August 21 – A bishop dies in the reign of Henry VIII

Posted By on August 21, 2022

On this day in Tudor history, 21st August 1536, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Robert Sherborne (Sherborn), former Bishop of Chichester, died at Chichester. He was buried at Chichester Cathedral.

Sherborne died just two months after he was forced to resign his bishopric, but he had had a long life, dying at around 82 years of age, and had worked hard to keep his bishopric in order and to serve his king and country.

Find out more about Robert Sherborne, Bishop of Chichester, and what led to his forced resignation…

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, Robert Sherborne (Sherborn), former Bishop of Chichester, died at Chichester. He was buried in the cathedral there.

The elderly and conservative bishop was forced to resign his see in June 1536 after being examined by Dr Richard Layton. The bishop’s servant, Anthony Waite, wrote to Lord and Lady Lisle in Calais of his mater’s resignation:
“my Lord in the meanwhile, at the King’s request, has resigned his bishopric of Chichester to Dr. Sampson, dean of the King’s chapel, a good man whom also my lord of Norfolk and Mr. Secretary much favor. On his resignation the King has given him 500 mks. in plate and specialties of debts due, for money he hath none, and, amongst others, your debt of 80l. to be paid to Dr. Sampson next Michaelmas. My Lord therefore hopes you will help him in this great stress, otherwise he is like to be disgraced for breach of promise, for he has so straitened his substance with loans and gifts that he can scarce maintain his estate, and this man, owing to the burden of firstfruits, will perhaps be the more importunate to him.”

Sherborne’s successor, Dr Richard Sampson, had given the king advice during the fall of Anne Boleyn, as a canon law expert, and had acted as the king’s proctor in the annulment proceedings of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn in May 1536. His reward was for him to be nominated by the king as Bishop of Chichester in place of Sherborne.

But who was Sherborne and why did he lose his bishopric?

Robert Sherborne was born in around 1454 in Basingstoke, Hampshire, and was educated at Winchester College and then New College, Oxford. He was a fellow of New College until 1486 and was also scribe to the university.

He began his church career in the reign of King Richard III, receiving his his first prebend, Salisbury Cathedral, in 1482. Then he continued his career into the reign of King Henry VII, joining the household of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, as his secretary, in 1486, and also becoming treasurer of Hereford Cathedral. Between 1488 and 1490, he was granted the prebends of Lincoln, St Paul’s and Wells. He held several rectories in the 1490s and also served as archdeacon of Huntingdon and Taunton, and dean of St Paul’s, even though he wasn’t ordained as a priest until 1501.

In 1494, Sherborne served King Henry VII by supervising the building of a tower at Portsmouth and then in 1496 he was appointed as a king’s secretary and councillor and went on a diplomatic mission to Rome. In the late 1490s, he was entrusted with collecting fines in the West Country from those who had supported pretender Perkin Warbeck, and in 1503 he was involved in the negotiations with Scotland regarding the dowry of Margaret Tudor, the king’s eldest daughter, who was due to marry King James IV of Scotland. In 1505, the pope made him Bishop of St David’s and in 1508 he became Bishop of Chichester with the king’s support.

In 1504, the king sent him to Rome to obtain a papal dispensation for the marriage of Prince Henry, the future Henry VIII, and Catherine of Aragon, whose first husband, Prince Arthur, had died in 1502.

Henry VIII came to the throne in April 1509, following Henry VII’s death, and Sherborne carried on as Bishop of Chichester. His biographer, Christopher Harper-Bill, describes him as “an active and effective diocesan bishop”. He supported the reform of church courts, worked to improve the condition of churches in his see and to maintain high standards of ministry. Sherborne also acted as a patron of artist Lambert Barnard, commissioning historical panel paintings featuring kings and queens of England and former bishops, for Chichester Cathedral.

On 8th December 1532, Sherborne wrote to Thomas Cromwell, saying “I am sorry to hear I have been misreported to you. I pray you not to think otherwise of me than becomes a man of my vocation, but to think as well of me as I have done of you since I knew that by your prudent counsel and charitable words the priory of Hardham, which was to have been suppressed, still stands and prospers. I beg to know who is my accuser, for I am sure there is no cause given.” It is not known what he had been accused of, but he kept his post.

Sherborne was in his late 70s when Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn and broke with the authority of Rome and although he may have been personally conservative, he renounced papal jurisdiction in February 1534 and on 6th June, he wrote to the king regarding the king’s supremacy, saying “I have received your letters and commandment, which I will put in execution to the best of my power, and besides ‘declare myself for your other most dread commandments past heretofore,’ so that you shall be satisfied”. On 15th June 1535, he preached at Chichester in support of the king’s supremacy.

In October 1535, Dr Richard Layton, who was working for the king and Cromwell in the visitation of the monasteries, which, in turn, led to the dissolution of the monasteries, visited Chichester Cathedral and examined Sherborne. He recorded “The cathedral church of Chichester I found appliable to all things, somewhat papistical with privy susurrations, which I have been very plain in”, adding “I need not speak of the Bishop, whom I examined this morning. Nosti hominem.” Nosti hominem meaning “know the man”. It must have become clear that Sherborne was a religious conservative for the king asked for his resignation the following June.

Sherborne made his will on 2nd August 1536 and died on this day in Tudor history, 21st August 1536, at around the age of 82. He was laid to rest at his former cathedral, in the choir, in an altar tomb topped with an alabaster effigy. It can still be seen in the cathedral today.

Photo by Edwardx, Wikimedia Commons, used under the license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

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