Tag Archives: Sir Thomas More

On this day in 1521 – Pope Leo X received a copy of Henry VIII’s The Defence of the Seven Sacraments

The Defence of the Seven Sacraments also known as Assertio Septem Sacramentorum was a theological treatise written in 1521 and was officially attributed to King Henry VIII. Henry began writing it in 1519 whilst he was reading Martin Luther’s attack on indulgences and denounced the Papal system. By June 1519 Henry had shown his work to Cardinal Wolsey, Wolsey would be the only to read it for the next three years.

The original manuscript would become the first two chapters of Assertio Septem Sacramentorum with the rest of the treatise being made up of new material that related to Luther’s De Captivitate Babylonica, many believe that Sir Thomas More was involved in the working of this piece.

Henry ended his treatise by saying to readers that they should not be influenced by the likes of Luther and other heretics. He wrote;

Do not listen to the Insults and Detractions against the Vicar of Christ which the Fury of the little Monk spews up against the Pope; nor contaminate Breasts sacred to Christ with impious Heresies, for if one sews these he has no Charity, swells with vain Glory, loses his Reason, and burns with Envy. Finally with what Feelings they would stand together against the Turks, against the Saracens, against anything Infidel anywhere, with the same Feelings they should stand together against this one little Monk weak in Strength, but in Temper more harmful than all Turks, all Saracens, all Infidels anywhere.”

Henry dedicated the treatise to Pope Leo X who received a copy on 2nd October 1521 who upon reading it rewarded Henry with the title of Fidei Defensor – Defender of the Faith on 11th October. Although the title was officially revoked following Henry’s break with Rome and the Catholic Church.

There has been some debate whether Henry did indeed write the book himself or whether it was written by someone such as Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Thomas More or Bishop Fisher and it was published under the King’s name in order to give it more substance.

Rare books  collection, photos for a book about the collection. Assertio Septem Sacramentorum Aduerfus Mart. Lutherum Henrico VIII Angliae Rege auctore 1562 In latin but featuring inserted hebrew on some pages.

On this day in 1535 – Sir Thomas More sent his final letter from the Tower of London

Sir Thomas More was sentenced to be executed on 6th July 1535 after being found guilty of treason. On his last day he wrote one final letter to his daughter, Margaret Roper from the Tower of London. It was written in charcoal onto cloth after he had previously had all writing instruments taken away from him.

Our Lord bless you good daughter and your good husband and your little boy and all yours and all my children and all my godchildren and all our friends. Recommend me when you may to my good daughter Cecilye, whom I beseech our Lord to comfort, and I send her my blessing and to all her children and pray her to pray for me. I send her an handekercher and God comfort my good son her husband. My good daughter Daunce hath the picture in parchment that you delivered me from my Lady Coniers; her name is on the back side. Show her that I heartily pray her that you may send it in my name again for a token from me to pray for me.

 

I like special well Dorothy Coly, I pray you be good unto her. I would wit whether this be she that you wrote me of. If not I pray you be good to the other as you may in her affliction and to my good daughter Joan Aleyn to give her I pray you some kind answer, for she sued hither to me this day to pray you be good to her.

 

I cumber you good Margaret much, but I would be sorry, if it should be any longer than tomorrow, for it is Saint Thomas even, and the Vtas of Saint Peter and therefore tomorrow long I to go to God, it were a day very meet and convenient for me. I never liked your manner toward me better than when you kissed me last for I love when daughterly love and dear charity hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy.

 

Fare well my dear child and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends that we may merrily meet in heaven. I thank you for your great cost.

 

I send now unto my good daughter Clement her algorism stone and I send her and my good son and all hers God’s blessing and mine.

 

I pray you at time convenient recommend me to my good son John More. I liked him well his natural fashion. Our Lord bless him and his good wife my loving daughter, to whom I pray him to be good, as he hath great cause, and that if the land of mine come to his hand, he break not my will concerning his sister Daunce. And our Lord bless Thomas and Austen and all that they shall have.”

