Bonner, Edmund

, bishop of London, proverbial for his cruelty, was the son of an honest poor man, and born, at Hanley in Worcestershire, although some have very eagerly reported that he was the natural son of one George Savage, a priest, as if the circumstance of his birth could have had any effect on his future disposition. He was maintained at school by an ancestor of Nicholas Lechmere, esq. a baron of the exchequer in the reign of king | William; and in 1512, he was entered at Broadgate-hall in Oxford, now Pembroke college. On June 12, 1519, he was admitted bachelor of the canon, and the day following bachelor of the civil law. He entered into orders about the same time, and had some employment in the diocese of Worcester; and on the 12th of July 1525, was created doctor of the canon law. He was a man of some, though not great learning, but distinguished himself chiefly by his skill and dexterity in the management of affairs, which made him be taken notice of by cardinal Wolsey, who appointed him his commissary for the faculties; and he was with this prelate at Cawood, when he was arrested for high treason. He enjoyed at once the livings of Blaydon and Cherry Burton in Yorkshire, Ripple in Worcestershire, East Dereham in Norfolk, and the prebend of Chiswick in the cathedral church of St. Paul: but the last he resigned in 1539, an of East Dereham in 1540. He was installed archdeacon of Leicester, October 17, 1535.

After the cardinal’s death, he got into the good graces of king Henry VIII. who appointed him one of his chaplains. On this he began his career in a manner not very consistent with his after-conduct. He was not only a favourer of the Lutherans, but a promoter of the king’s divorce from queen Catherine of Spain, and of great use to his majesty in abrogating the pope’s supremacy. He was also in high favour with lord Cromwell, secretary of state, by whose recommendation he was employed as ambassador at several courts. In 1532, he was sent to Rome, along with sir Edward Karne, to excuse king Henry’s personal appearance upon the pope’s citation. In 1533, he was again sent to Rome to pope Clement VII. then at Marseilles, upon the excommunication decreed against king Henry VIII. on account of his divorce; to deliver that king’s appeal from the pope to the next general council. But in this he betrayed so much of that passionate temper which appeared afterwards more conspicuously, and executed the order of his master in this affair with so much vehemence and fury, that the pope talked of throwing him into a caldron of melted lead, on which he thought proper to make his escape. He was employed likewise in other embassies to the kings of Denmark and France, and the emperor of Germany. In 1538, being then ambassador in France, he was nominated to the bishopric of Hereford, Nov. 27; but before consecration he was translated to | London, of which he was elected bishop Oct. 20, 1539, and consecrated April 4, 1540.

At the time of the king’s death in 1547, Bonner was ambassador with the emperor Charles V.; and though during Henry’s reign he appeared zealous against the pope, and had concurred in all the measures taken to abrogate his supremacy, yet these steps he appears to have taken merely as the readiest way to preferment; for his principles, as far as such a man can be said to have any, were those of popery, as became evident from his subsequent conduct. On the 1st of September 1547, not many months after the accession of Edward VI. he scrupled to take an oath, to renounce and deny the bishop of Rome, and to swear obedience to the king, and entered a protestation against the king’s injunction and homilies. For this behaviour he was committed to the Fleet; but having submitted, and recanted his protestation, was released, and for sometime complied outwardly with the steps taken to advance the reformation, while he used privately all means in his power to obstruct it. After the lord Thomas Seymour’s death, he appeared so remiss in putting the court orders in execution, particularly that relating to the use of the common prayer book, that he was severely reproved by the privy council. He then affected to redouble his diligence: but still, through his remissness in preaching, and his connivance at the mass in several places, many people in his diocese being observed to withdraw from the divine service and communion, he was accused of neglect in the execution of the king’s orders. He was summoned before the privy council on the llth of August, when, after a reproof for his negligence, he was enjoined to preach the Sunday three weeks after at Paul’s cross, on certain articles delivered to him; and also to preach there once a quarter for the future, and be present at every sermon preached there, and to celebrate the communion in that church on all the principal feasts: and to abide and keep residence in his house in London, till he had licence from the council to depart elsewhere. On the day appointed for his preaching, he delivered a sermon to a crowded audience on the points assigned to him. But he entirely omitted the last article, the king’s royal power in his youth; for which contempt he was complained of to the king by John Hooper, afterwards bishop of Worcester: and archbishop Cranmer, bishop Ridley, sir William Petre, and sir Thomas Smith, | secretaries of state, and William May, LL. D. and dean of St. Paul’s, were appointed commissioners to proceed against him. Appearing before them several days in September, he was, after a long trial, committed to the Marshalsea; and towards the end of October deprived of his bishopric.

