Execution of Bishop Fisher and Thomas More

Execution of Bishop Fisher and Thomas More is in 1532-1535 Marriage and Coronation of Anne Boleyn.

Letters and Papers 1535. 05 May 1535. 666. It is commonly reported that the King has summoned the Bishop of Rochester (age 65), Master Mur (age 57), a doctor who was lately his confessor, a chaplain of the Queen, and schoolmaster of the Princess1, to swear to the statutes made here against the Pope, the Queen, and Princess, otherwise they would be treated no better than the said monks, six weeks being given to them to consider the matter. They have replied that they were ready to suffer what martyrdom pleased the King, and that they would not change their opinion in six weeks, or even in 600 years if they lived so long; and many fear they will be despatched like the aforesaid.

Note 1. Richard Fetherston.

Letters and Papers 1535. 06 Jun 1535. Add. MS. 8715. f. 67 b. B. M. 837. Bishop of Faenza to M. Ambrogio.

* * * Spoke at length to the French king of the Pope's concern about Fisher (Rossense instead of Roffense), and begged him to use his influence with the king of England for his liberation, for he ought to be able to obtain a greater thing than that from him. He replied that there was no need to speak of his virtues, which were known to all the world, both by his books, for no one had written better than he against the Lutherans, and by his innumerable virtues. His Holiness might be sure he would do what he could for his liberation; but he doubted his success, for he feared this hat would cause him much injury, according to what he heard from England, where they have been using strange methods against the Carthusians. He added that the king of England was the hardest friend to bear in the world; at one time unstable, and at another time obstinate and proud, so that it was almost impossible to bear with him. "Sometimes," said Francis, "he almost treats me like a subject, e vero dico che come mi rolte anch' in egli caglia: in effect, he is the strangest man in the world, and I fear I can do no good with him, but I must put up with him, as it is no time to lose friends" He would, however, do what he could for Fisher's (Rossetto) liberation. Offered to give the King the brief and hat for Fisher, and that all should be put in the Grand Master's hands, so that it might be done sooner according to the Pope's William He told the Bishop to keep them, and he would be asked for them when it was time. The card. du Bellay (il Rmo. Bellier) has also promised to do what he can, but he fears this Cardinalate will make Fisher a martyr. They will try to find some means to make the king of England take it as he ought.

Will lose no time, and do all he can for his liberation. Would rather see Fisher in Rome than be a cardinal himself, for he hears on every side that his virtue is not less than what the world wants now, "ne sua Beatitudine potra fare in queste bande cosa piu degna di lei."

Letters and Papers 1535. 14 Jun 1535. R. O. St. P. i. 431. 867. Bishop Fisher (age 65) and Sir Thomas More (age 57).

"Interrogatories ministered on the King's behalf [unto] John Fisher, D.D., late bishop [of Rochester]," in the Tower of London, 14 June 27 Hen. VIII., by Mr. Thomas Bedyll, [Dr. Aldridge,] Ric. Layton, and Ric. [Curwen], of the King's Council, in presence of Harry [Polstede and John] Whalley, and of John Ap Rice, notary public; with Fisher's answers.

1. Whether he would obey the King as Supreme Head of the Church of England? —He stands by the answer he made at his last examination, but will write with his own hand more at length.

2. Whether he will acknowledge the King's marriage with queen Anne to be lawful, and that with the lady Katharine to be invalid?—He would obey and swear to the Act of Succession; but desires to be pardoned answering this interrogatory absolutely.

3. For what cause he would not answer resolutely to the said interrogatories?—He desires not to be driven to answer, lest he fall in danger of the statutes.

Signed by John ap Rice as notary: J. R. Mutilated.

ii. Interrogatories ministered to Sir Thomas More.

1. Whether he had any communication with any person since he came to the Tower touching the Acts of Succession, of Supreme Head, or the Act wherein speaking certain words by (i.e. of) the King is made treason; and, if so, when, how often, with whom, and to what effect?

2. Whether he received letters of any man, or wrote to any, touching any of the said Acts; and, if so, how many, of whom, &c.

3. Whether these letters are forthcoming; and, if not, why they were done away, and by whose means?

4. Whether any man of this realm or without this realm sent him any letters or message exhorting him to persist in his opinion; and, if so, how many, of whom, when, and to what effect?

iii. The answers of Sir Thomas More to interrogatories ministered to him, 14 June 27 Hen. VIII., within the Tower of London, before Mr. Bedle, Dr. Aldridge, Dr. Layton, Dr. Curwen, in the presence of Polstede, Whalley and Rice aforesaid.

