The English Reformation of the sixteenth century made things difficult for bishops.
You probably know some of the background. King Henry VIII broke with Rome in the early 1530s, pursuing marriage to Anne Boleyn. His successor, Edward VI, was a Protestant, and reigned from 1547-1553. Edward’s successor (after the nine-day reign of Jane Grey) was Mary I, a Catholic, who reigned from 1553-1558. On her death, Mary was succeeded by Elizabeth I, another Protestant, and England’s official state religion has never been Catholic since.
All this upheaval proved fatal to numerous people, including two bishops of Worcester.
The first was John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester from 1550, and Bishop of both Gloucester and Worcester from 1552. You can see his picture here, at the National Portrait Gallery website.
In the Hurd Library, we have a copy of Hooper’s Declaration of the Ten Holy Commandments, first published in 1548, though our edition probably dates from 1588.
It was given to the library by Richard Kilvert, a cousin of Bishop Hurd’s father, and also Hurd’s curate and rector of Hartlebury.
Hurd has added a note of his own, pasted into the front of the book. It’s not quite as accurate as we can be today, with our much better archives and access to information, but I think it shows Hurd’s sense of the history and the men who lay behind him as Bishop of Worcester.
Hurd writes, ‘John Hooper wrote his exposition of the ten commandments in 1550, in which year he was consecrated Bishop of Glocester [sic]; & in about two years after he had the Bishoprick of Worcester, given him to hold in commendam with the former. He was burned at Gloster [sic] in Queen Mary’s reign, Feb. 9th 1554. Aged 60.’
Hooper was an ardent Protestant reformer. He seems to have got into trouble for his views in the later part of Henry VIII’s reign, and spent some time abroad. But he returned to England in 1549, became a popular preacher, and impressed the new king, Edward.
When Mary came to the throne in 1553, Hooper was picked out as an early target. He was imprisoned that same year, deprived of his bishopric in 1554, and burnt at the stake at 9am, 9th February 1555. Green wood was used — slower burning than the usual dry tinder — deliberately to prolong his sufferings.
Our second man is Hugh Latimer, another Protestant reformer. He was appointed Bishop of Worcester in 1535, but was forced to resign in 1538 — he had spoken against Henry VIII’s ‘six articles’, which reasserted a number of Catholic principles in spite of the break with Rome.
The National Portrait Gallery have his portrait, too: you can see it online, here.
Like Hooper, Latimer did better under Edward VI. He rose to a prominent position and preached exuberant, sometimes controversial sermons. He too was imprisoned by Queen Mary, and spent some time in the same cell with fellow reformers Thomas Cranmer (Archbishop of Canterbury), Nicholas Ridley (Bishop of London) and John Bradford (a prebendary of St Paul’s).
The Hurd Library has a copy of a book recording conversations between Latimer and Ridley during their imprisonment, published in 1556. Its full, rather long title is Certe[n] godly, learned, and comfortable conferences, betwene the two reuerende fathers, and holye martyrs of Christe, D. Nicolas Rydley late Bysshoppe of London, and M. Hughe Latymer sometyme Bysshoppe of Worcester, during the tyme of their emprysonmentes. Whereunto is added. A treatise agaynst the errour of transubstantiation, made by the sayd reuerende father D. Nicolas Rydley.
It too was a gift, this time from Dr Richard Farmer, Master of Hurd’s old college of Emmanuel, Cambridge. Perhaps Hurd’s friends liked reminding him of how lucky he was not to live in the sixteenth century.
Latimer and Ridley were burnt together on 16th October 1555. As far as I am aware, this was the last time one of Worcester’s bishops lost his life in so grisly a manner.
Alison Winston, Skills for the Future trainee