Nicholas Ridley, Bishop
of London in the reign of
King Edward VI
Mary’s first problem was getting a bench of good bishops for the Church. By the time she came to the throne, England had been in schism from Rome for almost 20 years and had been committed to Protestant doctrine and liturgy for about four years. There were very few bishops in the Church of England who had been consecrated with papal approval and all of those who had survived had been party to Henry’s renunciation of papal authority. Nevertheless, many of Henry’s bishops—both those consecrated before and those consecrated after the break with Rome were committed to Catholic doctrine and had suffered under the reforms issued by Archbishop Cranmer with the authority of King Edward VI. Mary would have to pick and choose carefully to get the bishops she could count on to restore Catholicism.
Not all the Bishops of the Church of England had gone along with Archbishop Cranmer’s reforms with the 1549 and 1552 Prayer Books. Edmund Bonner had loyally supported Henry VIII in his divorce from Katherine of Aragon and in his break with Rome and in 1539 and so was rewarded with the bishopric of London. He was consecrated in April of 1540. While he was loyal to the Crown, he was no Protestant and refused to enact the liturgical reforms Cranmer introduced in the reign of King Edward VI. He was canonically tried, removed from his see, and imprisoned for the remainder of King Edward’s reign. Mary would bring him back and rely on him as bishop of London—a difficult post as London had bought heavily into the Reformation and was the stronghold of Protestantism in the kingdom.
Stephen Gardiner was also a loyal champion of the King’s cause in the reign of Henry VIII and was reward with the bishopric of Winchester—the wealthiest of English sees—even before the break with Rome. Gardiner was less comfortable with the break than Bonner had been, but then Gardiner was an exceptionally intelligent man who probably recognized the slippery slope down which Cranmer was leading the Church—indeed in 1542 or 43 he and several others tried to bring heresy charges against Cranmer and would have succeeded had not Henry protected his Archbishop. (Cranmer was very careful not to be public about his Protestant opinions on the Eucharist and the other Sacraments during the lifetime of Henry who was theologically quite conservative. Henry also owed a great deal to Cranmer who had engineered his annulments to Katherine, Anne Boleyn, and Anne of Cleves as well as his supremacy over the Church.) Cranmer had his revenge on Gardiner when Henry died by engineering Gardiner’s absence from the Council of Regency. Henry’s had planned to put Gardiner on the Council as a brake against the Protestant party led by the Duke of Somerset under Cranmer’s tutelage but, as I said, Cranmer was able to outmaneuver the Catholic party and make sure Gardiner was not on the Council. Gardiner’s refusal to implement in the diocese of Winchester Cranmer’s liturgical reforms led to Gardiner being deprived of his see and imprisoned during the reign of King Edward. Mary would not only restore him but make him Lord Chancellor.
A third bishop who fell under a similar fate had been Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham. Tunstall too had been appointed to his see before the break with Rome. Moreover, he was one of the advocates for Queen Katherine in the annulment proceedings, though his defense of the marriage was not so strong as to annoy the king. He had some real issues of conscience regarding the break with Rome, but acceded to Henry’s demands. Upon the accession of King Edward, however, he resisted Cranmer’s reforms and was imprisoned—first in his London residence and later in the Tower of London. He too was deprived of his diocese. Mary restored him.
Nicholas Heath of Worcester was deprived of his see by Edward for refusing to accept the ordination rites contained in the Ordinal of King Edward published in 1549 along with the prayer book. His refusal to accept this rite was given as one of the reasons that Leo XIII refused to recognize the continuity of Apostolic Succession in the Church of England in the 1896 bull Apostolicae Curae. Heath was imprisoned under Edward. Mary made him Archbishop of York, the second highest prelate in the realm. He also would serve her as Lord Chancellor after the death of Gardiner.
