Little is known of Hooper's early life. Before 1546 Hooper had secured employment as steward in Arundell's household. Hooper speaks of himself at this period as being "a courtier and living too much of a court life in the palace of our king." But he chanced upon some of Zwingli's works and Bullinger's commentaries on St Paul's epistles which elicited an evangelical conversion.
The following is taken from 'Foxe's Book of Martyrs.'
John Hooper was born around 1497, was a student and graduate in the University of Oxford, was stirred with such fervent desire to the love and knowledge of the Scriptures that he was compelled to move from thence, and was retained in the house of Sir Thomas Arundel, as his steward, until Sir Thomas had intelligence of his opinions and religion, which he in no case did favor, though he exceedingly favored his person and condition and wished to be his friend. Mr. Hooper now prudently left Sir Thomas' house and arrived at Paris, but in a short time returned to England, and was retained by Mr. Sentlow, until the time that he was again molested and sought for, when he passed through France to the higher parts of Germany; where, commencing acquaintance with learned men, he was by them free and lovingly entertained, both at Basel, and especially at Zurich, by Mr. Bullinger, who was his singular friend; here also he married his wife, who was a Burgonian, and applied very studiously to the Hebrew tongue.
At length, when God saw it good to stay the bloody time of the six articles, and to give us King Edward to reign over this realm, with some peace and rest unto the Church, amongst many other English exiles, who then repaired homeward, Mr. Hooper also, moved in conscience, thought not to absent himself, but seeing such a time and occasion, offered to help forward the Lord's work, to the uttermost of his ability.
When Mr. Hooper had taken his farewell of Mr. Bullinger, and his friends in Zurich, he repaired again to England in the reign of King Edward VI, and coming to London, used continually to preach, most times twice, or at least once a day.
In his sermons, according to his accustomed manner, he corrected sin, and sharply inveighed against the iniquity of the world and the corrupt abuses of the Church. The people in great flocks and companies daily came to hear his voice, as the most melodious sound and tune of Orpheus' harp, insomuch, that oftentimes when he was preaching, the church would be so full that none could enter farther than the doors thereof. In his doctrine he was earnest, in tongue eloquent, in the Scriptures perfect, in pains indefatigable, in his life exemplary.
Having preached before the king's majesty, he was soon after made bishop of Gloucester. In that office he continued two years, and behaved himself so well that his very enemies could find no fault with him, and after that he was made bishop of Worcester.
Dr. Hooper executed the office of a most careful and vigilant pastor, for the space of two years and more, as long as the state of religion in King Edward's time was sound and flourishing.
After he had been cited to appear before Bonner and Dr. Heath, he was led to the Council, accused falsely of owing the queen money, and in the next year, 1554, he wrote an account of his severe treatment during near eighteen months' confinement in the Fleet, and after his third examination, January 28, 1555, at St. Mary Overy's, he, with the Rev. Mr. Rogers, was conducted to the Compter in Southwark, there to remain until the next day at nine o'clock, to see whether they would recant. "Come, Brother Rogers," said Dr. Hooper, "must we two take this matter first in hand, and begin to fry in these fagots?" "Yes, Doctor," said Mr. Rogers, "by God's grace." "Doubt not," said Dr. Hooper, "but God will give us strength;" and the people so applauded their constancy that they had much ado to pass.
January 29, Bishop Hooper was degraded and condemned, and the Rev. Mr. Rogers was treated in like manner. At dark, Dr. Hooper was led through the city to Newgate; notwithstanding this secrecy, many people came forth to their doors with lights, and saluted him, praising God for his constancy.
During the few days he was in Newgate, he was frequently visited by Bonner and others, but without avail. As Christ was tempted, so they tempted him, and then maliciously reported that he had recanted. The place of his martyrdom being fixed at Gloucester, he rejoiced very much, lifting up his eyes and hands to heaven, and praising God that he saw it good to send him among the people over whom he was pastor, there to confirm with his death the truth which he had before taught them.
