Foxe and Queen Mary: Stephen Gardiner: Edmund Bonner
by David Loades

Foxe and Queen Mary

John Foxe's firm commitment to the Royal Supremacy gave him a whole succession of problems, both with Mary and with her father. When Henry was abolishing the papal authority, or dissolving monasteries, or setting up the English bible, he was a Godly Prince. When he was pushing through the Act of Six Articles, and burning John Lambert or Anne Askew, he was undoubtedly Ungodly. Foxe solved this dilemma, in a way, by simply blaming his councillors. When Henry was listening to Thomas Cromwell or to Archbishop Cranmer, he was going in the right direction; when he was listening to Thomas Wriothesley, Stephen Gardiner or the Duke of Norfolk, he was heading away from the truth.

… while this [godly] council was about him, and could be heard, he did much good, so again when sinister and wicked councillors under subtle and crafty pretences had gotten ever the foot in, thrusting truth and verity out of the prince's ears, how much religion and all good things went prosperously forward before, so much on the contrary side all revolted backwards again.[1]

This, however, was ducking the issue, and Foxe knew it. Although his dramatic mood changes could be influenced, Henry was nobody's cipher. The changes of emphasis and direction which constantly affected his religious policy from 1533 onward were the result of his own inconsistencies and uncertainties. However, the Royal Supremacy was his master stroke, and whatever he thought he had been doing at first, in time he came to regard it as the Will of God.[2] This to Foxe was a process of Divine Revelation which more than compensated for his backslidings - his devotion to the mass and total rejection of Justification by Faith Alone. Although deeply flawed, therefore, Henry was a Godly Prince, who had recognised the Papacy for the Antichristian fraud that it really was, and assumed his proper authority as Head of the Church, under Christ.

However mistaken or incomplete his policies as Supreme Head had actually been, they had to be seen as divinely permitted imperfections, which in no way invalidated the authority which God had given him. At the end of his life, Henry had been heading for the promised land which he was not destined to reach; hence the story about him putting to the French ambassador a proposal to abolish the mass in favour of a communion.[3] If any further evidence for the truth of this interpretation was required, it could be found in the provisions which he had made for the minority of his son. However ambivalent he may have felt about Protestantism, he deliberately entrusted the future to men whose reforming sympathies he must have understood perfectly well.

At first, it seemed that Mary would resemble her father. Her devotion to the mass, and to traditional ceremonies, was well known and filled protestants with foreboding, but her public stand against Edward's regency governments had always been in defence of Henry's settlement.[4] Against her brother, she had argued that the Ecclesiastical Supremacy could not be fully exercised by a child. In the summer of 1553 there were those who argued that it could not be exercised at all by a woman. However, Foxe never accepted either of those views. Like Edward's council - and indeed like Mary's council at this stage - he believed that the Ecclesiastical Supremacy was inherent in the Crown, and that it did not matter whether the incumbent was adult or child, male or female. When Mary's first parliament declared that the gender of the monarch was irrelevant to the authority of the Crown, it was making the same point in a broader way.[5] To Foxe, and to the majority of orthodox protestants, Mary was not only the lawful queen, she was also the lawful Head of the Church of England. With a painful shock they came to realise that God does not bargain with his people, faithful or otherwise. If (as they firmly believed) He had decreed that the monarch of England for the time being was Head of His Church in England, then there could be no human conditions imposed upon that situation. If it did not matter whether the monarch was male or female, then equally it did not matter whether he/she was Godly or Ungodly. Henry, with a certain amount of selective amnesia, could be represented as Godly. Edward had been Godly by any protestant standard. But Mary, it soon transpired, was Ungodly - and far more Ungodly than had at first been expected.

