not stoop to pick it up; yet that he held the dignities of the Church in due reverence the following dialogue shows.

“My Lord of Rochester,” said Cromwell, “if the Pope should now send you a Cardinal’s hat, what would you do? Would you take it?”

“Sir,” said he, “I know myself so far unworthy of any such dignity, that I think of nothing less than such matters; but if he do send it me, assure yourself I will work with it by all the means I can to benefit the Church of Christ, and in that respect I will receive it on my knees.”

The King’s rage was uncontrollable. When he heard of this answer of the servant of God, he said to Cromwell: “Yea, is he yet so lusty? Well, let the Pope send him a hat when he will; but I will so provide that whensoever it cometh he shall wear it on his shoulders, for head shall he have none to set it on.” And so was his death decreed.

MLA Citation

  • Father Henry Sebastian Bowden. “Bishop Fisher and Henry VII, 1509”. Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors, 1910. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 April 2019. Web. 26 July 2021. <>