Nicholas HEATH

(Archbishop of York)

Born: ABT 1501, London, Middlesex, England

Died: 1578

Buried: Chobham Church

Nicholas Heath was descended from the Heaths of Apsley, Tamworth. He was born in London about 1501. He received his early instruction at 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 College 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 Apr 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 Doctor of Divinity at Cambridge. In the latter year, together with Edward Fox, he was sent to negotiate with the Princes who formed the Smalcaldic League in Germany with a view to Henry VIII joining the League, and accepting the Confession of Augsburg. In this negotiation Heath is said by Burnet to have won the good opinion of Phillip Melanchthon. On his return to England, Heath was appointed Almoner to the King, and on 6 Sep 1537 was instituted to the Rectory of Bishopsbourne and the Deanery of South Malling.

In 1539 Heath 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 in Nov 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 would be reinstated under Edward VI induced him outwardly to acquiesce in the Protestant reforms then gripping the country, although, from papers discovered later, it appears that he was 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 Prison on 4 Mar 1551. In Sep 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 Queen Mary, who was obsessively Catholic, Heath was restored to his see of Worcester. On 19 Feb 1555 congé d'élire was issued to the Chapter of York to elect Heath as their Archbishop in succession to Archbishop Holgate, who was thus deprived. The election was made and confirmed by a Bull of Pope Paul IV on 21 Jun 1555. 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 Protestant 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 present see of York owes Queen Mary and Archbishop Heath more than a third of its possessions.

These changes were no doubt facilitated by Heath's legal position, as, at the beginning of 1556, he received the Great Seal as Chancellor of England in succession to Sir Nicholas Hare. Heath's occupancy of the see of York was marked by the building of York House in the Strand. 

Immediately on the death of Queen Mary, Archbishop Heath rendered an extremely valuable service to Elizabeth by at once proclaiming her accession in the House of Lords. Queen Elizabeth never forgot this service. The Archbishop continued to hold the office of Chancellor for a short time after Elizabeth's accession. Although as a Catholic he had ultimately to resign this office, he continued as a member of the Council.

In the first year of the new Queen’s reign, Heath rendered another service to the government in the dispute which had arisen between the reformed and the unreformed divines in Parliament. The preliminaries for the discussion were all arranged by Heath in concert with Sir Nicholas Bacon; and when, in the dispute that ensued, Heath’s fellow Catholic divines refused to abide by the preliminaries that had been agreed upon, he 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. When the Bishops were called upon to take the oath enjoined by the Supremacy Act, and were summoned before the Queen, Heath naturally became their leader and spokesman. He showed great boldness on this occasion, calling upon Elizabeth to fulfill Mary's covenant with the Holy see for the suppression of heresy. The Archbishop suffered no ill-consequences from his bold words; but on his ultimate refusal to take the Oath of Allegiance, Heath, together with the other Bishops, was deprived of his see. It is said that the Bishops were taken completely by surprise at thus being deprived, there being no others to take their places.

Heath's deprivation took place on 5 Jul 1559 at the Lord Treasurer's house in Broad Street. 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, 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. Queen Elizabethmore 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. 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 was a great influence in determining the attitude of the Roman Catholic old guard towards her.

With the death of Archbishop Heath, his Chobham manor house and estate passed to his nephew, Thomas, who forfeited both, probably for religious dissent, but ultimately had them restored to him. In 1606 he conveyed them to Francis Leigh (d. 1653) afterwards 1st Earl of Chichester.

In ancient times the lands and site of Chobham Park House were owned by the Abbot and monks of Chertsey. Chobham was granted to Chertsey Abbey before 675 by Frithwald, who was subregulus of Surrey and the founder of the Abbey. The grant was confirmed in 967 by King Edgar. The first sign of habitation dates from the end of the 13th century, perhaps as a place for the Abbot to rest on his rounds, staff in hand, as he toured the Abbey’s possessions. The site probably developed in the manner it did because it was situated further away from the mother-house than the Abbey’s three other demesne manors.

John De Rutherwyck, who was Abbot from 1307 to 1346 and who was noted for the many improvements he carried out in his domain, surrounded the manorhouse of Chobham with running water in the first year of his rule as Abbot.

The old double-moated manor-house on the site of the present Chobham Park House remained with the Abbey until in 1537 Abbott John Cordrey, ‘granted’ it to Henry VIII. Perhaps because the hunting hereabouts was so fine, the King kept the Manor of Chobham for his own use. We know that he visited it in 1538 and again in 1542. He may well have stayed in the old manor house on this site. More certainly we know that Henry’s daughter, Queen Mary, sold it in Jul 1558 to her chancellor, Nicholas Heath, Archbishop of York, for £3,000. The five-hundred-acre parcel of land was enclosed by a pale, thus earning the right to call itself a park. It is marked as a deer park on Norden and Speed’s map of 1610.

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