FISHER, Robert (c.1465-1535).
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Family and Education
b. c.1465, 2nd s. of Robert Fisher of Beverley, Yorks. by Agnes. educ. Beverley sch.; L. Inn, adm. 26 Oct. 1493.2
Steward of the household to John Fisher, bp. of Rochester.3
Robert Fisher and his elder brother John were born at Beverley into a family which, according to John Fisher’s biographer, ‘by trade of merchandise left behind them a competent wealth’. Their father died when they were still young and their mother married again, but she educated them with the money he had left them. After they had both been taught the rudiments of grammar by a priest schoolmaster of the collegiate church of Beverley, John Fisher went on to Cambridge, apparently not without some delay as he was nearly 30 when he took his bachelor’s degree, and in 1493 Robert Fisher entered Lincoln’s Inn, perhaps with the encouragement or assistance of his increasingly successful brother.4
Fisher may have practised as a lawyer but his career was to be bound up with that of his brother, who in 1504 was made bishop of Rochester. He became steward of the bishop’s household and lessee of the episcopal manor of Bromley, and his standing with his brother may have procured his election to one or more of Henry VIII’s early Parliaments, for which the names of the Rochester Members are lost, as it certainly did in 1529. It is as ‘the bishop of Rochester’s brother’ that he appears on a list of Members drawn up by Cromwell in the spring of 1533. Those named (who include Fisher’s fellow-Member Edmund Page) are thought to have been opposed to the bill in restraint of appeals, and although some of them may have been moved to do so by fear of possible reprisals against the wool and cloth trades, Fisher’s objection was presumably one of principle. He is known to have kept the bishop informed, even after John Fisher had been removed to the Tower, of what went on in the Commons: among the measures he reported on were the Act of Supremacy and the Treasons Act, both passed late in 1534. It was of the second of these that he made his famous comment:
‘Now’, said he, ‘speaking is made high treason, which was never heard of before, that words should be high treason. But there was never such a sticking at the passing of any Act in the Lower House as was at the passing of the same.’ ... And that they stuck at the last to have one word in the same, and that was the [word] maliciously, which, when it was put, it was not worth ... for they would expound the same statute themselves at their pleasure.
In view of Fisher’s understandable hostility to the Act which was to doom his brother it is not surprising that his name is missing from a second list of Members, also drawn up by Cromwell and dating from the time when the bill in question was before the Commons: if, as is believed, this records the names of those having a particular connexion with the bill, perhaps as a committee, it could hardly be expected to include one who was so parti pris, even though it does contain the names of some Members who were little likely to welcome the measure.5
In the course of the sixth session the bishop had been attainted of misprision of treason for giving credit to Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent (25 Hen. VIII, c.12). He wrote to Cromwell from Rochester on 18 Feb., before the bill was introduced into the Lords, that he did not deserve the terrible threats which Cromwell had sent him by his brother; Cromwell replied that he had merely advised the bishop to sue to the King for pardon. Two months later he was committed to the Tower and all that his brother could do was to provide for him there, out of his own purse. This Robert Fisher continued to do until his own death, in or shortly after February 1535, deprived the bishop of his support. No will or inquisition post mortem has been found, and Fisher is not known to have been replaced for the final session of the Parliament.6