Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fisher, John (1569-1641)
FISHER, JOHN (1569–1641), Jesuit, whose real name was Percy, son of John Percy, yeoman, and his wife, Cecilia Lawson, was born at Holmside, co. Durham, on 27 Sept. 1569. At fourteen years of age he was received into the family of a catholic lady, and soon afterwards joined the Roman church. He then proceeded to the English College at Rheims, where he studied classics and rhetoric for three years. On 22 Sept. 1589 he entered the English College at Rome for his higher studies. He was ordained priest on 13 March 1592-3, by papal dispensation, before the full canonical age, in consequence of the want of priests for the mission. After publicly defending universal theology at the Roman college, he was admitted into the Society of Jesus by Father Aquaviva, and began his noviceship at Tournay on 14 May 1594. In the second year of his noviceship he was ordered to England for the sake of his health, which had been impaired by over-application to study. On his way through Holland he was seized at Flushing by some English soldiers on suspicion of being a priest, and cruelly treated. Immediately after his arrival in London he was arrested and committed to Bridewell, from which prison, after about seven months' confinement, he succeeded in making his escape through the roof, together with two other priests and seven laymen. In 1596 he was sent by Father Henry Garnett to the north of England, where he laboured till 1598, when he was appointed companion to Father John Gerard in Northamptonshire. In that locality he exercised his priestly functions, and he occasionally visited Oxford, where he became acquainted with William Chillingworth [q. v.], whom he persuaded to renounce the protestant faith (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 87). He was professed of the four vows in 1603. For some time he and Gerard resided first at Stoke Poges, and subsequently at Harrowden, in the house of Mrs. Elizabeth Vaux, widow of William, second son of Lord Vaux of Harrowden. Fisher was afterwards chaplain to Sir Everard Digby [q. v.] In August 1605 he went on a pilgrimage to St. Winifred's well with Sir Everard Digby's wife, Mrs. Vaux, and others. He was arrested in November 1610, with Father Nicholas Hart, at Harrowden, was conveyed to London, and committed to the Gatehouse prison, and after upwards of a year's confinement was released at the instance of the Spanish ambassador, and with Father Hart sent into banishment. Both of them had been tried and condemned to death, and had received several notices to prepare for execution.
After landing in Belgium, Fisher discharged the duties at Brussels of vice-prefect of the English Jesuit mission, in the absence of Father Anthony Hoskins. He was next professor of holy scripture at St. John's Louvain. At length he returned to England, but was at once seized and confined in the new prison on the banks of the Thames He appears, however, to have been allowed considerable freedom of action, and it is said that during his three years' confinement there he reconciled 150 protestants to the Roman church. He was famous for his dialectic skill, and held several controversial conferences with eminent protestant theologians When James I desired a series of disputations to be held before the Countess of Buckingham (who was leaning to Catholicism), Fisher defended the catholic side against Francis White, afterwards bishop of Ely. The king and his favourite (Buckingham, the countess's son) attended the conferences, the third and last of which was held on 24 May 1622, when Laud, bishop of St. David's and afterward archbishop of Canterbury, replaced White. The countess was converted by the Jesuit, whose arguments, however, failed to convince her son and the king. James himself proposed to Fisher nine points in writing upon the most prominent topics of the controversy, in a document headed 'Certain Leading Points which hinder my Union with the Church of Rome until she reforms herself, or is able to satisfy me.' Fisher's replies to these questions were revised by Father John Floyd [q. v.] The relation of the conference between Laud and Fisher forms the second volume of Laud's works (Oxford 1849). On 27 June 1623 another religious disputation was held in the house of Sir Humphry Lynde, between Dr. White, then dean of Carlisle, Dr. Daniel Featley, and the Jesuits Fisher and John Sweet.
When the king of France gave his daughter in marriage to Prince Charles (afterwards Charles I) in 1625, the French ambassador obtained a free pardon for twenty priests, including Fisher, who apparently enjoyed some ten years of liberty under the royal letters of pardon. In December 1634, however, he was arrested, brought before the privy council at Whitehall, and ordered to depart from the realm, after giving bail never to return. As he refused to find sureties, he was imprisoned in the Gatehouse till August 1635, when he was released at the urgent intercession of the queen. During the last two years of life he suffered severely from cancer. He died in London on 3 Dec. 1641.
His works are: 1. 'A Treatise of Faith; wherein is briefly and plainly shown a Direct Way by which every Man may resolve and settle his Mind in all Doubts, Questions, and Controversies concerning Matters of Faith,' London, 1600, St. Omer, 1614, 8vo. 2. 'A Reply made unto Mr. Anthony Wotton and Mr. John White, Ministers, wherein it is showed that they have not sufficiently answered the Treatise of Faith, and wherein also the Chief Points of the said Treatise are more clearly declared and more strongly confirmed,' St. Omer, 1612, 4to. 3. 'A Challenge to Protestants, requiring a Catalogue to be made of some Professors of their Faith in all Ages since Christ.' At the end of the preceding work. 4. An account of the conference in 1622, under the initials A. C. Laud answered this in a reply to the 'Exceptions of A. C.,' which is printed with his own account of the conference. 5. 'An Answer to a Pamphlet, intitvled: "The Fisher catched in his owne Net. ... By A. C.,"' s.l. 1623, 4to. The pamphlet by Daniel Featley, to which this is areply, appeared in 1623, and contains 'The Occasion and Issue of the late Conference had between Dr. White, Deane of Carleil, and Dr. Featley, with Mr. Fisher and Mr. Sweet, Jesuites.' 6. 'An Answere vnto the Nine Points of Controuersy proposed by our late Soveraygne (of Famous Memory) vnto M. Fisher. . . . And the Rejoinder vnto the Reply of D. Francis White, Minister. With the Picture of the sayd Minister, or Censure of his Writings prefixed' [St. Omer], 1625-1626, 8vo.
Among the protestant writers who entered into controversy with Fisher were G. Walker, G. Webb, and Henry Rogers.[De Backer's Bibl. des Écrivains de la Compagnie de Jésus (1869), i. 1870; Dodd's Church Hist. ii. 394; Foley's Records, i. 521, vi. 180, 212, 526, vii. 585, 1028, 1032, 1098; Gardiner's History of England, iv. 279, 281; Heylyn's Cypprianus Anglicus, p. 95; Lawson's Life of Laud, i. 217–19, ii. 533; Le Bas' Life of Laud, p. 55; More's Hist. Missionis Anglic. Soc. Jesu, p. 378; Morris's Condition of Catholics under James I; Oliver's Jesuit Collections, p. 91; Southwell's Bibl. Scriptorum Soc. Jesu, p. 487; Calendar of State Papers; Tanner's Societas Jesu Apostolorum Imitatrix, p. 707; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iv. 971.]