The People of Reformation St Paul's
The Reformation was a turbulent time for the Deans and Bishops at St Paul's, who found themselves at the very centre of the religious politics of the time.
Richard Pace (Dean: 1519-36)
Richard Pace was a gifted lawyer and scholar, born in Winchester around 1483 and educated in Italy. He was a great friend of the humanist scholar Erasmus, and was a regular correspondent with him. He worked primarily as an ambassador, including to the imperial and papal courts, where he attempted to get Cardinal Wolsey elected Pope. He was also a secretary to both Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII, in which capacity he was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. He became Dean of St Paul’s in 1519, although he frequently spent time away from his post, both abroad and at court, and held the Deaneries of Exeter and Salisbury Cathedrals at the same time. He was also prone to bouts of poor mental health, which had lead to his recall from Italy in 1525, and eventually led to his retirement. Furthermore, he was plotted against by factions at court, probably either Cardinal Wolsey or Bishop Gardiner, which led to his brief imprisonment in the Tower around 1527. He seems to have retired around 1529, when Richard Sampson was appointed to oversee the Deanery of St Paul’s, and he spent the rest of his life in virtual confinement. After a false rumour of his death in 1532 he died in 1536 and was buried at St Dunstan’s, Stepney.
Richard Sampson (Dean: 1536-1540)
Richard Sampson was born in Berkshire and educated as a lawyer first at Cambridge followed by spells in Paris and Italy. He was chaplain to Cardinal Wolsey, followed by a spell as ambassador, first at Tournai and then around Europe. He served in various deaneries including at Chapel Royal and St Stephen’s Westminster, and appears to have been de facto Dean of St Paul’s from around 1529. He was appointed Bishop of Chichester in 1536, although he appears to have spent little time in his diocese, and the same year he became Dean of St Paul’s in his own right. He was a keen supporter of the King’s divorce and in 1533 he delivered a famous speech in which he defended the idea of the Supreme Headship. He later served as a key legal advisor to the King in his divorce from Anne Boleyn in 1536. In terms of his attitude to religious reform, he was rather opaque, being a friend of Cromwell and supporting Cranmer’s first Prayer book, but later seemed to ally himself with the conservative factions, opposing Cromwell on the Bishop’s Book, and even today his religious attitudes are difficult to work out. He appears to have gained fallen out with Cromwell and in 1540 he was arrested and thrown in the Tower, having been deprived of his see and the Deanery of St Paul’s. Following Cromwell’s fall he was released and pardoned, and in 1543 was granted the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield and made President of the Council of the Marches of Wales. He survived into the reign of Mary I, dying in 1554, and was buried at Eccleshall in Staffordshire.
William May (Dean: 1545-1554 and 1559-60)
William May was born in Suffolk around 1505 and was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, becoming an ecclesiastical lawyer. He was Vicar General at Ely while the see was vacant in 1532 and later became rector at Bishop’s Hatfield and Littlebury. He was elected President of Queen’s College, Cambridge in 1537, a position he was to hold for the rest of his life, save for one interruption. He appears to have close to the reformist side in the religious question, being an ally of Cranmer and Cromwell and helping to draft the Bishop’s Book. In 1545 he was elected as Dean of St Paul’s following the death of John Incent. In Edward VI’s reign he oversaw the adoption of a vernacular liturgy, the demolition of the high altar, the ending of organ music and the removal of images from St Paul’s. Furthermore, he was charged with enforcing the new regulations at other dioceses, served on commissions against heresy and was involved in the drafting of the revised Book of Common Prayer. He also was on the commission which tried Bishop Bonner and officiated at the installation of Bishop Ridley In 1554 he was removed from the Deanery of St Paul’s and the Presidency of Queen’s College Cambridge by Mary I, owing to his being married, although he was allowed to keep his rooms at Queen’s throughout Mary’s reign. In 1559, following the accession of Elizabeth I, he was reinstalled as Dean of St Paul’s and President of Queen’s. In 1560 he was elected as Archbishop of York, but died before he could be consecrated, and he was buried in St Paul’s.
John Feckenham (Dean: 1554-56)
John Feckenham was born in Worcestershire around 1510, entering a Benedictine monastery at an early age before being sent for education at Gloucester College, Oxford and he was ordained as a priest. Following the dissolution of Evesham Abbey, his home abbey, in 1540 he served as chaplain to Bishop Bell of Worcester and then to Bishop Bonner of London. In January 1547, prior to the death of Henry VIII, he preached a sermon at Paul’s Cross in which he lamented the growth of German heresy amongst the young, which first brought him to public attention. In 1549 he was imprisoned, mainly for his religious views but also perhaps for his involvement in recent disorders in Oxfordshire. He remained a prisoner for the rest of Edward VI’s reign, although he was released to take part in religious disputations in 1551. Following the accession of Mary I he was released and became her chaplain and confessor and throughout her reign he was a regular preacher at Paul’s Cross. He was sent to interrogate Lady Jane Grey in 1554, although he failed to convert her, and later attended her execution. He also spoke to Princess Elizabeth whilst she was imprisoned, and petitioned the Queen on her behalf. He later attempted the conversion of Nicholas Ridley, former Bishop of London. In 1554 he was elected as Dean of St Paul’s following the deprivation of William May. In November that year he preached a sermon suggesting that confiscated church property be restored, which led to his appearance before the Privy Council, although he was not punished. In March 1555 he and a number of former monks petitioned the Queen to be allowed to return to the religious life. The following year, upon the re-foundation of the community at Westminster, he was appointed Abbot of Westminster and resigned as Dean of St Paul’s. Also in 1556 he secured the conversion of Sir John Cheke, the former tutor of Edward VI. Following the accession of Elizabeth I, religious foundations were again dissolved and Feckenham lost his post. He spent the majority of the rest of his life in custody of various forms, and died at Wisbech Castle in 1584 and was buried in the churchyard there.
