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The 1534 Oath of Succession made Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, heir to the throne rather than Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. The oath also recognized the king as supreme head of the church in England, thus formalizing Henry’s break with Rome.

Question: Besides the Bishop of Rochester (St. John Fisher), were there any other bishops who refused to sign the Oath of Succession? (I suspect he may have been the only one.)

According to My Catholic Life:

All the bishops of England, save Fisher and two others, lost their courage and acquiesced, without a fight, to Henry VIII’s takeover of the Catholic Church in England. Their weakness brought to a sudden, crashing end a thousand years of Catholicism in England.

The "two others" are not named; however, I am a little skeptical, as I can never recall having read of any bishop other than St. John Fisher who adamantly opposed Henry's oath. Perhaps someone can shed some light on this.

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Possible referents of "two others"

The Wikipedia article on the 1534 Act Respecting the Oath to the Succession also mentioned only one bishop (Bishop John Fisher) and grouped him with two others (that could be the possible referents of the My Catholic Life article):

  1. Sir Thomas More (canonized by the Catholic Church) and
  2. John Houghton, O Cart. ("Catholic priest of the Carthusian order and the first martyr to die as a result of the Act of Supremacy")

The Wikipedia article, in the final paragraph, says that the acts went against their Catholic beliefs:

Refusal to take the oath led to the arrests of Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher and John Houghton, O.Cart. under the Treasons Act 1534. They refused to take the oath because it included the abjuration of the pope and claimed the marriage between King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon was annulled and it went against their Catholic beliefs. More, Fisher and Houghton were beheaded in 1535.

Only one bishop

The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Apostolic Succession by Joseph Wilhelm confirms there was only one bishop:

The bishops, instead of swearing allegiance to the Pope, now swore allegiance to the King, without any saving clause. Blessed John Fisher was the only bishop who refused to take the new oath; his martyrdom is the first witness to the breach of continuity between the old English and the new Anglican Church. Heresy stepped in to widen the breach.

Grammatical error?

This is far fetched, but is it possible that the My Catholic Life article could have been phrased better grammatically (bold text is my edit):

All the bishops of England save Fisher, plus two others, lost their courage and acquiesced, without a fight, to Henry VIII’s takeover of the Catholic Church in England. Their weakness brought to a sudden, crashing end a thousand years of Catholicism in England.

to mean that only 3 prominent Catholic figures were initially courageous to the end, but only one of them is a bishop.

Other possible referents of "two others"

According to this list of martyrs, these were executed in 1535:

  • John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, 22 June 1535 (beatified 1886, canonised 1935)
  • Sir Thomas More, layman, 6 July 1535 (beatified 1886, canonised 1935)
  • John Houghton, Prior of the London Charterhouse, 4 May 1535 (beatified 1886, canonised 1970)
  • Robert Lawrence, Prior of the Beauvale Charterhouse, 4 May 1935 (beatified 1886, canonised 1970)
  • Richard Reynolds, Brigittine monk of Syon Abbey, 4 May 1535 (beatified 1886, canonised 1970)
  • Augustine Webster, Prior of the Axholme Charterhouse, 4 May 1535 (beatified 1886, canonised 1970)
  • William Exmew, Carthusian monk, 19 June 1535 (beatified 1886)
  • John Haile, priest, 4 May 1535 (beatified 1886)
  • Humphrey Middlemore, Carthusian monk, 19 June 1535 (beatified 1886)
  • Sebastian Newdigate, Carthusian monk, 19 June 1535 (beatified 1886)

Conclusion

I admit this is just pure speculation; a natural reading clearly implies there were 2 other bishops. Even if my speculation is correct, when reviewing the list above there is also no clear reason why Wikipedia singled out John Houghton as one of the early 1535 martyrs.

The list also clearly showed there was only one bishop martyred. Maybe the other unnamed 2 bishops initially rebelled but later acquiesced and therefore were not executed. If that is so, we need to find a scholarly reference to uncover the names.

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  • +1 Thank you for your answer; do you think the "My Catholic Life" was a little careless in their wording? I know in addition to John Houghton, there were a fair number of other martyred monks, some named elsewhere I believe---though Wiki only specifies Houghton. And, of course, there were a good number of priests and laity among the martyred---but again, only one bishop that I have ever recalled.
    – DDS
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 13:12
  • In Nicolas Sanders' "The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism" Chap. 16, a list of martyrs is provided---though many Carthusian monks are named, only one bishop---Fisher is. Incidentally, Sanders, whom many believe was later martyred, wrote this book in the 16th century,
    – DDS
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 13:32
  • Well done and explained.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 13:34
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    @SamuelBowditch I downgraded "grammatical mistake" in my answer, provided more data, and added a theory that the "two others" rebelled but not executed. Maybe they only initially rebelled but later acquiesced? Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 14:21
  • Many thanks for this fine answer.
    – DDS
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 10:44

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