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.”
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.”
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,” 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.