Blessed John Forest

Dates: 1471 – 1538

John was born into the noble Forest family, probably in Oxford, in 1471. At seventeen years of age he joined the Observant Friars Minor in Greenwich. He completed his studies at Oxford at the age of 26 and was ordained priest in Greenwich. Cardinal Wolsey gave him the task of preaching in St. Paul's Cross Church and Queen Catherine of Aragon chose him as her chaplain and then confessor. (The Greenwich friary was attached to the Royal Palace of Greenwich). In this role he opposed the divorce that King Henry VIII wanted to obtain from the Queen. In 1532, as Guardian of the Greenwich friary, he 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 did indeed suppress the Observant Friars and ordered them dispersed to other friaries. John was released from prison and by 1538 was in confinement in a Conventual Franciscan friary, his death sentence having been neither commuted nor carried out. 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 Thomas Cromwell. When he refused to admit that his resistance to the King was an error John was burned over a slow fire on 22nd May 1538 in Smithfield Market. He died praying for his enemies.

John Forest was the only Catholic martyr to be burned at the stake, all the others were hanged. His cult was approved by Pope Leo XIII on 9th December 1886. [1]

[1] F. Bracci and A. Pozzebon. Frati Minori Santi e Beati. Rome: Postulazione Generale Ordine dei Frati Minori, 2009. p. 228-229. Cf. Thaddeus. The Life of Blessed John Forest. London: 1888.

Memorial Day: 22nd May