1. Never had any communication of such matters since he came to the Tower.

2. Had written divers scrolls or letters since then to Dr. Fisher, and received others from him, containing for the most part nothing but comforting words and thanks for meat and drink sent by one to the other. But about a quarter of a year after his coming to the Tower he wrote to Fisher, saying he had refused the oath of succession, and never intended to tell the Council why; and Fisher made him answer, showing how he had not refused to swear to the Succession. No other letters passed between them touching the King's affairs till the Council came to examine this deponent upon the Act of Supreme Head; but after his examination he received a letter of Fisher, desiring to know his answer. Replied by another letter, stating that he meant not to meddle, but fix his mind upon the passion of Christ; or that his answer was to that effect. He afterwards received another letter from Fisher, stating that he was informed the word maliciously was used in the statute, and suggesting that, therefore, a man who spoke nothing of malice did not offend the statute. He replied that he agreed with Fisher, but feared it would not be so interpreted. Did not report to Fisher his answer to the Council with the advice to make his own answer different lest the Council should suspect confederacy between them. After his last examination sent Fisher word by a letter, that Mr. Solicitor had informed him it was all one not to answer, and to say against the statute what a man would, as all the learned men of England would justify. He therefore said he could only reckon on the uttermost, and desired Fisher to pray for him as he would for Fisher.

Also considering that it would come to the ears of his daughter, Mr. Roper's wife, how the Council had been with him, and other things might be reported which would cause her to take sudden flight, and fearing that, being, as he thought, with child, she might take harm, he sent to her, both after his first examination and after his last, letters telling her the answers he had given, and that he could not tell what the end might be, but whatever it were he prayed her to take it patiently and pray for him. She had written him before divers letters advising him to accommodate himself to the King's pleasure, especially urging this in her last. Other letters he neither sent nor received from any person. George, the lieutenant's servant, carried the letters to and fro.

3. There is none of these letters forthcoming, where he knoweth. He would have had George to keep them, and George always said there was no better keeper than the fire. When he saw this he desired George to let some trusty friend read them, and if he saw any matter of importance in them he might report it to the Council and get thanks before any man, otherwise that he should deliver them. But George said he feared his master, the lieutenant, who had ordered him not to meddle with such matters, and so burned them.

4. No.

Examined further, why he sent the said letters to Dr. Fisher? Replies that as they were both in one prison, and for one cause, he was glad to send to him, and hear from him again.

Signed as above: J. R.

iv. Interrogatories ministered to Sir Thomas More, the day, year, and place above recited, by the Council aforenamed, and in presence of the said witnesses; with his answers.

1. Whether he would obey the King as Supreme Head?—He can make no answer.

2. Whether he will acknowledge the King's marriage with queen Anne to be lawful, and that with lady Katharine invalid?—Never spoke against it, "nor thereunto [can] make no answer."

3. Where it was objected to him that by the said statute he, as one of the King's subjects, is bound to answer the said question, and re[cogni]se the King as Supreme Head, like all other subjects.—He can make no answer.

Notarial signature mutilated.


All the above papers are in the same hand, and form one document.

Letters and Papers 1535. 16 Jun 1535. Vienna Archives. 876. Chapuys to Charles V.

This morning I received your letters of the 29th ult. concerning your embarkation. At the same time the ambassador of France here resident has heard from the sieur de Vely that your Majesty intended to go straight to Constantinople, without stopping at Tunis, against Barbarossa, not to lose the season and opportunity so convenient for reconquering Constantinople and the rest of Greece; that to this you were induced by the persuading of the Venetian ambassador, who undertook that the said Barbarossa should do no injury to Christendom. These news the said Ambassador has communicated to several persons, and, among others, to the Venetian secretary, who is ViceAmbassador here, whom, as he himself reported to me, the said Ambassador sent for this morning to inform him. It is probable these news have not been invented or published without some hidden purpose (mistére).