Foxe was acutely aware of the implications of this, and we do not know what he actually thought about it between 1555 and 1558 when the problems were at their worst. By the time that he was writing and compiling the Actes and Monuments, of course the situation had changed again, and he had the very best of reasons for neither challenging female rule nor seeking to impose confessional conditions. Had he chosen to impugn the legitimacy of Mary's rule, he would have been seen as making Elizabeth's own position dependent, not upon the hereditary right which she claimed, but upon the willingness of the Godly to accept her.[6] Foxe lectured his Queen, particularly in and after 1570, on her responsibilities to the church, and upon how she owed her position to God alone, but he never implied that the failure of the thoroughgoing reform which he so much desired would in any way diminish her authority. As Thomas Cranmer had said after similar admonitions at Edward VI's coronation

Being bound by my function to lay these things before your royal highness, the one as a reward if you fulfil, the other as a judgement from God if you neglect them; yet I openly declare before the living God, and before the nobles of this land, that I have no commission to denounce your majesty deprived, if your highness miss in part, or in whole, of these performances, much less to draw up indentures between God and your majesty, or to say that you forfeit your crown with a clause …[7]

By the same token, it could be no part of Foxe's mission to declare that Mary's evil ways had in any sense freed her subjects from their obligation to obey her.

This non-resistance theory was not only consistently maintained in the commentary, but also infused many of the stories. When Thomas Cranmer was finally put on trial in September 1555, it was pointed out to him that the laws of England, which he was claiming to obey, now offered no support to his position.

… the same laws, being put away by a parliament, are now received again by a parliament, and have as full authority now as they had then: and they will now that ye answer to the Pope's holiness; therefore by the laws of this realm ye are bound to answer him … [8]

This forced the Archbishop into the position of admitting that parliament was neither here nor there. Papal claims were contrary to the Law of God, and if Mary persisted in her demands, then he would have no option but to disobey her. That did not mean that her authority was unlawful, but rather that he and his colleagues must accept the punishments which were decreed for their disobedience. Martyrs could be made lawfully as well as unlawfully - but that did not make them any less martyrs. Cranmer's insistence that he continued to regard Mary as the Supreme Head of the Church did not offer him any escape at all, but it was a helpful stance to be able to take in 1563.

The trial of John Rogers offered similar didactic opportunities, this time on the distinction between the potestas jurisdictionis and the potestas ordinis. Who, Rogers was asked, is the Supreme Head of the Church? Christ, he replied. Why didst thou then, his interrogator continued, acknowledge K. Henry the 8 to be supreme head of the church, if Christ be the onely head?

Rogers: I never graunted him to have any supremacie in spirituall thynges, as are the forgeveness of sinnes, giving of the holy Ghost, authoritie to be a judge above the word of God.

L. Chaun. Yea, said he, and Tonstall B. of Duresme, and N[icholas] B. of Worcester, if thou had said so in his dayes (and they nodded the head at me with a laughter) thou hadst not ben alive now.[9]

The joke was misplaced, because not even Henry had ever claimed the power of the order, but the point had a wider importance. Henry had not claimed supremacy over the Law of God, and therefore the distinction remained legitimate. No one could be bound in conscience to obey Mary when her commands contradicted or transgressed the Law of God. Her lawful authority stopped short at temporal punishment.[10]

These careful reservations and distinctions did not mean that Foxe had any sympathy with what Mary was endeavouring to do. He did not coin, or use, the term Bloody Mary, but it was a fair reflection of his view of his erstwhile sovereign. However, that did not necessarily make her an incarnation of evil. She was a Divinely imposed affliction, like all bad rulers, and her defects of character were God's way of punishing an ungrateful and delinquent nation. England had been insufficiently appreciative of the virtues of Edward VI, so he was taken away and this incubus was put in his place - by due process of law, of course. This view was common ground to all the reformers of the first generation, and not in any way peculiar to Foxe. It had the merit of appearing straightforward, but in fact raised a serious moral dilemma. Mary, like Judas Iscariot, was doing the will of God in the sense of performing acts which were foreordained for her. Was she therefore culpable? The devil, it was believed, had entered into Judas and caused him to act as he did, but that did not protect him from eternal punishment. Foxe appears to have been divided in his own mind. When he was addressing his abortive letter to the House of Lords in 1554, he had written

You have a queen who, as she is most noble, is a princess ready to hearken to all sober and wholesome counsels … but in our state, as in all states, there are pests who rejoice in confusion, who pervert the minds of princes, and encourage cruelty for their own purposes … [11]

On the other hand, when describing the fate of Thomas Cranmer, he made it perfectly clear that Mary harboured an ancient grudge against him, and had no intention of sparing his life, however abject his submission, and irrespective of the rules of canon law. In spite of this, it must be concluded that Foxe did not wish to blame - or perhaps to be seen to blame - the persecution primarily upon the queen.

