Anne Hooper – From Rejected Daughter to Single Mother

Being a single mother was common in the sixteenth century, when wars and pestilence claimed the lives of many husbands. Most widows returned to their family homes or relied on the support of the local church. They often remarried. Anne Hooper focused on raising her daughter Rachel and promoting her husband’s writings.

            Her devotion to Rachel’s Christian upbringing can easily put modern mothers to shame. Describing the three-year old progress to the child’s godfather, the Swiss Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, she wrote, “You must know that she is well acquainted with English, and that she has learned by heart within these three months the form of giving thanks, the ten commandments, the Lord’s prayer, the apostles’ creed, together with the first and second psalms of David. And now, as she knows almost all her letters, she is instructed in the catechism.”[1]


Who Was Anne Hooper?

Born in the Low Countries in a noble Roman Catholic family (the De Tscerlas), Anne had at least one older sister and one brother. Little is known of her early life, except that she and her sister embraced the Reformed faith and moved to Strasbourg. This was, in itself, a revolutionary act – two young women crushing their parents’ expectations and setting out alone in a foreign land.

            In Strasbourg, they found refuge in the households first of a Belgian nobleman, Jacques de Bourgogne, and then of the exiled English merchant Richard Hilles. It was at Hilles’s home that Anne first met her future husband, John Hooper, a former monk and an English exile. He had been ill, and Anne and her sister devoted much time to his care. John and Anne married in 1547, after John had taken a trip back to England to secure his inheritance. Writing to Bullinger, John described Anne “exceedingly favorable to true religion.”[2]

            The Hoopers visited Bullinger in Zurich soon after their marriage. When their first child, Rachel, was born in 1548, Bullinger and the wife of Theodore Bibliander became her godparents. By that time, the British crown rested on the Protestant Edward VI, and many exiles who had disagreed with Henry VIII returned to their country. John and Anne, however, stayed in Zurich two more years.

            Their trip back took them through the city of Antwerp, where Anne was hoping to resume contact with her family. The messenger of the letter found that Anne’s father was dead. Her mother, however, never discovered what Anne had said, because Anne’s brother threw the letter into the fire without reading it. “You see the words of Christ are true, that the brother shall persecute the brother for the sake of the word of God,”[3] John said.

            In London, John and Anne were received warmly. John was made chaplain to the duke of Somerset, and Anne was fully accepted into the London society, even if marriage of former monks and priests – as John had been – had been legalized only a few months earlier. As they had been helped in their exile, they opened their home to other refugees. A second child, Daniel, was born soon after their arrival.


A Stalwart Husband

            Hooper was considered for the bishopric of Gloucester, but his stubborn opposition to the consecration ceremony and to the use of vestments led to a short period of imprisonment, first at Lambeth Palace and then in the Royal Fleet. Eventually, Bullinger persuaded him to relent, for the sake of the unity in the church, and Hooper was released and consecrated.

            Anne became even busier, “overwhelmed by so many and urgent engagements that scarce any leisure was allowed [her]”[4] Undoubtedly, she was trying to take as many responsibilities as possible off the shoulders of her already overworked husband who, in her words, was preaching “at least three times every day.” She was concerned about his health. “I am afraid lest these overabundant exertions should occasion a premature decay,” she said.[5]

            Things changed quickly in 1553, when Mary I came to the throne, and Hooper was again imprisoned in the Fleet. From prison, he wrote a long and loving letter to his wife, encouraging her to have patience and assuring her of her salvation. He also wrote letters to Bullinger, expressing his concern for Anne and their children. Once again, Bullinger pledged to help.

            As the situation in England worsened, Bullinger invited Anne to move to Zurich where he would make sure her needs were provided. With John’s encouragement, Anne left England, but chose to move to Frankfurt, where her brother-in-law was chief minister of the foreign church.


A Short Widowhood

            With the help of her sister and brother-in-law, Anne was able to rent a home of her own. In the meantime, she stayed in touch with Bullinger, sending him news of the exiles in Frankfurt. At one point, she sent Bullinger the church’s prayer book, together with the pastor’s greetings, showing herself in a role of facilitator of the communication between churches, which might have been part of her “many and urgent engagements” in the past.

            News from England, however, were not good. Mary’s persecution of Protestants had spiraled to an extreme, and Anne’s hopes to see John again continued to decrease. “I am more than commonly anxious about my husband,” she told Bullinger, and “I very often feel to be all but dead through grief.”[6]

            Hooper was executed on 9 February 1555. Writing to Bullinger two months later, Anne asked him, as a favor to her, to publish one of the last works her husband had written from prison.

            This was Anne’s last existing letter to the Reformer. On December 7, an outbreak of the plague reunited her to her husband, followed by Rachel’s death a few days later. Daniel moved in with a gentleman who had been appointed as his guardian, and there is no further record of his life.

            Anne’s life was, in some respects, typical of 16th century wives of Protestant Reformers, when the task of preaching a long-neglected gospel was perceived as urgent and worth any sacrifice. Her letters, with her honest communication of feelings and daily activities, bring us closer to these lives which are – to modern eyes – quite ordinary and familiar in their emotions and yet extraordinary in their devotion.

[1] Robinson, Hastings, Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation, Volume 53, part 1, The University Press, Cambridge, 1846, p. 107,

[2] Ibid, p. 38.

[3] Ibid, p. 63.

[4] Ibid, p. 107.

[5] Ibid, p. 108.

[6] Ibid, p. 113.


Simonetta Carr