Geoffrey Fisher

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The Rt Revd and Rt Hon
The Lord Fisher of Lambeth
GCVO PC
Archbishop of Canterbury
Queencrown.jpg
Fisher presided at the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.
Installed 1945
Term ended 1961
Predecessor William Temple
Successor Michael Ramsey
Personal details
Birth name Geoffrey Francis Fisher
Born (1887-05-05)5 May 1887
Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England
Died 15 September 1972(1972-09-15) (aged 85)
Buried St Andrew's Church, Trent, Dorset
Spouse Rosamond Fisher
Children Charles
Richard
Henry
Humphrey
Francis
Geoffrey

Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Baron Fisher of Lambeth GCVO PC (5 May 1887 – 15 September 1972) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1945 to 1961.

Background[edit]

Geoffrey Francis Fisher was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire and grew up in Higham on the Hill, Leicestershire. He was brought up an Anglican, being the son, grandson and great-grandson of rectors of Higham. He was educated at Marlborough and Exeter College, Oxford. He was an assistant master at Marlborough College when he decided to be ordained, becoming a priest in 1913. At this time, the English public schools had close ties with the Church of England, and it was common for schoolmasters to be in Holy Orders, and headmasters were typically priests.[citation needed]

In 1914, Fisher was appointed Headmaster of Repton School, succeeding William Temple who was also later to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Fisher married Rosamond Forman, the daughter of Arthur Forman who was a Repton master and Derbyshire cricketer.[1] Among his pupils at the school was Roald Dahl, who went on to be a highly acclaimed children's author. In Boy, his autobiography of his childhood, Dahl wrote scathingly about Fisher's use of corporal punishment, but Dahl's biographers later showed that Fisher had left Repton by the time of the events Dahl described.[2]

In 1932, Fisher was appointed as the Bishop of Chester and, in 1939, he became the Bishop of London.[3]

Appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury[edit]

In 1942 Cosmo Gordon Lang was replaced by William Temple as Archbishop of Canterbury. Temple was a strong Christian Socialist, and both the Church and the general public foresaw great changes in the post-war period. However, Temple died in 1944. Some considered that the best choice now would be George Bell, the Bishop of Chichester. However, it was Fisher who was appointed.[citation needed]

Appointment of bishops in the Church of England is, ultimately, in the hands of the Prime Minister. Winston Churchill disliked Temple's politics but accepted Lang's advice that Temple was the outstanding figure and no one else could be seriously considered. This time, however, the situation was less clear-cut. It has been widely assumed subsequently that Bell was passed over because of his criticism in the House of Lords of the obliteration bombing strategy. While it is probably true that this greatly reduced any chance of Bell being appointed, it is not in fact clear that Bell was likely to be appointed anyway. Temple had apparently regarded Fisher as his obvious successor.[citation needed]

Archbishop of Canterbury[edit]

Fisher put considerable effort into the task of revising the Church of England's canon law. The canons of 1604 were at that time still in force, despite being largely out of date.[4]

He presided at the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and later at her coronation in 1953 as Queen Elizabeth II. The event was carried on television for the first time (the previous coronation, that of George VI in 1937, had been filmed for newsreel.)

He is remembered for his visit to Pope John XXIII in 1960, the first meeting between an Archbishop of Canterbury and a Pope since the English Reformation, and an ecumenical milestone.

Fisher was also a committed Freemason,[5] as were many Church of England bishops of his day. Fisher served as Grand Chaplain in the United Grand Lodge of England.

Nuclear controversy[edit]

In 1958, at a time of heightened fear of nuclear war and mutual destruction between the West and the Soviet Union, Fisher said that he was "convinced that it is never right to settle any policy simply out of fear of the consequences...For all I know it is within the providence of God that the human race should destroy itself in this manner [nuclear war]."[6] He was also quoted as saying,

"The very worst the Bomb can do is to sweep a vast number of People from this world into the next into which they must all go anyway".[7]

He was heavily criticised in the press for this view, but a number of clergy, including Christopher Chavasse, Bishop of Rochester, defended him, saying, "In an evil world, war can be the lesser of the two evils."[6]

Successor[edit]

Fisher retired in 1961. He advised the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, that he did not consider Michael Ramsey, who had been his pupil at Repton, a suitable successor. Ramsey later relayed to the Reverend Victor Stock the conversation Fisher had with the Prime Minister.

Fisher said:[8]

I have come to give you some advice about my successor. Whomever you choose, under no account must it be Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of York. Dr Ramsey is a theologian, a scholar and a man of prayer. Therefore, he is entirely unsuitable as Archbishop of Canterbury. I have known him all his life. I was his Headmaster at Repton.

