Richard Nykke

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The Right Reverend

Richard Nykke
Bishop of Norwich
PredecessorThomas Jane
SuccessorWilliam Rugg
Other postsArchdeacon of Exeter
Archdeacon of Wells
Canon of Windsor
Consecrationc. 1501
Personal details
Bornc. 1447
BuriedNorwich Cathedral
DenominationRoman Catholic

Richard Nykke (or Nix or Nick;[1] c. 1447–1535) was bishop of Norwich, the last Roman Catholic to hold the post before the Henrician reform. Described as "ultra-conservative", but also "much-respected",[2] he maintained an independent line and was embroiled in conflict until blind and in his last years. He is often called the last Catholic bishop of the diocese, but that title is also claimed by John Hopton, bishop under Mary I of England.[3] Norwich at this time was the second-largest conurbation in England, after London.

A hunter of heresy who came by his bishopric under Pope Alexander VI, he was a natural target for Protestant propaganda, and stories about him are sometimes poorly founded. One of the best known is that he said that potential heretics "savoured of the frying pan". As Robert Southey pointed out, this translates a well-known French idiom, sentir le fagot.[4][5]


Nykke was the son of Thomas and Johanna (née Stillington) Nykke; Johanna was the sister of Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells.[1] Nykke became bishop of Norwich in 1501, having previously been made archdeacon of Exeter (1492–1493) and Wells (1494–1500) and canon of Windsor and Dean of the Chapel Royal under Henry VII of England.[6] After a fire in 1509, he had wooden roofing in Norwich Cathedral replaced with stone vaulting.[7]

Nykke complained bitterly against the early Tudor use of praemunire to limit ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Involved in King's Bench cases, he made his case to William Warham (Archbishop of Canterbury), and denounced James Hobart, Attorney-General for most of the reign of Henry VII.[8][9][10]

Nykke clashed with John Skelton, who was vicar of Diss in his diocese, from 1507. It is said that Skelton's hostility to the Dominicans led them to denounce him to Nykke for living with a woman.[11] Skelton, however, became a folkloric character and it is not known how much of various tales about him is factual.[12]

Consistently Nykke attempted to maintain Roman orthodoxy, against Lollards, new theological thinking coming out of Cambridge – he was particularly suspicious of Gonville Hall[13]—and the early Protestant reformers. He expressed anxiety about the distribution of William Tyndale's translation into English of the New Testament.[14]

The reformer Thomas Bilney was burned as a heretic in Norwich, in 1531. Nicholas Shaxton was another suspected heretic of the same time, a Lutheran sympathiser, and Nykke pressured him into a recantation which saved him.[15]

When Thomas Cranmer was newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1533, Nykke was one of the bishops who found ways to defy his authority. He was "brought to heel"[16] in late 1534.

There is a confused story that in 1534 Nykke ran afoul of Henry VIII, by correspondence with the Holy See. According to the account, he was made the subject of a praemunire charge, imprisoned in the Marshalsea, and then pardoned; but this story has been doubted.[17][18] In a more complex picture, Henry VIII used the legal pressure of a praemunire to force an exchange of manors of the Norwich diocese for St Benet's Abbey, which then nominally escaped the Dissolution of the monasteries.[19] The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article on Thomas Bilney says that the bishop's legal problem was proceeding to the execution of Bilney without state authority, and an impending Parliamentary inquiry.[20] There was a charge also of infringing the liberties of the mayor of Thetford, and the bishop apparently was imprisoned. This was a King's Bench matter, and therefore formally distinct from the Cranmer issue.[18][21] Money Henry extracted as a fine from the bishop went to pay for windows in King's College Chapel.[22]

Nykke died blind and is buried in Norwich Cathedral.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Barns-Graham, Peter. "Stillington1". Stirnet. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  2. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer (1996), p. 126.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Robert Southey, The Book of the Church (1837).
  5. ^ fr:wikt:fagot
  6. ^ Concise Dictionary of National Biography, under "Richard Nix".
  7. ^
  8. ^ Felicity Heal, Reformation in Britain and Ireland (2003), p. 32.
  9. ^ Ress Davies,, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society: Sixth Series (19960, p. 83.
  10. ^ Robert C. Palmer, Selling the Church: The English Parish in Law, Commerce, and Religion, 1350–1550 (2002), p. 27.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Steven H. Gale, Encyclopedia of British Humorists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Cleese (1996), p. 1016.
  13. ^
  14. ^ David Loewenstein, Janel M. Mueller, The Cambridge History of Early Modern English Literature (2002), p. 91.
  15. ^ David McKitterick, A History of Cambridge University Press (1998), p. 32.
  16. ^ MacCulloch, p. 128.
  17. ^ For example, in Henry Soames, The History of the Reformation of the Church of England (1826), p. 478.
  18. ^ a b
  19. ^
  20. ^ Pollard, Albert (1911). "Bilney, Thomas" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 945–946.
  21. ^ Stephen Taylor, From Cranmer to Davidson: A Church of England Miscellany (1999), p. 38 note.
  22. ^
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Thomas Jane
Bishop of Norwich
Succeeded by
William Rugg