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HEATH, NICHOLAS (1501?–1578), archbishop of York and lord chancellor, descended from the Heaths of Apsley, Tamworth, was born in London (Baker), about 1501. He received his early instruction in St. Anthony's School, London, and is also said to have been ‘educated for a time’ at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, founded in 1516. Wood affirms that Heath was nominated to Cardinal Wolsey's College, Oxford, before graduating B.A. in 1519; but the cardinal had not begun to select students for his society at so early a period. Heath afterwards migrated to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he proceeded B.A. in 1519–20, was elected fellow in 1521, commenced M.A. in 1522, and was elected fellow of Clare Hall on 9 April 1524. On 17 Feb. 1531–2 he became vicar of Hever in the deanery of Shoreham. In 1534 Heath was appointed archdeacon of Stafford, and in 1535 took the degree of D.D. at Cambridge. In the last year he was sent, together with Edward Fox, to negotiate with the princes who formed the Smalcaldic League in Germany as to the king of England's joining the league, and accepting the Confession of Augsburg. In this negotiation Heath is said by Burnet to have won the good opinion of Philip Melanchthon. On his return Heath was appointed almoner to the king, and on 6 Sept. 1537 was instituted to the rectory of Bishopsbourne and the deanery of South Malling. In 1539 he was elected bishop of Rochester. An edition of the English translation of the bible, known as ‘the Great Bible,’ which was published by both E. Whitchurch and Richard Grafton [q. v.] in November 1541, is described on the title-page as ‘overseen and perused’ at Henry VIII's command by Heath and Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of Durham. On 22 Dec. 1543 Heath was elected to the see of Worcester, then vacant by the resignation of Hugh Latimer. Burnet says that Heath's fear that Latimer should be reinstated under Edward VI induced him outwardly to acquiesce in the reformed movement, though, from papers discovered later, it appears that he was at the time in constant communication with Reginald Pole and the Princess Mary as to schemes for bringing back the Romish influence. Heath's real views were brought to a test by his being appointed in 1550 as one of the bishops to prepare a form for ordination, which had not been provided in the first prayer-book. A form already arranged by Cranmer was accepted by the other commissioners, but Heath refused to sign it, though acknowledging that it was ‘good and godly’ and professing himself ready to use it. For this opposition Heath was brought before the council, and, ‘refusing obstinately’ to yield, was committed to the Fleet on 4 March 1551. In September 1551 he was again before the council. In spite of much pressure he still refused to yield, and informed the council that he would never consent to take down altars and to set up tables in churches. Heath was thereupon deprived of his see by a mixed commission of divines and laymen, but was allowed to live in the house of Ridley, bishop of London, whom he always called ‘the best learned of the party.’

Immediately on the accession of Mary, Heath was restored to his see of Worcester, which had been held in the meantime by Hooper (August 1553). On 19 Feb. 1555 congé d'élire was issued to the chapter of York to elect Heath as their archbishop in succession to Holgate, deprived. The election was made and confirmed by bull of Pope Paul IV on 21 June 1555, and by the grant of the pall on 3 Oct. The archbishop had previously been appointed president of Wales. He used his influence with Queen Mary to procure considerable benefactions for the see of York. His predecessor had denuded the see of many manors. Of these Heath procured the restitution of Ripon and seven other manors in Yorkshire, and the church of Southwell and five other manors in Nottinghamshire. It is said that the see of York owes Queen Mary and Heath more than a third of its possessions (Willis). These changes were no doubt facilitated by Heath's legal position, as, at the beginning of 1556, he received the great seal in succession to Sir Nicholas Hare, and the temporalities of the see were not restored to him till 26 May 1556. Heath's occupancy of the see of York was also marked by the building of York House in the Strand, he having for this purpose sold Suffolk Place, which had been given to him by the queen. At the death of Queen Mary the archbishop and chancellor rendered a most valuable service to Elizabeth by proclaiming her accession at once in the House of Lords on the announcement of Queen Mary's death. This, he said, ‘would have been a much more sorrowful loss to them, if they had not had such a successor, that was the next and undisputed heir to the crown, of whose right and title none could question’ (Burnet). Queen Elizabeth never forgot this service. The archbishop continued to hold the office of chancellor for a short time after Elizabeth's accession, and on being deprived of the seal was continued in the council. Heath rendered another service to the new government in the disputation between the reformed and unreformed divines at Westminster in the first year of Elizabeth. The preliminaries for the discussion were all arranged by Heath in concert with Sir Nicholas Bacon, and when, in the disputation that ensued, the Romish divines refused to abide by the preliminaries that had been agreed upon, Heath refused to uphold them in their objections, and condemned their disorderly conduct. In the debate in the House of Lords on the bill for establishing the queen's supremacy Heath made a long speech, dwelling especially on the danger of forsaking the see of Rome and on the nature of the supremacy claimed, which he held to be against the word of God. The speech attributed to him by Burnet against the Uniformity Act was made by Abbot Feckenham [q. v.] When the bishops were called upon to take the oath enjoined by the Supremacy Act, and were summoned before the queen, Heath naturally became the leader and spokesman for the party. He showed great boldness on the occasion, calling upon Elizabeth to fulfil Mary's covenant with the holy see for the suppression of heresy (Strype). The archbishop suffered no ill-consequences from his bold words. Upon his ultimate refusal to take the oath, Heath, together with the other bishops, was deprived of his see. It is said that the bishops were completely taken by surprise at the deprivation being enforced, as there were no others to supply their places. Heath's deprivation took place on 5 July 1559 at the lord treasurer's house in Broad Street. On his deprivation he was committed to the Tower, together with some of the other recusants. They were treated mildly and allowed to dine together. In a short time Heath was set at liberty and allowed to retire to his estate at Chobham in Surrey, on giving an undertaking ‘not to interrupt the laws of church and state or to meddle with affairs of the realm.’ This undertaking he appears to have religiously observed, as the queen more than once paid him a visit at his house at Chobham and was loyally welcomed. He was allowed to dispose of his property at will, and died of old age, respected by all, at the end of 1578 (Loseley MSS.). He was buried in the chancel of Chobham Church, a plain black stone marking his grave. His moderate tone was of much service to Elizabeth. As the leading surviving prelate of the Marian days he had much influence in determining the attitude of the Romanists towards her.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 817; Burnet's Hist. Reformation, London, 1841; Strype's Annals of Reformation, vol. i., Oxford, 1824; Willis's Cathedrals of England, vols. i. and ii.; Archæologia, vol. xviii.; Baker's Chronicle, London, 1733; The True Story of the Catholic Hierarchy, by Bridgett and Knox, 1889.]

G. G. P.