(Bishop of St. Davids)


Born: BET 1502 / 1505, Halifax / Crosby Ravensworth, Westmorland, England

Died: 30 Mar 1555, Carmarthen, Wales

Married: Elizabeth ?


1. Samuel FERRAR

2. Griffith FERRAR

3. Sage FERRAR

Born at Halifax, started as a young Augustinian canon in Yorkshire, Robert Ferrar was sent by his monastery to study at the universitie of Oxford in about 1522 to become a student at Merton College. Later he was ordained and made a regular canon of St Mary's College, Oxford.

While in Oxford he is believed to have come under the influence of Reformers such as Thomas Garret, a London curate who distributed 'Tindales Testaments' and other prohibited books which challenged the beliefs of the established church in England. Garrett was imprisoned, and Cardinal Wolsey began an enquiry into the amount of heresy which prevailed at Oxford. Robert Ferrar was one of those placed under arrest. The offenders were forced to go in procession to a cross-roads at Carfax, where the banned books found in their possession were ceremoniously burned.

Robert Ferrar continued his studies and in 1533 obtained his degree and became a Bachelor of Divinity. Later he was appointed Professor or Doctor of Divinity. In the 1530s he joined William Barlow in an early attempt to introduce ideas of reform into Scotland.

When he completed his training, Robert was appointed one of the Canons Regular of St Oswald at Nostell in Yorkshire. His education may have been at the expense of the Priory there, every house of its size was obliged to maintain a student at the University.

Ferrar was at Nostell when Thomas Layton, one of the commissioners sent to Yorkshire in 1536 to arrange for the dissolution of the monasteries. Layton reported that he found Prior Alvaredus very sick, bedridden and powerless to stir hand and foot. When the Prior died not long afterwards, Ferrar was appointed Prior of the Monastery. It seems likely he was given the post because he was unlikely to oppose the monastery's surrender when the time came. It was finally dissolved in Nov 1539.

Robert Ferrar received a pension and took up the life of a gentleman farmer at Reeve Hall. Possibly after the death of Henry VIII he married a woman named Elizabeth, by whom he had two boys, Samuel, Griffith, and a daughter called Sage.

Chaplain to Archbishop Cranmer, in 1548 Robert Ferrar was appointed Chaplain to Edward Seymour, who became protector of England on the death of Henry VIII, and in 1547 gained the title Duke of Somerset. Subscribing as Bishop of Sodor, 1545, he was afterwards preferred to the ancient metropolitical see of St. David on 9 Sep 1548.

In the reign of Edward VI he took part in the royal visitation of the Welsh dioceses, helping to establish the Reformation in Wales. His episcopal duties were both enlivened and hindered by a series of clashes with the local gentry and his cathedral clergy, culminating in a notorious lawsuit before the Privy Council, in which he narrowly avoided being deprived of his bishopric. When trivial charges of heresy were brought against him, he was summoned to London to attend an inquisition. Robert was unable to defend himself and thrown into prison to await his fate. His problems deepened in 1552 when the Duke Somerset, who had been instrumental in his appointment of Bishop, fell from royal favour and was executed. After the fall of Somerset, he was imprisoned by the precentor and canons, and continued in confinement during the remainder of the reign of Edward VI.

When Mary Tudor was crowned, she refused to recognise the legality of marriages by the clergy and Robert Ferrar was one of the bishops deposed of their see. Brought before Gardiner, with Hooper, Rogers, and Bradford, on the far more serious matter of his doctrine. The articles exhibited against him clearly show that in all questions of faith he was of one mind with his fellow-martyrs. Like Hooper and Taylor, he was condemned to be burned in the place where he was best known. In Feb 1555 he was sent to Carmarthen in Wales for trial. It was held in the presence of Henry Morgan, the newly appointed Bishop of St David's. Robert Ferrar was offered a pardon providing he would conform to the Roman Catholic teaching, but he refused and he was again committed to prison.

The following month, after several refusals to comply with Morgan's demands, he was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to be burned at the stake. Among almost 300 martyrdoms which were recorded in this period, only three took place in Wales, and chief among these was the burning of Bishop Ferrar. On Saturday 30 Mar 1555, a stake was erected on the south side of the cross in the market place at Carmarthen. Robert was led to scene. He had told a friend before the day of execution that if he saw him once stir in the fire from the pain of his burning, he need not believe the doctrines he had taught. When the awful time came, he did not forget his promise, and he kept it well. He was tied to the stake, the fire was lit, and the Bishop stood un-stirring in the flames. He held out his hands till they were burnt to stumps and a bystander finally struck him on the head and put an end to his suffering.


Bretton, R.: Robert Ferrar, Bishop of St David's.

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