Thomas More's last letterThe last letter of Sir Thomas More

On this day in 1533 – John Frith was burned at the stake for heresy

John Frith was born in 1503 in Westerham, Kent to Richard Frith, innkeeper of the White Horse Inn. Frith was educated at Sevenoaks Grammar School before transferring to Eton College and later Queen’s College, Cambridge, although Frith received his BA from King’s College.

Whilst at Cambridge he studied under Stephen Gardiner and read Latin, Greek and Mathematics. It was also here that he met Thomas Bilney and they began discussing the Reformation, it was during these meetings that Frith met William Tyndale for the first time. Upon graduation Frith became a junior canon at Thomas Wolsey’s Cardinal College, Oxford however, this did not last long Frith along with nine others were accused by the University of possessing heretical books and were imprisoned in a cellar for six months. Upon his release Frith left England to travel to Antwerp to join up with William Tyndale.

Frith spent many years in Europe and during this time he translated a number of works including, ‘A Pistle to the Christian Reader: The Revelation of the Anti-Christ’; ‘An Antithesis between Christ and Pope’. He also published his own works in response to Thomas More, Bishop Fisher and John Rastell entitled ‘A Disputacion of Purgatorye’. Unpon reading Frith’s work Rastell converted to the Protestant ways.

In ‘A Disputacion of Purgatorye’ Frith put forward the argument that there were two purgatories. He wrote “God hath left us two purgatories; one to purge the heart and cleanse it from the filth which we have partly received of Adam…and partly added thereto by consenting unto our natural infirmity. This purgatory is the word of God, as Christ saith.” Frith continued to say that the second purgatory was Christ’s cross and said; “I mean not his material cross that he himself died on, but a spiritual cross, which is adversity, tribulation, worldly depression etc.”

In 1532, Frith returned to England and was quickly arrested in Reading where he was mistaken for a vagabond with the help of Leonard Coxe, a local schoolmaster, he was released. Sir Thomas More, when he learnt that Frith had returned to England issued arrest warrants for Frith’s capture on the charges of heresy. Frith was eventually arrested when trying to board a ship back to Antwerp.

Frith was sent to the Tower of London where he continued to preach and write about the Lutheran ways and in particular the ritual of Communion, knowing that his work would be used against him as evidence. Whilst Frith was imprisoned Sir Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor after disagreeing with the King’s views on religion and a short time later following the death of William Warham, Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Also Cranmer himself leaned towards the Lutheran way he met with Frith at both Lambeth and Croydon for discussion in which Cranmer attempted to persuade Frith to change his stance regarding the Eucharist to be more in line with that of the King. Cranmer was trying to save Frith’s life but Frith was unwilling to change his belief.

Frith was eventually moved to Newgate Prison where he continued writing; he received letters from William Tyndale who attempted to keep Frith’s spirits up. However, Thomas Audley was given the office of Lord Chancellor and he sentenced Frith to stand trial.

Frith was placed before a jury of examiners and bishops and here he submitted his own writings as evidence of his personal views that were considered to be heresy. Frith was offered a pardon if he answered positively to two questions the first was ‘Do you believe in purgatory?’ the second was ‘Do you believe in transubstantiation?’ Frith replied that neither could be proven and with that he was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to death by burning on 4th July 1533.

Frith’s views would continue to live on and after the death of King Henry VIII, Cranmer subscribed to the same views as Frith regarding purgatory and the Eucharist and these were implemented into the Protestant reforms during King Edward VI’s reign.

John FrithJohn Frith being led to his death.

