John Fisher

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John Fisher (Saint John Fisher), c.1469–1535, English prelate, cardinal, bishop of Rochester (1504–34). Known for his scholarship at Cambridge, he was chosen confessor to Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. As vice chancellor of the university (1501–4) and chancellor thereafter, he helped carry out her plans for establishing St. John's College and Christ's College. As bishop he was firm in his denunciation of abuses by the clergy; however, he resisted reforms, like those of Martin Luther, that affected doctrines of the church. Giving his support to the new learning, he brought Erasmus to lecture at the university. Fisher, who was confessor to Katharine of Aragón, was the only English bishop to oppose the invalidation of the marriage of Henry VIII and Katharine. He refused to acknowledge the king as supreme head of the church and to accede to the Act of Succession, which declared Katharine's child (Mary I) illegitimate. In 1534 he was imprisoned in the Tower and deprived of his bishopric. Pope Paul III, to show his support, created Fisher a cardinal in May, 1535. Henry, infuriated, pushed the trial forward. A fortnight before Sir Thomas More was executed, Fisher was beheaded on Tower Hill. He was canonized as a martyr in 1935. Most of the Latin writings that he left were published in 1597. Some of his English works still remain in manuscript. Feast: July 9.

See T. Bayly, The Life and Death of That Renowned John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (1635, new ed. 1893); B. Bradshaw and D. Eamon, ed., Humanism, Reform and the Reformation: The Career of Bishop John Fisher (1989); biography by E. E. Reynolds (1955); study by E. L. Surtz (1967).

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Fisher, John (1469–1535). Bishop. Fisher was educated at Cambridge, became fellow of Michaelhouse, and took priestly orders in 1491. Through the patronage of Lady Margaret Beaufort, whom he served as confessor, he was made reader in divinity in 1502, and two years later bishop of Rochester. At Cambridge he promoted Renaissance humanist studies, especially at Christ's and St John's Colleges; he recruited teachers of Greek (including Erasmus between 1510 and 1514) and Hebrew. His Renaissance outlook was combined with a profound respect for the church's traditions. He wrote copiously against Martin Luther, his works including the Assertionis Lutheranae confutatio (1522/3), the Defensio regiae assertionis (1523), and the Sacri sacerdotii defensio (1525). When Henry VIII sought to repudiate his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Fisher was one of the king's most public and prolific opponents. He led resistance to the attacks on the status of the clergy in the Reformation Parliament and in convocation, and was imprisoned in 1533. In 1534 he refused the oath of supremacy. In 1535, just after his elevation to the cardinalate by Paul III, he was put on trial for treasonably denying the king's supremacy over the church, and was executed on 22 June 1535. He was canonized in 1935.

Euan Cameron