In 1533 the newly-formed corporation of Sutton, the Warden and Society, showed its gratitude to Bishop Vesey by bestowing the lease of the town mill on Thomas Keene, who had married one of Vesey’s nieces. The deed records: “Mindful of the many and great benefits conferred on us by the venerable father John Bishop of Exeter, who through his efforts, costs, works and expenses has caused the foresaid town of Sutton to change from a poor ruinous country place to one populous and flourishing, and the inhabitants and working men, both in and beyond the Lordship, before completely destitute, he has considerably enriched with houses and cattle, besides other benefits and gifts bestowed on us which we desire to mark with some gift.” This shows Vesey behaving like a generous manorial lord, but was he also a pious man, and a good churchman?
One historian (Dugdale) accuses him of sacrilege for his apparent plundering of his diocese of Exeter in order to enrich Sutton Coldfield, while another (Riland Bedford) wrote: “The mere list of his preferments during the years 1515-19 would be tedious to the ordinary reader, but for the insight which it gives to the corrupt condition of the church before the Reformation”. Vesey, while a courtier and a statesman in his everyday life simultaneously held eight important and lucrative church appointments. However, these are political rather than spiritual criticisms, Vesey being rewarded with these preferments was equivalent to today’s bankers’ million-pound bonuses, and the impoverishment of his Exeter diocese was the work of King Henry VIII who ordered the transfer of its rich manors to temporal lords such as the Duke of Somerset.
As to his character, Francis Godwin (Catalogue of the Bishops of England, 1601) says that his erudition, prudence and diplomatic skills commended Vesey to Henry VII and VIII, while Saint Thomas More wrote in a letter to his daughter “I happened this evening to be in the company of his lordship John Veysey, a man of deep learning and of a wide reputation for holiness”. Vesey was a prime mover in the collection made by the Bishops to support More’s family when he was in prison for opposing the break with Rome (£1,000 was raised), but when the reformed Church of England was decreed, he was one of the consecrators of Thomas Cranmer as the first Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury in 1534. In the reign of the protestant King Edward VI Vesey had to surrender the diocese of Exeter to the reformer Miles Coverdale, but was obviously still held in high regard, being given a generous pension.
Vesey had been Tutor to Princess Mary when she was a child, and her high regard for Vesey is demonstrated by his re-appointment to the See of Exeter when she came to the throne as Queen Mary in 1553. He seems to have been regarded as a holy man by protestant and catholic alike.
In 1527 Vesey’s Sutton benefactions began - his first steps “were in an ecclesiastical direction, for he founded, with certain inhabitants of the town, a service to be held in the church three times a week”. He transformed the Parish Church at great expense, extending it with handsome side aisles decorated with battlements in the latest architectural style and gave an organ. His monument in the church, which survived the Civil War unscathed, is the only monumental effigy of a bishop in Warwickshire. It depicts him in a bishop’s robes, said to be of pre-reformation form, symbolising his spiritual journey from Catholicism to Protestanism and back while retaining his reputation for holiness.