On this day in 1535 – An oyer and terminer was set up in order to gather evidence against Sir Thomas More

On 26th June 1535 in Middlesex a commission of oyer and terminer was set up in order to send Sir Thomas More to trial. The Sheriff of Middlesex was called upon to gather a Grand Jury at Westminster Hall two days later on 28th June. Those serving on the commission included;

Special commission of oyer and terminer for Middlesex, to Sir Thos. Audeley, chancellor; Thos. Duke of Norfolk; Charles duke of Suffolk; Hen. earl of Cumberland; Thos. earl of Wiltshire; Geo. lord Rocheford; Andrew lord Windsor; Thos. Crumwell, secretary; Sir Will. Fitzwilliam; Sir Will. Paulet; Sir John Fitzjames; Sir John Baldewyn; Sir Ric. Lister; Sir John Spelman; Sir Walter Luke; and Sir. Ant Fitzherbert.”

The oyer and terminer were required to decide if there was sufficient evidence to send More to trial on charges of treason. More was accused of refusing to recognise Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the newly created Church of England.

The commission found that there was enough evidence and they drew up an indictment listing the charges against Sir Thomas More;

The indictment found at Westminster on Monday next after the feast of St. John the Baptist, setting forth the Acts 26 Hen. VIII.

Found, that Sir Thos. More, traitorously attempting to deprive the King of his title of Supreme Head of the Church, &c., did, 7 May 27 Hen. VIII., at the Tower of London, before Cromwell, Thos. Bedyll, clk., and John Tregonell, LL.D., the King’s councillors, and divers others, being examined whether he would accept the King as Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England, pursuant to the statute, refused to give a direct answer, saying “I will not meddle with any such matters, for I am fully determined to serve God, and to think upon His Passion and my passage out of this world.” Afterwards, 12 May 27 Hen. VIII., the said Sir Thomas, knowing that one John Fissher, clk., was then detained in the Tower for divers misprisions, and that the said Fissher had refused to accept the King as above, wrote divers letters to him, which he tramsmitted by one Geo. Golde, declaring his agreement with Fisher, and intimating the silence which he, More, had observed when interrogated. In these letters he wrote as follows:- “The Act of Parliament is like a sword with two-edges, for if a man answer one way it will confound his soul, and if he answer the other way it will confound his body.”

Afterwards, fearing lest Fisher should reveal upon further examination what he had written to him, the said Sir Thomas, at the Tower, 26 May 27 Hen. VIII., sent other letters to Fisher, requesting him to answer according to his own mind, and not to give any such answer as he, Sir. Thos., had written, lest the Council should suspect confederacy between them. Nevertheless, in consequences of the letter first written, Fisher did, 3 June 27 Hen. VIII., at the Tower, when examined by Sir Thos. Audeley, Suffolk, Wiltshire, and others, refuse to answer directly, and said, “I will not meddle with that matter, for the statute is like a two-edged sword; and if I should answer one way I should offend my conscience, and if I should answer the other way I should put my life in jeopardy. Wherefore I will make no answer in that matter.”

The said Sir Thomas likewise, when examined at the Tower, 3 June 27 Hen. VIII., maliciously persevered in refusing to give a direct answer, and, imagining to move sedition and hatred against the King, said to the King’s councillors, “the law and statute whereby the King is made Supreme Head as is aforesaid be like a sword with two edges; for if a man say that the same laws be good then it is dangerous to the soul, and if he say contrary to the said statute then it is death to the body. Wherefore I will make thereunto none other answer, because I will not be occasion of the shorting of my life.” And, moreover, the said More and Fisher, in order to conceal their treacherous intentions, severally burned their letters which passed between them immediately after reading the same.