As soon as this King heard that the Bishop of Rochester (age 65) had been created a cardinal he declared in anger several times that he would give him another hat, and send the head afterwards to Rome for the Cardinal's hat. He sent immediately afterwards to the Tower those of his Council to summon again the said Bishop and Master Mur (age 57) to swear to the King as Head of the Church, otherwise, before St. John's Day they would be executed as traitors. But it has been impossible to gain them, either by promises or threats, and it is believed they will soon be executed. But as they are persons of unequalled reputation in this kingdom, the King, to appease the murmurs of the world, has already on Sunday last caused preachers to preach against them in most of the churches here, and this will be continued next Sunday; and although there is no lawful occasion to put them to death, the King is seeking if anything can be found against them,—especially if the said Bishop has made suit for the hat; to find out which several persons have been taken prisoners, both of his kinsmen and of those who kept him in prison. It is impossible to describe the distress of the Queen and Princess on account of these two persons, and they are not without fear that after them matters may be carried further than I have hitherto written (que apres iceulx le sort pourroil passer plus avant que jay cydevant escript). Since the said news of the Bishop's creation as cardinal, the King, in hatred of the Holy See, has despatched mandates and letters patents to the bishops, curates, and others commissioned to preach, that they continually preach certain articles against the Church, and to schoolmasters to instruct their scholars to revile apostolic authority, and this under pain of rebellion; also that the Pope's name should be rased out of all mass books, breviaries, and hours, either in the calendar or elsewhere. It was also commanded that in all churches the Gospels should be read in French (qu. English?) to infect all the people with Lutheranism, and make them more obstinate in repelling any foreign invasion. The King, so far as I see, is not only provoked at the said Bishop being made cardinal, but also at the bishop of Paris, in whom he had always had great confidence, because previous to this creation he was considered a bad Papist. He has also no great pleasure in the Auditor of the Chamber, and to soothe him the Lady lately made him a feast in a house of hers, where she got up several fine mummeries. She invited many, and the French ambassador was not pleased at being forgotten. The said Lady had so well banquetted and mummed, that, as the Princess has sent this day to inform me, the King dotes upon her more than ever; which increases greatly the fear of the said Princess, owing to the long delay of the remedy, which, it is the universal opinion, would be sure and easy if your Majesty prohibited intercourse with your countries, provided affairs would admit of it. This a number of good and notable persons have compelled me to repeat.

Wriothesley's Chronicle 1530-1539. 17 Jun 1535. This yeare allso, the 17 day of June arreigned at Westminster in the Kinges Benche Mr. John Fisher (age 65), Bishop of Rochester, for treason againste the Kinge, and there was condemned by a jurie of knightes and esquiers (the Lord Chauncellore sittinge as Highe Judge), who gave this sentence on him: that the sayde John Fisher shoulde goe from thence to the place he came from, which was the Tower of London, and from thence to be drawne thorowe the cittie of London to Tiburne [Map], there to be hanged, being alyve cutt downe, his bowells to be taken out of his bodie and brent afore him, his head to be cutt of, and his bodie to be devided in 4or partes, and his head and bodye to be sett at suche places as the King should assigne. The effect of the treason was for denyinge the Einge to be supreme head of the a.d. 1^86. Churche of Englande, accordinge to a statute made at the last session of the Parliament.a

Note a. This bishop was of very many men lamented, for he was reported to he a man of great learning, and a man of very good life, but therein wonderfully deceived, for he maintained the Pope to he supreme head of the Church, and very maliciously refused the King's title of supreme head. It was said that the Pope, for that he held so manfully with him, and stood so stifly in his cause, did elect him a Cardinal, and sent the Cardinal's hat as far as Calais, but the head it should hare stande on was as high as London Bridge or ever the hat could come to Bishop Fisher, and then it was too late, and therefore he neither wore it nor enjoyed his office. Hall's "Chronicle," ed. 1809, p. 817.

Before 22 Jun 1535 Thomas Audley 1st Baron Audley Walden (age 47) presided over the trial of Bishop John Fisher (age 65) and Thomas More (age 57) both of whom refused to take the Oath Of Supremacy. The judges including Anne Boleyn's father Thomas Boleyn 1st Earl Wiltshire and Ormonde (age 58). Thomas Cromwell 1st Earl Essex (age 50) brought Richard Rich 1st Baron Rich (age 38) as a witness who testified that Thomas More (age 57) had denied that the King was the legitimate head of the Church. However, Richard Southwell (age 32) to the contrary.

The jury took, somewhat unsurprisingly, only fifteen minutes to conclude Thomas More (age 57) was guilty. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered; the King (age 43) commuted this to beheading.

Wriothesley's Chronicle 1530-1539. 22 Jun 1535. Allso, the 22th of June, beinge Tewsday, John Fisher (age 65), Bishopp of Rochester, was beheaded at the Tower Hill, and the residue of his execution pardoned; his bodie was buried within Barkinge churche [Map] yeardb next the Towre of London, and his head was sett on London Bridge.

Note b. Bishop Fisher's body was taken up out of Barking churchyard [Map], and re-buried with Sir Thomas More, both in the Tower. — Stow, p. 672.

On 22 Jun 1535 Bishop John Fisher (age 65) was beheaded on Tower Hill [Map].

