Made a bishop at 35, one of his interests was raising the standard of preaching in England. Fisher himself was an accomplished preacher and writer. His sermons on the penitential psalms were reprinted seven times before his death. With the coming of Lutheranism, he was drawn into controversy. His eight books against heresy gave him a leading position among European theologians.
In 1521, Fisher was asked to study the question of King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow. He incurred Henry’s anger by defending the validity of the king’s marriage with Catherine, and later by rejecting Henry’s claim to be the supreme head of the Church of England.
In an attempt to be rid of him, Henry first had Fisher accused of not reporting all the “revelations” of the nun of Kent, Elizabeth Barton. In feeble health, Fisher was summoned to take the oath to the new Act of Succession. He and Thomas More refused to do so because the Act presumed the legality of Henry’s divorce and his claim to be head of the English Church. They were sent to the Tower of London, where Fisher remained 14 months without trial. Finally both men were sentenced to life imprisonment and loss of goods.
When the two were called to further interrogations, they remained silent. On the supposition that he was speaking privately as a priest, Fisher was tricked into declaring again that the king was not supreme head of the church in England. The king, further angered that the pope had made John Fisher a cardinal, had him brought to trial on the charge of high treason. He was condemned and executed, his body left to lie all day on the scaffold and his head hung on London Bridge. More was executed two weeks later.Saint of the Day