Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Robert Fisher: Father of Many Puritans

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Robert Fisher
Father of Many Puritans

I have many Puritan ancestors from the Seventeenth Century who made the journey to the Americas in order to escape persecution and live in John Winthrop’s City on the Hill. The Fishers were just one such family, including two brothers who both contributed to my direct family line. However, I chose to start this line with Robert Fisher, not the first known Fisher but the one who saw the birth and formation of the Protestant movement in the England.

Robert Fisher was born probably in Wingfield, Suffolk, England, say about 1491, the son of John and Christian Fisher
Married an unknown wife
Died sometime before January 1563/4
Children: 1. Margaret FISHER Lawes
        2. Robert FISHER
        3. Anne Amy Fisher
        4. William FISHER

            As noted above, Robert Fisher was probably born in Wingfield, Suffolk, England, a small village even in 1491 but ever smaller now. It is in the north of County Suffolk near the Norfolk border. Several medieval buildings still stand in the village. The powerful and noble family of De La Pole directed their holdings from Wingfield until they died out in 1525, when Robert was a young man. I guessed Robert’s birth to be 1491, not because there is much evidence (although it was with in five or six years of this date) but to make him the same age as Prince Henry Tudor who became Henry the Eighth. Robert lived many years longer then King Henry, but his religious beliefs and life, as were all those in England were very much affected by that king. Robert may have caught a glimpse or two of King Henry, as the king’s sister married Charles Brandon who because Earl of Suffolk when the last De La Pole died and took over their holdings in County Suffolk. Robert’s parents seemed to have been somewhat wealthy, owning at one point Chickering Manor but losing it sometime before John Fisher’s death. He had an older brother which may be the reason he relocated to Syleham, a little north of his birthplace. He certainly wasn’t as well off as his brother, as younger brothers usually inherited much less then the eldest brother. However, the Fisher Family of Syleham seems to have flourished and Robert raised a family of at least four children.

Robert along with his parents and siblings most likely attended the Roman Catholic Church in Wingfield and later he and his wife and children attended the one in Syleham. This church would have been their religious anchor. Prince Henry came to the throne of England in 1509, as Henry the Eighth. He married the Catholic Princess Catherine of Aragon. Catherine had been married as a very young girl to Henry’s brother, Arthur, who died shortly after the wedding. Catherine, a pious woman, claimed that the marriage had not been consummated and a special dispensation had been obtained from Pope Julius II, so that the marriage between Catherine and her brother-in-law could be performed. Young Henry was only 17 at the time but very much in love with the lovely Spanish princess. Robert would have been about the same age if not a little younger and as a younger son would have had to have established himself financially before taking a wife. His children were born beginning about 10 years after Henry and Catherine’s marriage. Henry and Catherine, in the meantime, were producing children of their own. Unfortunately, only one child, a girl called Mary, survived infancy. About the time Robert’s second or third child was born in 1525, Henry became infatuated with a young woman named Anne Boleyn. She was a wily young woman who had seen that Henry soon lost interest in his mistresses. She also realized that Queen Catherine was approaching forty and at the end of her child bearing years. Anne would not become Henry’s mistress because she wanted to be Queen. Henry was desperate for a son and all of Catherine’s had died at or near birth. The only precedence of a woman becoming Queen of England, had ended badly (although, her son later sat on the throne of England as Henry II). Henry needed a son to insure the Tudor Dynasty, which stood on shaky ground as it was. Henry asked for a divorce, but Catherine, strong in her faith, refused as she feared for her husband’s immortal soul and her own child’s place in the line to the throne. Putting aside a queen was not really a hard job for a monarch. All Henry had to do was to get the Pope to declare the marriage invalid because of his wife’s marriage to his brother. But Catherine’s nephew, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Spain, had control of Rome and held the Pope a prisoner. The Pope’s decision, of course, was not going to make a decision in Henry’s favor, while Catherine’s nephew was holding a knife at his throat.