Afterwards, 12 June 27 Hen. VIII., Richard Ryche, the King’s Solicitor General, came to Sir Thomas in the Tower, and charitably moved him to comply with the Acts; to which More replied, “Your conscience will save you, and my conscience will save me.” Ryche then, protesting that he had no authority to make any communication with More, said to him, “Supposing that it were enacted by Parliament that he, Richard Ryche, should be King, and that it should be treason to deny the same, what would be the offence if he, Sir Thomas More, were to say that the said Ryche, was King?” For certain, the said Ryche further said, in his conscience it would be no offense, but that More was obliged so to say, and to accept Ryche for King, because the consent of the said More was compelled by an Act of Parliament. To which More then and there answered that he should offend if he were to say no, because he would be bound by an Act, because he was able to give his consent to it. But he said that would be a light case; wherefore he would put a higher case:- “Suppose it should be enacted by Parliament that God should not be God, and that opposing the Act should be treason; and if it were asked of you, Ric. Ryche, whether you would say that God was not God according to the statute, and if you were to say so, would you not offend?” To which Ryche answered More, “Certainly, because it is impossible that God should not be God. But because your case is so high, I will put a medium one. You know that our lord the King is constituted Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England; and why ought not you, Master More, to affirm and accept him so, just as you would in the preceding case, in which you admit that you would be bound to accept me as King?” To which More, persevering in his treasons, answered that the cases were not similar; because a King can be made by Parliament, and deprived by Parliament; to which Act every subject being at the Parliament may give his assent (ad quem actum quilibet subditus ad Parliamentum existens suum præbeat consensum); but as to the primacy, a subject cannot be bound, because he cannot give his consent to that in Parliament (quia consensum suum ab eo ad Parliamentum præbere non potest); and although the King is so accepted in England, yet many foreign countries do not affirm the same.”

Sir Thomas More was put on trial and executed as a traitor on 6th July 1535.

Thomas MoreSir Thomas More painted by Hans Holbein the younger

On this day in 1535 – Sir Thomas More was interrogated in the Tower of London

The issue of royal supremacy was a highly dominate aspect of 1535 with citizens of England expected to sign an oath that declared they supported King Henry VIII’s claim as head of the Church of England and recognised that Anne Boleyn was his lawful wife and their children would be legitimate, therefore declaring that his daughter, Mary, was illegitimate as a result of an unlawful marriage with Katherine of Aragon.

One person who delayed in signing the oath was Sir Thomas More, More had been one of Henry’s closest friends and advisors and was even Lord Chancellor until he resigned over his opinions of Henry’s divorce.

On 3rd June 1535 More was in the Tower of London and was visited by Thomas Boleyn, Thomas Audley, Charles Brandon and Thomas Cromwell who were there to interrogate him about his views and to try and persuade him one more time to take the oath.

Sir Thomas More refused to take the oath again by answering that he answered to God first and the King second. More was pushed to give an answer on whether he had seen the oath he was being asked to take and if he thought it was lawful. More replied that he had confessed to seeing it but refused to answer whether it was lawful.

Sir Thomas More wrote a letter on the same day to his daughter, Margaret, to tell her about the visit. In the letter it said;

3rd June 1535

Tower of London

 Our Lord bless you and all yours.

 For as much, dearly beloved daughter, as it is likely that you either have heard or shortly shall hear that the Council was here this day, and I was before them, I have thought it necessary to send you word how the matter stands. And verily to be short I perceive little difference between this time and the last, for as far as I can see the whole purpose is either to drive me to say precisely the one way or else precisely the other.

 Here sat my Lord of Canterbury, my Lord Chancellor, my Lord of Suffolk, my Lord of Wilshire and Master Secretary. And after my coming, Master Secretary made rehearsal in what wise he had reported unto the King’s Highness, what had been said by his Grace’s Council to me, and what had been answered by me to them at mine other being before them last. Which thing his Mastership rehearsed in good faith very well, as I acknowledged and confessed and heartily thanked him therefore. Whereupon he added that the King’s Highness was nothing content nor satisfied with mine answer, but thought that by my demeanour I had been occasion of much grudge and harm in the realm, and that I had an obstinate mind and an evil toward him and that my duty was being subject; and so he had sent them now in his name upon my allegiance to command me to make a plain and terminate answer whether I thought the statute lawful or not and that I should either acknowledge and confess it lawful that his Highness should be Supreme Head of the Church of England or else to utter plainly my malignity.

