Last Catholic archbishop of York; b. London, 1501?; d. Tower of London, December 1578. He was the son of Agnes and William Heath, a "citizen and cutler of London" in comfortable circumstances. Nicholas's family was related to the Heaths of Twickenham in Middlesex and of Apsley, Tamworth. Nicholas was educated at St. Anthony's, London (where Thomas more was also a student), Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and Christ's College, Cambridge, where he was elected fellow in 1521. After ordination he was appointed vicar of Hever, Surrey (1531–32), and in 1534 archdeacon of Stafford. The following year he took the degree of D.D. at Cambridge. His witty exposure of the supposed revelations of Elizabeth barton, holy maid of Kent, brought him court notice. In December 1535 he was sent on embassy by Henry VIII to the German princes assembled at Schmalkald, where Philipp Melanchthon is said to have admired his learning. Through the patronage of Archbishop cranmer, he was appointed king's almoner and in 1539 was schismatically elected bishop of Rochester. He was later transferred to the See of Worcester (1543).
Heath's real views on the religious issue became clear in his opposition to the extreme reforms under Edward VI. In 1550 he refused to subscribe to Cranmer's new form of ordination, or to obey the order to take down altars and set up tables in the churches. He was committed to Fleet Prison, March 4, 1550, and shortly afterward was deprived of his see. This was restored to him upon the accession of mary tudor as queen. As he had been appointed bishop during the schism, this restoration was not confirmed by the pope, through Cardinal Pole, until 1555, at which time the queen immediately appointed him archbishop of York. He received the pallium Oct. 3,1555. Heath procured the restitution of many properties belonging to the see that had been alienated by his reforming predecessor, Robert Holgate. This return of properties was facilitated by Heath's appointment in 1556 as lord chancellor of England. In suppressing heresy under Mary he acted with prudence and advocated moderation, but as lord chancellor he was obliged to issue the writ for execution of his former patron, Archbishop Cranmer. As papal legate, Heath consecrated Cardinal Pole as archbishop of Canterbury, while as chancellor of England he proclaimed elizabeth i as queen at the death of Mary in 1558.
Immediately upon Elizabeth's accession, he surrendered the Great Seal, but remained in the Privy Council. Heath's speech in the first Parliament under Elizabeth dissenting from the Bills for Supremacy and changes in religion, still extant, is courageous and clear in principles. On July 5, 1559, having refused the oath of supremacy, he was deprived of his see, and committed to the Tower where he remained until 1571. He was allowed to reside at his own estate at Chobham Park, Surrey. Heath seems to have been recommitted to the Tower shortly before his death. He was buried in Chobham Church, next to his brother William, under a plain marble stone.
Bibliography: l. b. smith, Tudor Prelates and Politics (Princeton 1953). p. hughes, The Reformation in England, 3 v. in 1 (5th, rev. ed. New York 1963). g. e. phillips, The Extinction of the Ancient Hierarchy (St. Louis 1905). h. n. birt, The Elizabethan Religious Settlement (London 1907). t. e. bridgett and t. f. knox, The True Story of the Catholic Hierarchy (London 1889). n. sanders, "Report to Cardinal Moroni," ed. j. h. pollen in Catholic Record Society Miscellanea 1 (1905) 1–56. w. r. trimble, The Catholic Laity in Elizabethan England 1558–1603 (Cambridge, Mass. 1964). j. gillow, A Literary and Biographical History or Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics from 1534 to the Present time, 5 v. (London-New York 1885–1902; repr. New York 1961) 3:242–251.
[j. d. hanlon]