John Forest

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John Forest
St Etheldreda, Ely Place, London EC1 - Nave statue - - 1613379.jpg
Bl. John Forest, nave statue – St. Etheldreda, Ely Place, London
Died22 May 1538
Smithfield, London
Beatified9 December 1886 by Leo XIII
Feast22 May

John Forest (1471 – 22 May 1538) was an English Franciscan Friar and martyr. Confessor to Queen Catherine of Aragon, Forest was burned to death at Smithfield for heresy, in that he refused to acknowledge the King as head of the church.


Born in the Oxford area in 1471, John Forest became a Franciscan Friar Minor of the Regular Observance in 1491 in Greenwich. He went on to study theology at the University of Oxford, later becoming provincial of all the Observant Friars in England, and confessor to Queen Catherine of Aragon, first wife to King Henry VIII.[1] (The Greenwich friary was attached to the Royal Palace at Greenwich.)

The King was eager to gain the sanction of learned men and of those esteemed highly to his plans in regard to the Church. Wealth and honours were offered to those who complied. Those who resisted were threatened.[2] From 1531 the Friars Minor had gained the enmity of the King by opposing his divorce and his movements toward Protestantism.[3]

In November, 1532, as Guardian of the Greenwich friary, Forest spoke to the friars of the plans the King had to suppress the Order in England and denounced from the pulpit at St. Paul's Cross Henry's plans for a divorce. In 1533 he was imprisoned in Newgate prison and condemned to death. In 1534 Henry suppressed the Observant friars and ordered them dispersed to other friaries. John was released from prison but by 1538 was in confinement in a Conventual Franciscan friary at Smithfield, his death sentence having been neither commuted nor carried out.[4] Forest was sent to a convent in the north.

Despite initially recanting, Forest was detained at Newgate Prison, on the basis of denial of the king's supremacy, together with several other Friars, who persuaded him to stand fast in his Roman Catholic beliefs.[5] His confinement, therefore, was not strict, and he was allowed to celebrate mass and hear confessions.[6] From this confinement he could correspond with the Queen and he also wrote a tract against Henry entitled De auctoritate Ecclesiae et Pontificis maximi ("On the Authority of the Church and the Supreme Pontiff"), defending the papal primacy in the Church. He was denounced to the King for this tract and also for refusing to swear the oath of loyalty demanded by Cromwell.[4]

Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer acted as a team on Cromwell's behalf in the proceedings which led to the friar's destruction. Forest was condemned for treason and heresy, the latter to emphasize the spiritual supremacy claimed by the crown.[7]

In accordance with the custom of the time, Bishop Latimer was selected to preach a final sermon at the place of execution urging recantation. In the end, Forest was burnt to death at Smithfield, London on 22 May 1538,[8] where he was suspended over the fire in chains. John Forest was the only Catholic martyr to be burned at the stake during the English Reformation.[4] Extra fuel for the pyre is said to have been provided by an enormous statue of St. Derfel from the pilgrimage site of Llandderfel in north Wales, and of which it was prophesied, would "one day set a forest on fire."[9]

Forest, together with 53 other English martyrs, was beatified by Pope Leo XIII, on 9 December 1886.[3]


  1. ^ Gasquet, Francis Aidan. Henry VIII and the English Monasteries, G. Bell, 1906, p. 57Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ Camm O.S. B., Dom Bede. "Blessed John Forest". Lives of the English Martyrs Declared Blessed by Pope Leo XIII, Vol. I, p. 274, Longmans, Green and Co., London 1914
  3. ^ a b Thaddeus, Fr. "Blessed John Forest." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 11 Mar. 2013
  4. ^ a b c "Blessed John Forest 1471 – 1538", Saints and Blesseds of the OFM Province in Britain
  5. ^ Demaus, Robert. (1904) Hugh Latimer: a biography. Religious Tract Society, London, United Kingdom. Page 293
  6. ^ Trice 1889.
  7. ^ Gasquet, p. 58, n.1.
  8. ^ Duffy, Eamon. (2005) The Stripping of the Altars. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. 2nd. Edition. ISBN 0-300-10828-1, page 404
  9. ^ "Three Saints, Two Wells & a Welsh Parish by Tristan Gray Hulse". Archived from the original on 20 April 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2009.

External links[edit]


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainMartin, Charles Trice (1889). "Forest, John". In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 19. London: Smith, Elder & Co.