Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ponet, John
PONET or POYNET, JOHN (1514?–1556), bishop of Winchester, was born in Kent about 1514, and educated at Queens' College, Cambridge, under Sir Thomas Smith (Strype, Smith, pp. 20, 159). He was a great scholar, skilled especially in Greek, in which he adopted Cheke's mode of pronunciation (Strype, Cheke, p. 18). He graduated, became fellow of the college in 1532, bursar there from 1537 to 1539, and dean from 1540 to 1542. He proceeded D.D. in 1547. He was a strong divine of the reforming school; clever, but somewhat unscrupulous. Cranmer saw his ability, and made him his chaplain, a promotion which must have come before 1547, as in that year Ponet delivered to the archbishop a letter from his close friend Roger Ascham, praying to be relieved from eating fish in Lent (Strype, Cranmer, i. 240, cf. p. 607). Meanwhile other preferment had come to him. On 15 Nov. 1543 he became rector of St. Michael's, Crooked Lane, London. On 12 June 1545 he was made rector of Lavant, Sussex, and on 12 Jan. 1545–6 he became canon of Canterbury, resigning Lavant. In 1547 he was proctor for the diocese of Canterbury. For Henry VIII he made a curious dial of the same kind as that erected in 1538 in the first court of Queens' College. While with Cranmer he built a summer parlour or ‘solar’ at Lambeth Palace, which Archbishop Parker repaired in after years (Strype, Parker, ii. 26, 79).
Ponet was a great preacher, and had a wide range of acquirements, knowing mathematics, astronomy, German, and Italian, besides being a good classical scholar and a theologian. In Lent 1550 he preached the Friday sermons before Edward VI, and on 6 June 1550 he was appointed bishop of Rochester. He was the first bishop consecrated according to the new ordinal (Strype, Cranmer, pp. 274, 363). He was the last bishop who was allowed to hold with his see his other preferments; and there was some reason for the permission in his case, in that there was no palace for the bishop when he was consecrated. On 18 Jan. 1550–1 he was appointed one of thirty-one commissioners to ‘correct and punish all anabaptists, and such as did not duly administer the sacraments according to the Book of Common Prayer’ (Strype, Memorials, ii. i. 385).
Ponet was one of those who consecrated Hooper bishop of Gloucester on 8 March 1550–1. He appears not to have shared in Hooper's objection to the vestments. With Cranmer and Ridley, Ponet was consulted in March 1550–1 about the difficult case of the Princess Mary; and their answer as to her hearing mass—‘that to give license to sin was sin; nevertheless, they thought the king might suffer or wink at it for a time’ (Strype, Memorials, ii. i. 451)—seems to bear traces of his handiwork. On 23 March 1550–1 he was appointed bishop of Winchester, Gardiner having been deprived. A condition of his appointment, which he at once carried out, was that he should resign to the king the lands of the see, receiving in return a fixed income of two thousand marks a year, chiefly derived from impropriated rectories. The meaning of the transaction was soon made plain in the grants made of the surrendered lands to various courtiers. But the blame was not solely Ponet's; for the dean and chapter consented, and Cranmer must have had a good deal to say in the matter. At Winchester he had Bale and Goodacre for chaplains, and John Philpot (1516–1555) [q. v.] for archdeacon. On 6 Oct. 1551 he was one of the commissioners for the reformation of ecclesiastical law, and about the same time he was one of the visitors of Oxford University. When Mary came to the throne Ponet was deprived, and is said to have fled at once to the continent. A tradition, however, preserved by Stow, asserts that he took an active part in Wyatt's rebellion. Eventually he found his way to Peter Martyr at Strasburg, where he seems to have been cheerful enough, even though his house was burnt down. ‘What is exile?’ he wrote to Bullinger: ‘a thing painful only in imagination, provided you have wherewith to subsist.’ He died at Strasburg in August 1556.
Ponet's ability, both as a thinker and a writer of English, can perhaps best be inferred from his ‘Short Treatise of Politique Power,’ which is useful as an authority for the history of his time. It is also said to be one of the earliest expositions of the doctrine of tyrannicide; but there Ponet was anticipated by John of Salisbury. Ponet's matrimonial experiences were curious. He seems to have gone through the form of marriage with the wife of a butcher of Nottingham, to whom he had to make an annual compensation; from her he was divorced ‘with shame enough’ on 27 July 1551 (Machyn). On 25 Oct. 1551 he married Maria Haymond at Croydon church, Cranmer being present at the ceremony. This wife went abroad with him, and survived him. An interesting letter from her to Peter Martyr, some of whose books she had sold with her husband's by mistake, has been preserved.
Ponet's chief works were: 1. ‘A Tragoedie or Dialoge of the uniuste usurped primacie of the Bishop of Rome, …’ London, 1549, 8vo. This translation from Bernardino Ochino [q. v.] brought him to the notice of Somerset, who is mentioned in the dedication. 2. ‘A Defence for Marriage of Priestes by Scripture and aunciente Wryters,’ London, 1549, 8vo (possibly an early edition of No. 5). 3. ‘Sermon at Westminster before the King,’ London, 1550, 4to. 4. ‘Catechismus Brevis Christianæ Disciplinæ Summam continens, omnibus ludimagistris authoritate Regia commendatus. Huic Catechismo adiuncti sunt Articuli,’ Zürich, 1553, 8vo. This was published anonymously, in English by Day and in Latin by Wolf. It was assigned to both Ridley and Nowell. Several editions appeared in 1553. The English version has been printed in ‘Liturgies’ of Edward VI's reign by the Parker Society. 5. ‘De Ecclesia ad regem Edwardum,’ Zürich, 1553, 8vo. 6. ‘An Apologie fully aunsweringe by Scriptures and aunceant Doctors a blasphemose Book gatherid by D. Steph. Gardiner … D. Smyth of Oxford, Pighius, and other Papists … and of late set furth under the name of Thomas Martin … against the godly marriadge of priests,’ 1555, 12mo; 1556, 8vo. 7. ‘A Short Treatise of Politique Power, and of the true obedience which subjectes owe to kynges and other civile governours, with an Exhortacion to all true naturall Englishemen,’ 1556, 8vo; 1639, 8vo; 1642, 4to. 8. ‘Axiomata Eucharistiæ.’ 9. ‘Dialecticon de veritate, natura, atque substantia Corporis et Sanguinis Christi in Eucharistia,’ Strasburg, 1557, 8vo. An English translation was published in London, 1688, 4to (Lowndes).[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 155, 547; Dixon's Hist. Church of Engl. iii. 151, &c., iv. 74, &c.; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 56, ii. 570; Heylyn's Ecclesia Restaurata, i. 208, &c., ii. 91, 121, &c.; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 390, ii. 52; Wood's Hist. and Antiq. of Univ. of Oxford, i. 273; Machyn's Diary (Camden Soc.), pp. 8, 320, 323; Foxe's Actes and Monuments, vii. 203; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, pp. 32, 44; Maitland's Essays, pp. 97, 124; Lipscomb's Buckinghamshire, ii. 162, iii. 392, 653; Hasted's Kent, iii. 265; Hessel's Eccles. Lond. Bataviæ Archivum, ii. 15, 16; authorities quoted.]