There were two reasons for this. In the first place he was very close to such establishment figures as Cecil and Grindal, and knew something of Elizabeth's mind. She never permitted any word of public criticism to assail Mary, lest it should reflect upon her own position, but behind the scenes she encouraged the sabotaging of her predecessor's reputation in every way possible. This can be seen, not only in her coronation pageantry, but also in some of the confidential memoranda which William Cecil drew up in the first few weeks of the reign.[12] Secondly, the main purpose of his whole project was to destroy the credibility of the catholic church. This would not have been achieved by describing the real situation, which was that Mary and the more zealous lay members of her council were goading the bishops into carrying out a persecution to which most of them were instinctively averse. The clergy, and particularly the bishops, had to be the main villains. This led to the demonising of Stephen Gardiner, the Lord Chancellor, of Edmund Bonner, the bishop of London, and of such lesser figures as Richard Thorden (Suffragan bishop of Dover), Nicholas Harpesfield (Archdeacon of Canterbury) and Michael Dunning (Chancellor of Norwich). A catholic priest was by definition a juggler and a fraud because he claimed to base his authority upon the bogus miracle of the mass. In principle there could be no integrity in such a man; and the more senior he was the more he was exploiting a credulous people. Foxe was honest enough to realise that he was to some extent striking a pose over the priesthood. Not all priests, and indeed not all bishops, were creatures of evil. Even such important and conservative figures as Reginald Pole and Cuthbert Tunstall largely escape the pillory; but the inexorable thrust of the whole argument was that the Queen (and even the King) were princes of potential virtue, wickedly and deliberately led astray by clerical conspirators for their own nefarious purposes.

So at the end of the day, Foxe's Mary was almost as much a victim as the martyrs themselves. There had never been for the proportion of the time so unfortunate a reign. Everything to which the Queen turned her hand, both in public and in private, turned out unfortunately. She was childless, and her husband had ceased to love her. Her country was devasated by harvest failure and sickness. She had lost Calais in pursuing her husband's priorities, and she had died untimely.[13] It is a verdict with which it is very hard to argue, but the tragedy is that it could all have been so different. The Mary of the Acts and Monuments is a woman of courage and determination, as is testified by her appearance at the guildhall in London at the height of the Wyatt rebellion. She had been welcomed to the throne, even by those who suspected her religious principles, and she was capable of mercy and generosity. However, she had started to go wrong almost from the first. Having promised to respect the religion of the Suffolk commons who turned out in her support in July 1553, she then immediately dishonoured her pledge and began to persecute those who reminded her of it. Her fatal flaw, and the weakness from which her whole tragedy stemmed, was her credulity over transubstantiation.[14] Not only was this idolatry, it also left her at the mercy of a scheming priesthood, who saw in it the opportunity to regain the power and prestige of which Henry VIII and Edward VI had deprived them. Above all, it persuaded her to return the country to the papal obedience - submitting a free people to the tyranny of a superstitious foreigner. At every stage she had deliberately rejected the truth, and consequently like Jezebel or Athalia she had been smitten by the hand of God. To Christopher Goodman, or John Knox, or even John Ponet, this state of affairs had demanded action, either from the Lords of England or from the English people at large, to rise up and remove her as a tyrant.[15] However, John Foxe never drew that conclusion. It was not the business of the Godly to settle the affairs of this world, or to challenge the judgement of God. God had given England King Edward VI as a test of its worthiness, and found it wanting. Mary was a different kind of test, but equally the agent of God's purpose, and this time the English were not found wanting. By 1558 they had witnessed the lethal consequences of submitting to foreign government, both secular and ecclesiastical. They had suffered in the field and in the market place as well as upon the battlefield. Above all they had witnessed a massacre of the saints which touched every level of society, and God had used a noblewoman of great potential as an agent of terror and warning. In his mercy he had cut her off in her prime, and left her childless; could there be a clearer message of what was expected in England?

