Robert Ferrar - Encyclopedia

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ROBERT FERRAR (d. 1555), bishop of St David's and martyr, born about the end of the 15th century of a Yorkshire family, is said to have been educated at Cambridge, whence he proceeded to Oxford and became a canon regular of St Augustine. He came under the influence of Thomas Gerrard and Lutheran theology, and was compelled to bear a faggot with Anthony Dalaber and others in 1528. He graduated B.D. in 1533, accompanied Bishop Barlow on his embassy to Scotland in 1535, and was made prior of St Oswald's at Nostell near Pontefract. At the dissolution he surrendered his priory without compunction to the crown, and received a liberal pension. For the rest of Henry's reign his career is obscure; perhaps he fled abroad on the enactment of the Six Articles. He certainly married, and is said to have been made Cranmer's chaplain, and bishop of Sodor and Man; but he was never consecrated to that see.

After the accession of Edward VI., Ferrar was, probably through the influence of Bishop Barlow, appointed chaplain to Protector Somerset, a royal visitor, and bishop of St David's on Barlow's translation to Bath and Wells in 1548. He was the first bishop appointed by letters patent under the act passed in 1547 without the form of capitular election; and the service performed at his consecration was also novel, being in English; he also preached at St Paul's on the 11th of November clad only as a priest and not as a bishop, and inveighed against vest= ments and altars. At St David's he had trouble at once with his singularly turbulent chapter, who, finding that he was out of favour at court since Somerset's fall in 1549, brought a long list of fantastic charges against him. He had taught his child to whistle, dined with his servants, talked of "worldly things such as baking, brewing, enclosing, ploughing and mining," preferred walking to riding, and denounced the debasement of the coinage. He seems to have been a kindly, homely, somewhat feckless person like many an excellent parish priest, who did not conceal his indignation at some of Northumberland's deeds. He had voted against the act of November 1549 for a reform of the canon law, and on a later occasion his nonconformity brought him into conflict with the Council; he was also the only bishop who satisfied Hooper's test of sacramental orthodoxy. The Council accordingly listened to the accusations of Ferrar's chapter, and in 1552 he was summoned to London and imprisoned on a charge of praemunire incurred by omitting the king's authority in a commission which he issued for the visitation of his diocese.

Imprisonment on such a charge under Northumberland might have been expected to lead to liberation under Mary. But Ferrar had been a monk and was married. Even so, it is difficult to see on what legal ground he was kept in the queen's bench prison after July 1553; for Mary herself was repudiating the royal authority in religion. Ferrar's marriage accounts for the loss of his bishopric in March 1554, and his opinions for his further punishment. As soon as the heresy laws and ecclesiastical jurisdiction had been re-established, Ferrar was examined by Gardiner, and then with signal indecency sent down to be tried by Morgan, his successor in the bishopric of St David's. He appealed from Morgan's sentence to Pole as papal legate, but in vain, and was burnt at Caermarthen on the 30th of March 1555. It was perhaps the most wanton of all Mary's acts of persecution; Ferrar had been no such protagonist of the Reformation as Cranmer, Ridley, Hooper and Latimer; he had had nothing to do with Northumberland's or Wyatt's conspiracy. He had taken no part in politics, and, so far as is known, had not said a word or raised a hand against Mary. He was burnt simply because he could not change his religion with the law and would not pretend that he could; and his execution is a complete refutation of the idea that Mary only persecuted heretics because and when they were traitors.

See Dictionary of National Biography, xviii. 380-382, and authorities there cited. Also Acts of the Privy Council (1550-1554) H. A. L. Fisher, Political History of England, vol. vi. (A. F. P.)

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