Macmillan replied:[8]

Thank you, your Grace, for your kind advice. You may have been Doctor Ramsey's headmaster, but you were not mine.

Ramsey was duly appointed.

Retirement and death[edit]

Fisher was made a life peer, with the title Baron Fisher of Lambeth, of Lambeth in the County of London (Lambeth being a reference to Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury). By this time, appointment to the House of Lords as a peer had become a convention for retiring Archbishops of Canterbury (none had ever retired before Randall Davidson in 1928), although Fisher was the first to be created a life peer following the Life Peerages Act 1958.[9]

Lord Fisher died on 15 September 1972 and was buried in a crypt in St Andrew's Church, Trent, Dorset, which he had chosen during his lifetime. A side chapel at Canterbury Cathedral was subsequently dedicated to his memory, situated next to a similar memorial chapel to Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

Legacy[edit]

A house at Tenison's School is named after him.[citation needed]

Literary references[edit]

One of the most famous and controversial literary accounts of Geoffrey Fisher is detailed in the book Boy: Tales of Childhood written by Roald Dahl, a former pupil of Fisher's at Repton. The book recounts in some detail, a brutal beating of a fellow student at the hands of Fisher, who is named in the book as the person responsible.[citation needed]

Dahl alleges that the victim was ordered to take down his trousers and kneel on the Headmaster’s sofa with the top half of his body hanging over one end of the sofa. Then as the beating took place, he states that in between each "tremendous crack administered upon the trembling buttocks", the headmaster would light his pipe and lecture the kneeling boy about sin and wrongdoing. At the end of the beating, a basin sponge and a small clean towel were produced by the Headmaster and the victim told to wash away the blood before pulling up his trousers. The details of this beating were later corroborated by Dahl's peers, and he also claimed that the incident caused him to doubt religion and the existence of God.[citation needed]

The accusation against Fisher was extremely controversial at the time and led some to investigate the claims further. It was later discovered that the headmaster responsible was in fact Fisher's successor John Christie, who was appointed headmaster in 1933 after Fisher left the school to take up his position and bishop of Chester. Also, whilst records suggests that brutal beatings of this nature did occur, it would appear that they were very rare. In this case, the victim was an 18-year-old who had been abusing younger boys at the school.[citation needed]

From written records produced by Dahl during this period, it does not appear that he held any animosity towards Fisher at all, and his naming of Fisher as the person responsible for the beating was a case of mistaken identity. However, writing more than 50 years after the event occurred, Dahl attributed the beating to Fisher, as he regarded him as a sanctimonious hypocrite, stating "I would sit in the dim light of the school chapel and listen to him preaching about the Lamb of God and about Mercy and Forgiveness and my young mind would become totally confused. I knew very well that only the night before this preacher had shown neither Forgiveness nor Mercy in flogging some small boy who had broken the rules.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Peerage.com". The Peerage.com. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  2. ^ Sturrock, Donald (September 14, 2010). "Chapter 4: Foul Things and Horrid People". Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1416550828. 
  3. ^ "New Bishop of London Elected". Hull Daily Mail (British Newspaper Archive). 23 September 1939. (subscription required (help)). 
  4. ^ "Primate And Reform of Canon Law". Nottingham Evening Post (British Newspaper Archive). 20 May 1947. (subscription required (help)). 
  5. ^ "Full Masonic Biography of Fisher". Mqmagazine.co.uk. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Time Magazine, July 28 1958 Retrieved July 2011
  7. ^ The Guardian, 28 August 1999 Retrieved July 2012
  8. ^ a b Peter Hennessy, The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders since 1945 (Palgrave, New York, 2001), p. 250.
  9. ^ George Carey interview

Bibliography[edit]

Primary:

  • Fisher Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, London

Secondary:

  • Edward Carpenter, Archbishop Fisher: His Life and Times. Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1991.
  • Andrew Chandler and David Hein. Archbishop Fisher, 1945–1961: Church, State and World. The Archbishops of Canterbury Series. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.
  • P. G. Maxwell-Stuart, The Archbishops of Canterbury. Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2006, pp. 268–71.
  • William Purcell, Fisher of Lambeth. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1969.
  • Alan Webster, "Fisher, Geoffrey Francis, Baron Fisher of Lambeth (1887–1972)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.

External links[edit]

Church of England titles
Preceded by
Luke Paget
Bishop of Chester
1932–1939
Succeeded by
Douglas Crick
Preceded by
Arthur Winnington-Ingram
Bishop of London
1939–1945
Succeeded by
William Wand
Preceded by
William Temple
Archbishop of Canterbury
1945–1961
Succeeded by
Michael Ramsey
Academic offices
Preceded by
William Temple
Headmaster of Repton School
1914–1932
Succeeded by
John Traill Christie