A monk, a bishop and a heretic – Robert Ferrar

foxe289Robert Ferrar, a lad from Halifax, was an Augustinian Canon who showed sufficient talent to leave Yorkshire and go to Oxford University where he became a student at Merton University.  The Augustinians had a policy of each of their houses sending at least one monk to receive an education.

It was probably while he was at Oxford that he came under the influence of reformers  and the works of Tindale.  Certainly when Cardinal Wolsey investigated heresy in Oxford Ferrar was one of the men arrested and punished.  Wolsey forced the students who had been discovered with banned books to witness their destruction.  He was, however, allowed to complete his education.

Ferrar returned to Nostell Priory in 1533.  Three years later, Thomas Layton, one of Cromwell’s visitors arrived at the monastery to conduct its visitation.  The prior was very sick.  In fact, he died not long afterwards.  Ferrar was appointed prior probably because of his reforming sympathies.  When the monastery surrendered in 1539 he received a pension, eventually married and had three children.

Ferrar’s quiet family life intersected with his role in the Reformation Church of Edward VI.  He was appointed chaplain to Edward Seymour (the Lord Protector) and  then Archbishop Cranmer as well as Bishop of St David’s.  In this latter role he helped to reform the Welsh church.  It was this that brought him into conflict with his parishioners and resulted in him being imprisoned in London upon the fall of Seymour where he remained until Mary Tudor came to the throne.

Ferrar was in difficulties not only because he was a protestant but also because he was married.  Mary refused to recognise the legality of Ferrar’s marriage and he was deposed of his see.  He was tried for heresy by Archbishop Gardiner and found guilty.  He refused to recant.  He was sent from London to Carmarthen in February 1555 where he was placed on trial.  Eventually he was burned at the stake.  Foxe recounts the fortitude with which he met his end.  Double click on the image to go to Foxe’s account of Ferrar’s trial, imprisonment and death.

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Filed under Monasteries, Sixteenth Century

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