Friday, April 08, 2011

Question from SP - Deaths of elderly bishops in 1532-1536

Lipscomb writes that: from 1532-1536 there was "an extraordinary crop of deaths of distinguished elderly bishops who might have proved awkward obstacles" to reform.

She doesn't suggest that this was anything other than coincidence and old age, but has anyone else thought it murder, either at the time or now?

1 comment:

Foose said...

Warham, the last obstacle to Anne Boleyn's queenship, died in 1532 and Andrew Chibi (Henry VIII's Bishops) puts his birth date at 1450, which makes him certainly well-stricken in years by Tudor standards. I don't recall any rumor of murder, and I think his extremely advanced age and reluctance to openly defy the king might actually have encouraged Henry to simply wait it out.

The bishop of Norwich, Richard Nix, was born in 1447 and died in 1535, again very old. Chibi notes he opposed the Divorce, but was effectively cowed by a praemunire charge in 1534, so more forceful measures were not necessary.

Charles Booth, the bishop of Hereford, died in 1535 - Chibi has no birthdate for him, but notes his university education around 1484, which might put him in his 50s - younger than Nix or Warham. On the other hand, he doesn't appear to have been a Divorce or royal supremacy opponent, and hence not a candidate for removal. Edward Fox, who succeeded him, was a bright particular star of the English evangelicals, but died two years later, apparently of natural causes.

Several other bishops, much less well-known, also died in the 1530s; Thomas Skeffington, bishop of Bangor, in 1533, John Kite, bishop of Carlisle, in 1537; Richard Rawlins, bishop of St. David's, in 1536; and Henry Standish, bishop of St. Asaph's, in 1535. Chibi provides no birth dates for the first three, nor are their opinions analyzed extensively ("Rawlins, of St. David's, was a non-entity"), although he notes that Skeffington was cited for praemunire. Standish, also cited for praemunire, is a more controversial figure in that he was involved in the Richard Hunne scandal early in Henry's reign (but challenged Convocation on the king's behalf), later opposing the Divorce but accepting the supremacy before he died.

Henry VIII also benefited from resignations and deprivations in the 1530s that resulted from the Divorce controversy:

- Wolsey's decline and fall freed up several bishoprics, as the Cardinal had held multiple benefices. Stephen Gardiner was nominated to Winchester in 1531, Edward Lee to York in 1531, and Cuthbert Tunstal to Durham in 1530.

- Fisher, bishop of Rochester, was deprived before his execution in 1535. A staunch opponent of the Divorce and supremacy, Fisher was allegedly the victim of a poisoning attempt by the Boleyn party (unproven) several years earlier.

- Robert Sherborne, bishop of Chichester, was born in 1440 and resigned in 1536, having opposed the royal supremacy. If the birth date is correct, he was stupendously old from a Tudor point of view. His fate also suggests that Henry had no need to assassinate his bishops if deprivation was a viable option (Rochester, of course, would just not shut up).

- Campeggio, the Italian cardinal who came to England for the Blackfriars tribunal, was deprived of the bishopric of Salisbury in 1534 as a result.

- Geronomo de Ghinucci, another Italian who held the bishopric of Worcester, was deprived in 1533 for basically being Wolsey's unsuccessful agent in Italy.

- Catherine of Aragon's countryman, Jorge de Ateca, resigned the bishopric of Llandaff in 1537.

I haven't been able to find any modern historian citing murder in regard to the elderly bishops of the 1530s. If Henry was able to engineer the deprivation of bishops, there would be no need to resort to assassination in most cases. (Again, Fisher is an exception owing to his open championing of Catherine and the Pope.) Warham, as archbishop, might have been more difficult to deprive. (Elizabeth, later in the century, got Archbishop Grindal suspended, but not deprived.)