"...I am ready to lay down my life to uphold the sanctity of the Church!"
John Fisher is the Bishop of Rochester in Season One of The Tudors, and one of the strongest opponents of King Henry's seccession of the Church of England from the Vatican, being a devoted friend and supporter of Queen Catherine of Aragon. Despite being a staunch, conservative Catholic, Fisher's brave determination seems to stem more from his friendship with the Queen, his loyalty to the Pope and the injustice of Henry's actions than from religious fundamentalism.
Fisher's battle against the King eventually led to his beheading halfway through Season Two. The Pope rewards Fisher prior to his death by promoting him to Cardinal, both for his tenacity in the face of what is dangerous and unpopular, as well as a dare to the King to see whether Henry is arrogant enough to execute a prince of the Holy See. After his martyrdom, Fisher, along with his friend and ally Sir Thomas More is declared to be a Saint by the Catholic Church. He is played by Irish actor Bosco Hogan.
Fisher first appears briefly with Queen Catherine in episode 1.05, distributing alms to the poor with her at Rochester Cathedral. He is next shown at the eccelsiastical court set up by Cardinal Wolsey, to debate on the subject of annullung Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. While the Archbishop of Canterbury, Warhem, is careful to remain neutral on the matter, Fisher vehemently opposes it, claiming that any invalidities have been quenched by both Papal dispensation and the success (until recently) of the marriage itself. This forces Wolsey to inadvertently reveal Henry's paranoia over the continuation of his line, since his only living son is illegitimate and his daughter Mary's position is shaky (given English history concerning Queens who attempted to take the throne). Fisher then implies the King is already making plans for a new marriage; when Wolsey threatens him, Fisher fearlessly states that, according to their religious laws, the Cardinal has no actual authority in the matter. Wolsey thumps the table in frustration and leaves, proving Fisher right.
In episode eight, Fisher is summoned by Sir Thomas More to assist Queen Catherine in her case against Henry, since her own lawyers have been bribed/intimidated by the King. Fisher takes the case without hesitation, showing his lack of fear for the King during the hearing when he makes a shocking comparison between Henry's 'Great Matter' and the unholy King Herod's acts of bigamy, saying that, like John the Baptist, he is willing to lay down his life to defend the sanctity of Catherine's marriage to the King. This speech infuriates Henry beyond measure, angers Wolsey, and alarms much of the Clergy, to the point that Bishop Tunstall denounces Fisher. Although Fisher is left in a dangerous position, Cardinal Compeggio (represening the absent Pope) suspends the case until the Papal Curia in Rome can decide; this effectively decides in Catherine and Fisher's favor.
Fisher and Thomas More, however, recognize the battle is far from over and become extremely worried after Wolsey is deposed and dies, despite having opposed him. With Wolsey out of the way, and Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell constantly at his side, Henry becomes determined to break with the seal of Rome, something Fisher and More abhor even worse than his annulment.
Fisher appears again in Season Two, retaining his rank of Bishop of Rochester, but he has clearly made an enemy of the King; Henry never forgives him for his 'John the Baptist' speech in the previous season. Fisher, along with a handful of other clergymen, continues to vocally resist Henry's attempts to name himself Head of the Church of England. Chancellor Thomas More, despite his loyalty to Henry, also decides to join their cause, to Fisher's relief. Thomas and George Boleyn, recognizing Fisher is the main obstacle to the break with Rome, hire his cook to poison his soup in episode 2.01, but the attempt becomes a fiasco. Four other bishops are killed, while Fisher is badly weakened but survives because he ate only a spoonful of the soup; More also suspects he himself was a target, since he was dining with Fisher at the time. The entire Boleyn family is suspected, and Henry's unwillingness to investigate the matter (due to his hatred for Fisher) stiffens resistance to his Reformation plans from the nobility. Fisher speaks of the Church's need to remain under the influence of Rome, as the Pope is the man who speaks for God. Although Fisher realizes that people are bound to honor their leaders, this does not give the King license to ignore the Holy See, and certainly not for the King to conflate his commands with those of God's- at least, from a Catholic perspective.