On the accession of queen Mary, Bonner had an opportunity of shewing himself in his proper character, which indeed had been hitherto but faintly-concealed. He was restored to his bishopric by a commission read in St. Paul’s cathedral the 5th of September 1553; and in 1554, he was made vicegerent, and president of the convocation, in the room of archbishop Cranmer, who was committed to the Tower. The same year he visited his diocese, in order to root up all the seeds of the Reformation, and behaved in the most furious and extravagant manner; at Hadham, he was excessively angry because the bells did not ring at his coming, nor was the rood-loft decked, or the sacrament hung up. He swore and raged in the church at Dr. Bricket, the rector, and, calling him knave and heretic, went to strike at him; but the blow fell upon sir Thomas Joscelyn’s ear, and almost stunned him. On his return he set up the mass again at St. Paul’s, before the act for restoring it was passed. The same year, he was in commission to turn out some of the reformed bishops. In 1555, and the three following years, he was the occasion of above two hundred of innocent persons being put to death in the most cruel manner, that of burning, for their firm adherence to the Protestant religion. On the 14th of February 1555-6, he came to Oxford (with Thirlby bishop of Ely), to degrade archbishop Cranmer, whom he used with great insolence. The 29th of December following he was put into a commission to search and raze all registers and records containing professions against the pope, scrutinies taken in religious houses, &c. And the 8th of February 1556-7, he was also put in another commission, or kind of inquisition, for searching after and punishing all heretics.

