Officials: Bird, John

JOHN BIRD

First bishop of Chester, deprived by Queen Mary. Little concerned with the work of the Consistory Court.

JOHN BIRD (BYRD/BYRDE), bishop of Chester, (c. 1477-1558)

Qualifications:    Master of Arts, 1506; Bachelor of Divinity, 1512; Doctor of Divinity, 1514

CCEd person ID 31015

Career: Carmelite friar until the dissolution, attended Oxford University as a Carmelite; elected Provincial (in charge of pastoral supervision and oversight) of the British Province of the order in 1516 until 1519 and again from 1522 until 1534 and then 1535 until the dissolution; supporter of the divorce of Henry VIII he wrote a treatise on the matter and preached before the king at Easter 1537; in 1537 he was appointed suffragan bishop of ‘Penreth’ and acted as suffragan for the bishops of Llandaff and Lichfield; bishop of Bangor in 1539; translated to Chester in 1541 on the foundation of the diocese; deprived 1554; vicar of Great Dunmow, Essex, 1554 until his death.

Further notes: He is said to have come from an old Chester family, but this is debateable.

The diocese of Chester was one of the poorest in the country and Bird attempted to enhance his income by various ill-judged property exchanges which left the diocese worse off. He was appointed rector of Mottram in Longdendale in Cheshire by 1548 and Wistaston in Cheshire in 1552, no doubt to increase his income.

In an effort to conserve money he did not appoint an archdeacon of Chester but devolved some of his authority to the rural deans and appointed a chancellor at Chester and a commissary for Richmond.

He had married during his period as bishop, and so was deprived of Chester diocese in March 1554 following the accession of Queen Mary, whose restoration of Catholicism precluded married priests. He renounced his wife, claiming that he had married against his will, and was appointed vicar of Great Dunmow in Essex in 1554 where he died in 1558. While at Great Dunmow he acted as suffragan to Edmund Bonner, bishop of London.

When he was a Carmelite, he was described as ‘pulcherrimus, eruditus, probus, dignissimus’ (very handsome, learned, upright, very worthy). Although by the time he was appointed to Great Dunmow he was ‘well stricken in years’ and had only one eye, rumours in the parish suggested an illicit relationship between him and the young wife of a servant.

Sources

Richard Copsey, ‘Bird, John (d. 1558)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition) https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/2447

Rev. F. Sanders, ‘John Bird, D.D., Bishop of Chester, 1541-1554’, Journal of the Architectural, Archaeological and Historic Society for the county and city of Chester and North Wales, new series, 13 (1907), pp. 110-126.

John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. III, part I, (London, 1822), pp. 218-219.

George Watson, ‘A misappropriated bishop’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 15 (1897–9), pp. 303–308