Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wilson, Nicholas
WILSON, NICHOLAS (d. 1548), Roman catholic divine, born near Beverley, was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1508–9, and commencing D.D. in 1533. He was related to John Wilson, prior of Mount Grace in Yorkshire (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, xiv. ii. 748). Before 1527 he was appointed chaplain and confessor to Henry VIII (ib. iv. 2641). On 7 Oct. 1528 he was collated archdeacon of Oxford, and in the same year received from the king the vicarage of Thaxted in Essex (ib. iv. 4476, 4521, 4546). Wilson was a friend of Sir Thomas More and of John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, and was a zealous Roman catholic, frequently acting as an examiner of heretics (Foxe, Actes and Monuments, ed. Townsend, iv. 680, 703, 704). On 28 March 1531 he was presented by the king to the church of St. Thomas the Apostle in London (Letters and Papers, v. 166), and in 1533 he was elected master of Michaelhouse at Cambridge. In the latter year, however, when the divorce of Catherine of Aragon was debated in convocation, he joined the minority in asserting that the pope had power to grant a dispensation in case of marriage with a deceased brother's widow. About that time he was employed by the papal party as an itinerant preacher in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cheshire. He also visited Bristol, where he encountered Latimer, and threatened him with burning unless he mended his ways (Strype, Eccles. Mem. 1822, I. i. 245; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vi. 247, 411, 433, xii. ii. 952). His opposition to the king soon involved him in peril, and on 10 April 1534, a week before the arrest of Fisher and More, he was committed to the Tower for refusing to take the oath relative to the succession to the crown (ib. vii. 483, 502, 575, viii. 666, 1001; Foxe, v. 68). He was attainted of misprision of treason by act of parliament, deprived of all his preferments, and condemned to perpetual imprisonment. Confinement soon caused his resolution to falter. Before his own execution More wrote him two kindly letters, telling him that he heard that he was going to take the oath, and that he for his own part should never counsel any man to do otherwise (More, English Works, i. 443). Wilson, however, hesitated for many months longer, and on 17 Feb. 1535–6 Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, wrote to Granvelle that it was reported that Henry intended putting him to death (Letters and Papers, x. 308). In 1537 he took the oath, and on 29 May he received a pardon (ib. xii. i. 1315, 1330, ii. 181). On 7 June 1537 he was presented to the deanery in the collegiate church of Wimborne Minster in Dorset, receiving a second grant of the same office on 20 May 1538, and retaining the office until the dissolution of the deanery in 1547 (ib. xii. ii. 191, xiii. i. 1115). Soon after his release, however, he incurred the suspicion of communicating with recusants, and on 25 Aug. 1537 he wrote a submissive letter to Cromwell, professing his desire to conform to the king's wishes (ib. xii. ii. 579). In September he and Nicholas Heath [q. v.] were appointed to confer with Cardinal Pole in the Netherlands, and to endeavour to persuade him to acknowledge the king's ecclesiastical supremacy in England. They received written instructions, in which they were ordered to address the cardinal only as ‘Mr. Pole;’ but Pole's sudden return to Italy prevented the mission, and Wilson was able to appear at Hampton Court on 15 Oct., at Prince Edward's christening (ib. xii. ii. 619, 620, 635, 911). On 20 Dec. he was admitted rector of St. Martin Outwich in London, and earlier in the same year he was elected master of St. John's College, Cambridge, in opposition to the king's nominee, George Day [q. v.], an event which nearly proved fatal to the college. Wilson did not venture to accept the office, and in a letter to Thomas Wriothesley, now in the record office, he disclaimed all knowledge of the society's intention (ib. xii. ii. 425). In 1539 Wilson joined the majority of the lower house of convocation in declaring his intention to accept the determination of the king and bishops in regard to points of doctrine and discipline similar to those contained in the six articles (ib. xiv. i. 1065).
Although Wilson professed to act only in complete submission to the king, yet according to Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador, he was suspected of secret communications with Rome (ib. xv. 736). In May 1540 he was arrested for being privy to the flight of Richard Hilliard, Tunstall's chaplain, to Scotland, and for ‘relieving certain traitorous persons which denied the king's supremacy’ (Hall, Chron. 1548, p. 838). On 4 June he wrote an entreaty to Cromwell to intercede for him (Letters and Papers, xv. 747), but he remained in the Tower until 1541, when, although excepted from the general pardon of the previous year, he was released by the king (ib. xvi. 578; Hall, p. 841). On 20 July 1542 he was collated to the prebend of Bilton in York Cathedral, and on 14 Dec. to that of Hoxton in St. Paul's. He died before 8 June 1548, his will being proved in the same year (P. C. C. 14 Populwell). He wrote a prefatory epistle, dated 1 Jan. 1521, to a sermon preached by Fisher on the burning of Luther's books, which was printed in the Latin edition of Fisher's ‘Works,’ published at Würzburg in 1597. He was also the author of a book printed at Paris before 1535 against Henry's divorce (Letters and Papers, viii. 859). Several manuscript treatises by him of a theological nature are preserved in the record office, and were probably seized at the time of his first arrest (ib. viii. 152, vol. ix. index, s.v. ‘Wilson’). John Leland has some lines to Wilson in his ‘Encomia’ (1589, p. 51).[Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, ed. Brewer and Gairdner; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 94; Tanner's Biblioth. Brit.-Hib.; Le Neve's Fasti Eccles. Angl. ed Hardy; Baker's Hist. of St. John's Coll. Cambr. ed. Mayor, i. 79, 110–12, 361; Newcourt's Repert. Eccles. Londin. 1710 i. 164, 419, ii. 582; Works of Hugh Latimer (Parker Soc.), ii. 365; Bale's Select Works (Parker Soc.), p. 510; Hennessy's Novum Repert. Londin. 1897; Foxe's Actes and Monuments. ed. Townsend, v. 430, 599, vii. 455, 476, 490, 505, 775; Fiddes's Life of Wolsey, 1724, pp. 198, 203; Zürich Letters (Parker Soc.), 1846, pp. 208, 211; Burnet's Hist. of the Reformation, 1865; Hutchins's Dorset, 1868, iii. 188, 190; Demaus's Life of Latimer, 1881, p. 135.]