Bishop John Hooper ( 1495-1555)

Born in Somerset in 1495 John Hooper studied at Merton College, Oxford in 1515 and was tutored there by his uncle, also John Hooper, and gained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1518. For some years after he joined with the Cistercian monks but eventually returned to Oxford where he became enthused with Lutheranism through books bought from Germany. His enthusiasm for Protestantism led Hooper into a wandering lifestyle that saw him travelling on the continent, residing in several English jails, and disputing with the papists through the reigns of  Henry VIiI, Edward VI, until his death in the reign of `Bloody Mary` Tudor. He was probably one of the busiest clerics of his day and also one of the stubbornest in defence of his beliefs, even unto burning at the stake and martyrdom.

In 1539 and the introduction of the Six Articles,  he left Oxford and for a while was chaplain to Sir Thomas Arundel, a catholic. They soon parted company and he went to France. Returning to Somerset he stayed with a gentleman by the name of Seintlow, but pursued by the papists he again fled. This time he disguised himself as a sailor, hired a boat and sailed to Ireland, then went to Holland and Switzerland. In Zurich he was warmly received by Henry Bullinger who had taken over the chair at the university from Zwingli (d 1531). Here Hooper`s ability in Greek and Hebrew was greatly appreciated.

In 1547 the accession of Edward Vi allowed Hooper to return to England and he began preaching in London on reformed doctrines, including pluarlities. Although reputed to have a sweetness  of temper, Hooper also had a stubborn disapproval of certain disciplinary issues (concerning dress) as a result of his stay in Switzerland. In this he fell out with Cranmer and Ridley, and eventually the King, Meanwhile he was appointed chaplain to the Duke of Somerset, the Regent and Protector of Edward VI, who was also Hooper`s protector for a while. In 1549 Hooper was one of the accusers of Bishop Bonner of London, for which he would suffer retribution in Queen Mary`s reign. In 1550 he preached before the king and was then made Bishop of Gloucester.  which brought to a head the differences concerning dress. Hooper stubbornly refused to wear a rochet ( a white garment like a surplice, with tight sleeves, worn under the chymer - a black satin robe worn by bishops). Cranmer refused to give ground, even though Hooper had the support of the Earl of Warwick and the King. Hooper then overstepped the mark by publishing a confession of faith that criticised the Privy Council. For this he was thrown into the Fleet prison. After eight months Hooper was proceeded against and called to explain his objections to conformity. An objectionable line in an oath of allegiance was struck out by the king himself, and a compromise was achieved about wearing the approved dress on certain public occasions. Accepting the compromise, Hooper was then consecrated in his appointment as Bishop of Gloucester, 8 March 1551.  The benefices of Gloucester See were relatively poor and in May 1552, despite his stand on pluralities, Hooper accepted the Bishopric of Worcester in commendam. Inevitably this raised the ire of the papists, which did not prevent Hooper from diligently visiting and preaching in both Sees. Shortly after the two sees were united in one, of Worcester, to which he was formally translated.

On the death of Edward VI in 1553, Mary Tudor succeeded to the throne and almost immediately sent for Hooper to explain his accusations against Bonner and for taking the see of Worcester that had been that of Bishop Heath (imprisoned under Edward VI). Hooper was in no doubt of the danger he was in, but he refused to flee and declared somewhat prophetically that he "would continue to live and die with my sheep." On 1 September he was committed again into the Fleet prison, one of seven bishops to fall foul of the bigoted queen. Others imprisoned at this time included Cranmer, Ridly, Latimer, Ferrars, and Coverdale. The usual panoply of declamations, public condemnations and demands to recant followed. Hooper and the other reformers stood firm, while he corresponded with Bullinger and sent his wife and family abroad for their safety.

The hatred of Bonner, Heath and Gardiner was soon revealed in the proceedings against all the clerics held, and they were variously disposed of - Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley to Oxford. Hooper was a shuttlecock for a while with many appearances and re appearances before the prelates demanding he recant before they decided to degrade him from his bishopric. There followed a change of scenery as he was thrown into the Newgate prison for six days where Bonner was a frequent visitor. During this time they declared that Hooper had recanted , which he vehemently denied. Finally the Bishop of London declared him degraded and  "an obstinate and incorrigible heretic"  the sentence of burning at the stake to be carried out in Gloucester. This was a tactical error in so far as the people of Gloucester turned out in force to see their minister brought under guard to the city. Arriving on the 7th February, as a mark of local respect, he was not thrown into the local jail but lodged  in the private house of Mr Robert Ingram. The  following day, at about nine in morning of 9 February he was brought from his lodgings to the stake where a crowd of some seven thousand people had gathered.

A rather `over the top` attempt to get him to recant publicly followed. While kneeling in prayer a stool was placed before him upon which was laid the Queen`s pardon if he recanted. He twice called  "If you love my soul, away with it" before returning to his devotions. Having done, he prepared by undressing to his doublet and hose but the sheriff insisted he remove them, so he tucked his shirt between his legs where  a bladder of gunpowder was fixed, and more gunpowder under each arm, to aid his demise. He was chained to the stake and an iron hoop circled his waist, but he refused to allow them to place hoops round his neck and legs. The fire was, however, poorly laid with green faggots and the wind blew the flames away from him, such that it took three quarters of an hour to work its deadly deed. Three times the fire had to be re kindled. Foxe`s Acts and Monuments vol vi, p 658 graphically describes his end.


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