Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hopton, John

HOPTON, JOHN, D.D. (d. 1558), bishop of Norwich, was a Yorkshireman, probably born at Mirfield, the seat of his family. In early youth he joined the Black Friars or Dominicans, and received his education in their house at Oxford, of which he eventually became prior. He made more than one journey to Rome, on one of which he obtained a doctorate in theology at the university of Bologna, and was incorporated at Oxford 17 Nov. 1529. Three years later, however, he proceeded regularly in divinity, and took his degree of D.D. 8 July 1542. He was presented to the rectory of St. Anne and St. Agnes in the city of London by the abbot and convent of Westminster 24 Jan. 1538–9, and held it till his appointment by Princess (afterwards Queen) Mary to the rectory of Fobbing, Essex, 27 May 1548. He also held the benefice of Yeldham Magna in the same county in commendam until his death. The date of his institution does not appear. In Edward VI's reign he was private chaplain and confessor to the Princess Mary. In July 1549 he was summoned before the council, and having professed that he himself ‘allowed’ the new liturgy, was charged with instructions to the princess, requiring her conformity to the new ritual (Strype, Memorials, ii. 238–9). To these instructions Mary paid no heed, and the emperor having made it a question of peace or war between the two countries, Hopton, undaunted by the committal to the Tower of his fellow-chaplain, Mallet, for saying mass to the princess's household, continued to officiate at her house of Copt Hall in Essex. Edward VI says in his journal for 15 Dec. 1550: ‘Ther was lettres sent for the taking of certeine chapelins of the lady Mary for saiing masse, wich she denied.’ The orders of council, 9 Aug. 1551, were repeated more stringently 15 Aug., with the threat that he and his brother chaplains ‘must look for punishment’ if they refused obedience. But, to avoid more serious evils, the illegal service was winked at until the death of Edward, 6 July 1553.

Soon after Mary's accession Hopton was rewarded for his fidelity by the bishopric of Norwich, to which he was consecrated in the chapel attached to the palace of the bishop of London by Bonner, Tunstall, and Thirlby, 28 Oct. 1554. As bishop he signalised himself as one of the most active persecutors of protestants, seconded by his chancellor, one Downing or Duning, who, as Fuller quaintly remarks, ‘played the devil himself, enough to make wood dear, so many did he consume to ashes’ (Fuller, Church Hist. iv. 187). ‘They had not their match,’ writes Foxe, ‘for straitness and cruel handling of the bodies of the saints among all the rest besides.’ Early in the reign Hopton reported to the queen a number of scandalous stories about herself which he found current in his diocese, and very stringent orders were sent to the justices to discover and punish the authors of them as well as the enemies of the true faith (Burnet, pt. ii. Appendix, bk. ii. No. 14; Dixon, Hist. of the Church, iv. 238). Hopton's zeal against heresy was stimulated by Ratcliffe, earl of Sussex, then resident in his diocese, by whose directions he established a system of ‘espionage’ over the propagators of unsound doctrines (Strype, Cranmer, p. 525). Fuller says that Hopton was unmerciful in his visitations; but on a visitation of Norwich at Whitsuntide 1556, he left the city when the alleged heretics were brought up before him for examination by his officials, feeling himself no match for the quick wits of his opponents (Foxe, iii. 628). The persecution continued till the end of Mary's reign. Six suffered in Hopton's diocese in 1555, ten in 1556, sixteen in 1557, and fourteen had been burnt by November 1558, when the death of Mary, twelve days after the last had gone to the stake, interrupted Hopton's atrocities. According to Foxe, those who suffered at the stake in Hopton's diocese numbered forty-six in all. In only two dioceses, London and Canterbury, was the list of martyrs longer. Mary's death was speedily followed by his own. The date is not stated, but it was before the end of the year (1558). He died so deeply in debt that, ‘for all his spare hospitality, he was not able to pay half he owed.’ His debts to the crown swallowed up nearly all he left, his other creditors receiving little or nothing (Strype, Life of Archbishop Parker, i. 75).

Strype's Annals, i. i. 309; Strype's Memorials, ii. i. 238–9, 451, iii. i. 539; Strype's Cranmer, pp. 396, 459, 525, 968; Strype's Parker, i. 75; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ii. 784; Wood's Fasti, i. 83, 94; Godwin, ii. 21; Newcourt's Repertorium, i. 278, ii. 268; Fuller's Church Hist. iv. 187; Foxe's Acts and Monuments, iii. 203, 334, 350, 568, 589, 595, 624, 696, 702, 714, 729, 742, 783; Literary Remains of King Edward VI, ed. Nichols (Roxburghe Club), ii. 297; Dixon's Hist. of Church of England, iii. 146, 299, 309, iv. 238, 389, 402, 585, 711.

E. V.