Hilsey, John (DNB00)

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HILSEY or HILDESLEIGH, JOHN (d. 1538), bishop of Rochester, is stated by Wood to have belonged to the Hildsleys of Benham, Berkshire, a branch of the Hildsleys of Hildsley, Berkshire (E. Ashmole, Antiquities of Berkshire, 1723, i. 35, 36, ii. 329, iii. 317); to have devoted himself to learning and religion; to have received instructions from a friar of the Dominican house at Bristol, and to have entered the order of Dominican friars there. From Bristol, he removed to the Dominican house at Oxford and there in May 1527, he graduated B.D., and proceeded D.D. in 1532; it is probable that he studied also at Cambridge. In May 1533 he was prior of the Dominican house at Bristol, and wrote a letter to Cromwell, whom he apparently regarded as his patron, and with whom he seems to have had earlier dealings, to explain and excuse his conduct in preaching against Hugh Latimer, whose sermons had created great excitement in the city (Wright, Suppression of the Monasteries, Letters iv. and v., p. 37). In April 1534, Cromwell appointed him provincial of his order, and commissioner, along with Dr. George Browne [q. v.], provincial of the Augustinians, to visit the friaries throughout England. The commissioners were to administer to the friars the oath of allegiance to King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and their issue, to obtain from them an acknowledgment of the king as 'caput ecclesiae Anglicanae,' and to make inventories of their property. The commissioners visited the London houses 17-20 April, went in May to such friaries as were within easy reach of London and then proceeded towards the west, Hilsey gaining the nickname of 'the Blacke Friar of Bristowe'. On 21 June, he reported to Cromwell from Exeter, that on the whole, the oaths had been taken submissively and in July he reached Cardiff in pursuit of two Observant friars who were attempting to leave the kingdom. In October he told Cromwell that he was threatened with the loss of the provincialship of the Dominicans and complained that Browne was taking it upon himself to assume complete authority. Hilsey's manner of conducting the visitation made him very unpopular and he and Browne were specially denounced by the 'pilgrims of grace'. In 1535, on the death of Fisher, Hilsey succeeded him as Bishop of Rochester. According to an entry in Fisher's 'Register,' he was consecrated on 18 Sept. by Archbishop Cranmer at Winchester Le Neve. On 23 Sept., he begged Cromwell for his predecessor's mitre, staff and seal, as being himself too poor to procure such things. In a piteous reply to a complaint from Cromwell that he was 'covetous, and not sufficiently complaisant to the King's visitors,' he stated that, if Cromwell were not favourable to him, his income would only amount to 200l. In January 1636, Hilsey preached at Queen Catherine's funeral, alleging that, in the hour of death, she had acknowledged that she had never been Queen of England. In March, he obtained a faculty from Cromwell enabling him to remain prior of the London Black Friars and, when they were dispersed, he re- ceived a pension of 60l. a year. In 1536, he exercised the duties of censor of the press for the king. On 24 Nov. 1538, he preached at St Paul's Cross and showed the blood of the abbey of Hales, affirming it to be clarified honey and saffron (Holinshed, pp. 275, 946), and on 24 Nov. 1538 he similarly denounced the Rood of Grace of Boxley, exhibiting its machinery and breaking it to pieces (Stow, Annales, p. 574; Burnet, Hist. of the Reformation, ed. Pocock, i. 385, vi. 194). In November 1538, as perpetual commendatory of the Black Friars in London, he surrendered the house into the King's hands. His letters, towards the end of his life, complain of 'cyatica;' he died before the end of 1538, and was buried in his cathedral (Hasted, Kent, ii. 11).

Hilsey was occupied, during his last years, in compiling, at Cromwell's order, a service-book in English. It appeared in 1539 as 'The Manuall of Prayers, or the Prymer in English, set out at length, whose contents the reader, by the Prologue next after the Kalender, shal sone perceave, and there in shal se brefly the order of the whole boke. Set forth by Jhon, late Bishop of Rochester, at the commandment of the ryght honorable Lorde Thomas Crumwel, Lorde Privie Seal, Vicegerent to the kynges highnes' (printed by John Mayler for John Waylande), 8vo. This has a dedication by Hilsey to Cromwell and an elaborate 'instruction of the sacrament', besides some shorter explanatory prologues. Hilsey's arrangement of the Epistles and Gospels is substantially the same as in the later prayer books (cf. Burton, lvi.) The book was republished in great part as 'The Prymer both in Englyshe and Latin' in 1540, and by Dr. Burton in 1834 in his 'Three Primers of Henry VIII.' At Cromwell's request Hilsey also prepared 'The Primer in English, most necessary for the Educacyon of Children, abstracted out of the Manuall of Prayers, or Primer in Englishe and Latin, set forth by John, laet bysh. of Rochester', &c., 1539, 8vo, and wrote 'De veri Corporis Esu in Sacramento' which was dedicated to Cromwell and is noticed in John White's 'Discorio-Martyrion', 1553, 4to. Works also ascribed to Hilsey include 'Resolutions concerning the Sacraments' and 'Resolutions of some Questions relating to Bishops, Priests, and Deaconns', but he apparently only assisted the compilation of these documents. He also helped to compile 'The Institution of a Christian Man'.

[Wood's Athenae Oxon. i. 112; Gasquet's Henry VIII and the Engl. Monasteries i. 173, &c., ii. 454, &c.; Cooper's Athenae Cantabr. i. 70; Cal. State Papers, Hen. VIII, 1534-8, passim; Dixon's History of the Church of England, i. 214, &c., ii. 251; Rymer's Foedera; British Magazine, xxxvi. 175, 303; Gorham's Reformation Gleanings, p. 19; H. Wharton's Anglia Sacra, p. 381; Narratives of Reformation (Camd. Soc.) p. 326; Ames's Typogr. Antiq. (Herbert), p. 467; J. B. Mullinger's University of Cambridge, p. 19; Dugdale's Monasticon vi. 1487 (but read Hilsey for Fisher); Oxf. Univ. Reg. (Oxf. Hist. Soc.) i. 147.]

R. B.