 Whereto I answered that I had no malignity and therefore I could none utter. And as to the matter, I could none other answer make than I had before made, which answer his Mastership had there rehearsed. Very heavy I was that the King’s Highness should have any such opinion of me. Howbeit if there were one that had informed his Highness many evil things of me that were untrue, to which his Highness for the time gave credence, I would be very sorry that he should have that opinion of me the space of one day. Howbeit if I were sure that other should come on the morrow by whom his Grace should know the truth of my innocence, I should in the meanwhile comfort myself with the consideration of that. And in like wise now though it be great heaviness to me that his Highness have such opinion of me for the while, yet have I no remedy to help it, but only to comfort myself with this consideration that I know very well that the time shall come, when God shall declare my truth toward his Grace before him and all the world. And whereas it might haply seem to be but a small cause of comfort because I might take harm here first in the meanwhile. I thanked God that my case was such in this matter through the clearness of mine own conscience that though I might have pain I could have no harm for a man may in such case lose his head and have no harm. For I was very sure that I had no corrupt affection, but that I had always from the beginning truly used myself to looking first upon God and next up on the King, according to the lesson that his Highness taught me at my first coming to his noble service, the most virtuous lesson that ever prince taught his servant; whose Highness to have of me such opinion is my great heaviness, but I have no means, as I said, to help it but only comfort myself in the meantime with the hope of that joyful day in which my truth towards him shall well be known. And in this matter further I could not go nor other answer thereto I could not make.

 To this it was said by my Lord Chancellor or and Master Secretary both that the King might by his laws compel me to make a plain answer thereto, either the one way or the other.

 Whereunto I answered I would not dispute the King’s authority, what his Highness might do in such case, but I said that verily under correction it seemed to me somewhat hard. For if it so were that my conscience gave me against the statutes (wherein how my mind giveth me I make no declaration), then I nothing doing nor nothing saying against the statute, it were a very hard thing to compel me to say either precisely with it against my conscience to the loss of my soul, or precisely against it to the destruction of my body.

 To this Master Secretary said that I had before this when I was Chancellor examined heretics and thieves and other malefactors and gave me a great praise above my deserving in that behalf. And he said that I then, as he thought and at the leastwise Bishops did use to examine heretics, whether they believed the Pope to be the head of the Church and used to compel them to make a precise answer thereto. And why should not then the King, since it is a law made here that his Grace is Head of the Church, here compel men to answer precisely to the law here as they did then concerning the Pope.

 I answered and said that I protested that I intended not to defend any part or stand in contention; but I said there was a difference between those two cases because at that time, as well here as elsewhere through the corps of Christendom, the Pope’s power was recognized for an undoubted thing which seems not like a thing agreed in this realm and the contrary taken for truth in other realms. Whereunto Master Secretary answered that they were as well burned for the denying of that as they be beheaded for denying of this, and therefore as good reason to compel them to make precise answer to the one as to the other.

 Whereto I answered that since in this case a man is not by a law of one realm so bound in his conscience, where there is a law of the whole corps of Christendom to the contrary in matter touching belief, as he is by a law of the whole corps though there hap to be made in some place a local law to the contrary, the reasonableness or unreasonableness in binding a man to precise answer, standeth not in the respect or difference between beheading and burning, but because of the difference in charge of conscience, the difference standeth between beheading and hell.

 Much was there answered unto this both by Master Secretary and my Lord Chancellor over long to rehearse. And in conclusion they offered me an oath by which I should be sworn to make true answer to such things as should be asked me on the King’s behalf, concerning the King’s own person.

 Whereto I answered that verily I never purposed to swear any book oath more while I lived. Then they said that I was very obstinate if I would refuse that, for every man doth it in the Star Chamber and everywhere. I said that was true, but I had not so little foresight that I might well conjecture what should be part of my interrogatory, and as good it was to refuse it at first as afterward.

