Stokesley, John (DNB00)
|←Stokes, William||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 54
STOKESLEY, JOHN (1475?–1539), bishop of London, was born at Collyweston, Northamptonshire, on 8 Sept., probably in 1475. He was doubtless related to the Richard Stokesley, parson of North Luffenham, Rutland, not far from Collyweston, on whose death in 1526 Stokesley was presented to that church. His mother was Margaret, daughter of Edward Spendlove or Spendlowe; the John Spendlove (d. 1581) whom Stokesley in 1534 collated to the prebend of Hoxton and in 1537 to that of Holywell, both in St. Paul's Cathedral, was no doubt his cousin (Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 396, 402, 408; Bridges, Northamptonshire, ii. 606). Stokesley was elected fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, about 1495, and for a month in 1497 he was usher in Magdalen College school. In 1498 he was appointed prelector in logic and principal of Magdalen Hall, and bursar in 1502. In 1503 he was dean of divinity and northern proctor. He was ordained deacon on 8 March, and priest on 22 March 1504–5, and in the same year was appointed prælector in philosophy and vice-president of Magdalen College. In that capacity Stokesley became involved in the fierce dissensions among the fellows which between 1504 and 1507 reduced the college to a condition of the utmost disorder and laxity. He seems to have been an adherent of the absent president, Richard Mayhew, bishop of Hereford, and the opposite faction accused Stokesley of every sort of offence, from heresy, theft, perjury, and adultery, to witchcraft, neglect of duties, spending the night at Sandford without leave, and christening a cat. Between 28 and 30 Jan. 1506–7 John Dowman, the commissionary of Richard Foxe [q. v.], bishop of Winchester, held a visitation to examine into the condition of the college. On the 27th Stokesley solemnly denied on oath all the charges against him, and, no witnesses appearing to substantiate them, he was admitted to compurgation. Finally the fellows ‘in sign of unity all drank of a loving-cup together’ (Macray, Register of Magdalen College, i. 37–60; Bloxam, ii. 20–4).
In February 1505–6 Stokesley was instituted to the vicarage of Willoughby, and soon afterwards to the rectory of Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, both college livings. After Henry VIII's accession, perhaps through Bishop Foxe's influence, he became chaplain and almoner to the king and a member of his council. Writing on 26 July 1518, Erasmus described him as ‘well versed in the schoolmen, and intimately acquainted with three languages,’ and on 23 July 1519 classed him with More, Linacre, Colet, and Tunstal as men who were a credit to Henry VIII's court (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, ed. Brewer, ii. 4340, iii. 394). In June 1520 he attended Henry as his chaplain to the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and in the following month was present in a like capacity at the meeting between Henry and Charles V. In the parliament of 1523 he was a trier of petitions from Gascony and parts beyond sea, and on 23 March 1523–4 was collated to the vicarage of Ivychurch, Kent; he was also appointed dean of the chapel royal.
In 1529 Stokesley was sent with George Boleyn (afterwards Viscount Rochford) [q. v.] as ambassador to France in place of Sir Francis Bryan [q. v.] He was instructed to prevent Albany's return to Scotland and the formation of a league between France and Scotland. But the more important part of his mission was to induce Francis I to join Henry in preventing the assembling of a general council ‘considering the influence the emperor has over the pope,’ and to collect opinions from foreign universities in favour of Henry's divorce. He had already become a prominent advocate of this measure, and before his embassy had, with Edward Fox [q. v.], bishop of Hereford, and Nicholas de Burgo [see Nicholas], composed in Latin a book on the subject, which was translated into English with additions and alterations by Cranmer. It was published as ‘The Determinations of the most famous and most excellent Universities …,’ London, 1531, 8vo (Letters and Papers, viii. 1054). In pursuance of this object Stokesley proceeded in 1530 to Italy, spending the spring and summer in attempts to win over the universities of Bologna, Padua, Venice, and others. More than a hundred references to Stokesley in vol. iv. pt. iii. of the ‘Letters and Papers’ testify to his activity in this matter, and according to his own boast he ‘recovered’ the king's cause ‘when it had slipped through the ambassador's fingers and was despaired of’ (ib. vii. 15). His efforts satisfied Henry, and on the translation of Cuthbert Tunstal [q. v.] to Durham, Stokesley was during his absence nominated bishop of London in July 1530. He returned in October, and was consecrated on 27 Nov.