Spanish Chronicle Chapter 18. How Thomas More and the Bishop of Rochester died.

How the Bishop of Rochester and Chancellor More were sentenced has already been told. At that very time, the Pope, to see whether they would obey him, sent a cardinal's hat to this Bishop, whom he knew to be a very learned man. When the King knew it he was in a very great rage, and on the very day the Bishop was sentenced to death the cardinal's hat arrived. The King ordered both their heads to be cut off, so they brought them out of the Tower both together to the scaffold, which is just near the Tower. It was quite a sight to see the great number of people, for it was a good long while before the prisoners arrived, and, when they came, there were over five hundred halberdiers with them. The first to ascend was the Bishop, and when he saw so many people he gave them his blessing, and would have liked to preach a sermon to them, but he was not allowed to say anything. Then the good Bishop, seeing they would not let him talk, said these words: "Worthy people who are here, I beg you to pray to God for my soul, and also pray that He will lead your King on a better road than at present." Then the guards retired, and the holy man knelt and said to the executioner, "Do thy duty." Then he placed his head upon the block after having said a prayer in Latin, and when he had finished, the executioner struck off his head in three blows, and he rendered up to God the soul that was His already.1

Note 1. Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, was beheaded 22nd June, 1535, and Sir Thomas More some days afterwards.

Hall's Chronicle 1535. 22 Jun 1535 Also the twenty-second day of the same month John Fisher Bishop of Rochester (age 65) was beheaded, and his head set upon London bridge [Map]. This bishop was of very many men lamented, for he was reported to be a man of great learning, and a man of very good life, but therein wonderfully deceived, for he maintained the Pope to be Supreme Head of the Church, and very maliciously refused the King’s title of Supreme Head. It was said that the Pope, for that he held so manfully with him and stood so stiffly in his cause, did elect him a Cardinal, and sent the Cardinals hat as far as Calais, but the head it should have stood on, was as high as London Bridge or ever the hat could come to Bishop Fisher, and then it was too late and therefore he neither ware it nor enjoyed his office. This man as I said was accomplished learned, yea, and that very notably learned, and yet have you heard how he was deceived with Elizabeth Barton that called herself the Holy Maid of Kent, and no doubt so was he in the defence of that usurped authority, the more pity. Wonderful it is that a man being learned should be so blind in the scriptures of God that prove the supreme authority of Princes so manifestly.

Letters and Papers 1535. 30 Jun 1535. 949. Sends bills in accordance with this interpretation of prophecy, which will show what hope there is of putting affairs right again. If there be no remedy all will go to ruin. It is wonderful that the people are not Lutheran before this, considering what the King causes to be said. Hears from Rome that the Pope was determined to grant the executorials, and the death of the good Bishop of Rochester (deceased) will not alter his decision. Some think that if commerce (contractacion) was forbidden by virtue of the executorials, the people would rise and put things right themselves, especially during this distrust of Frauce. Already they begin to murmur, because ever since these executions began it has rained continually, and they say it is the vengeance of God. Refers him to his letters to the Emperor. London, 30 June 1535.

Fr., from a modern copy, p. 1.

Wriothesley's Chronicle 1530-1539. 01 Jul 1535. This yeare allso, the first day of Julie, beinge Thursdaye, Sir Thomas More (age 57), knight, sometyme Chauncellor of England, was death, arreigned at Westminster for highe treason and there condemned,c and the Tuesday after, beinge the 6th of Julie, he was beheaded at the Tower Hill, and his bodie was buried within the chappell in the Tower of London [Map], and his head was sett on London Bridge. The effect of his death was for the same causse that the Bishopp of Rochester (deceased) died for.d

Note c. The interrogatories and answers of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher will he found printed in the first rolume of State Papers, pp. 431-6.

Note d. For refusing to subscribe the new Oath of Supremacy as enacted hy the last parliament "This Act," said Sir Thomas More, "is like a sword with two edges, for if a man answer one way it will destroy the soul, and if he answer another it will destroy the body."

Letters and Papers 1535. 04 Jul 1535. Add. MS. 8,715, f. 84b, B. M. 985. Bishop of Faenza to M. Ambrosio.

