Tag Archives: Henry VIII

The execution of Thomas Cromwell (1540)

Thomas Cromwell, as portrayed by Holbein in c1533.jpg

On this day in 1540, Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell was beheaded at Tower Hill on trumped-up charges of treason and heresy, having earlier been attainted, or  in other words essentially found guilty without trial.  He had finally fallen out of favour, and victim to the sort of court intrigue that to that date he had himself customarily been behind, over his ill-advised choice of Anne of Cleves as the new wife for the King.

The lawyer, politician and chronicler Edward Hall recorded Cromwell’s last words, as follows:

“I am come hether to dye, …  for …  I am by the Lawe comdempned to die, and thanke my lorde God that hath appoynted me this deathe, for myne offence: For … I have lived a synner, and offended my Lorde God, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes. And …  beyng but of a base degree, …  have offended my prince, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes, and beseche you all to praie to God with me, that he will forgeve me. O father forgeve me. O sonne forgeve me, O holy Ghost forgeve me: O thre persons in one God forgeve me. And now I praie you that be here, to beare me record, I die in the Catholicke faithe … .  Many hath sclaundered me, and reported that I have … mainteigned evill opinions, whiche is untrue, but I confesse that like as God by his holy spirite, doth instruct us in the truthe, so the devill is redy to seduce us, and I have been seduced: but beare me witnes that I dye in the Catholicke faithe … . And I hartely desire you to praie for the Kynges grace, that he maie long …  reigne over you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaigneth in this fleshe, I waver nothyng in my faithe”.

Hall also recorded, as follows:

“[H]e … committed his soule, into the handes of God, and so paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged and Boocherly miser, whiche very ungoodly perfourmed [botched] the Office [Execution]”.

Plaque marking site of execution on Tower Hill.JPG

 

Burnt for her beliefs (Anne Askew, 1546)

Anne_Askew_burning

On this day in 1546, in the final full year of Henry VIII’s reign, 25-year-old Anne Askew was burnt at the stake at West Smithfield for heresy, for preaching against the then still orthodox  belief in transubstantiation.  She had previously been racked in the Tower of London – the only woman to have suffered both fates.  And she had to be carried to,  and seated at,  the stake.

The Protestant martyrologist John Foxe, in his “Book of Martyrs” of 1563,  gives the following as Anne Askew’s own account  ..

“They said to me there, that I was a heretic, and condemned by the law, if I would stand in my opinion. I answered, that I was no heretic, neither yet deserved I any death by the law of God. But, as concerning the faith which I uttered and wrote to the council, I would not, I said, deny it, because I knew it true. Then would they needs know, if I would deny the sacrament to be Christ’s body and blood. I said, ‘Yea: for the same Son of God that was born of the Virgin Mary, is now glorious in heaven, and will come again from thence at the latter day like as he went up. And as for that ye call your God …  a piece of bread … ,  …  let it but lie in the box three months, and it will be mouldy, and so turn to nothing that is good. Whereupon I am persuaded that it cannot be God.’

…  Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlewomen to be of my opinion, and thereon they kept me a long time; and because I lay still, and did not cry, my lord chancellor [Sir Thomas Wriothesley] and Master Rich [Sir Richard Rich] took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nigh dead.  Then the lieutenant caused me to be loosed from the rack. Incontinently I swooned, and then they recovered me again. After that I sat two long hours reasoning with my lord chancellor upon the bare floor; where he, with many flattering words, persuaded me to leave my opinion. But my Lord God (I thank his everlasting goodness) gave me grace to persevere, and will do, I hope, to the very end.”

 

The Sweating Sickness in Tudor London (Edward VI, 1551)

On this day in 1551, the boy-King, Edward VI wrote:

“At this time came the sweat into London, which was more vehement than the old sweat.  For if one took cold he died within 3 hours, and if he escaped it held him but 9 hours, or 10 at the most.  Also if he slept … , as he should be very desirous to do, then he raved, and should die raving”.

The 1551 outbreak  of the sweat, also known as the sweating sickness, “carried off many people both noble and commoners”, as Henry Machyn put it.

On July 14th of that year, the disease caused the death of Henry Brandon, the Second Duke  of Suffolk, aged fifteen, and only an hour later that of his younger brother Charles, the  Third Duke, aged thirteen or fourteen, at the Bishop of Lincoln’s Palace near Huntingdon, where they had fled in an unsuccessful attempt to escape the epidemic.

