22 December 1534 – Bishop John Fisher’s letter to Cromwell

John_Fisher,_Bishop_of_Rochester_by_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerOn the 22nd December 1534, an imprisoned John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, wrote to Thomas Cromwell beseeching him to provide him with a shirt and sheet (neither of which he had), some food, some books “to stir his devotion more effectually” and a priest to hear his confession. He also asked Cromwell to intercede with the King and to “move” him to release Fisher. Fisher had been imprisoned for denying the King’s supremacy.

Here is the record of his letter from Letters and Papers:

“John [Fisher] Bishop of Rochester to [Cromwell].

Does not wish to displease the King. When last before him and the other commissioners he swore to the part concerning the succession for the reason he then gave, but refused to swear to some other parts, because his conscience would not allow him to do so. “I beseech you to be good master unto me in my necessity, for I have neither shirt nor sheet nor yet other clothes that are necessary for me to wear, but that be ragged and rent too shamefully. Notwithstanding, I might easily suffer that if they would keep my body warm. But my diet also God knows how slender it is at many times. And now in mine age my stomach may not away but with a few kind of meats, which if I want I decay forthwith, and fall into coughs and diseases of my body, and cannot keep myself in health.” His brother provides for him out of his own purse, to his great hindrance. Beseeches him to pity him, and move the King to take him into favor and release him from this cold and painful imprisonment. Desires to have a priest within the Tower to hear his confession “against this holy time;” and some books to stir his devotion more effectually. Wishes him a merry Christmas. At the Tower, 22 Dec.”

Bishop Fisher was executed on 22nd June 1535, over a year after he had been arrested and taken to the Tower. Although he had been condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, the King, in his ‘mercy’, commuted his sentence to beheading.

Notes and Sources

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 7, 1534: 1563.

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One thought on “22 December 1534 – Bishop John Fisher’s letter to Cromwell”
  1. This is another story to move us to pity and shows the harshest side of Henry for he must have known Bishop Fisher didn’t have the means to pay for better food in the Tower and relied on the food he was given which upset his stomach. His cell was cold and he needed help from Cromwell. Henry could help but he has to beg. It was terrible to see this good and holy and learned old man in the state he was reduced to, because of Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and his Supremacy and the new Succession. Like Thomas More Archbishop Fisher was content to leave the succession to the King but couldn’t accept his claims to be the Pope in England and he was not happy with his marriage either. The latter was not yet treason, but the Supremacy was another matter, it was denying Henry a lawful title and now Henry made that treason as well.

    This letter is so touching and Fisher even wishes the King a Merry Christmas, which shows him as benevolent and pure of heart. Henry had lost his way to Fisher and More and they couldn’t go along with his new policy, by the right of their conscience. Bishop John Fisher had also written to the Emperor encouraging his support for Queen Katherine, although he was wise enough not to sign the letter, so it remained anonymous.

    When you think that Bishop Fisher had served the King’s grandmother, his father and Henry as well as defending Katherine during her divorce procedure, was one of the most revered and learned men in the Kingdom and Europe and Rome, it was a very sad demise for such a holy man.

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