John Ponet

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The Right Reverend

John Ponet
Bishop of Winchester
Church Church of England
Diocese Diocese of Winchester
Elected8 March 1551
Term ended1553 (Counter-Reformation)
Predecessor Stephen Gardiner
SuccessorStephen Gardiner
Other posts Bishop of Rochester (1550–1551)
Ordination10 June 1536 (priest)
Consecration29 June 1550
Personal details
Bornc. 1514
DiedAugust 1556
Denomination Anglican
Spouse2 wives
Childrena child
Alma mater Queens' College, Cambridge

John Ponet (c. 1514 – August 1556), sometimes spelled John Poynet, [1] was an English Protestant churchman and controversial writer, the bishop of Winchester and Marian exile. He is now best known as a resistance theorist who made a sustained attack on the divine right of kings. [2]


Early life

Ponet was from Kent. [3] He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1533, was elected a fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge in the same year: and became a Master of Arts in 1535. [4]

Humanist scholar

Ponet was a pupil and one of the humanist circle of Thomas Smith, who claimed that the new pronunciation of Ancient Greek had been introduced by himself, Ponet, and John Cheke. Smith and Cheke also were proponents of mathematics, and Ponet was one of their numerous followers. [5] A sundial of his design was installed at Hampton Court. [6]

Ponet was ordained a priest at Lincoln on 10 June 1536. From 1539 to 1541 he was a university professor of Greek. [7] In the later 1530s and early 1540s he took on college offices at Queens', acting as bursar and Dean. [3]

By the time of the Prebendaries' Plot, Ponet was a partisan of Thomas Cranmer. [8] By 1545, he was Cranmer's chaplain. [3]

Sundial at Queens' College, Cambridge, designed by John Ponet Queen' College sundial - 3292693.jpg
Sundial at Queens' College, Cambridge, designed by John Ponet

Edwardian reformer

By November 1548, Ponet had married, though the Parliament of England had not yet removed the ban on clerical marriage. [3] In the power struggles of the early reign of Edward VI, he was a supporter of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and suspicious of his rival the Earl of Warwick (later the Duke of Northumberland). [10] Following Somerset's fall from political power, Ponet was arrested in November 1549, perhaps in connection with his translation from Ochino, which flattered Somerset and was dedicated to him. [11]

By spring 1550 Ponet was rehabilitated, and preached before the king. In March 1550, he was nominated as bishop of Rochester, and was consecrated at Lambeth Palace on 29 June. In January 1551, he was appointed to a commission to investigate anabaptists in Kent. [3]

On 8 March 1551 Ponet was appointed to the see of Winchester, replacing Stephen Gardiner. [3] As a diocesan he agreed a reduction in the income of the see, to the benefit of the government. His own salary fell to £1300 compared to £3000 for his predecessor. [12]

Marian exile

In 1553, the Roman Catholic Mary I succeeded to the English throne. With the group of nearly 800 others, Protestants and mainly of higher social status, Ponet and his wife left for continental Europe. Ponet was the highest-ranking ecclesiastic among the Marian exiles. [13] [14] His exact movements are still a matter of debate, however. As a married man, he was deprived of his bishopric. John Stow claimed that during Wyatt's rebellion in early 1554, Ponet participated in the uprising. [15] He is known to have been in Strasbourg after the rebellion's defeat with his wife. A child was born to them in later in 1554, and they were granted citizenship in February 1555. [3] Peter Carew, who was one of the rebels, took refuge with Ponet at Strasburg. [16]

Ponet died at Strasburg in August 1556. [3]


A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power

Ponet rejected outright the idea that the King was ordained by God to rule his Church on Earth. His major work was A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power (1556), in which he put forward a theory of justified opposition to secular rulers. Ponet had used the library of Peter Martyr Vermigli, a less radical resistance theorist. [17] The work justified tyrannicide. [18] The Treatise was a seminal volume that later political philosophers such as John Locke expanded on, and influenced John Adams. [9] An anonymous work, it had seven chapters, and a conclusion, and proposed a radical resistance theory, of the Calvinist type and based on biblical exemplars. [19] Chapter VII, What Confidence is to be Given to Princes and Potentates, published the murder story Arden of Faversham . [20]

This work also presented some recent political history, in Ponet's account of the palace revolution of 1549, and the fall of Somerset. He held responsible, as supporters of John Dudley (then Earl of Warwick), Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, Henry FitzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel, and Richard Southwell. [21] It did not accord any legitimacy to Dudley's subsequent attempt to displace Mary Tudor from the succession. Its contemporary focus was not on secular politics, but the church powers of the Marian bishops. [19]

