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John Clerk



Bishop of Bath and Wells; date of birth unknown; died 3 January, 1541. He was educated at Cambridge (B. A., 1499; M A., 1502) and Bologna, where he became Doctor of Laws. When he returned to England he attached himself to Cardinal Wolsey, and much preferment followed. He became Rector of Hothfield, Kent, 1508; Master of the Maison Dieu at Dover, 1509; Rector of Portishead (Somerset) 1513; Ivychurch (Kent), West Tarring (Sussex), and Charlton, all in 1514; South Molton (Devonshire) and Archdeacon of Colohester, 1519; Dean of Windsor and judge in the Court of Star Chamber, 1519. He was also Dean of the King's Chapel. He was useful in diplomatic commissions both to Wolsey and the king. In 1521 he was appointed ambassador to the Papal Court, in which capacity he presented King Henry's book against Luther to the pope in full consistory. He acted as Wolsey's agent in Rome in the conclave on the death of Leo X. He returned to England to be appointed Master of the Rolls in October, 1522, which office he held till 9 October, 1523. When Wolsey resigned the See of Bath and Wells, in 1523, Clerk was appointed bishop in his stead. As bishop-elect he went on another political embassy to Rome, where he received episcopal consecration, 6 December, 1523. He remained in Rome for two years and once more unsuccessfully represented Wolsey's interests at the conclave in which Clement VII was elected pope. He left Rome in November, 1525, but was so useful as a diplomatic agent that he was never long in England, and his diocese was administered by his two suffragan bishops. When the question of the royal divorce was raised Clerk was appointed as one of the queen's counsellors, but Wolsey persuaded him to agree on her behalf that she should withdraw from proceedings at Rome. Afterwards he joined in pronouncing sentence of divorce, and is believed to have assisted Cranmer in works on the supremacy and the divorce. His last embassy was in 1540, to the Duke of Cleves, to explain the king's divorce of Anne of Cleves. On his return he was taken ill at Dunkirk, not without suspicion of poison, but he managed to reach England, though only to die. He lies buried at St. Botolph's, Aldgate, not at Dunkirk, as sometimes stated.

Clerk wrote "Oratio pro Henrico VIII apud Leonem pontif. Max. in exhibitione operis regii contra Lutherum in consistonio habitam" (London, 1541), translated into English by T. W. (Thomas Warde?), 1687.

Letters and State Papers of Henry VIII (London, 1830-52); CHERBURY, Life and Reign of Henry VIII (London, 1714); HUNT in Dict. of Nat. Biogr., s. v.; DODD, Church Hist. (London, 1737), I, 181-2; COOPER, Athenæ. Cantab. (Cambridge, 1858), I, 77; GILLOW, Bibl. Dict. Eng. Cath. The account of PITTS, De Ang. Scriptoribus (Paris, 1619), is erroneous.

EDWIN BURTON.








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