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Barnes, Robert (DNB00)


BARNES, ROBERT, D.D. (1495–1540), protestant divine and martyr, was a Norfolk man, born in the neighbourhood of Lynn. Bishop Bale, who was born in 1495 and studied with him at Cambridge in 1514, says that he was of the same age with himself. It must have been two or three years before that date—in fact, while he was still a boy, if we are to interpret Bale's word impubes strictly—that he was made an Augustinian friar, and joined the convent of Austin friars at Cambridge. Here he discovered a taste for learning, and was sent for a time to study at Louvain; on his return to Cambridge, he was made prior of the house. A devoted pupil named Thomas Parnell came back from Louvain with him, and read with him, as Foxe informs us, ‘copia verborum et rerum,’ not the well-known work of Erasmus so entitled, but classical authors such as Terence, Plautus, and Cicero; by which ‘he caused the house shortly to flourish with good letters, and made a great part of the house learned who before were drowned in barbarous ignorance.’ It is strange that in telling us this Foxe should have glanced at the title of a work of Erasmus without mentioning him by name, especially as the great Dutch scholar must have been at Cambridge at least part of the time that Barnes was there, and could scarcely have been ignorant of the efforts of a fellow-worker to revive learning at the university. But it is more extraordinary still that, if Barnes produced any marked impression in this way, not a word should be said about him, good or evil, in all the correspondence of Erasmus. We cannot, however, reasonably doubt that he drew to himself at Cambridge a number of congenial souls, of whom Foxe mentions five by name, one of them being Miles Coverdale, afterwards so well known for his translation of the Bible. He discussed questions of divinity at the university, and was made D.D. in 1523. He then became acquainted with the writings of Luther, and adopted his opinions, to which it appears he was converted by Thomas Bilney, the Norwich martyr. He first laid himself open to a charge of heresy by a sermon delivered at St. Edward's church, at Cambridge, on Sunday, 24 Dec. 1525, on the text, ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway’ (Phil. iv. 4), in which he depreciated the special observance of great festivals like that of the day following, and put forth various other unconventional opinions. It was a sermon of a highly puritanical character, well calculated to raise a stir; but when brought before the vice-chancellor at Clare Hall he declined to repudiate sentiments which he had not precisely uttered, or to give any satisfactory explanation. The result was that he was sent up to London to appear before Wolsey as legate. The substance of his examination, both at Cambridge and before Wolsey, is recorded by himself, and gives us, what was certainly not intended by the writer, rather a favourable impression of the cardinal's real humility. Wolsey read over to him the catalogue of articles charged against him, asking his reasons occasionally on one or other point. At last he came to the 22nd article, by which it appeared that Barnes had attacked his pomp and splendour as a cardinal. ‘How think ye?’ said Wolsey. ‘Were it better for me, being in the honour and dignity that I am, to coin my pillars and poleaxes and give the money to five or six beggars than for to maintain the commonwealth by them as I do?’ Barnes answered that he thought it would be more conducive to the honour of God and the salvation of the cardinal's soul that the pillars and poleaxes should be coined and given away in alms; as for the commonwealth, it did not depend on them. Wolsey seems to have thought him a foolish fellow, and to have been anxious to put an end to the proceedings against him. ‘Will you be ruled by us,’ he asked him, ‘and we will do all things for your honesty and for the honesty of the university?’ ‘I thank your grace,’ replied Barnes, ‘for your good will. I will stick to the holy scripture and to God's book, according to the simple talent that God hath lent me.’ ‘Well,’ said the cardinal, ‘thou shalt have thy learning tried to the uttermost, and thou shalt have the law.’

He was accordingly examined in February 1526 by the bishops of London, Rochester, Bath, and St. Asaph's, on twenty-five articles objected to him. In preparing his answers Coverdale and two other of his Cambridge friends acted as his secretaries. He would have been sent to the Tower, but, at the intercession of Wolsey's secretary, Gardiner, and Edward Fox, he was committed to the custody of a serjeant-at-arms till produced at the chapter-house at Westminster before the bishops. The result of his examination was that he was called on to abjure or burn, and he is said to have had serious thoughts of enduring the latter alternative; but Gardiner and Fox persuaded him to accept the former. Gardiner, who had known him at Cambridge, himself describes him as having been ‘beloved of many as a good fellow in company,’ though ‘of a merry scoffing wit;’ and he could not but befriend him. He and four German merchants of the Steelyard, who had been condemned at the same time for propagating Luther's writings, were sentenced to carry faggots at St. Paul's. On the day appointed the cathedral was crowded. The cardinal, with six-and-thirty abbots, mitred priors and bishops in full pomp, sat enthroned on a scaffold at the top of the stairs, and Bishop Fisher, of Rochester, preached a sermon against Lutheranism; after which Barnes and the others knelt down, asked forgiveness of God, the church, and the cardinal, and then were conducted to the rood at the north door of the cathedral, where, a fire being lighted, they cast in their faggots. They were then absolved by Bishop Fisher.