Foxe and Stephen Gardiner

Whether John Foxe really believed that the Bishop of Winchester was an evil hypocrite may be doubted. He was rather an obvious and convenient scapegoat. Stephen Gardiner had been demonised by protestant polemicists almost from the moment of his appointment, and was generally blamed for the death of John Lambert in 1538.[16] He had never made any secret of his opposition to the evangelical policies promoted by Cranmer and Cromwell, and had been treading a delicate line with the king when he had redeemed himself with De Vera Obedientia Oratio. Thereafter his influence had fluctuated, but during the 1540s his evangelical opponents had built up a plausible caricature of a man who was the sinister eminence grise behind every conservative plot and manoeuvre His latest biographer has argued that there is very little evidence for his involvement in the Prebendaries Plot against Cranmer, and none at all for any conspiracy against Queen Catherine Parr.[17] However he was too clever for his own good, because he certainly used his considerable talents as a lawyer and diplomat to influence the king in a conservative direction whenever he got the chance. For this reason he was in and out of favour as Henry's mood fluctuated, being eventually excluded from the council on the apparently trivial grounds of a dispute with the king over an exchange of lands. It is only too likely that the king omitted him from the number of his executors on the grounds that he was too strong and wayward for anyone but Henry himself to manage. Whether that was true or not, it was an impression which left him in limbo when the king died in 1547.[18]

By then the evangelicals had become accustomed to blaming Gardiner for every manifestation of Henry's conservatism. Foxe was following an established tradition when he introduced him in connection with the story of John Lambert (a matter in which he was not in fact involved);

There was at that tyme in authoritye amongst the kinges counsellors one Steven Gardener, Byshop of Winchester, who as he was in those daies most cruell, so was he also of a mooste subtile and craftye witte … gropynge rounde aboute to get occasion to let and hinder the Gospell … [19]

His reason for representing Gardiner in this way is clear enough. Henry had to be absolved from what Foxe considered to be Ungodly acts, and an evil councillor such as the Bishop of Winchester was an obvious person to blame. Nor did his sinister practices stop at hindering the gospel. He was a covert traitor, secretly adhering to the pope and trying by all the means in his power to persuade Henry to heal the schism. For that reason he had secretly negotiated with the papal envoy at Regensburg in 1541. This was pure fiction. Conservative as he undoubtedly was, Gardiner was fiercely loyal to Henry, and had good reason to feel aggrieved at the way he was treated at the end of the reign. In view of his career under Mary, it was plausible enough to represent him as a dissembler who had retained a secret allegiance to Rome, but it was not true. Gardiner came back to Rome when he found the Royal Supremacy, which he had regarded as a pillar of catholic orthodoxy, being used to implement the establishment of heresy.[20]

Before 1547 Gardiner had conformed, not only willingly, but enthusiastically. The dissolution of the monasteries and chantries caused him no qualms, and he did not mind Cranmer’s experiments with vernacular liturgy. The English bible he did not much like, but it was not an issue of principle to him However, when Protector Somerset began to promote justification by faith alone, and to move against the mass and the use of images, his conscience was touched. After a stubborn rearguard action, he was deprived of his see in February 1551,[21] Foxe's account of which was the pretext for a torrent of abuse;

… thou maiest easily perceive and understand the proud and glorious spirit of that man, his stubborn contumacie against the kinge, and malicious rebellion against god and true religion … [22]

In fact the Bishop went as far as he possibly could to accommodate the changes, even agreeing to use the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, but explicit protestant doctrine he could not stomach. Foxe even acknowledged this flexibility, but put the worst possible construction upon it, claiming that Gardiner was

… neither a true protestant nor a right Papiste; neither firme in his error, nor yet steadfast in the truthe … false in Kinge Henries tyme, obstinate in King Edwardes tyme, perjured and a murderer in Queene Maryes tyme; but unstable and inconstant at all tymes … [23]

