Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ferrar, Robert
FERRAR, ROBERT (d. 1555), bishop of St. David's, was born during the reign of Henry VII. He was of a Yorkshire family, and is generally said to have been born at Ewood in Midgley in the parish of Halifax, where a Henry Farrer certainly had a seat in 1572 (Addit. MS. 6416, f. 65); but there are other traditions (Dodsworth MSS. vol. cxxxv. f. 76 b; cf. Gent. Mag. new ser. xxix. 480), and Fuller (Worthies, ii. 580, ed. Nichols) is ignorant of the place of his birth. Ferrar is said to have studied at Cambridge, whence he proceeded to Oxford and became a canon regular of the order of St. Augustine and a member of the priory of St. Mary's within that town. He then fell under the influence of Thomas Gerard [q. v.] and other early reformers, was supplied by them with Lutheran books, and in 1528 was compelled to recant and carry a faggot with Dalaber and his other companions in heresy (Foxe, v. 428). He remained at Oxford, and in May 1533 supplicated for the degree of B.D., to which he proceeded on 14 Oct. (Wood, Fasti, i. 96; Boase, Reg. Univ. Oxford, p. 174, Oxford Hist. Soc.). In 1535 he accompanied William Barlow (d. 1568) [q. v.], also an Austin canon, on his embassy to Scotland, and in February 1536 Barlow exerted himself to obtain for Ferrar a general license to preach from Cromwell (Gairdner, Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vol. x. No. 227). Ferrar was next appointed prior of St. Oswald's at Nostell, near Pontefract, but it must have been after the date of the above letter, in which Barlow intercedes for ‘some relaxation to the prior of St. Oswald's’ in terms that obviously make him to be another person than Ferrar. Probably he was only appointed to make the surrender of the house to the crown. This was finally effected on 20 Nov. 1540, when Ferrar was rewarded for his complaisance by a pension of 80l. a year (Fœdera, xiv. 668; Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 91, 95; but cf. Wright, Suppression of the Monasteries, p. 166, Camden Soc.). He also lost at the same time the prebend of Bramham in York Minster, hitherto annexed to the priory, and now sharing its fate (Le Neve, iii. 178, ed. Hardy). Little is heard of Ferrar during the latter years of the reign of Henry VIII. He must then have proceeded doctor of divinity, and it is said that he had become a chaplain of Cranmer's, whose example he followed by marrying. It is also said that he was appointed bishop of Sodor and Man, and the Manx historians refer to him as subscribing a document as bishop in 1545 (Church Notes, Diocese Sodor and Man, p. 63; Sacheverell, Survey of Man, pp. 90 n., 107; both in Manx Soc. publications), but they only refer to a passage in Baker's ‘Chronicle’ (p. 321, ed. 1730), which describes Ferrar as bishop of Man at the time of his death. The mistake probably arose from an ignorant misreading of ‘Men.,’ the contraction for ‘Menevensis,’ i.e. St. David's. The same authorities assert that Ferrar was ‘translated’ to St. David's in 1546, on 22 Jan. of which year Henry Man was appointed by Henry VIII to the bishopric of Sodor and Man, ‘sometime vacant through the decease of the last bishop’ (Oliver, Monumenta de Insula Manniæ, iii. 38, Manx Society). This statement, though ignoring the claims of the contumacious Bishop Stanley to the see, seems decisive as excluding any real appointment of Ferrar.
The accession of Edward VI and the supremacy of Somerset were quickly followed by Ferrar's appointment as one of the royal visitors with a general license to preach, issued by the council, which overrode mere diocesan licenses (Dixon, Hist. of Reformation, iii. 325; Strype, Cranmer, 8vo, pp. 209, 262). In this capacity he visited the dioceses of Llandaff and St. David's. He also became a chaplain to Somerset, whose favour elevated him to the see of St. David's after the translation of his old patron, Barlow, to Bath and Wells. This was the first case of a new bishop appointed by royal letters patent, without even the form of capitular election. His temporalities were restored to him on 31 July 1548 (Fœdera, xv. 173), and he was consecrated by Cranmer at the archbishop's house at Chertsey on 9 Sept. The service was a novel one, and mainly in English (Strype, Cranmer, 8vo, p. 261). Ferrar also took a new oath, ‘very full and large,’ of renunciation of the pope and acknowledgment of the royal supremacy (ib. pp. 187–9). He remained in London, where he had a house in Gracechurch Street, until April 1549, detained by his parliamentary duties and by his position on the commission appointed to examine and reform the offices of the church (Burnet, Hist. of Reformation, ii. 127, ed. N. Pocock). On St. Martin's day (11 Nov.) 1548 he preached a sermon at Paul's Cross which gave great scandal to old-fashioned people. He was clothed, ‘not as a bishop, but like a priest,’ and ‘spoke all manner of things against the church and the sacrament of the altar, and against vestments, copes, altars, and all other things’ (Greyfriars Chronicle, p. 48, Camden Soc.) He thus became widely known as a gospeller, and a little later was selected to help Cranmer in disputing against Heath and Thirlby for three whole days (Zurich Letters, 3rd ser. p. 645, Parker Soc.) But on some later occasion his unwillingness to conform to ecclesiastical propriety caused Cranmer to ‘labour in vain with him,’ and he was not brought to reason until the council ‘took him in hand.’ Hooper regarded him as one of the six or seven bishops who ‘entertained right opinions on the matter of the eucharist’ and were in general agreement with the Helvetic churches. Nothing but ‘fear for their property’ prevented such bishops from fully ‘reforming their churches’ (ib. pp. 72, 76; Burnet, iii. 350; cf. v. 197–205 for his opinions on ‘some abuses of the mass’). Ferrar was one of the bishops who protested against the act of November 1549 for making a new body of church laws (Burnet, iii. 362).