As bishop of London Stokesley shared in the further measures for the completion of the divorce, and concurred in the various enactments which abolished the papal authority in England. He was with Cranmer at Dunstable when the sentence of divorce was pronounced against Catherine, and on 10 Sept. 1533 he christened at the Greyfriars Church, Greenwich, Princess (afterwards Queen) Elizabeth. He took part in the dissolution of monasteries at Reading, Godstow, and others in Lincolnshire (Cotton MS. Cleopatra E. iv. ff. 223, 225, 235–7; Arundel MS. 249 ff. 82–4), and he induced the Carthusians of London to submit to Henry. Conjointly with Tunstal he wrote in 1537 a remonstrance to Pole on his book, ‘Pro Unitatis Ecclesiæ Defensione,’ and on his acceptance of the cardinalate; it is printed in Bernard Garter's ‘New Year's Gift,’ 1571. In August 1531 he was employed to assess for taxation various benefices, a measure which roused the indignation of their holders. They assembled on the 31st in the Greyfriars Church, London, and ‘made an assault on the Bishop's palace at Paul's, where they continued an hour and a half, and, from thence returning to the chapter-house, made a new assault on the bishop and his officers, whom they put in fear of their lives’ (Letters and Papers, v. 387). The ringleaders were brought before the Star-chamber on a charge of attempting to murder the bishop and evade payment of the clerical subsidy (cf. Froude, i. 340; Dixon, i. 68–9).
Stokesley, however, was strenuously opposed to all doctrinal changes; even the royal supremacy he accepted only with a proviso safeguarding ‘the laws of the church of Christ,’ and he became a strenuous persecutor of gospellers. On 3 July 1533 he reported to Henry that he had condemned John Frith [q. v.] for heresy, and handed him over for execution to the lord mayor (Letters and Papers, vi. 761; Foxe, v. 16). He attacked Alexander Alesius [q. v.] in the convocation of 1537, and argued against John Lambert (d. 1538) [q. v.] According to Foxe he boasted on his deathbed of having been the means of executing over thirty heretics (Foxe, iii. 104; cf. Laurentius Humfredus, Vita Juelli, p. 268). Similarly he refused to revise the translation of the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ which Cranmer had entrusted to him when preparing an English version of the Bible, declaring that reading it in English infected the people with heresy (Narr. of the Reformation, Camden Soc. pp. 277–278). He also resisted Cranmer's metropolitical visitation of his diocese, and joined with Tunstal in giving as catholic a colour as possible to the ‘Institution of a Christian Man,’ 1537.
This attitude laid Stokesley open to Cromwell's hostility, and he was subjected to various vexatious proceedings. In 1535 he was required to send the king a written copy of a certain sermon he had preached; he excused himself by saying that he never wrote out his sermons. ‘If I were to write my sermons, I could not deliver them as they are written, for much would come to me without premeditation much better than what was premeditated’ (Letters and Papers, viii. 1054). On 29 May 1538 the attorney-general, Sir John Baker [q. v.], instituted proceedings against Stokesley on the king's behalf, accusing him of infringing statutes 16 Richard II and 28 Henry VIII by executing a bull of Martin V. The bishop, who was brought into court in the marshal's custody, confessed his offence and was admitted to bail; when called upon to receive judgment he produced a pardon from Henry VIII (ib. xiii. i. 1095). He also complained bitterly of the way in which the king assumed the right of presenting to prebends in his diocese, and declared that he could have no learned men about him because he had no means of providing for them.
Stokesley died on the anniversary of his birthday, on 8 Sept. 1539, and was buried in St. George's Chapel, St. Paul's Cathedral, on the 14th. A memorial, with a Latin inscription, an English version of which is given in Wood's ‘Athenæ,’ ii. 749, was erected over his tomb. A portrait, painted by Holbein is at Windsor, and a copy of it, presented by J. R. Bloxam, hangs in Magdalen College School, Oxford.[Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, ed. Brewer and Gairdner, vols. iii–xiv.; State Papers, Henry VIII, 1830; Inquisitiones post mortem, 2 Edw. VI, ii. 28, 3 Edw. VI, i. 109; Cotton MSS. Otho C. x. 161, Cleopatra E. iv. 207 b, 223, 225, 237, v. 378; Arundel MS. 249 ff. 82–4; Foxe's Actes and Mon. ed. Townsend; Strype's Works (General Index); Wriothesley's Chronicle; Narratives of the Reformation, Greyfriars' Chronicle, and Pretended Divorce of Catherine of Aragon (Camden Soc.); Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ii. 746–50; Hall's Chron.; Wilkins's Concilia; Le Neve's Fasti, ed. Hardy; Pocock's Records of the Reformation; Burnet's Hist. of the Reformation, ed. Pocock; Fuller's Church Hist. ed. Brewer; Brewer's Reign of Henry VIII; Oxford Univ. Reg.; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Bloxam's and Macray's Registers of Magdalen Coll. Oxford; Wordsworth's Eccl. Biogr. ii. 160, iii. 441; Froude's Hist. and Divorce of Catharine of Aragon; Dixon's Hist. of the Church of England; First Divorce of Henry VIII, ed. Gasquet, 1894; Dr. Stephan Ehses's Römische Dokumente, 1893.]