Clerical marriage

In 1549 Ponet dedicated a work defending clerical marriage to the Duke of Somerset. This work, A Defense for marriage of priests by scripture and auncient writers proved, was one of the most comprehensive works on the subject written in the English reformation. It used examples of scriptural allowance of marriage, scriptural figures who married and early Church figures who married or permitted it to priests to argue priests should be able to marry. [22] In October 2013 a manuscript A Traictise declarying and plainly prouying, that the pretensed marriage of Priestes … is no mariage (1554), from the Mendham Collection and sold by the Law Society, was barred from export by Ed Vaizey. It contains the views on clerical marriage of Stephen Gardiner, and those of Ponet. [23] In 1556 appeared An Apologie Fully Answeringe ... a Blasphemous Book, an answer to A Defence of Priestes Mariages by Thomas Martyn. It was published after Ponet's death by Matthew Parker, whose role may have been largely editorial. [24]

Other works

In 1549 also, Ponet published A Trageodie, or, Dialogue of the Unjust Usurper Primacy of the Bishop of Rome, a translation of a work by Bernardino Ochino. It argued against the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome; and in claiming the Papacy had fallen into heresy, may have been intended to undermine expectations of the effectiveness of the Council of Trent, convened from 1545, by proposing that conciliarism was a dead letter. [25] It contained also Cranmer's reasoning on the Pope as Antichrist. [26]

A catechism added by Ponet to the 42 Articles of 1553 formed the basis of a later catechism of Alexander Nowell (1570). [27] It was commissioned from Ponet by John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. [28] A translation by Michaelangelo Florio (1553) was the first Italian book published in England. [29]

Other works attributed to Ponet are Diallecticon viri boni et literati (1557) which was edited by his friend Anthony Cooke, and translated into English by Elizabeth Hoby in 1605; [30] [31] and possibly An Answer unto a Crafty and Sophistical Cavillation (1550) as ghost-writer for Cranmer. [3] The Diallecticon, an anonymous publication, was an irenical discussion of the Eucharistic controversy within the Protestant churches. [32] The work was edited in 1688 by Edward Pelling. [33] William Goode in the 19th century argued that earlier attributions to Cooke were correct. [34]


Ponet married twice. In July 1551, his first wife was found by a consistory court at St Paul's Cathedral to have a legal pre-contract marriage to a butcher and he was forced to divorce her and compensate him. He married his second wife, Maria Hayman, on 25 October of the same year; she was the daughter of one of the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's financial officers. [35] After his death, having sold his books to Anthony Cooke, Mary Ponet had to apologise to Peter Martyr, some of whose volumes were in the sale. [36]


