Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fox, Edward

FOX, EDWARD (1496?–1538), bishop of Hereford, was born at Dursley in Gloucestershire. He was educated at Eton, whence he proceeded to King's College, Cambridge, the date of his admission being 27 March 1512. According to Lloyd, he was ‘wild’ in his youth, but his brilliant talents afterwards made him the ‘wonder of the university.’ The same writer implies that Fox was partly indebted for his advancement as a scholar to his relationship to Richard Foxe [q. v.], bishop of Winchester; but these are statements with respect to which we have no confirmatory evidence. His whole career gives us the impression that he possessed not only great abilities, but also a readiness, tact, and indomitable energy which rendered him especially adapted for difficult negotiations. His early success must, however, be to a great extent attributed to the fact that he obtained the appointment of secretary to Wolsey. At what time this occurred does not appear, but his admission as prebendary of Osbaldwicke in the county of York, which took place 8 Nov. 1527, was probably one of the earliest proofs of the archbishop's favour.

In the early part of 1528 he was sent with Gardiner by Wolsey to Rome, for the purpose of overcoming Clement VII's scruples as to granting a commission and a dispensation with respect to King Henry's marriage with Catherine. They were enjoined especially to represent the dangers that would ensue from a disputed succession, and the likelihood in that event of England declining from obedience to the holy see (Letters and Papers, Hen. VIII, ed. Brewer, IV. ii. passim). In a letter (12 May) written to Gardiner on his return, Fox gives a detailed account of his reception at court, together with the report of their mission, which he gave to the king and council, and of the manner in which it was received (Pocock, Records of the Reformation, pp. 141–55). On 22 Sept. 1528, being D.D., he was elected provost of King's College, on the recommendation of the king and Wolsey. On the arrival of Campeggio in England in the same year, and his first audience with the king (22 Oct.), Fox made an ‘elegant reply’ to the address of Florian, the legate's spokesman. It was in the following August (1529) that, being at Waltham in attendance on the king, he held with Cranmer [see Cranmer, Thomas] their historic conversation respecting the legality of the royal marriage. It was Fox who reported Cranmer's observation to Henry, and thus became the means of introducing him to the king, and of bringing about his rapid rise in the royal favour. In October Fox was sent on an embassy to Paris, and in December he was presented to the mastership of the hospital of Sherburn, Durham. In the following January (1529–30) he appears as intervening at Cambridge for the purpose of putting an end to a controversy which had there arisen between Latimer and the Romanist party, his influence evidently inclining in favour of the former, mainly, it would seem, because Latimer was known to have pronounced in favour of the royal divorce. Fox, however, admits in his letter that Latimer is perhaps ‘more vehement than becomes the very evangelist of Christ, and purposely speaks paradoxes to offend and slander people.’ In the ensuing month he visited the university along with Stephen Gardiner, in order to wring from the academic body a formal expression of opinion in favour of the divorce. Their object was not accomplished without difficulty, and the means by which it was ultimately brought about cast a slur on the chief agents in the matter. In the following April Fox was sent on a similar errand to Oxford, along with John Longland, bishop of Lincoln, and John Bell, afterwards bishop of Worcester [q. v.] His account of their proceedings, transmitted to the king, is still extant in his own handwriting (Pocock, Records, pp. 291–3). He next went with the same object to Paris; and Reginald Pole, writing to Henry (7 July) and giving some account of the circumstances under which the conclusion of the university there was arrived at, states that the adverse party had used every effort to prevent its being carried, but that Fox (who appears to have been the bearer of his letter) had ‘used great prudence and diligence in withstanding them.’ In May 1531 he again proceeded to France on the same business. Chapuys, in a letter to the emperor, describes him as an ‘habile galant, and one of the boutefeus in this matter of the divorce.’ On 26 Sept. the same writer states that Fox has again been sent to Paris, and adds that, in order ‘to enable him to do it better, the lady’ (Anne Boleyn) ‘has given him benefices and the office of almoner.’ In December Fox returned to England; and on New Year's day we find the queen presenting him with a piece of arras.