 Whereto my Lord Chancellor answered that he thought I guessed truth, for I should see them and so they were showed me and they were but two. The first whether I had seen the statute. The other whether I believed that it were a lawful made statute or not. Whereupon I refused the oath and said further by mouth, that the first I had before confessed, and to the second I would make none answer.

 Which was the end of the communication and I was thereupon sent away. In the communication before, it was said that it was marvelled that I stuch so much in my conscience while at the uttermost I was not sure therein. Whereto I said that I was very sure that my own conscience, so informed as it is by such diligence as I have so long taken therein, may stand with mine own salvation. I meddle not with the conscience of them that think otherwise, every man suo domino stat et cadit [Romans 14:4, Cor 10:12]. I am no man’s judge. It was also said unto me that if I had rather be out of the world as in it, as I had there said, why did I not speak even out plain against the statute. It appeared well I was not content to die though I had said so. Whereto I answered as the truth is, that I have not been a man of such holy living as I might be bold to offer myself to death, lest God for my presumption might suffer me to fall, and therefore I put not myself forward, but draw back. Howbeit if God draw me to it himself, then trust I in his great mercy, that he shall not fail to give me grace and strength.

 In conclusion Master Secretary said that he liked me this day much worse than he did the last time, for then he said he pitied me much and now he thought that I meant not well; but God and I know both that I mean well and so I pray God do by me.

 I pray you be, you and my other friends, of good cheer whatsoever fall of me, and take no thought for me but pray for me as I do and shall do for you and all them.

 Your tender loving father,

 Thomas More, Knight

More was eventually charged with treason and was put on trial on 1st July 1535. By the 3rd More said that the Act of Supremacy was like a ‘sword with two edges’ because ‘if a man say that the same laws be good then it is dangerous to the soul, and if he say contrary to the said statue then it is death to the body’. More was inevitably found guilty of treason and sentenced to exectution.

Book reviews – Loyalty and Honour by Matthew Lewis

Loyalty and Honour are two books by Matthew Lewis that very cleverly spans across two reigning families, the Plantagenets and the Tudors. Both books alternate between eras effortlessly with Hans Holbein linking the two eras.

Loyalty

Loyalty opens with the painter Hans Holbein receiving a mystery summons by Sir Thomas More where they meet and More begins to tell a story that will change Holbein’s perception to history and the rise of the Tudors. It certainly had me gripped to learn what Sir Thomas More had to say.

The story then jumps back 56 years to when King Edward IV was on the throne. The King and his younger brother Richard are approaching the Battle of Barnet and their return to England. The story focuses on Richard and his thoughts and feelings to the events. The story is fast paced and covers all the key aspects of Richard and his rise to taking the throne.

We continue to come back to Sir Thomas More and Hans Holbein who recap the story and move through any parts that have not been covered. Like Holbein I found myself wanting to get back to hearing more about Richard and the story that was being told.

Loyalty sticks with Richard through Edward’s reign and tells a different story to the one we know, we see Richard’s reaction to his brother negotiating with France and why he left the country early, Lewis also puts forward a touching relationship between Richard and his soon to be executed brother, George. Seeing a different interpretation on these events and relationships really puts forward a more sympathetic view on Richard.

The most interesting point for me was Lewis’ take on what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Many theories have flown around over the years, did Richard kill them? Was it the Tudors to help secure Henry’s claim? Or as Lewis puts forward did they simply go into hiding after it was discovered that they were illegitimate. Loyalty goes on to explore Richard’s reign and how he ruled when he was one of the only people who knew the fate of the princes.

For me personally, the backbone of Loyalty was the story of Richard and Anne and their marriage. How Richard rescued her, their married life, the birth of Edward and how they suddenly found themselves King and Queen of England. It was so beautifully written that I found myself so emotionally involved that when Richard and Anne said their final goodbyes I found a tear or two falling at their loss.

The Tudor elements of Sir Thomas More and Hans Holbein are great as you really feel as if Holbein is being told this story and you are also sat listening and being transported back in time.