Wrote from Amiens on the 25th about the fears for Fisher (deceased). The King's impiety has gone so far that on the 22nd ult. he had him beheaded publicly at the Tower, and his body left there all day for a public show. Hears that "Gramuel" went to him in prison, and told him that the bishop of Rome had created him one of his companions, and the King had sent him to know what was his opinion about it. He replied that honor was not in his thoughts now, and he thought only of the mercy of God, whose his soul was, though his body was in the King's power, who could do what he liked with it, but he would not change his opinion, believing that it was right. "Gramuel" then announced to him the day of his death. He was conducted on a mule, wearing a black cloth vest and cap tied under his chin, to the square (piazza), where he had to wait for an hour because the scaffold was not in order. And although, as the Admiral says, from age and suffering he was more like a shadow than a man, he spoke to the people boldly, telling them to be loving and obedient to their King, who was good by nature, but had been deceived in this matter; that he was led to death for wishing to preserve the honor of God and the Holy See; at which he did not grieve, but was content, for it was the will of God. Hears now from the English ambassador that he only said, that being of flesh, which naturally feared death, and knowing that Peter three times denied Christ through fear of death, and having always had the mind to die, if necessary, for the love of Christ and his Holy Church, now that he was come to it, he begged all present to pray to God to grant constancy and firmness to his fragile flesh to suffer cheerfully his approaching punishment. The Admiral had heard that he was quartered according to the sentence; but the English ambassador says that he was merely beheaded, "per grandissima gratia ottenuta dal furore infinito in questo di quel Re;" who finally was content that his body should be buried in the evening. The cause of his death is rumoured in England to have been his writing evil of the King to Thomas More (age 57), who was also in prison. And they had caused it to be said to his face by one of his chaplains that he had written to More against the King on a bit of wood with a needle, having neither paper nor ink. More (age 57) is thought to be already executed, or, at least, condemned to death with perhaps thirty other virtuous persons, religious and secular; so that we now see clearly that the tragedy will go far, and that there is no hope of good from the King.

Letters and Papers 1535. 25 Jul 1535. Vienna Archives. 1105. Chapuys to Charles V.

Since the return of the Duke of Norfolk (age 62) and the others from Calais I have several times written to your Majesty, and, among other things, that immediately after the said return Cromwell came to notify to me that nothing had been concluded on the part of his master, of which he wished me to inform you at once; and that I agreed to despatch a messenger, provided there was other matter to convey, such as that the King would accept the overtures made by your Majesty, or make better ones. I have also written how, besides other three Carthusians who have been executed with the same cruelty as the former ones, they had beheaded the Cardinal of Rochester (deceased) and Master Morus (deceased), to the great grief of the whole people.

Letters and Papers 1535. 06 Sep 1535. Add. MS. 28,588, f. 20. B. M. 295. Viscount J. Hannart to the Empress.

The queens of France and Hungary met at Cambray on 16 Aug. There were present the daughters and daughter-in-law of the King, Madame de Vendome, the cardinals of Borvon (Bourbon) and Tornon, the Admiral, the duke of Albany, and the marchioness of Zenete. The Empress probably knows that the king of England has separated from the Church of Rome, and put to death many persons who will not obey him as head of the Church after God. Since the death of the Cardinal of Rochester and More, twentyeight persons have been executed, among them nine Carthusians. The King has given the Carthusian Monastery in London to his new wife (age 34) for a palace, and others to his daughter and father-in-law (age 58).

The king of Scotland has sent ambassadors to conclude his marriage with the daughter of Mons. de Vandôme, and to conduct her to Scotland.

* * * 6 Sept. 1535. Sp., pp. 3. Modern copy.

Letters and Papers 1535. 22 Nov 1535. 873. They have taken the able persons out of some monasteries, and left the infirm (inhabiles) with so little to maintain them that they are constrained to leave their religion. They have taken all the nuns under twenty-five years from the monastery. One of the commissaries spoke improperly to the nuns, who rebuked him, saying that their Apostolic privileges were broken. The commissary replied that he had more power on behalf of the King than the whole Apostolic See. When the nuns referred their complaint to Cromwell, the King's secretary, by whom these ill deeds are done, he replied that this was only the prologue (que esto no era el introito)1.

The sons of knights are made abbots, even though they are young, that they may collect the rents. The heads of the holy cardinal of Rochester, the holy Thomas More, and another holy Carthusian Martyr were set up at the gate of London. Rochester's head was always fresher, although the others were turning black. Seeing that the people noticed it, the heads have been thrown into the river.

The cardinals who are commissioned to attend to the English cause have published that they wish at once to declare the King deprived of his kingdom, and his subjects absolved from their oath of allegiance. However, the minute which they have drawn up is only monitory.

Asks the Empress to have continual prayer made for the Queen and Princess. Rome, 22 Nov. 1535.

Sp., pp. 7. Modern copy.

Note 1. No doubt there is an error in the copy. "Only the prologue" is evidently meant.