Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Forest, John
FOREST, JOHN (1474?–1538), martyr, entered the convent of Franciscans of the Observance at Greenwich when about seventeen years of age. Some nine years later he was sent by the convent to study theology in the Franciscan house without Watergate at Oxford. In due time he supplicated the regents for admission to oppose in divinity for the degree of bachelor, but there is no evidence of his having taken any degree, though Pits calls him doctor of theology. After returning to Greenwich he was appointed minister of the English province, but the date is doubtful. In January 1525 Cardinal Wolsey attempted to hold a visitation of the Observants by virtue of his legatine power. This was strongly opposed by most of the friars, but Forest supported his authority, and went so far as to curse nineteen of his recalcitrant brethren at Paul's Cross. This, according to Francis a S. Clara, proves him to have been provincial minister. On the other hand, certain letters from the convent at Greenwich seem to show that he was elected minister to succeed Friar William Peto, who had displeased Henry VIII by his expression of opinion about the divorce. A list of names in Cromwell's hand apparently implies that Forest might be reckoned on as an opponent of Peto on the king's behalf, and he was probably appointed for that reason. The king knew him personally from the fact of his being confessor to the queen (Catherine of Arragon), and at a later time he said that Forest had promised to preach in his support. But after his appointment as minister he became an ardent advocate of the queen's cause, preaching himself on her behalf and preventing other members of his convent from preaching on the other side. Meanwhile discontented friars of his convent frequently complained to Cromwell of his conduct. In the spring of 1533 the king succeeded in procuring his deposition and the appointment of Fr. Jean de la Hey, a Frenchman, as commissary. Forest was sent to some convent in the north, but in the following year was back in London imprisoned at Newgate on a charge of heresy, the basis of which was denial of the king's supremacy. He at first submitted to the court. His confinement, therefore, was not strict, and he was allowed to celebrate divine service and hear confessions. It was found that he used this opportunity of confirming his visitors in the old faith, and employed his leisure in writing a book, 'De auctoritate Ecclesiæ et Pontificis Maximi,' inveighing with great vehemence against the pride and impiety of the king in assuming the title of head of the church. Sentence of death had been passed upon him at the commencement of his imprisonment, and when his relapse was discovered it was immediately carried out. He was burnt on 22 May 1538 in Smithfield with unusual barbarity, being slung alive over a fire instead of being surrounded by faggots. An image called Dderfel Gadern, which had been long venerated in North Wales, was used as fuel to fulfil a Welsh prophecy, which said that it would set a forest on fire. Bishop Hugh Latimer preached a sermon on the occasion, urging him in vain to recant, and the lord mayor, Cromwell, and other great people were present. The book mentioned above is the only literary work which he is said to have composed, and that is not known to be extant. There are, however, some letters of his to Queen Catherine and others printed by Wadding and Parkinson.
[Cal. Hen. VIII, vols. v. vi. vii.; Hall's Chron. pp. 135, 232 b; Bourchier's Hist. Eccl. de Martyrio Fratrum Angl. Ingoldstadt, 1583, p. 28; Francis à S. Clara, Supplem. Hist. Prov. Angl., Douay, 1671, p. 8; Athenæ Oxon. i. 107; Foxe, iv. 590, v. 179; Pits, i. 726; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 292; Wadding's Annales Minorum, xvi. 365, 390, 419; Parkinson's Collect. Anglo-Minoritica, pp. 234, 241; Gasquet's Hen. VIII and English Monasteries, i. 193–201; Froude, iii. 295; Parker Soc.: 1 Lat. xi. 266, 2 Lat. pp. 391–2, 2 Tyn. p. 302, 2 Cran. pp. 365–6, Bale pp. 139, 509; Rawlinson MS. B. 488, f. 41 b.]