Nevertheless Barnes, who had been previously committed to the Fleet, was sent back thither, and remained half a year in prison. Afterwards he was given up to his own order and placed in the Austin Friars in London, where he continued ‘a free prisoner,’ as Foxe calls him, for some time; but upon further complaints being made against him he was transferred to the Austin Friars at Northampton, where he once more stood in danger of being burned as a relapsed heretic. How he had merited such treatment we are not informed by sympathising biographers; but a Lollard examined for heresy some time afterwards distinctly states that he had visited Friar Barnes at the Austin Friars in London at Michaelmas 1526, and that Barnes had surreptitiously sold him a New Testament, and promised to write to a clergyman in Essex to encourage him in heresy (Strype's Eccl. Mem. I. ii. 55). This in itself, after a recantation of former errors, was enough to place him in considerable danger; but he contrived, probably in 1528 (in the third year of his imprisonment, says Bale), to escape beyond sea to Antwerp. He pretended to be mad; wrote a letter saying he meant to drown himself, and left his clothes where they might appear to give evidence of the fact. He spent the next two or three years in Germany, where, to avoid detection, he assumed the name of Anthonius Amarius, or Antonius Anglus, became acquainted with Luther and the other German reformers (he even lodged with Luther), and obtained some influence with Frederic I of Denmark and the Duke of Saxony. In this exile he wrote a treatise in defence of some articles of the Lutheran faith, which was published in German, with a translation by Bugenhagen, in 1531. During the same year he was invited to return to England by Henry VIII's minister Cromwell, who saw that his master now required the aid of protestant arguments against the see of Rome. Foxe absurdly says that he was sent ambassador to Henry VIII, his own king, by the king of Denmark. It is pretty clear from the correspondence of the time that Henry really wanted him in England; a copy of his book having been sent over by Stephen Vaughan for presentation to the king (Calendar, Henry VIII, vol. v. Nos. 532–3, 593). But he certainly did not come as an ambassador, nor was he openly recognised as having been sent for by the king, else Sir Thomas More, who was then lord chancellor, would not have attempted (as Foxe informs us that he did) again to put him in prison. More, of course, only tried to put in force the existing law against a runaway friar; but Barnes was sufficiently protected by Cromwell and the king, and Sir Thomas contented himself with answering him in print.

During this period of his return to England he took up his abode in London at the Steelyard, the house of the German merchants. One day, at Hampton Court, he met his old friend Gardiner, who had before persuaded him to recant some absurdities, among others the opinion that it was unchristian to sue any one for debt. This proposition Barnes had hotly maintained, but had afterwards recanted on being shown by Gardiner a passage in St. Augustine's writings to the contrary. Yet after his recantation he had perversely returned to his old opinion, declaring in a printed book that Gardiner had inveigled him into the recantation by a garbled extract, and that the latter part of the passage in St. Augustine really favoured his view. Being now brought again into contact with Gardiner, who had recently become bishop of Winchester, he was compelled to ask forgiveness for this statement, and confess to him on his knees in the presence of Cranmer that St. Augustine's authority was altogether against the view that he had upheld; and he promised to write another book in Gardiner's justification, who upon this became friends with him once more, and had him to his own house.

He appears to have remained in England till 1534, when he was sent by Henry VIII to Hamburg. He wrote from that city on 12 July, advising Henry to make an alliance with the newly elected king of Denmark, Christian III. But he immediately afterwards returned home, and the very next month (August) he is spoken of as having daily discussions with the bishops and other divines in England, chiefly, doubtless, on the new doctrine of the royal supremacy. Early in the following year he appears to have been sent to Germany to procure from the Lutheran divines an approval of Henry VIII's divorce and second marriage. It was not a very hopeful attempt, seeing that he had already tried to extort such an opinion from Luther himself, even before the marriage with Anne Boleyn, and Luther had given him a very unfavourable reply (Lutheri Epp. 257). He very soon returned to England, and was again despatched in July of the same year to Wittenberg with letters from the king to the Elector of Saxony, in which he was designated the king's chaplain. One object of this second mission was to prevent Melanchthon from accepting an invitation from Francis I to visit France and get him rather to come to England, where Henry VIII desired to confer with him. But, though well disposed to do so, Melanchthon was not allowed by the elector to visit either sovereign.

After returning from this mission Barnes remained for some years in England. In 1537 he was left executor to a puritanical alderman named Humphrey Monmouth, who desired to be buried without any ringing of bells or singing of dirges, and left a bequest for thirty sermons instead of the usual thirty masses after his funeral. Next year Barnes and one or two others introduced for the first time the practice of saying the mass and the ‘Te Deum’ in English. He took part in the religious conferences held that year before the king, with some divines from Germany, of whose views he seems to have been the only English supporter. He was, however, a strong opponent of the anabaptists and of the sect called sacramentarians, who denied transubstantiation, insomuch that he was named on a commission for the examination and punishment of the former (1 Oct. 1538), and took some part in calling the unfortunate martyr Lambert to account for his opinions.