On February 7, he came to Gloucester, about five o'clock, and lodged at one Ingram's house. After his first sleep, he continued in prayer ujntil morning; and all the day, except a little time at his meals, and when conversing such as the guard kindly permitted to speak to him, he spent in prayer.
Sir Anthony Kingston, at one time Dr. Hooper's good friend, was appointed by the queen's letters to attend at his execution. As soon as he saw the bishop he burst into tears. WIth tender entreaties he exhorted him to live. "True it is," said the bishop, "that death is bitter, and life is sweet; but alas! consider that the death to come is more bitter, and the life to come is more sweet."
The same day a blind boy obtained leave to be brought into Dr.
Hooper's presence. The same boy, not long before, had suffered imprisonment at Gloucester for confessing the truth. "Ah! poor boy," said the bishop, "though God hath taken from thee thy outward sight, for what reason He best knoweth, yet He hath endued thy soul with the eye of knowledge and of faith. God give thee grace continually to pray unto Him, that thou lose not that sight, for then wouldst thou indeed be blind both in body and soul."
When the mayor waited upon him preparatory to his execution, he expressed his perfect obedience, and only requested that a quick fire might terminate his torments. After he had got up in the morning, he desired that no man should be suffered to come into the chamber, that he might be solitary until the hour of execution.
About eight o'clock, on February 9, 1555, he was led forth, and many thousand persons were collected, as it was market-day. All the way, being straitly charged not to speak, and beholding the people, who mourned bitterly for him, he would sometimes lift up his eyes towards heaven, and look very cheerfully upon such as he knew: and he was never known, during the time of his being among them, to look with so cheerful and ruddy a countenance as he did at that time. When he came to the place appointed where he should die, he smilingly beheld the stake and preparation made for him, which was near unto the great elm tree over against the college of priests, where he used to preach.
Now, after he had entered into prayer, a box was brought and laid before him upon a stool, with his pardon from the queen, if he would turn. At the sight whereof he cried, "If you love my soul, away with it!" The box being taken away, Lord Chandois said, "Seeing there is no remedy; despatch him quickly."
Command was now given that the fire should be kindled. But because there were not more green fagots than two horses could carry, it kindled not speedily, and was a pretty while also before it took the reeds upon the fagots. At length it burned about him, but the wind having full strength at that place, and being a lowering cold morning, it blew the flame from him, so that he was in a manner little more than touched by the fire.
Within a space after, a few dry fagots were brought, and a new fire kindled with fagots, (for there were no more reeds) and those burned at the nether parts, but had small power above, because of the wind, saving that it burnt his hair and scorched his skin a little. In the time of which fire, even as at the first flame, he prayed, saying mildly, and not very loud, but as one without pain, "O Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me, and receive my soul!" After the second fire was spent, he wiped both his eyes with his hands, and beholding the people, he said with an indifferent, loud voice, "For God's love, good people, let me have more fire!" and all this while his nether parts did burn; but the fagots were so few that the flame only singed his upper parts.
The third fire was kindled within a while after, which was more extreme than the other two. In this fire he prayed with a loud voice, "Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me! Lord Jesus receive my spirit!" And these were the last words he was heard to utter. But when he was black in the mouth, and his tongue so swollen that he could not speak, yet his lips went until they were shrunk to the gums: and he knocked his breast with his hands until one of his arms fell off, and then knocked still with the other, while the fat, water, and blood dropped out at his fingers' ends, until by renewing the fire, his strength was gone, and his hand clave fast in knocking to the iron upon his breast. Then immediately bowing forwards, he yielded up his spirit.
Thus was he three quarters of an hour or more in the fire.
Even as a lamb, patiently he abode the extremity thereof, neither moving forwards, backwards, nor to any side; but he died as quietly as a child in his bed. And he now reigneth, I doubt not, as a blessed martyr in the joys of heaven, prepared for the faithful in Christ before the foundations of the world; for whose constancy all Christians are bound to praise God.