George Day, Bishop of Chichester was likewise deprived of his see and imprisoned for refusing to acceded to the Protestantization of the Church of England under King Edward. He was restored to his see and made royal almoner by Mary. John Vesey, the Bishop of Exeter, resigned his see under Edward rather than introduce Cranmer’s reforms and was not imprisoned but given a very healthy pension which allowed him to live handsomely until the accession of Queen Mary when he was reinstalled. Richard Sampson of Lichfield initially went along with King Edward and Archbishop Cranmer, but then later recanted his rejection of papal authority he had made under King Henry. There is no record that he was deprived of his see by Edward for this turnabout, though some historians claim that he was. He died shortly after Mary came to the throne.
Robert Holgate was Archbishop of York and easily swung into the Protestant camp under Edward. Mary would deprive him of his see. Nicholas Ridley, the Bishop of Rochester, was one of the architects of the Protestantiation of the Church of England in the reign of King Edward and was moved to London when Edmund Bonner was deprived of that see. He played a crucial role in the development of the Church of England as a Protestant Church because London became the stronghold of Protestantism in a kingdom in which many people would cling to “the old religion” for decades yet to come. The merchants of London, however, were avid in their Protestant religion and much of this was due to the work of Bishop Ridley. He had a particularly unpleasant fate under Mary—he was burned at the stake—and we will deal with him in future postings.
The See of Bath and Wells had fallen empty before the accession of King Edward and was filled with a candidate with Protestant leanings, William Barlow. Likewise, Gloucester had fallen empty in 1549, before the Prayer Book was introduced, and was given to the arch-Protestant, John Hooper, who had refused consecration as a bishop until he was dispensed from having to wear vestments. Henry Holbeach of Lincoln was an ally of Cranmer in the compilation of the new liturgy. John Skypp of Hereford went along with King Edward’s Protestant policies and died during his reign. His successor, John Harley, an avid Protestant, was deprived of the see upon the accession of Queen Mary. Robert Aldrich, the Bishop of Carlisle, seems to have gone with the flow—from Catholic under Henry to Protestant under Edward and Catholic again during the reign of Queen Mary. He did not live long enough to have to jump the breach again when Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558. Bishop Thomas Goodrich of Ely also was amenable to the reforms but would swing back to the Catholic side upon the accession of queen Mary. Robert King, Bishop of Oxford and a former Cistercian monk, also rode the changing tides from Catholic to Protestant to Catholic again as did Bishop John Chambers of Peterborough. So too did John Capon, the bishop of Salisbury. All of these men, despite their Protestant stance under King Edward, retained their sees under Mary. They also, however, all had been consecrated bishops under the Catholic rites before the introduction of the Protestant Ordinal of 1549. John Bird, a former Carmelite friar, was bishop of Chester—one of King Henry’s new sees. He very easily adapted to the Protestant ways of King Edward and was deprived of his see by Mary. William Rugg of Norwich was a conservative and an enemy of Cranmer, but was eased into retirement with a pension. Henry Man, bishop of Sodor and Man, was a one-time Carthusian monk who blew where the wind favored from a Henrician Catholic to a Edwardine Protestant and Catholic again under Mary—who removed him from his see however for political reasons, not religious.
It is important to note that Mary kept many bishops who had served under her father and brother, even those who had accepted the Protestant liturgies of 1549 and 1552. She did not retain any bishops who had been consecrated according to the revised rites, but only those elevated to the episcopacy under the ancient ones. Historians who support Leo XIII’s claim that Anglican orders are invalid point to this fact claiming that even in the sixteenth century, Catholics recognized that the Edwardine ordination ritual was deficient. However, the subject is considerably more complicated. Those men who had been made bishops under the new rites were, to a man, convinced Protestants who could not be counted on to implement Mary’s policy of reconciliation with the Papacy. Did she not restore them because their episcopal ordination was invalid? Or did she not restore them because they would not go along with her policies? Or, both? It is interesting that the various clerics Mary put to death were degraded (returned to the lay state) before their executions, as that implies a recognition of the validity of their ordinations and consecrations.