In 1539 he was sent into Germany to negotiate the king's marriage with Anne of Cleves, a mission not calculated in the end to win him the king's gratitude. Next year a catholic reaction took place, and Anne of Cleves was repudiated. But Barnes had got into serious trouble, and, it must be said, by his own extreme arrogance, before there was any visible sign of the coming change. In the early part of the year he and two other preachers of the same school, named Garret and Jerome, were appointed to preach at Paul's Cross; but the arrangement was altered to allow Gardiner, the bishop of Winchester, to preach the first Sunday in Lent. The bishop in his sermon made some severe remarks on the part that friars had taken in the sale of indulgences, and observed that, though the order had been abolished, their sophistries had not been got rid of. ‘Now they be gone with all their trumpery,’ he said; ‘but the devil is not yet gone.’ Men who no longer wore friars' habits offered heaven without works to sinners. This Barnes felt as a home-thrust. Luther's doctrine of justification by faith seems to have been specially popular among those who had belonged, like him, to Luther's own order, the Augustinians; and when his turn came to preach on the third Sunday in Lent he attacked the bishop personally from the same pulpit with much scurrilous abuse and invective. The insult was too gross to be passed over. Urged by his friends, Gardiner complained to the king, who appointed two divines to hear the dispute in private. Putting aside the personal question, Gardiner challenged his opponent to answer his arguments, and gave him a night to prepare his reply. Next morning, after the discussion had lasted two hours, Barnes fell on his knees before him and asked pity, praising the bishop's learning. Gardiner lifted him up and frankly forgave his rudeness, offering to provide a living for him in his own house if he would live ‘fellow-like’ and give no more offence. For two days Barnes seems to have been shaken in his opinions, and even brought one of his own associates to Gardiner to hear his arguments against their favourite heresies. He also signed a retractation; and he and his two friends who had preached in Lent were appointed to preach again in Easter week at St. Mary Spital.

They did so, and Gardiner was present at Barnes's sermon; the preacher appealed to him publicly for forgiveness in a way which rather hurt his feelings, as it seemed calculated to advertise his own humility and cast a doubt upon the genuineness of Gardiner's charity. Yet after the bidding prayer he returned to the old doctrine that he had recanted, or, at least, preached such an ambiguous sermon that the lord mayor, who was present, appealed to the bishop whether he should not at once send him to prison. The sermons of the other two seem to have been equally unsatisfactory, and by order of the council they were all three sent to the Tower. An act of attainder was passed against them in parliament, and they were excepted from the general pardon promulgated this year. On 30 July they were taken to Smithfield, together with three others who had long suffered imprisonment for opinions of a totally opposite description. The latter had been condemned by a bill of attainder in parliament for denying the king's supremacy, and were put to the horrible death then awarded to traitors; while Barnes and his two companions, as heretics, were committed to the flames. Such was the final reward of one whose narrow fanaticism had led him at one time to espouse even with too much warmth the cause of the king, his master. He died a victim to that royal supremacy which he had done his best to promote. Being condemned, moreover, without a hearing, simply by a bill of attainder, no one knew the precise cause for which he suffered. Luther supposed it was for his opposition to the divorce from Anne of Cleves, which may possibly be true. Such biographical notices of Barnes as have hitherto appeared have been founded almost entirely on the statements of puritanical writers like Hall and Foxe, whose well-known prejudice against Bishop Gardiner coloured everything relating to the persecutions of this period. This is the first account of him in which Gardiner's own statements, published at a time when, as he himself repeatedly says, they could all be corroborated by living witnesses, have been even taken into account. They show clearly that it was the supposed persecutor who was forbearing, and that it was the victim who was arrogant, dogmatic, and conceited, far beyond what his real attainments justified.

His principal writings, so far as they are known to us, are as follows: 1. ‘Furnemlich Artickel der Christlichen Kirchen,’ published in German under the name of Antonius Anglus at Nürenberg in 1531. 2. ‘A Supplicacion unto the most gracyous prynce Henry the VIII,’ London, 1534 (an earlier undated edition). 3. Vitæ Romanorum Pontificum,’ Basle, 1535. 4. Various Tracts on Faith and Justification. 5. ‘What the Church is, and who bee thereof.’ The confession of faith which he uttered just before his death was translated into German, and numerous editions of it were published the same year (1540), and shortly afterwards at Augsburg, Wittenberg, and other places in Germany. Barnes's English works, with those of Tyndall and Frith, were issued by Daye, edited by Foxe, in 1573.

[The Supplication of Dr. Barnes; Gardiner's Declaration against Joye; Coverdale's Confutation of Standish; Foxe; Bale's Scriptores; Daye's edition of Tyndall, Frith, and Barnes; Wriothesley's Chronicle; Seckendorf; Strype; Calendar of Henry VIII, vol. v. sq.; Melanchthon's Letters; More's Confutacion of Tyndal (2nd part); Luther's Preface to Barnes's Confession (Erlangen edit. of Luther's Works, lxiii. 396–400); Wilkins, iii. 836; Stat. 32 Hen. VIII, c. 49, s. 10, and c. 60.]

J. G.