Upon queen Elizabeth’s accession, Bonner went to meet her at Highgate, with the rest of the bishops; but she looked on him as a man stained with blood, and therefore would shew him no mark of her favour. For some months, however, he remained unmolested; but being called before the privy council on the 30th of May 1359, he | refused to take the oath of allegiance and supremacy: for which reason only, as it appears, he was deprived a second time of his bishopric the 29th of June following, and committed to the Marshalsea. After having lived in confinement some years, he died September 5, 1569, and three days after he was buried at midnight, in St. George’s churchyard, Southwark, to prevent any disturbances that might have been made by the citizens, who hated him extremely. He had stood excommunicated several years, and might have been denied Christian burial; but of this no advantage was taken. As to his character, he was a violent, furious, and passionate man, and extremely cruel in his nature; in his person he was very fat and corpulent, the consequence of excessive gluttony, to which he was much addicted. He was a great master of the canon law, being excelled in that faculty by very few of his time, and well skilled in politics, but understood little of divinity. Several pieces were published under his name, of which the following is a list 1. Preface to the Oration of Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, concerning true Obedience. Printed at London, in Latin, 1534, 1535, and at Hamburgh in 1536, 8vo. Translated into English by Mi-, chael Wood, a zealous Protestant, with a bitter preface to the reader, and a postscript, Roan, 1553, 8vo. It is also inserted in J. Fox’s book of Martyrs. In the preface Bonner speaks much in favour of king Henry the VHIth’s marriage with Ann Boleyn, and against the tyranny exercised by the bishop of Rome in this kingdom. 2. Several letters to the lord Cromwell. 3. A declaration to lord Cromwell, describing to him the evil behaviour of Stephen (bishop of Winchester), with special causes therein contained, wherefore and why he misliked of him. 4. Letter of his about the proceedings at Rome concerning the king’s divorce from Catherine of Arragon. 5. An admonition and advertisement given by the bishop of London to all readers of the Bible in the English tongue. 6. Injunctions given by Bonner, bishop of London, to his clergy (about preaching, with the names of books prohibited). 7. Letter to Mr. Lechmere. 8. Responsum & exhortatio, Lond. 1553, 8vo. Answer and exhortation to the clergy in praise of priesthood: spoken by the author in St. Paul’s cathedral, the 16th October, 1553, after a sermon preached before the clergy, by John Harpesfield. 9. A letter to Mr. | Lechmere, 6th September, 1553. 10. Articles to be enquired of in the general visitation of Edmund bishop of London, exercised by him in 1554, in the city and diocese of London, &c. To ridicule them, John Bale, bishop of Ossory, wrote a book, entitled, A declaration of Edmund Bonner’s articles, concerning the clergy of London diocese, whereby that execrable anti-christ is in his right colours revealed, 1554, and 1561, 8vo. 11. A profitable and necessary doctrine, containing an exposition on the Creed, seven Sacraments, ten Commandments, the Pater Noster, Ave Maria, with certain homilies adjoining thereto, for the instruction and information of the diocese of London, Lond. 1554-5, 4to. This book was drawn up by his chaplains John Harpesfield and Henry Pendleton; the former part of it, which is catechism, is mostly taken out of the Institution of a Christian man, set out by king Henry VIII. only varied in some points. 12. Several letters, declarations, arguings, disputes, &c. of his are extant in John Fox’s book of Martyrs, vol. last. 13. His objections against the process of Robert Horn, bishop of Winchester, who had tendered the oath of supremacy to him a second time, are preserved by Mr. Strype in his Annals of the Reformation. The character of bishop Bonner is so familiar to our readers as to require little illustration, or any addition to the preceding account from the former edition of this Dictionary; yet some notice may be taken of the defence set up by the Roman Catholic historians. Dodd, alluding to his cruelties, says, that “Seeing he proceeded according to the statutes then in force, and by the direction of the legislative power, he stands in need of no apology on that score.” But the history of the times proves that Bonner’s character cannot be protected by a reference to the statutes, unless his vindicator can likewise prove that he had no hand in enacting those statutes; and even if this were conceded, his conduct will not appear less atrocious, because, not content with the sentence of the law carried into execution by the accustomed officers, Bonner took frequent opportunities to manifest the cruelty of his disposition by anticipating, or aggravating, the legal punishments. He sometimes whipped the prisoners with his own hands, till he was tired with the violence of the exercise; and on one occasion he tore out the beard of a weaver who refused to relinquish his religion; and that he might give him a specimen of burning, he held his hand to a candle, till | the sinews and veins shrunk and burst .*


There is, says Granger, a wooden print of him, whipping Thomas Hinshawe, in the first edition of Fox’s “Acts and Monuments.” Sir John Harrington tells us that “when Bonner was shown this print in the Book of Martyrs on purpose to vex him, he laughed at it, saying, A vengeance on the fool, how could he get my picture drawn so right!“There is another print of him in that book, burning a man’s hands with a candle. With regard to his corpulence, a punster of the limes said of him, that ”he was full of guts, but empty of bowels."

The fact is, that Bonner was constitutionally cruel, and delighted in the sufferings he inflicted. Granger very justly says, that “Nature seems to have designed him for an executioner,” and as, wherever he could, he performed the character, how can he be defended by an appeal to the statutes? The most remarkable circumstance in his history is the lenity shown to him after all this bloody career. There seems no reason to think that he would have even been deprived of his bishopric, had he consented to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, a circumstance which is surely very extraordinary. His compliance, had he taken, that step, could have been only hypocritical, and what an object it would have been to have seen the duties and power of a protestant prelate intrusted to such a monster, and in that diocese, where so many families preserved the bitter remembrance of his cruelty. 1

Biog. Brit. Burnet’s Hist, of the Reformation. —Strype’s Life of Cranmer, Annals and Memorials. Fox’s Acts and Monuments, Dodd’s Ch. Hist. vol. I.