The tact and ability which he showed in these difficult and delicate negotiations led to his frequent employment in other political business. In 1532 he appears as one of the signatories to the treaty with France; and when, at the celebration of high mass, the treaty received the signature of Henry and the French ambassador, Fox, according to Chapuys, made a speech in praise of the alliance, describing it as ‘inviolable and eternal’ and ‘the best means of resisting the Turk.’ In April 1533 he was appointed on the commission to conclude a yet stricter ‘league and amity’ with Francis I, and in 1534 discharged a like function in arranging terms of peace with Scotland. The whole conduct of the divorce transactions appears to have now been mainly in his hands, and Sir George Casale refers to him as the best informed among English statesmen with respect to the negotiations on the subject which had been going on in Italy. In April 1533, when the lawfulness of Henry's first marriage was under discussion by convocation, he presided in the place of the prolocutor. In the following May, on the occasion of an official conference with Chapuys at Westminster, he was appointed to reply to Chapuys, to whom he represented that ‘the king, by his great learning, moved by the Divine Spirit, had found that he could not keep the queen as his wife, and, like a catholic prince, he had separated from her, and that there was no occasion to discuss the matter further’ (Rolls Series, 25 Hen. VIII, No. 465). He took a leading part in the attempts made to induce Catherine to give her assent to the statute respecting the succession, and in 1534 he published his treatise ‘De vera Differentia Regiæ Potestatis et Ecclesiæ.’ It was printed by Berthelet, and a second edition was published in 1538. Fox, by this time, had definitely taken his stand as a reformer, and Chapuys describes him as, along with Cranmer and Cromwell, ‘among the most perfect Lutherans in the world.’

In the meantime honours and preferments had been showered liberally upon him. On 3 Jan. 1528 he was presented to the rectory of Combemartin in the diocese of Exeter. In 1531 he was appointed archdeacon of Leicester, and continued to hold that office until his election as bishop of Hereford. In January 1532 he received a grant, in augmentation of the royal alms, of all goods and chattels of deodands and suicides in England. In 1533 he was promoted to the deanery of Salisbury and the archdeaconry of Dorset. In May 1535 he was presented to a canonry and prebend in the collegiate church of SS. Mary and George in Windsor Castle. In the following August he was elected to the bishopric of Hereford, the royal assent being given on 2 Sept. During the former month he appears to have been much with Cranmer at Lambeth, occupied probably in discussing with the primate the various points on which he would have to confer with the Lutheran divines in Germany, to whom it was proposed he should go as a delegate for the purpose of winning them over to Henry's side. On the 31st he received his credentials from the king at Bromham in Wiltshire, and in October he set out with Dr. Nicolas Heath, archdeacon of Stafford, for Germany. They were instructed to proceed first to the elector of Saxony, and afterwards to the other German princes. On their arrival at Wittenberg they had an interview with Luther, who, although he could not conceal his amazement at their apparent confidence in the justice of their cause, expressed himself willing to listen to their arguments. He, however, became wearied by their pertinacity and prolonged stay, which was protracted to April, Fox, in that month, even going so far as to follow the doctors of the university to the diet at Frankfort. At length he and his colleagues were dismissed, taking back to England as the reply of the protestant divines of Germany, that, although the king had doubtless been moved by very weighty reasons, and it was impossible to deny that his marriage was against natural and moral law, they could not persuade themselves that he had acted rightly in the matter of the divorce.

In 1536 Fox was sent on a similar errand to France. In the same year his growing sympathy with Lutheran doctrine was shown by the support which he gave to Alexander Alane [see Alesius], on the occasion when the young reformer pleaded his own cause before convocation. The whole of Fox's remarkable speech is printed in the 8th book of Foxe's ‘Acts and Monuments;’ it contains, among other noteworthy utterances, an explicit declaration, that ‘the lay people do now know the Holy Scriptures better than most of us.’ In the same year Martin Bucer dedicated to him the edition of his ‘Commentaries on the Gospels’ printed at Basle.

Fox died in London 8 May 1538, and was buried in the church of St. Mary Mounthaw there. His will, dated on the day of his death, was proved 20 March 1538–9. Some of his sayings have become proverbial. ‘The surest way to peace is a constant preparedness for war.’ ‘Oft was this saying in our bishop's mouth,’ says Lloyd, ‘before ever it was in Philip the Second's—“Time and I will challenge any two in the world”’ (State Worthies, ed. 1670, pp. 88–9).

Fox's chief work was the ‘De vera Differentia’ above mentioned, which his warm friend and admirer, Henry Stafford, only son of Edward, duke of Buckingham, translated into English (8vo, 1548). He appears to have been the joint author, along with Stokesley, bishop of London, and Dr. Nicolas, of a volume ‘afterwards translated into English, with additions and changes, by my lord of Canterbury,’ entitled ‘The Determinations of the most famous and mooste excellent universities of Italy and Fraunce, that it is so unleful for a man to marie his brothers wyfe, that the pope hath no power to dispence therewith,’ London, 8vo, 1531.

[Letters and Papers of the Reign of Hen. VIII, ed. Brewer and Gairdner; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabrigienses, vol. i.; manuscript notes to Baker's copy of the De vera Differentia in St. John's College Library, A. 3, 36; Pocock's Records of the Reformation; Lloyd's State Worthies; Lelandi Encomia.]

J. B. M.