When Mary's accession rescued him from the Tower, Gardiner was advancing in years, but neither his faculties nor his appetite for power had been impaired. He was, however, skating on thin ice with the new Queen. Because he was a fellow objector to the Edwardian changes, and had suffered for it, Mary was at first inclined to regard him with favour, and appointed him to high office. It was not long, however, before his low-key opposition to her marriage plans reminded her that he had been one of the main promoters of her mother's divorce. Gardiner redeemed himself by his zeal for the Old Faith, and because his main rival for favour, William, Lord Paget, made a series of disastrous miscalculations, but Mary never fully trusted him, and his relations with Philip, although correct, were never cordial.[24] Gardiner's attitude towards the protestants was one of ill-concealed contempt, and he started his campaign against them by believing that a few fierce poses and well directed threats would either frighten them into submission, or out of the country. When this failed, he became perforce a persecutor, but never an enthusiastic one. His frightfulness was largely a pose, but because people like John Rogers and John Hooper refused to be intimidated, his bluff was called and he was forced to burn them. As Lord Chancellor he had to issue the writs for this process, and was therefore legally responsible for their deaths. As Bishop of Winchester Gardiner handled very few heresy trials, and his famous confrontation with James Hales, the cruelty of which Foxe so emphasised, was actually a fairly cynical attempt at manipulation. It went wrong, and Hales went off and drowned himself, but that was less the result of Gardiner's malice than of his inability to appreciate the fact that his opponents had a religious commitment which as deep and passionate as his own - if not more so.

All of this can be read between the lines of the Actes and Monuments. Foxe even acknowledged that the Lord Chancellor's brutality was a calculated policy rather natural sadism, and that eventually, seeing that it was not serving its purpose, he gave it over as utterly discouraged some six months before his death. However, Gardiner was far too useful a demon to be redeemed, and when he arrived in the course of his narrative at the Bishop's death in November 1555, he unleashed the full fury of his invective. … a man hated of God and al good men, ended his wretched life … He had been

In stomacke high minded, in his own opinion and conceite flatteryng hymselfe to muche. In wyt craftye and subtile, towards his superiours politicke and pleasing, to his inferiours fierce, against his equals stoute and envious … [25]

To conform to Foxe's model of a devilish persecutor, he should have died horribly, as a testimony to the just wrath of an offended God, but in fact Gardiner appears to have died quietly in his bed after an illness of several weeks. The martyologist was therefore forced to steer a delicate course between his polemical purpose and his professional conscience. Having repeated several circumstantial details, of how the Lord Chancellor died in despair of his sins (always a sign of unregeneracy), of how his tongue had swollen up, like that of Archbishop Arundel, and of how his body had decayed and stonke before his death, so that no one could come near him, he then concluded cautiously

… whether he died in despair etc, al this I refer either to their reportes of whom I had it, or leave it to the knowledge of them that knowe it better. [26]

Which suggests that Foxe knew perfectly well that he was retailing an unsubstantiated legend.

He was on much safer ground with a sustained attack upon Gardiner's scholarly reputation. Some four pages in the 1563 edition are taken up with Certayne matters wherein Steven Gardiner, Bishop of Wynchester, varyeth from other Papists as touching the sacrament of the Lordes Supper … and Matters wherein the Byshop of Winchester varyeth from hymselfe … [27] Gardiner had had a long innings, and at different stages had compromised to salvage or promote his career. Also, for a lot of that time it had not been entirely clear where the boundaries of orthodoxy lay in a complex issue like sacramental doctrine. In spite of his intellectual ability, he had been trained as a canon lawyer, not as a theologian and his knowledge of scripture was certainly less perfect than that of Rowland Taylor - or Thomas Watson. In other words he was vulnerable to this kind of attack, but probably no more so than Thomas Cranmer, who had (as he freely admitted) changed his mind on some issues with the passing of the years. At his trial, Cranmer's judges had not scrupled to press him on these changes, claiming that he was fickle and inconstant and consequently that his vision of the truth was flawed and valueless.[28] Foxe used the same tactic on Gardiner. His victims constantly threw De Vera Obedientia in his face, and it was reprinted with a protestant preface in the opening months of the reign. He was not the only persecutor to be so handled. Where learned you this doctrine Lord Rich enquired of one of his victims. Why of you, sir the humble respondent is alleged to have replied, with considerable accuracy.

