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6 February 1550: Bishop Bonner’s appeal dismissed

February 6, 2019

EdmundBonner - caricatureBishop Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London under Henry VIII, and seen here in caricature, was quick to fall foul of the new regime of the young Protestant King, Edward VI. He had been called before the Privy Council and sent to the Fleet prison on 18 September 1547 for refusing to observe the Royal Injunctions to have the Epistle and Gospel at High Mass read in English. He was released a few weeks later from this first imprisonment in the Fleet, and actually attended the House of Lords during Edward’s first Parliament. In the second session of Parliament, Bonner again regularly attending proceedings in the Lords, opposing the religious changes introduced by the reformers, and encouraging others to follow suit. He neglected to enforce use of the new English prayer book, and this resulted in a remonstrance from the King who wrote to him on 2 August 1549, soon after this first Book of Common Prayer had come into force, taking him to task over the many people in his diocese who were neglecting to attend church and Holy Communion and putting this down to Bonner’s own ‘evil example and slackness’. Bonner had previously preached a great deal, particularly on all the major feast days, and he was now refusing to do so. The young King told him to reform, and commanded him to preach strongly against rebellion and resistance to temporal authority in his next sermon at St Paul’s, and in support of obedience in using the rites established by law to be used in the Church. On 10 August further injunctions were delivered from the King to Bishop Bonner, requiring him to celebrate communion in St Paul’s in a few days’ time and to declare in his sermon that the present King’s authority was no less than that of any of his predecessors, despite his youth, and to preach God’s displeasure at rebellion. The Greyfriars chronicler reported that, on 18 August 1549, Bishop Bonner, knowing what was likely to happen to him, ‘did the office at Paul’s both at the procession and at the communion discreetly and sadly’.

On 1 September  Bonner preached at Paul’s Cross and was subsequently accused regarding his teaching. His failure to obey the clear instructions from the King was discussed by the Privy Council on 8 September and a commission for his deprivation was appointed. He was made to appear before Archbishop Cranmer and others on 13, 16 and 18 September. On 20 September he was sent at night to Marshalsea prison and, reported the chronicler, ‘he went the same day unto Lambeth in his scarlet habit and his rotchet upon it’ (that is, dressed in his episcopal robes). He was deprived of his bishopric at Lambeth on 1 October 1549 by Archbishop Cranmer. He was then sent back to prison, where he was to remain at the King’s pleasure.

Only a few days after Bishop Bonner’s deprivation, Lord Protector Somerset was overthrown, and the shift of power to the Earl of Warwick (who later became Duke of Northumberland) presaged a strengthening of the reformist position. On Christmas Day 1549 a royal circular to the bishops was issued, reinforcing the message of an earlier proclamation, ordering the destruction of all Latin service books. There were bonfires of books all over England, the bishops being forced to supervise these burnings. The Greyfriars chronicler, sympathetic to Bonner, relates the hard time the former bishop had in prison – how, on 8 January 1550, Bonner had his bed removed by the keeper of the prison and for eight days had only straw and a coverlet to lie on, for refusing to pay his jailer the sum of £10. He appealed against his sentence, and on 6 February he was taken from the Marshalsea to appear before the Privy Council sitting in Star Chamber at Westminster. Here he was informed that his appeal had been considered, and dismissed, by eight privy councillors (among them Lord Rich). It was Rich, as Lord Chancellor, who concluded the proceedings by commanding that Bonner (with whom in the previous reign he had worked closely in the pursuit of heretics) ‘be had from thence to the place he came from, from there to remain in perpetual prison at the King’s pleasure, and to lose all his spiritual promotions and dignities for ever’.

More about Bishop Edmund Bonner and his role in the persecution of heretics under Henry VIII and Mary Tudor, as well as his own disgrace under both Edward VI and Elizabeth I, can be found in my book The Burning Time.

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