Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Clerk, John (d.1541)

CLERK, JOHN (d. 1541), bishop of Bath and Wells, B.A. of Cambridge 1499, and M. A. 1502, studied law and received the doctor's degree at Bologna. He was instituted to the rectory of Hothfield, Kent, on 21 April 1508, and in 1509 appears as master of the hospital of St. Mary, or the Maison Dieu, at Dover. He was presented to the rectory of Portishead, Somerset, 12 Sept. 1513, and also held the living of Ditcheat in the same county, which he resigned in 1517. In March 1514 he was instituted to the living of Ivychurch, Kent, in the July following to the rectory of West Tarring, Sussex, and in August to the rectory of Charlton. In March 1519 he was presented to the living of South Molton, Devonshire, in the next October he was collated to the archdeaconry of Colchester, on 9 Nov. following he was appointed dean of Windsor, and was shortly afterwards made a judge in the court of Star-chamber. He was Wolsey's chaplain and dean of the king's chapel. Wolsey employed him to transact confidential business with the king in 1517 and 1518. In June 1519 he was sent by the king with a message to Louise of Savoy. In the spring of 1521 he was sent as ambassador to Rome, and arrived there on 20 April. In the following October he presented the king's book to Leo X with a set oration and much ceremony. He was in Rome at the death of Leo X and the election of Adrian, and was employed by Wolsey to advance his interests. He returned to England in the September of the next year. He was appointed master of the rolls on 20 Oct. following, and resigned that office 9 Oct. 1523. On the resignation of the see of Bath and Wells by Wolsey in 1523 Clerk was nominated to the bishopric by papal provision on 26 March, and received the temporalities on 2 May. As bishop-elect he was sent to Rome in this spring to conclude a treaty with Adrian VI, Charles V, the duke of Milan, and the Swiss. He entered Rome on 3 June, and was consecrated bishop there on 6 Dec. following. He worked hard to promote the election of Wolsey, but was outwitted by the Cardinal de' Medici. He left Rome 7 Nov. 1525, and on parting from the pope was presented with a ring worth five hundred ducats. In the course of his journey to England he had an interview on state affairs with Louise of Savoy. In July 1526 he was employed as ambassador to the court of France, where he endeavoured to draw Francis from his idea of an alliance with Charles V, and of a marriage with the Princess Eleonora, and to persuade him to apply for the hand of the Princess Mary of England. In 1527 he was again in Rome on the king's business. He met Cardinal Campeggio at Paris in August 1528, and proceeded to England with him. He was appointed one of the counsellors for Queen Catherine, and in accordance with the command of the legates served their citation on the king and queen on 18 June 1529. On the avocation of the cause of the king's divorce from the legatine court he betrayed the interests of the queen by agreeing with Wolsey that she should withdraw from proceedings at Rome. He joined in pronouncing the king's divorce. In 1540, when returning from an embassy to the Duke of Cleves, he fell sick at Dunkirk, it was thought from poison. Believing himself about to die, he directed that he should be buried in the church of Notre Dame at Calais. However, he lived to return to England, and died 3 Jan. 1541, and was buried in St. Botolph's, Aldgate. He acted as one of the king's ecclesiastical commissioners on some trials for heresy. His diocesan duties were generally performed by two suffragan bishops and by a bishop consecrated to the suffragan see of Taunton. He wrote 'Oratio pro Henrico VIII apud Leonem max. pontif.' 1521, translated into English, and published with Henry VIII's 'Assertio septem sacramentorum,' 1687, 1688. He was appointed to assist in drawing up the 'Institution of a Christian Man,' and is believed to have helped Cranmer in writing certain works on the king's supremacy and divorce.

[Letters and State Papers of Henry VIII, passim; Brewer's Reign of Henry VIII, passim; Friedmann's Anne Boleyn, i. 86; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 754; Ellis's Letters, 2nd and 3rd series; Strype's (8vo edit.) Memorials, i.i. 51, 83; Cranmer, 77, 568; Cooper's Athenæ Cantab. 77; Reynolds's Wells Cathedral, preface 92.]

W. H.