John PONET

(Bishop of Winchester)

Born: ABT 1514

Died: Aug 1556


Bishop of Winchester, Bishop of Rochester, and a controversial Protestant religious leader.

Ponet graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1533, was elected a fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge in the same year: and proceeded to obtain a Masters of Arts in 1535. He was a pupil of Thomas Smith, who claimed that the new pronunciation of Ancient Greek had been introduced by himself, Ponet, and John Cheke.

Ponet was ordained a priest at Lincoln on 10 Jun 1536. By 1545, he was chaplain to Thomas Cranmer.

By Nov 1548, Ponet had married, even though the Parliament of England had not yet removed the ban on clerical marriage. The following year he dedicated a work defending clerical marriage to Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset.

In 1549, Ponet published 'A Trageodie', or, 'Dialogue of the Unjust Usurper Primacy of the Bishop of Rome', a translation of a work by Bernardino Ochino.

Following Somerset's fall from political power, Ponet was arrested in Nov 1549. However, by Lent 1550, he had been sufficiently rehabilitated to preach before the court and Edward VI. In Mar 1550, he was nominated to the see of Rochester, and was consecrated at Lambeth on 29 Jun. In Jan 1551, he was appointed to a commission to investigate anabaptists in Kent. And on 8 Mar 1551, he was appointed to the see of Winchester in place of Stephen Gardiner.

In Jul 1551, a consistory court at St Paul's announced the formal separation of Ponet from his wife on the grounds that she was already married to a Nottingham butcher. On 25 Oct of the same year, he married the daughter of one of Cranmer's financial officers. Maria Heyman was the daughter of Peter Heyman of Somerfield House, Sellinge, Kent (b. 1502 - d. Aug 1550), who was steward to Thomas Cranmer and a gentleman of the bedchamber to King Edward VI. Her mother was Mary Hawte, the sister of Jane Hawte, Lady Wyatt. Maria and John Ponet had both been charged with bigamy when it had come to light that she already had a husband. Ponet had obtained a formal separation from his first wife, but part of the settlement was that he had to make an annual payment to the butcher. Thomas Cranmer, however, attended Mariaís wedding, giving additional respectability to the occasion.

In 1553 Mary I, a Roman Catholic, succeeded her Protestant half brother to the English throne. Along with 800 other Protestants, Ponet and his wife fled abroad. Ponet was the highest-ranking ecclesiastic among the Marian exiles.

Whilst Ponet was in exile, Mary set about trying to restore Roman Catholicism by making sure that: Edward's religious laws were abolished in the Statute of Repeal Act (1553); the Protestant religious laws passed in the time of Henry VIII were repealed; and the Revival of the Heresy Acts were passed in 1554. The Marian Persecutions begun soon afterwards. In Jan 1555 first of nearly 300 Protestants was burnt at the stake under 'Bloody Mary'. When Thomas Wyatt the younger instigated what became known as the Wyatt's rebellion Ponet returned to England to participate in the uprising. He escaped to Strasbourg after the Rebellion's defeat and was reunited with his wife. A child was born to them in later in 1554, and they were granted citizenship in Feb 1555.

In 1556, Ponet published 'An Apologie Fully Answeringe ... a Blasphemous Book' - another work on clerical marriage, as well as his most important work, 'A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power', in which he put forward a theory of justified opposition to secular rulers. 

Ponet died at Strasbourg in August 1556. Maria Heyman probably remarried while still in exile, taking as her second husband a man named John Hill.

In his day, Ponet was an influential Protestant theologian. However, despite addressing many of the most controversial issues of the mid sixteenth century, he is today best remembered for his sustained attack on the divine right of kings. Ponet's experience of Mary I of England's tyranny led him to question the intellectual foundations of the Supremacy, and to reject outright the idea that the King was ordained by God to rule his Church on Earth, on the Treatise' title page with the motto taken from Psalm 118, Ponet asserts; "It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in princes.", this meant that kings, far from being god-like creatures, were human at best and sub-human at their all-too-frequent worst, and this meant in turn that kings were human creations and had to be subject to human control; "If, therefore a king or queen broke human or divine law, they should be reproved or even deposed. And if, like Mary, they were a cruel and persecuting idolater then it was a virtuous act to assassinate them as a tyrant...".

to Bios Page

  to Home Page