There were notable outbreaks in England in 1485, 1507, 1517 and 1528-9 as well as 1551, after which last date the disease disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as it had appeared, never to return.  Even at the time, it was recognised as distinct from the other deadly diseases of the time, such as the ague or tertian or quartan fever (malaria) and the plague.  Contemporary descriptions by Edward Hall and the physician Thomas Forestier in 1485, and  by the physician John Kaye or Caius in 1552, chart the symptoms as progressing from a sense of apprehension, through  sometimes violent shivering accompanied by severe aches and pains, to   “a … burnyng sweate … : by the tormentyng and vexacion of which … men were so sore handled … that if they were layed in their bed, being not hable to suffre the importunate heat, they cast away the sheets & all the clothes” and “an insaciable thirst”,  delirium, and eventually, after a matter of hours, either death (“all … after yelded up their ghost”),  or in some cases (“not one emongest an hundreth”) a  gradual but complete recovery.  It is possible that the disease killed Arthur Tudor at Ludlow Castle in 1502, while sparing  his wife, Catherine of Aragon, who went on to marry his brother, by then King Henry VIII, in 1509.

Modern epidemiologists have suggested that the sweating sickness may  have been either Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) or Pulmonary Anthrax (the latter caused by inhaling spores of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, perhaps contained in contaminated wool).

The execution of Sir Thomas More (1535)

3 - Holbein's portrait of More

On this day in 1535, the former Lord Chancellor, also lawyer, humanist, social philosopher, author (of “Utopia”) and “Man for All Seasons” Sir, now Saint,  Thomas More was beheaded on  Tower Hill  for High Treason,  for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the King, Henry VIII, rather than the Pope, as the Supreme Head of the Church in England (being  “the king’s good servant, but God’s first”).

His son-in-law William Roper wrote of the event:

“And soe was he brought by Mr Lievetenaunt out of the Towre, and thence led towards the place of execution, where goinge upp the Scaffold, which was so weake that it was readie to fall, he sayde … ‘I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lievetenaunt, see me safe upp, and for my cominge downe let mee shift for my selfe’.  Then desired he all the people thereaboutes to pray for him, and to beare witnesse with him, that he should suffer death in and for the faith of the holie Catholique Church, which done hee kneeled downe, and after his prayers sayed, hee turned to the executioner, and with a cheerful Countenance spake unto him, ‘Plucke up thy spirittes, man, and be not affrayed to do thine office … ’.  Soe passed Sir Thomas Moore out of this world to God … ”.

More’s  headless corpse was buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London.  His head was put on a pike on London Bridge.  It was later retrieved by his daughter Meg Roper, the wife of William, and buried in the Roper family vault in the church of St Dunstan in Canterbury.

1 - Plaque marking site of More's birthplace on Milk Street

2 - Plaque marking site of More's execution on Tower Hill.jpg

There are plaques in the City marking the sites of More’s birth on Milk Street and of his death on Tower Hill.

4 - Statue of More on Carey Street

5 - Statue of More outside Chelsea Old Church

6 - Memorial to More in Chelsea Old Church.JPG

There are  also statues of him to the west of the City, one on Carey Street just off Chancery Lane, and another outside Chelsea Old Church; and a  memorial to him inside Chelsea Old Church.

7 - The rebuilt Crosby Hall in Chelsea.JPG

Crosby Hall, where he lived between 1523-4, was moved from its past location in Bishopsgate to its present one opposite Chelsea Old Church in 1910.

 

St Etheldreda (and Ely Palace)

Today is the Feast of St Etheldreda, who was the Abbess of Ely in the seventh century …

The church of St Etheldreda

Easily  overlooked on account of its tucked-away location on Ely Place, the  church of St Etheldreda was originally built as a private chapel in Ely Palace, owned by the Bishops of Ely,  in  around 1293, and pressed into service as an Anglican church after the Reformation.  It was undamaged  in the  Great Fire of 1666, although it has been somewhat modified subsequently.  It was “restored to the old faith” in 1874.

1 - The decorated Gothic exterior of the church of St Etheldreda.JPG

The exterior  is a rare, restrained  and fine surviving example of the Decorated Gothic style of ecclesiastical architecture.

2 - The interior of the church, with effigies of Catholic martyrs on the walls.JPG

The interior contains a number of memorials to Catholic martyrs, including John Houghton, Prior of Charterhouse, who was hanged, drawn and quartered  at Tyburn in 1535 for challenging King Henry VIII’s  supremacy over the Church.

Ely Palace

Reconstruction of Ely Palace.JPG

John of Gaunt lived in Ely Palace after his own Savoy Palace was destroyed in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.

John of Gaunt

In a scene in Shakespeare’s  “Richard II”, set here, he uttered the immortal words:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle,|This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,|This other Eden, demi-paradise,|This fortress built by Nature for herself|Against infection and the hand of war,|This happy breed of men, this little world,|This precious stone set in the silver sea,|Which serves it in the office of a wall,|Or as a moat defensive to a house,|Against the envy of less happier lands,|This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

The palace’s gardens were said to produce the finest strawberries in London, in honour of which a “Strawberrie Fayre” is still held nearby  every June.  In a scene in “Richard III”, Gloster says to Ely:

“My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there; I do beseech you, send me some of them”.