These attacks were undoubtedly effective. Lord Rich remained in uncomfortable retirement after Elizabeth's accession. Better a poor man at ease than Lord Rich of Leighs was an Essex saying which lasted into the twentieth century.[29] Stephen Gardiner retained his horns in protestant historiography at least until the days of Maitland and Gasquet. Even catholic controversialists made little attempt to redeem him; they clearly regarded him as something of a liability. This was not because he persecuted heretics, which most of them would have regarded as a virtue, but because he had equivocated in defence of the faith, and because he had written De Vera Obedientia. John Foxe appears to have coined the epithet Wily Winchester, but he did not initiate the attacks upon Stephen Gardiner. These went back at least to William Turner's Huntyng and Fyndyng out of the Romishe Fox (1543), and were commonplace by the time that the Actes and Monuments appeared. In the twentieth century two scholarly studies, by J. A. Muller and Glyn Redworth have restored the Bishop of Winchester to his rightful place in the history of Tudor politics, but Foxe's calculated libel held the field for a long time.[30].

Foxe and Edmund Bonner

Bonner was in every sense a soft target. He had started his career as a diplomat, and as long as Thomas Cromwell was in power had appeared to favour his policies, particularly in the promotion of the English bible. However, during the 1540s his alignment had become increasingly conservative, and he was quicker and more unequivocal than Gardiner in his resistance to the Edwardian changes. At the same time he was never a member of the Privy Council, and was an altogether less substantial figure, both intellectually and politically, than the Bishop of Winchester. His recalcitrance resulted in deprivation of his see of London as early as October 1549, and a lengthy period of imprisonment thereafter.[31] He was not quite as quickly restored as Gardiner in 1553, but it was blandly assumed that his deprivation had been unlawful, and the steps which he immediately took to annul the provisions made by his intruded predecessor Nicholas Ridley earned him a reputation for both greed and ingratitude.[32] In spite of Henry Machyn's description of the welcome which he received on his release from prison, Bonner had never been particularly popular as a diocesan, and there is not much sign that that changed after his restoration.[33] Objectively, he was a conscientious and diligent bishop, and his Profitable and necessarye doctrine, and Certaine Homelyes (both 1555) were the most useful and effective pastoral aids issued under Mary's government.[34]

However, both circumstances and his own personality made him exceptionally vulnerable. He was in a very exposed position. Not only were there more protestants in London and Essex than anywhere else in the country, he was also right under the nose of the Privy Council. Altogether 113 men and women were burned within his jurisdiction - almost a third of the overall total - and of those more than 40 had been sent to him by the zealous justices of Essex.[35] So it is not surprising that he was blamed as the arch persecutor. Unlike Gardiner, he had no hand in initiating the policy, but he was the chief executant. It was easy to represent him as bloodthirsty and sadistic, pursuing the innocent to destruction with unflagging enthusiasm. However, there is good evidence to suppose that Bonner was far from being the zealot whom Foxe portrayed. He took endless pains to secure recantations, even from the relatively humble, and succeeded far more often than Foxe found it expedient to admit. He resorted to bluster, and to hair raising threats, and when these failed not infrequently lost his temper. None of this would have happened if he had really been yearning to despatch his victims to the fire. It was precisely because he did not want to inflict the extreme penalty that he resorted to such expedients. His protracted dealings with the tenacious Ralph Allerton provide a good example of his style.[36] He even claimed that one victim who had been flogged into submission should be grateful to him, because it was a good commutation of penance to be beaten rather than burned. On more than one occasion the Privy Council rebuked him for these delays. In November 1556 a sharp letter enquired why speedy execution had not been wrought upon a group of offenders recently referred to him, and an earlier directive from the King and Queen in 1555 makes it perfectly clear that the Bishop of London was no more than the servant of a policy which was being made elsewhere.[37]

Foxe may not have understood this, but even if he did the opportunity was too good to miss. Bonner was still alive in 1563, but he was in prison and nobody was going to rush to his defence. He had by his own confession an ungovernable temper, which John Feckenham was charitable enough to attribute to the years which he had spent in prison, when in the course of one visitation he had punched the vicar of Hadham for being (as he thought) insufficiently deferential. [38] He was fat, which was an invitation to abuse when the principle charge was one of bloodthirstyness.

Muse not so much that natures worke
is thus deformed now.
With belly blowen and heade so swolne
For I shall tel, you how:
This cannibal in three yeares space
Three hundred Marters slew:
They were his food, he loved so blood
He spared none he knew.