Heads began to roll, as Henry realized that he was going to have to take matters into his own hands. Anne Boleyn was no longer the young woman she’s been and she was becoming impatient. Henry declared himself the Head of the Church of England and thus was able to declare his own marriage to Catherine void and null. Many people profited from Henry’s move, not the less Anne Boleyn, who did become queen but for only three years. Churches, monasteries and nunneries were closed and ransacked. The ruins of some of these buildings still stand in England but many were turned into estates for the supporters of Anne Boleyn.

There are no writings telling how the Fisher family reacted to upheaval of the church in England. However, as with all Englishmen, they were affected by what was happening. To some, it meant political breaks from a church government that controlled from afar but understand little of the English hearts. To others it meant damnation and a break from their very religious roots and spiral safety. To many it meant freedom from a church that demanded outrageous tithes; to other it meant the lose of an well known and well trusted institution. It affected everyone, even if it affected them in different ways. Many Englishmen and women remained faithful to the Roman Catholic church, but at risk of their lives. Others were eager to try out a home-based church structure and adopted readily. Still others were pulled by the political factors and turned to the Church of England because it was safer and easier. The Fisher Family was probably part of the latter and later became disillusioned with state run church and turned to the puritan movement. Most likely, there wasn’t much change in the worship and running of the church at Syleham, at least at first. The church there is among a rare few Saxon or Norman churches left in England after the reign of Henry the Eighth’s son, Edward VI, whose advisers ran wild destroying what remained of the Catholic parish churches in England.  The church itself includes a Saxon or Norman round tower. It is made of stone and while not exactly beautiful, it is an interesting looking building and on the outside is mostly the same church building that stood there in the day of the Robert Fisher. It’s history protected it. It was here that the Earl of Bigod “surrended his loyalty” to King Henry II and handed over some of his castles. Nearby, a memorial commemorates this event.

Robert Fisher witnessed the will of Thomas Fulcher of Fressingfield in January of 1547/8. The Fisher family would have other connections with Fressingfield and it’s church. The Fressingfield church is a beautiful old church with a medieval sanclus bell turret, commemorative memorials to the de la Pole family and their old enemy, King Henry V.

Robert Fisher died after Henry the VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, took the throne. The last known evidence of Robert Fisher’s life and death is a Syleham deed with information about Robert and his son, William. It is a lease between Emery Tylney of Weybread, Esquire, Lord of the manor of Monks Hall and William Fisher of Stradbroke, yeoman. It is dated 15 January 6 Elizabeth I [1563/4] reading in part: 'Winesseth, that where the said William Fysher  hath the day of the making hereof and holdeth to him and to his heirs of the said Emery as of the said manor o Monks hall by copy of court roll, according to the custom of the said manor, one acre and half of land lying in WygnottsCroft in Syleham aforesaid and the tenement and croft called Wygnotts on teh south part, adn one acre of meadow be it mroe or less lying next the Town meadow otherwise called Tunmanmeadow in Syleham aforesaid between the meadow of the said manor on the east part and the meadow late John carter on the west part, two acres and half of meadow be it more or less in Syleham aforsaid lying in West meadow, one pightle called Pyggis pightle otherwise Pogs pithtell in Syleham aforesaid containing by estimation one acre be it more or less, one piece of med in Syleham aforesaid contianing by estimation half an acre and fourteen perches be it more or less, and one piece of meadow in Syleham aforesaid called Samll doole contianing by estimation half a rood be it more or less, which said premises late were in the tenure of one Robert Fisher Father of the said William Fisher, deceased.” Mr. Tylney leased, for the sum of L9 3s 4d, the abovesaid lands for one thousand years to William Fisher, for the yearly rent of 6 1/2d.
My Fisher line:
Robert Fisher born and died in Syleham, England married unknown woman
William Fisher b. abt 1527; d. 1591 m. Margerie Bert daughter of William Bert & Johan Godbold
Anthony Fisher 1558-1640 m. Mary Fiske 1561-?, daughter of Nicholas Fiske and Johan Crispe
Joshua Fisher 1585-1674 and also his brother Anthony Fisher 1591-1671

1. New England Historical and Genealogy Register, Vol. 151, April 1997 "The English Ancestry of New England Settlers Joshua and Anthony Fisher" by Myrtle Stevens Hyde and John Plummer
2. Syleham deed dated 15 Jan 1563/4

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