  1. Middleton, Erasmus. Biographia evangelica , p. 469 (1817).
  2. Bowman Thompson, Glen (2003). To the Perfection of God's Service: John Ponet's Reformation Vision for the Clergy. Anglican and Episcopal History. of the leading Protestant theologians during the Edwardian phase of the English Reformation. His writings offer compelling opinions on some of the most contentious doctrinal issues of the time. Unfortunately, one could not find this out by reading current scholarship on the man or, for that matter, on the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I. In fact, research on Ponet has without exception emphasized his ideas on political resistance.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Newcombe, D. G. "Ponet, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22491.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. "Poynet, John (PNT532J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. Antonia McLean (1972). Humanism and the Rise of Science in Tudor England. Heinemann. pp. 130–1. ISBN   0-435-32560-4.
  6. Alison Weir (18 April 2011). Henry VIII: King and Court. Random House. p. 447. ISBN   978-1-4464-4923-3.
  7. Damian Riehl Leader (1988). A History of the University of Cambridge: Volume 1, The University to 1546. Cambridge University Press. p. 337. ISBN   978-0-521-32882-1.
  8. Diarmaid MacCulloch (1996). Thomas Cranmer: A Life . Yale University Press. p.  321. ISBN   978-0-300-07448-2.
  9. 1 2 John A. Wagner; Susan Walters Schmid (31 December 2011). Encyclopedia of Tudor England. ABC-CLIO. p. 884. ISBN   978-1-59884-299-9.
  10. Eric Ives (19 September 2011). Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 96–8. ISBN   978-1-4443-5426-3.
  11. Diarmaid MacCulloch (1996). Thomas Cranmer: A Life . Yale University Press. p.  452. ISBN   978-0-300-07448-2.
  12. Bishops and Power in Early Modern England. A&C Black. 24 October 2013. p. 11. ISBN   978-1-4725-0975-8.
  13. Dickens, A. G. (1978). The English Reformation. London & Glasgow: Fontana/Collins. p. 391.
  14. Neal Wood (1994). Foundations of Political Economy: Some Early Tudor Views on State and Society. University of California Press. p. 164. ISBN   978-0-520-91344-8.
  15. Dickens, A. G. (1978). The English Reformation. London & Glasgow: Fontana/Collins. p. 358.
  16. John P. D. Cooper (2003). Propaganda and the Tudor State: Political Culture in the Westcountry. Oxford University Press. p. 22. ISBN   978-0-19-926387-5.
  17. M. Anne Overell (1 January 2008). Italian Reform and English Reformations, C.1535-c.1585. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 140. ISBN   978-0-7546-9220-1.
  18. Robert von Friedeburg; Luise Schorn-Schütte (2007). Politik und Religion: Eigenlogik oder Verzahnung? Europa im 16. Jahrhundert. Oldenbourg Verlag. p. 111. ISBN   978-3-486-64455-5.
  19. 1 2 James Henderson Burns; Mark Goldie (17 November 1994). The Cambridge History of Political Thought 1450-1700. Cambridge University Press. pp. 194–5. ISBN   978-0-521-47772-7.
  20. Lisa Hopkins (2002). Writing Renaissance Queens: Texts by and about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. University of Delaware Press. p. 91. ISBN   978-0-87413-786-6.
  21. Stephen Alford (2008). Kingship and Politics in the Reign of Edward VI. Cambridge University Press. p. 9. ISBN   978-1-139-43156-9.
  22. Glen Bowman, "To The Perfection of God's Service: John Ponet's Reformation Vision for the Clergy," Anglican and Episcopal History Vol. 72, no. 1 (2003) p. 84-88
  23. Brown, Mark (24 October 2013). "Reformation paper of bishops debating marriage barred from export". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  24. Crankshaw, David J.; Gillespie, Alexandra. "Parker, Matthew". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/21327.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  25. Kenneth Carleton (2001). Bishops and Reform in the English Church, 1520–1559. Boydell & Brewer. p. 151. ISBN   978-0-85115-816-7.
  26. Diarmaid MacCulloch (1996). Thomas Cranmer: A Life . Yale University Press. p.  150. ISBN   978-0-300-07448-2.
  27. Michael Mullett (30 April 2010). Historical Dictionary of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Scarecrow Press. p. 72. ISBN   978-0-8108-7393-3.
  28. Lotte Hellinga; J. B. Trapp; John Barnard; David McKitterick (9 December 1999). The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Cambridge University Press. p. 601. ISBN   978-0-521-57346-7.
  29. Michael Wyatt (1 December 2005). The Italian Encounter with Tudor England: A Cultural Politics of Translation. Cambridge University Press. p. 185. ISBN   978-1-139-44815-4.
  30. Victoria Elizabeth Burke; Jonathan Gibson (1 January 2004). Early Modern Women's Manuscript Writing: Selected Papers from the Trinity/Trent Colloquium. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 52. ISBN   978-0-7546-0469-3.
  31. Patricia Demers (2005). Women's Writing in English: Early Modern England. University of Toronto Press. p. 87. ISBN   978-0-8020-8664-8.
  32. Jennifer Louise Heller (1 January 2011). The Mother's Legacy in Early Modern England. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 89–91. ISBN   978-1-4094-1108-6.
  33. Lee, Sidney, ed. (1895). "Pelling, Edward"  . Dictionary of National Biography . 44. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  34. William Goode (1856). The Nature of Christ's Presence in the Eucharist: Or, The True Doctrine of the Real Presence Vindicated in Opposition to the Fictitious Real Presence Asserted by Archdeacon Denison, Mr. (late Archdeacon) Wilberforce, and Dr. Pusey: with Full Proof of the Real Character of the Attempt Made by Those Authors to Represent Their Doctrine as that of the Church of England and Her Divines. 2. T. Hatchard. pp. 779–.
  35. Bowman, "To the Perfections of God's Service", p. 94
  36. Dirk Sacr'; Jan Papy; Monique Mund-Dopchie; Lambert Isebaert; Gilbert Tournoy (1 December 2009). Humanistica Lovaniensia: Journal of Neo-Latin Studies, 2009. Leuven University Press. pp. 27–8. ISBN   978-90-5867-766-2.

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Primary sources

Secondary sources

Church of England titles
Preceded by
Nicholas Ridley
Bishop of Rochester
Succeeded by
John Scory
Preceded by
Stephen Gardiner
Bishop of Winchester
Succeeded by
Stephen Gardiner