will mark the four hundred and fiftieth anniversaries of a number
of martyrdoms from the reign of Queen Mary. Among the first to
be martyred that year was John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester and
Worcester, who perished on 9th February 1555. Our Chairman will
be speaking at a number of venues to mark this anniversary. For
those who may be unfamiliar with the life and circumstances of
this Reformation martyr there follows a brief account, taken in
the main from Acts and Monuments - better known as Foxe's Book
Little is known of Hooper's early life, beyond a few simple facts.
He was born in Somerset, he graduated from Oxford in 1519, and
he became, supposedly, a Cistercian at Cleeve in Somerset. Of his
conversion, Foxe writes, "...through God's secret calling
[he] was stirred with fervent desire to the love and knowledge
of the Scriptures. In the reading and searching of which, as there
was wanting in him no diligence joined with earnest prayer, so
neither did the grace of the Holy Ghost fail to satisfy his desire,
and to open to him the light of true divinity"
Exactly when this took place is not known, but he returned to
live in Oxford, and his new-found faith and desire to witness brought
him into conflict with certain Fellows and other officials at the
University. This was in the days of the Six Articles (1539), which
fundamentally reaffirmed the Catholicism of the King, and were
a useful means of testing the orthodoxy or otherwise of men and
women suspected of following Wickliffe and Luther in their heresies.
After finding shelter in the household of Sir Thomas Arundel,
during which time he was examined by Stephen Gardiner, "God's
enemy and mine", Hooper fled to the continent. He ended up
in Zurich, making the acquaintance of Heinrich Bullinger, by which
time he had married. The accession of Edward VI brought an end
to the tyranny of the Six Articles, and Hooper returned to England.
He began to preach daily in London, and Foxe says of him, "In
his doctrine he was earnest, in tongue eloquent, in the Scriptures
perfect, in pains indefatigable". After preaching before the
King he was appointed Bishop of Gloucester, and later of Worcester
also when the dioceses were made one again.
Hooper discharged his duties as a bishop in an exemplary manner.
Generous to a fault, with a heart for the poor (a number of whom
were fed daily in turns at the Bishop's palace), and taking a pastoral
interest in clergy of his diocese, he worked very hard to instruct
his charges in the biblical doctrines of the Reformation. None
of this would count in his favour when Edward died, and Mary ascended
The Bishop of Gloucester was one of the first to be summoned
to London to give account of himself, and was imprisoned in the
Fleet on lst September 1553. He would remain there until 22nd January
1555, when his trial proper commenced. In the mean time he was
expected to pay exorbitantly for his board and keep, and yet was
deprived of all the privileges for which he had paid. His conditions
were terrible, but he bore the injustice with great patience.
He had been deprived of his bishoprics in May 1554, and the trial
found him guilty of refusing to put away his wife, and of denying
the corporeal presence in the Mass. The conduct of the trial was
shameful, with the Bishops and others shouting insults at Hooper
to drown out his answers.
The trial of January 1555 took place over several days, and Hooper
was accused of many things, including denying the Pope's supremacy,
believing evil and corrupt doctrine, and insulting the Queen's
majesty. His refusal to recant led to his swift condemnation, and
he was sent to Gloucester to be burned. A rumour was put about
that he had recanted, and he managed to write to friends to deny
the rumour, knowing that weaker brethren would be led to fall away
if they thought it was true. Old friends came to try to convince
him to recant and to save his life, but none could move him.
On 9th February 1555 he was led to the stake, fastened to it,
and fire was put to the green wood. In all the fire was set three
times before it took properly; gunpowder placed among the faggots
to give him a quick death only blew the fire apart, and lengthened
his agony. But in all the time he suffered he never once was heard
to cry out anything other than "Lord Jesus, have merry upon
me", over and over again.
John Hooper was singled out as the first bishop to suffer because
he was, through Bullinger's influence, more extreme in his reformation
zeal than some of his contemporaries. He was arrested on false
charges, there being no actual law against his marriage, and he
was held only until the law for the burning of heretics could be
re-enacted, which was done in December 1554.
His martyrdom serves as an illustration of the ways in which
the enemies of truth need to twist and corrupt even the laws of
men to give them a veneer of legitimacy. The choice of Hooper as
the first bishop-martyr of the Reformation shows how seriously
Reformation doctrine is a challenge to error and superstition.
May he be remembered for what he was, a careful and conscientious
preacher of the Gospel, who loved the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity
Originally published in January
- February 2005 issue of Protestant Truth.