Moreover, he does seem to have enjoyed floggings. The famous woodcut of him inflicting such a beating in his orchard at Fulham conveys an impression of a perverted relish which it is perhaps easier to name now than it was at the time. It is hard to think of any other reason why he should have set his servants to pursue and beat a bunch of young boys for no worse an offence than swimming in the river as he was passing by. He seems to have been hasty and violent by nature, but without malice; … mine anger is soon past he admitted apologetically. It seems that he was already known as Bloody Bonner in some quarters before Foxe wrote, and he is alleged to have been told as much to his face. They report me to seek blood, and call me 'Bloody Bonner' he complained, whereas God knows I never sought any man's blood in my life.[40] He blamed his ill repute inevitably upon the misrepresentations of the heretics, but also more interestingly upon Queen Mary's Council which had so frequently harassed him into doing his unsavoury duty.

Foxe's Bonner is a straightforward thug, with none of the subtle complexities of Wily Winchester. He enjoys killing and the infliction of pain, and the enforcement of religious orthodoxy is just a pretext for the release of these base instincts. There is no subtlety in the portrait, as there is in that of Gardiner. In confrontation with his victims, Bonner uses the most obvious of arguments, endlessly repeating hoc est corpus meum in arguments over the eucharist. Foxe never comments upon the duration of these arguments, being much more interested in his use of the stocks or unsavoury dungeons as instruments of intimidation. That the bishop became heartily weary of these endless and fruitless confrontations can occasionally be read between the lines, but Foxe takes everything in the worst sense. If Bonner becomes exasperated, it is not with the wooden obstinacy of repeated scriptural texts, but because he is anxious to hasten to his dinner or to the next piece of business. When he reads a sentence of condemnation, it is not because his victim had given him no option, but because he is thirsting for blood. Of all the martyrologist's villains (and there are many), Bonner is the most thumping wicked, and also the most misrepresented. In truth he was a mere official, discharging a duty which he had no means of avoiding.[41] He did not object to burning heretics, but was always aware of the personality of the offender as well as the nature of the offence. Left to his own devices as an Ordinary he might well have executed a few heretics, and would no doubt have brow beaten and hectored many more. But it also seems clear that he would have released others on easy terms. However, he was caught between a zealous council and some of his own officers who were far keener on their task than he was. In this situation, and bearing in mind that he had a genuine desire to enforce catholic orthodoxy, he did the easiest thing and enforced the rigours of the law. That does not absolve him from responsibility, but it does mean that he picked up more than his fair share of the opprobrium.


Each of these three portraits owes more to Foxe's agenda than it does to strict historical fact. Setting aside the rhetoric of abuse, that of Gardiner is probably the most accurate. He had turned his coat, and he was in a position to influence policy. The strategy of intimidation was his, and when his bluff was called, he had no option but to be ruthless. He also perceived the futility of this before he died. Bonner was just a convenient object of vilification. If Foxe's intention was to represent the prelates of the catholic Church as obsessive sadists, then Bonner with his bloated body, filthy temper and dubious tastes, was a sitting target. Mary, however, is more significant that either. She was the real driving force behind the persecution, not out of cruelty, but because of an overwhelming sense of duty. Yet Foxe, for all his hatred of what she did - and what she stood for - virtually absolves her. This was partly because he claimed that she was misled by wicked priests, but more importantly because she was an agent of God's purpose. God cannot be directly responsible for evil, but he can give the devil a free hand with his servants. Mary, more than either Gardiner or Bonner, was an agent of forces over which she had no control. And it was precisely because she was the lawful queen that she was able to act as she did. The hearts of princes are in the hands of God. Mary had been an awful warning, not only to her people but also to her successor. Mary had been affliction - but Elizabeth was redemption, and she had better not forget it!


Actes and Monuments, (1583), p. 1135.


J. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (London, 1968), p. 296.


J. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (London, 1968), pp. 474-75.


D. Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life (Oxford, 1989), pp. 157-70.


1 Mary s.3, c.1.

J. Loach, Parliament and the Crown in the Reign of Mary Tudor (Oxford, 1986), pp. 96-97.


The argument had already been made by Christopher Goodman, that it must be up to the Godly to decide who would rule over them. The Word giveth us these notes to know whether he be of God or not whom we would choose for our King. Such views were anathema to Elizabeth, and never embraced by Foxe.