The palace’s Great Hall was famed for its banquets.  One such, in 1531, attended by the then king, Henry VIII and his queen,  Catherine of Aragon, is said to have lasted for five days!  According to surviving records, the guests managed to get  through 24 oxen, 51 cows, 91 pigs, 100 sheep, 168 swans, 444 pigeons, 720 chickens and over 4000 larks!

Sir Christopher Hatton.jpg

In 1576, the palace was ordered by Elizabeth I to be leased to  her  favourite Sir Christopher Hatton, for a rent of £10 a year, ten loads of hay, and a rose picked at mid-summer.   It remained more or less continuously  in the possession of the Hatton family until the death of the last Lord Hatton in 1772, when it was finally demolished to make way for what is now Hatton Garden.

 

 

 

 

 

The execution of Bishop John Fisher (1535)

Fisher, as portrayed by Holbein

On this day in 1535, the 65 year old Bishop and  Cardinal John Fisher was executed for “misprision of treason”, for refusing to accept Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church in England.  (The notoriously vengeful King had never forgiven Fisher for siding against him in the long-running dispute over his proposed divorce from Katherine of Aragon, and for arguing against him, and  for the indissolubility of marriage –  a principle that the Bishop swore he was prepared to die for – before the Papal  Legate in Blackfriars in 1529).  The Bishop had been tried and convicted at Westminster Hall on 17th June.  He had originally been sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 24th June, but when the King realised that this was the feast of St John the Baptist, he changed the date, reasoning that if he did not the public might forever associate John Fisher with his patronal namesake.  The Bishop  was eventually beheaded at Tower Hill on 22nd June (the feast of the first English Christian martyr, St Alban).  His head is said to have been shown to Anne Boleyn, who had expressed a desire to see it, and it was then stuck on a pole on London Bridge.

Fisher banner, All Hallows by the Tower.JPG

His body was buried in All Hallows-by-the-Tower (although later  reburied in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula inside the Tower).

By all accounts, the  Bishop met his death in a state of anticipation that was at times almost joyous.  According to one:

“[W]hen they reached the scaffold, the rough men of his escort offered to help him up the ladder. But he smiled at them: ‘Nay, … ye shall see me go up to my death well enough myself; without help’.  And forthwith he began to climb, almost nimbly. As he reached the top the sun appeared from behind the clouds, and its light shone upon his face. He was heard to murmur some words from Psalm 33 … .   The masked headsman knelt …  to ask his pardon. And again the cardinal’s manliness dictated every word of his answer: ‘I forgive thee with all my heart, and I trust on Our Lord Thou shalt see me die even lustily’.   Then they stripped him …  and … a  gasp of pity went up at the sight of his …  body, nothing …  but skin and bones …  the flesh clean wasted away; and a very image of death … .  He was offered a final chance to save his life by acknowledging the royal supremacy, but …  turned to the crowd, and …  spoke these words: ‘Christian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ’s Catholic Church, and I thank God hitherto my courage hath served me well … , so that …  I have not feared death; wherefore I desire you help me … with your prayers, that at the very …  instant of my death’s stroke, …  I then faint not in …  fear; and I pray God save the king and the realm, and …  send the king a good counsel’.   The …  courage of his spirit triumphing over the obvious weakness of his body, amazed them all, and a murmur of admiration was still rustling the crowd when they saw him go down on his knees and begin to pray. … Then he …  put his wasted neck upon the low block”.

Bishop John Fisher is honoured as a Saint by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, alongside Sir Thomas More.  The Catholic Church beatified him in 1886, and canonised him in 1935, and celebrates his feast day on 22nd June, the day of his execution.  The Church of England added him to the Calendar of Saints and Heroes in 1980, and celebrates his feast day on 6th July, the day of More’s execution.

Site of execution, Tower Hill.JPG

 

The martyrdom of John Forest (1538)

Martyrdom of John Forest

On this day in 1538, the Franciscan Friar John Forest was burned at the stake in Smithfield for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the King – Henry VIII – as the Supreme Head of the Church in England (it is said that fuel for the fire was provided by a statue of St Derfel from the pilgrimage site of Llandderfel in North Wales, which it had been prophesied would “one day set a forest on fire”).   Forest had been a confessor to Henry  first wife, Catherine of Aragon (*), and in 1532 had publicly spoken out against his plans to divorce her (from the open-air pulpit at St Paul’s Cross).

(*) There was a Franciscan Friary attached to the Royal Palace at Greenwich.