On arriving in his diocese, Ferrar encountered most serious difficulties. His greedy and turbulent chapter had already waged furious war against Barlow. They at once resisted the commission of Edmond Farlee, whom Ferrar had despatched to visit and reform them. They discovered technical errors in the wording of the commission, and maintained that the bishop by ‘omitting the king's authority,’ and grounding his appointment on ‘foreign usurped laws,’ had incurred the penalties of præmunire. Ferrar's ignorance or carelessness of law gave them an advantage which they employed to the utmost against him. In vain he sought to propitiate them by abandoning Farlee, and transferring the commission to the precentor Young, head of the chapter. Though Ferrar held as bishop the position of dean, the chapter under Young [see Young, Thomas, archbishop of York] and Rowland Meyrick refused all acknowledgment of his authority, and factiously opposed him in everything. They did their best to make his position impossible. Hot protestants complained that Ferrar did not preach or study enough, and that he sanctioned superstitious practices. His tact in conciliating sympathy was denounced as treasonable, and he was accused of stirring up envy between the Welsh and English. A reference to Merlin became an ‘encouragement of vain prophecies.’ He was accused of covetousness, and had given proof of folly by boasting that he would go to London on foot, and trying to explain the scarcity of fish. ‘He daily useth whistling to his son, and said he understood him when only three days old.’ ‘He said that by his whistling he made a seal tarry a whole hour.’ After the fall of his patron Somerset, fifty-six formal articles, embodying such complaints, were presented against Ferrar to the privy council by Hugh Rawlins, a disreputable Welsh preacher, and Thomas Lee, a broken-down merchant, brother-in-law of George Constantine [q. v.] Early in 1551 a commission was issued, and 127 witnesses were examined. Ferrar had been kept in London until the examination had been completed, but in July he returned to his diocese, only to be compelled to attend twice at Carmarthen to answer at the great sessions the charges of præmunire preferred against him. He was kept in prison until the accession of Queen Mary. The unsubstantial and factious character of the accusations hardly needs his own elaborate answers. There is even little to justify the contention of Willis ‘that he was a most miserable dilapidator.’ His opposition to their shamefaced robberies combined the reformers and the adherents of the old faith in their opposition.
After Mary's accession Ferrar was shut up in the Queen's Bench prison in Southwark, where he was ultimately joined by John Bradford (1510?–1555) [q. v.] and other protestants. He had consented to receive the communion in one kind on Easter-day 1554, when the arrival of Bradford turned him back to sterner protestant principles (Foxe, vii. 146). Ferrar was forced to obtain from Bradford a share in the alms sent by Lady Vane (Bradford, Works, ii. 96, Parker Soc.) Ferrar was, however, able to see his friends, and draw up with his fellow-prisoners important documents. In May 1554 they signed a refusal to take part in a proposed conference at Cambridge, on the ground that the question was prejudged, and that they had no means of study or composition.
In March 1554 Ferrar was deprived of his bishopric (Fœdera, xv. 370; Machyn, Diary, p. 58, Camden Soc.). But it was not until 4 Feb. 1555 that he was brought before Bishop Gardiner and the commissioners sitting in St. Mary Overies, Southwark. He was remanded until 14 Feb., and was then roughly examined by Gardiner, who charged him specially with the violation of his monastic vow of chastity. He was now sent down to Wales, where on 26 Feb. he was arraigned before his successor Bishop Morgan and his old enemy Constantine in Carmarthen Church. He was required to answer whether he believed in the lawfulness of clerical matrimony and in transubstantiation. For some time Ferrar refused to answer. At another sitting Morgan pronounced him contumacious, and condemned him; but on 4 March Ferrar offered to answer the articles within a competent time. On 7 March at another session Ferrar refused subscription to articles ‘invented and excogitated by man.’ At last on 13 March, after Ferrar had appealed from Morgan to Archbishop Pole, final sentence was passed upon him, and, the appeal being disregarded, he was handed over to the secular arm. On 30 March he was burnt ‘on the south side of the market cross,’ probably in the open space now called Nott Square. He endured his sufferings with great fortitude, and told a bystander that ‘if he saw him once to stir in the pains of his burning he should then give no credit to his doctrine.’ He never moved, but ‘even as he stood (holding up his stumps) so he continued, till one Richard Gravell, with a staff dashed him upon the head and so struck him down.’
Ferrar's son, Samuel, obtained preferment in the diocese of St. David's. His daughter married Lewis Williams, rector of Narberth.[Foxe's Acts and Monuments, ed. Townsend, v. 428, vi. 146, 222, 553, 664, 705, vii. 1–28; the full depositions of the 127 witnesses are preserved with other matter in Harl. MS. 420, f. 80 sq., some of the documents being printed in Foxe; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 759–61; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 125–6; Burnet's Hist. of the Reformation, ed. Pocock, ii. 127, iii. 350, 362, v. 197–205; Bradford's Writings, i. 305, 374, 403, ii. 96, 169–71 (Parker Soc.); Parker Correspondence, pp. 267, 287 (Parker Soc.); Robinson's Zurich Letters, 3rd series, pp. 72, 76, 645 (Parker Soc.); Rymer's Fœdera, vol. xv.; Strype's Cranmer, pp. 187, 209, 261, 262, 442, 489–90, 495; Eccl. Memorials, vol. i. pt. i. p. 569, vol. iii. pt. i. pp. 127, 423–31, and vol. iii. pt. ii. pp. 355–61; Gent. Mag. new ser. xxix. 245–7, 360, 480.]