Christopher Goodman, How Superior Powers Oght to be Obeyed. Facsimile Text Society, ser. 2. vol. 1. (New York, 1931), p. 50.


The Works of Thomas Cranmer, ed. J. E. Cox, (Parker Society, 1846), II, p. 146.


Actes and Monuments, (1583), p. 1880.


Actes and Monuments, (1583), p. 1485.


Hence the constant emphasis among the protestants upon Matthew 10.28. Do not fear him that can kill the body, but fear him that can kill both body and soul.


John Strype, Memorials of … Thomas Cranmer [London, 1694](Oxford, 1840), II, p. 937.


P.R.O. SP12/1 no. 2, and others, particularly in respect of damage wrought to the realm by the returning of ecclesiastical revenues.


Actes and Monuments, (1583), pp. 2098-99


On the importance of the mass to Mary, see

D. Loades, 'Queen Mary's personal religion', in The Church of Mary Tudor, eds. E. Duffy and D. Loades (forthcoming).


Though it appear at the first sight a great disorder that the people should take unto them the punishment of transgression, yet when the magistrates and other officers cease to do their duty, they are, as it were, without officers, yea worse than if they had none at all, and then God giveth the sword into the peoples hand …

Christopher Goodman, How Superior Powers Oght to be Obeyed. Facsimile Text Society, ser. 2. vol. 1. (New York, 1931), p. 185.


Michael Riordan and Alec Ryrie, 'Stephen Gardiner and the making of a protestant villain', Sixteenth Century Journal 34/4, 2003, pp. 1039-65.


Glyn Redworth, In Defence of the Church Catholic: the life of Stephen Gardiner (Oxford, 1990), p. 234.


J. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (London, 1968), pp. 490-91.


Actes and Monuments, (1563), p. 529.


Glyn Redworth, In Defence of the Church Catholic: the life of Stephen Gardiner (Oxford, 1990), p. 321 and n.


Glyn Redworth, In Defence of the Church Catholic: the life of Stephen Gardiner (Oxford, 1990), p. 287.


Actes and Monuments, (1563), p. 728.


Actes and Monuments, (1563), p. 863.


D. Loades, 'Philip II and the Government of England', Law and Government under the Tudors, eds. C. Cross, D. Loades and J. Scarisbrick (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 177-94.


Actes and Monuments, (1563), p. 1382.


Actes and Monuments, (1563), p. 1383


Actes and Monuments, (1563), pp. 1385-87.


D. Loades, The Oxford Martyrs (London, 1970), pp. 192-204.


Brett Usher, 'Essex Evangelicals under Edward VI: Richard, Lord Rich, Richard Alvey and their Circle', John Foxe: At Home and Abroad, ed. D. Loades (forthcoming 2004), pp. 51-62.


J. A. Muller, The Letters of Stephen Gardiner (Cambridge, 1933)

J. A. Muller, Stephen Gardiner and the Tudor Reaction (London, 1926)


Diarmaid MacCulloch, Tudor Church Militant: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation (London, 1999), p. 97


Gina Alexander, 'Bishop Bonner and the Parliament of 1559', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 56, 1983, pp. 164-79.


Gina Alexander, 'Bishop Bonner and the Marian Persecution', History 60, 1975, pp. 374-91.

The Diary of Henry Machyn ed. J. G. Nichols (Camden Society, 1848), p. 39.


RSTC 3281.5 and 3285.1.


Gina Alexander, 'Bishop Bonner and the Marian Persecution', History 60, 1975.


Actes and Monuments, (1583) pp. 2013-18.


Actes and Monuments, (1583) p. 1582.

A number of other letters, from both Mary and Gardiner convey the same message.

Acts of the Privy Council, VI, 18, 19.


Gina Alexander, 'Bishop Bonner and the Marian Persecution', History 60, 1975.


Actes and Monuments, (1563) p. 1689.


J.E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her Parliaments (London, 1955), I, p. 180.


Gina Alexander, 'Bishop Bonner and the Marian Persecution', History 60, 1975.

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