Three British Martyrs: Bishop Hooper

Our continuing study of the three British martyrs leads us now to Bishop Hooper. John Hooper was born in 1495 in Somerset, England. He went on to study at the University of Cambridge and received his bachelor’s degree. Then we are not sure what happened to him. He probably came under the influence of the Reformation in Germany and for his own sake stayed off the radar. We know he showed up at Oxford and in 1539, after Henry VIII signed the Act of Supremacy in 1534, which established the Church of England.

Even in those early years of the English Reformation, Henry was not entirely friendly with Reformers on the Continent, and of course, Bishop Hooper was very friendly with Reformers on the Continent. And he found himself in conflict with the king. So, he left England and headed to France. He remained there with the Huguenots and studied alongside them. We also know that he made his way to Switzerland and befriended Heinrich Bullinger, who succeeded Huldrych Zwingli in Zurich and who was very much an influence on Bishop Hooper.

When Edward VI ascended to the throne, Hooper left Switzerland and returned to his beloved England. He immediately went after those bishops who were not thoroughly committed to the Reformation and chased them out of their pulpits. He was bishop of Gloucester and then bishop of Worcester two years later. And then, Edward VI died.

In 1553, Mary I came to the throne, and like many Reformed figures who flourished under Edward, Bishop Hooper was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was there from 1553 until 1555. In January 1555, he was called out before the council and given the opportunity to recant of his teachings. If he did so, he would be released and restored to his position. He refused. This happened almost daily, as it did for so many of the martyrs, and it happened for Hooper on many occasions that he was brought before the council and given an opportunity to recant. Every time, he refused to do so.

Finally, on February 9, he was led out and taken to the place of his execution and given one last opportunity to recant. He again refused, and on February 9, 1555, Bishop Hooper was burned at the stake.

John Foxe records the events in his famous Book of Martyrs. He tells us that when Hooper was led before his executioners, he asked the people to pray the Lord’s Prayer with him and to pray for him, which they did. Foxe records that there was much crying while he was suffering. Foxe also records that he went up to the stake and an iron hoop was placed around his chest and the stake while he was burning. And a similar hoop was offered to hold his neck and his legs and he refused them. And this man who had studied at Cambridge, who had studied with the Huguenots in France, who had studied in Zurich under Bullinger, who had faithfully proclaimed the gospel from his pulpit and from his post as bishop, this man suffered a great deal as he was burned at the stake. And he took his place not only among the martyrs in Britain but also among the martyrs through the centuries who have faithfully borne witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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