Picture showing a prone body with fluid flowing from where head has been cut off. Three others kneel nearby appearing to pray as one has rosary beads in hand. A man with a raised axe stands above.

The executions of Thomas More and John Fisher

This engraving, which shows the execution of Thomas More, also depicts the death of his friend and fellow protestor against Henry VIII’s religious reforms, John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester.

John Fisher

Fisher was a learned theologian, Chancellor of the Cambridge University, and had been the confessor to Henry VIII’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. Like Thomas More he defended Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon; he also refused to sign the act acknowledging Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth, as the heir to the throne. In 1534 he was imprisoned in the Tower and executed the following June.

His execution was brought forward by a day when the king realised that it was scheduled to occur on June 24th, the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, Fisher’s patronal saint.  John the Baptist was executed for objecting to King Herod’s adultery. The parallels between Herod and the English king were uncomfortably obvious, and Henry ordered Fisher’s death to take place on June 23rd.

Oval ring with white side bust of a bearded man.

Cameo ring owned by John Fisher

This simple ring once belonged to John Fisher. It is set with a Renaissance cameo depicting the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle who lived over three hundred years before the birth of Christ. Aristotle’s writings had a profound influence on Christian theologians, such as St Anselm who used Aristotelian philosophy as an argument for the existence of God, and St Thomas Aquinas who based much of his theological writings on Aristotle’s logic and philosophy.  

John Fisher was an ardent advocate of the study of Greek and had a profound knowledge of, and respect for, Aristotle’s work. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther was a fierce critic of Aristotle’s influence on Catholic theology, which may provide us with another reason why Fisher valued this ring. It passed to relatives of Fisher after his execution and in the 19th century was presented to Stonyhurst College.