Loyalty ends with the Battle of Bosworth and the fall of Richard III. However, Honour begins immediately after the battle is lost with Francis Lovell escaping the battlefield. We again meet Hans Holbein but this time he is summoned by King Henry VIII himself who tells the Tudors side of what happened to the princes during the reign of his father.

In Honour we see Lovell and the remaining followers of Richard flee from the Tudors and plot their revenge. When they learn of the fate of the two princes, who everybody believed were dead and Richard was to blame, we see a focus for the rebellions that also brings in the children of the Duke of Clarence, Edward and Margaret. Edward is also smuggled out of the tower and hidden, later to be another force for Henry VII to contend with.

Honour

Hans Holbein has a wider role in this book; he has been tasked by Henry VIII to create a portrait that contains many hidden meanings as a test for a wider position. Holbein interacts with Henry and Thomas Cromwell as well as Sir Thomas More and you really get a sense that Holbein is caught between two powerful men who are both telling him stories.

With the addition of Henry VII a new danger has been included as now Lovell and his men are the underdogs and I found myself willing them on in their quest, despite knowing the outcome.

Both books are so well written that you will find yourself turning each page wanting to know what happened next. Lewis has offered a fresh pair of eyes on history that is well known and although it is a work of fiction you can’t help but wonder what if?

Honour leaves the story open for more and I for one can’t wait to read it.

On this day in 1517 – Evil May Day riots

On 1st May 1517 a riot gripped London that would be known as the Evil May Day riots.

Londoners took to the streets of London to protest about foreigners living and working in London in particularly the merchants and bankers that resided in Lombard Street. A fortnight before the riots took hold a speech was given at St Paul’s Cross, a preaching cross in the grounds of the old St Paul’s Cathedral. It was spoken by Dr Bell, at the request of broker John Lincoln. It was highly xenophobic blaming the foreigners for many of the economical problems the country was facing. Bell was reported as calling on all ‘Englishman to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal’ according to the chronicler Edward Hall.

Over the next two weeks attacks were springing up across London with rumours spreading that on May Day the city would rebel and attack any foreigner. The Mayor of London announced at 8.30pm on 30th April 1517 that a curfew would be enforced at 9pm, giving Londoners 30 minutes to get home.

Instead a few hours after the curfew a group of approximately 1000 male apprentices had gathered in Cheapside where they went on to free many prisoners who had been jailed in the past few weeks for attacking foreigners and they set off towards St Martin le Grand, a place where many foreigners lived. Thomas More greeted the rioters and tried to persuade them to disperse and go home with no further action.

As soon as More had calmed crowd the residents of St Martin le Grand began to rise as they throw rocks, bricks and even boiling water from their windows onto the groups below. With the apprentices now under attack they soon retaliated by looting the homes of the foreigners who were attacking them and across the city. This continued into the early hours of 1st May.

Three hundred rioters were arrested and charged with treason and were swiftly executed on 4th May with John Lincoln the instigator of the original speech executed on 7th May. Hundreds more rioters were arrested but later pardoned by the King after his wife, Katherine of Aragon, begged him to show mercy.

Evil May DayImage courtesey of the British Museum.

On this day in 1544 – Sir Thomas Audley died

Thomas Audley was born in 1488 to Geoffrey Audley in Earls Colne, Essex. Audley studied at Buckingham College, Cambridge before entering Middle Temple to study law.

Audley became to town clerk of Colchester and was made a Justice of the Peace for Essex in 1521. Two years later Audley would be called to Parliament to represent Essex.

In 1527 Audley entered into Cardinal Wolsey’s employment and was appointed as a Groom of the Chamber to King Henry VIII. With Wolsey’s fall in 1529 Audley remained in favour with the King and was made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster as well as being appointed as Speaker of the House of Commons. Audley presided over the Reformation Parliament.