John Stokesley (Bishop of London: 1530-9)
John Stokesley was born in Northamptonshire in 1475 and was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford. Through the patronage of Bishop Richard Foxe he was able to gain key clerical appointments, culminating in his appointments successively as Royal Confessor, Chaplain and Almoner, in which capacities he was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. He was appointed Dean of the Chapels Royal in 1524. He was an early and fervent supporter of the King’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and also of the Royal Supremacy. In 1530 he was rewarded with his appointment as Bishop of London. A religious conservative, he sought to lessen the impact of some of the more radical reforms, opposing the English Bible and elements of the Bishop’s Book, which brought him into conflict with Cromwell who sought to undermine his authority, although the battle between them was generally an underground one. He furthermore engaged in a fiery debate with Bishop Latimer of Worcester at the Convocation at St Paul’s in 1536. He was also a fervent pursuer of heretics, apparently boasting he had burned over thirty heretics, although the number may have been higher. He was accused on treason in 1538, but threw himself upon the King’s mercy and was granted a royal pardon. In 1539 he was the major architect and defender of the highly conservative Six Articles, which reinstated most of the Catholic elements of worship. He died soon after their publication and was given something like a state funeral in full Catholic ceremony, and he was buried behind the shrine of St Erkenwald at St Paul’s.
Edmund Bonner (Bishop of London: 1539-1549 and 1553-59)
Edmund Bonner was born in Worcestershire, with some accounts suggesting he was illegitimate, and was educated at Broadgates Hall, Oxford as a lawyer. He served first as chaplain to Cardinal Wolsey and then in the service of Thomas Cromwell, and he was a strong advocate of the King’s divorce and Royal Supremacy. He became chaplain to the King in 1537 and Bishop of Hereford in 1538, although he spent the majority of his time on diplomatic missions abroad, including to both the Papal and French courts and the Lutheran Courts of Denmark and Germany. At the papal court he was said to have so enraged the Pope that he threatened to have him boiled in lead. He succeeded Stokesley as Bishop of London in 1539 and marked himself out as a religious conservative, taking a strong line on heretics, presiding at the trial of Anne Askew in 1546. In 1547 he was committed to Fleet Prison for not acceding to the demands of the Council but was released after eight days when he made his submission. He tried to slow down some of the reforms being imposed, including not preaching frequently, for which in 1549 he was chided and told to preach on approved subjects. However, in his next sermon at Paul’s Cross he neglected to mention the supremacy of the King and preached the doctrine of transubstantiation. For this he was committed to the Tower and deprived of his bishopric. He appealed against his sentence in 1550, but this failed and he spent the remainder of Edward’s reign in the Marshalsea Prison, without an allowance for food or clothing. With the accession of Mary I in 1553 Bonner was released and restored to his bishopric, and he made a point of going straight to St Paul’s in the clothing of a bishop and praying on the steps of the Cathedral. He restored all the altars which had been removed and reinstated Latin services and solemn processions. He was part of the delegation which welcomed Philip II on his arrival in England prior to his marriage to Mary I in 1554, was present at the marriage and welcomed them to St Paul’s upon their return to London. Later in the same year he welcomed Cardinal Pole as Papal Legate to St Paul’s in one of the most magnificent ceremonies the Cathedral had seen. He was a key figure in the Marian persecutions, earning him the nickname ‘Bloody Bonner’, although he was partly pushed into it by pressures from above, who chided him for his slackness. 113 out 282 burnings of the period took place in the diocese of London, the largest single proportion of any diocese, and even some of his own faith thought he went too far, and blamed his period of incarceration, which may have hardened his attitudes. Upon Mary’s death in 1558, Bonner’s days as bishop were numbered and in 1559, having refused the Oath of Supremacy he was again committed to the Marshalsea, where he stayed until he died in 1569. He was originally buried at St George’s Southwark, but was later moved to Copford near Colchester.
Nicholas Ridley (Bishop of London: 1550-3)
Nicholas Ridley was born in Northumberland around 1502, and he was educated Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was strongly influenced by his uncle Robert Ridley, a secretary to Cuthbert Tunstall and friend of Erasmus. In 1537 he became one of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s chaplains at Canterbury, and he gradually began to become more radically reformist in his religious thinking, although during the conservative revival of the 1540s he had to be more cautious. In 1540 he became President of Pembroke College, a position he held for the rest of his life. Following the accession of Edward VI in 1547 the reformers were in the ascendant and could afford to be more radical. Also in that same year Ridley became Bishop of Rochester. In 1550, when Bonner was finally deprived of his see, Ridley was translated to London, where he soon removed all the remaining altars and replaced them with simple tables and ordered the altar lights be extinguished. He did however, allow Bonner’s wife and sister to remain resident at the Bishop’s Palace at Fulham and regularly dined with them. He led the first Anglican service at St Paul’s in 1552 and supervised the removal of the remaining chantries. In 1553 he was able to save some money from religious foundations from the King’s commissioners and helped to found Christ’s Hospital. With the King’s health failing, Ridley was a prime backer of the claim of the Protestant Lady Jane Grey, and on Edward’s death he preached a sermon at Paul’s Cross stating that both Mary and Elizabeth were illegitimate. However, Mary soon took power and Ridley was deposed and Bonner reinstated. Ridley was first taken to the Tower and then in 1554 to Oxford, where, with Hugh Latimer, he was convicted in a form of show trial and sentenced to burn at the stake. In October 1555 Latimer and Ridley were burnt at the stake in Oxford, and the scene was memorialised in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.