On this day in 1534 – Elizabeth Barton was executed

On 20th April 1534 Elizabeth Barton was executed on charges of treason for prophesising about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Elizabeth’s life before 1525 is unknown in 1506 she was born in Aldington and it is assumed that she grew up in a poor family. In 1525 at the aged around 18 Elizabeth was working as a servant for Thomas Cobb when she fell ill and believed that she believed she was given the power of visions and could predict the future.

Elizabeth’s predictions started with the death of a child within the house and led to urging people to stay within the Catholic faith as more and more predictions came true the greater Elizabeth’s reputation grew. A local priest, Richard Masters, referred Elizabeth to Archbishop Warham who after ensuring that her prophecies did no damage to the Catholic ways arranged for her to be received into the Benedictine St Sepulchre’s Priory in Canterbury.

Elizabeth’s popularity began to grow and she soon became known as the ‘Nun of Kent’. People would flock to see her in the belief that she could directly communicate with the Virgin Mary. Courtiers such as Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher also began communicating with Elizabeth.

Elizabeth began gaining more and more followers and in 1528 she had a private meeting with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and went on to have two meetings with King Henry VIII. Henry did not oppose Elizabeth and her visions as he was still loyal to Rome and Elizabeth was warning against heresy. However, with Henry pushing Katherine of Aragon for an annulment of their marriage and turning his back on Rome he began to turn on Elizabeth as well. Elizabeth strongly opposed the Reformation and in 1532 with rumours of Henry planning to marry Anne Boleyn she predicted that if the King remarried he would die soon after and he would go to hell.

It took a year for Henry to take action against Elizabeth due to her popularity, but in 1533 Elizabeth was examined by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. With rumours being spread of alleged relationships with priests and that she was suffering from mental illness Elizabeth apparently confessed to spreading false prophecies. Upon her confession Elizabeth was taken to the Tower of London where she was imprisoned.

In January 1534 a bill of attainder was passed against Elizabeth and her supporters. Thirteen supporters were attained in total including Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher however, Thomas More escaped imprisonment as he was able to produce a letter written by him to Elizabeth informing her to not get involved in court business. Bishop Fisher and five others were imprisoned but Elizabeth and the rest of her supporters including Richard Risby and Edward Bocking were all hanged at Tyburn on 20th April 1534. Elizabeth was buried at the Greyfriars Church in Newgate Street with the exception of her head which was put on a spike on London Bridge. She was the only woman in history to have had that happen.

Elizabeth Barton

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