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Part 11: Defender of the Queen

Fisher's defence of the queen did not end when the court was adjourned sine die. He preached in her favour and wrote seven or eight books in her defence, one of which was translated into Spanish and published in Spain. 47 During his imprisonment in the Tower of London the bishop remarked that: "The matter was so serious both on account of the persons concerned, and on account of the injunction given me by the king, that I devoted more attention to examining the truth of it, lest I should deceive myself and others, than anything else in my life." The validity of Catherine's marriage was defended by some of the most eminent theologians of the day, among them being Cardinal Cajetan. Professor J. J. Scarisbrick lists these theologians, praises some of their works as being of a very high order, but adds:
Of them all, it was Fisher who earned the palm. He wrote at least seven books on Catherine's behalf and their clarity and range of learning are remarkable. He had an eagle eye for the essential and the decisive, his command of sources was staggering. Several times he exposed crucial misquotation and misrepresentation . . . and showed himself as much at home in Hebrew textual exegesis as in the intricacies of the Canon Law of affinity. Having declared himself an opponent of Henry at the very beginning, in 1527, he sustained his opposition for eight years, flailing the king with his pen, devastating new works of the latter's party as they came out, providing the backbone of Catherine's defence in court and eventually, when he had no more to write, carrying on the campaign from the pulpit. That Henry should have had this indefatigable bishop fulminating on his doorstep (and, in this, Fisher was very different from the silent More) must have been an insult so provocative that one can only marvel that ultimate retribution was delayed until 1535. There could have been no other solution to the problem of this man than death. 48

Fisher's defence of Queen Catherine made Anne Boleyn his implacable enemy; and henceforth he was a marked man. The bishop was trying to deny her the throne of England, and that she would never forgive. If he likened Henry to Herod, he must think of her as Herodias, and, indeed, like John the Baptist he would lose his head as a consequence. Anne was particularly mortified by the evident affection of the common people for the queen. Throughout Catherine's life they were on her side. They cheered the Spanish queen whenever she appeared upon the streets, and met the procession of Henry and Anne with surly silence.

47. At that time a tract of a dozen or so pages could be described as a book.
48. Scarisbrick, op. cit., note 38, p. 167. Chapter 7 of this book contain a detailed exposition of the arguments for and against the validity of the dispensation of Pope Julius, and of the defence of the dispensation by John Fisher. There had in fact been two dispensations, one stating that the marriage had perhaps been consummated (forsan consummatum) and the second discovered in Spain in 1528 in which there is no forsan, and dispenses from a valid consummated marriage. This was so damaging to Henry's case that he declared it to be spurious. It is not necessary to examine the significance of the two dispensations for the purposes of this short study; the question is explained very clearly in Scarisbrick. See also, Kelly, op. cit., p. 62.


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