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John Fisher

Fisher, John (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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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