However, by the next episode, Cromwell has managed to cow Archbishop Warhem into declaring Henry head of the Church of England, much to the despair of More and Fisher. At Warhem's funeral a few weeks later, Fisher begs Thomas to continue fighting the Reformation with him, but Thomas instead resigns from the Chancellor's office and goes home, depressed by their failure and admitting he has found no loopholes in the Supremacy Oath.
In episode 2.03, Fisher is once again visited by More, who has become alarmed enough by recent events to return to action. More informs Fisher that Henry has secretly married Anne Boleyn (despite not having formally annulled his marriage to Catherine of Aragon), namely due to the fact he has gotten Anne pregnant. Fisher is concerned for Queen Catherine, but cannot communicate with her as she is in exile. Shortly afterwards, Fisher and More's absence at Queen Anne's coronation is noticed by King Henry; Fisher is soon placed under house arrest. When Catherine of Aragon is informed of this she shows sadness, as she was extremely grateful for Fisher's efforts to defend her cause.
When Henry unveils his Acts of Succession and Supremacy in episode 2.04, Fisher is swiftly placed in the Tower of London after he adamantly refuses to swear to them. Thomas More soon joins him; More communicates with Fisher via a Catholic servant boy in episode 2.05, both of them resolving not to take the oath for the Supremacy even at the threat of death. Thomas Cromwell, despite opposing them entirely on religious policies, visits both of them and attempts to persuade them to take the oath; he has deep admiration for their determination, and does not wish for their deaths. More admits he will recognize Henry and Anne's children as heirs, but will not recognize Henry as Head of the Church, while Fisher- whose spirit is lifted when he is informed by Cromwell that Pope Paul III has declared him a Cardinal- refuses to recognize either of the Acts. Both are sentenced to death shortly after Cromwell uncovers an intercepted letter to Emperor Charles, imploring him to invade England and restore Catholicism by force; it is left unclear whether Fisher actually wrote the letter or if one of Cromwell's agents forged it.
Fisher arrives at the scaffold looking much worse for wear, dressed in ragged prison clothes and half-starved (because he cannot stomach the prison food). However, he holds himself with dignity and gives an impassioned speech about his gratitude for the end, as he will soon be in heaven. He asks the assembled crowd not to engage in revolution against the King, and to pray for Henry (since Fisher sees Henry as a worthy, if misguided, ruler) then begins to break down, asking them to lend him their resolve and help him overcome his fear now that death is upon him. The people in the crowd begin to call, "God bless you, Cardinal Fisher!" His determination returned, Fisher makes the sign of the Cross and lies upon the block with his arms stretched to his sides, as if crucified. The beheading is swift; at the end of the episode, Sir Thomas More is likewise beheaded. In Rome, the Pope is shocked and angered by Fisher and More's martyrdoms, and recommends the both for sainthood. The Pope also denounces Henry as an audacious dictator who considers himself superior to God, and fears this will mushroom into the King engaging in human rights abuses on his own subjects.
Cromwell expresses regret about Fisher and More's executions in episode 1.06- both because he admired their courage, and because he realized the Catholic Church would immediately interpret their deaths as martyrdoms, damaging the Protestant cause Cromwell supported.
- "If I could weep, Sir Thomas, I would weep tears of blood."
- (To Catherine of Aragon) "We may win the argument, yes, but... I cannot pretend that will avail us much. We shall still try, though. Be of good cheer, Madam... for we are on the side of the angels!"
- "Mr. Secretary... thank you for informing me about my new hat. At least it was not all bad news. (Cromwell nods and leaves the cell) A Cardinal..."
- "Good people, I ask you to love the King and obey him for he is good by nature even if he is not right in his religious policies; that I am condemned to die for wishing to uphold the honor of God and the Holy See. Now good Christian people, I ask for your prayers. I am only flesh and fear death as much as any man. It's true that I long since made up my mind to die if need be for Christ and His church... But, now that the moment is at hand, I need your help."
- Catherine of Aragon: "Poor Fisher... he was a lion in my defense."