Audley was the head of the commission to look at Bishop Fisher’s speech against the King and his divorce proceedings. On 20th May 1532 Audley was knighted and less than a year later he succeeded Sir Thomas More as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, after More resigned from the post over Henry’s divorce to Katherine of Aragon. Audley would go on to preside at the trials of both More and Fisher.

In favour with the King, Audley would also sit on the council who would judge Anne Boleyn and the men she was accused with adultery with. Audley would go on to witness Anne Boleyn’s execution and would later put the revised Act of Succession to Parliament that would recognise the children of Jane Seymour and Henry as the rightful heir.

Through the dissolution of the monasteries Audley was granted many lands including Holy Trinity Priory, Aldgate and the Abbey of Walden, Essex.

On 29th November 1538 Audley was created Baron Audley of Walden after declaring the Pilrimage of the Grace rebels traitors and sentencing them to death. The following year Audley as Lord Steward oversaw the trials of Lord Montacute, and the Marquess of Exeter as they were charged with treason by King Henry VIII.

24th April 1540 saw Audley inducted into the Knight of the Garter. As his loyalty to Henry was clear Audley was charged with managing the attainder of Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s soon to be former Lord Chamberlain along with the annulment of the King’s marriage to Anne of Cleves.

In 1542 he re-established Buckingham College, Cambridge, his former place of study, and renamed it as the College of St Mary Magdalene.

Audley resigned the office of the Great Seal on 21st April 1544 and died days later on 30th April. He was buried at Saffron Walden where he had already prepared a magnificent tomb.

Thomas Audley

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

On this day in 1534 – Sir Thomas More was summoned to Lambeth to sign the oath of succession.

Sir Thomas More was summoned to Lambeth Palace on 13th April 1534 to swear the new oath of succession. More was one of Henry VIII’s most trusted friends and advisors during the early days of his reign but More was a devout Catholic and loyal to Queen Katherine so when Henry wanted to put Katherine aside and take a new wife More found it difficult to accept. Henry was desperate to get More on side and agree that the marriage was never legal.

During the inquest into the King’s Great Matter that saw Cardinal Campeggio dispatched from Rome to oversee events More kept himself busy by pursuing heretics and negotiating peace deals with France and Spain abroad. He kept himself away from Blackfriars and the ongoing trial into the King’s marriage.

In 1529 after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More was appointed Lord Chancellor despite Henry being aware of More’s sympathies towards the former Queen. More accepted the role in the hope he could persuade Henry back to church and to Katherine.

As Henry moved further and further away from Rome and Papal Supremacy he began demanding that the Church recognised him as the Supreme Head of the Church. In 1532 Thomas Cromwell created a new bill that limited the Church’s powers. On 15th May 1532 the clergy were forced to accept that Henry was the Head of the Church and that he was superior to the Church and their laws. The following day in the gardens of York Place Thomas More resigned from his role as Lord Chancellor, he returned the great seal to Henry and bowed before leaving never to see Henry again.

In 1533 Thomas Cromwell ordered an investigation into the activities and movement of More. Two events appear to have triggered the investigation the first was More’s lack of attendance at Anne Boleyn’s coronation and the second was More’s involvement with Elizabeth Barton, the nun who claimed to have visions and predicted the King’s death if he went through with his marriage to Anne. More wrote to Cromwell and the King in March 1534 stating that he remained loyal to the King and would remain silent on the matter of his new wife.

While More thought he was safe remaining quiet Cromwell was working behind the scenes on new bills that were to be passed through Parliament. The Act of Annates stated that all bishops were to be selected by the King. Another act was passed at the same time The Act of Succession, the act declared that Henry’s marriage to Katherine was unlawful and void and that their child, Mary, was now illegitimate. It stated that any children the King would have with Anne would be heirs to the throne. It was also required that all citizens were to swear an oath in support of the new act.

On 12th April 1534 Thomas More was exited St. Paul’s Cathedral after a service with his son in law. He was handed a summons that requested him to go to Lambeth Palace the following day in order to take the oath of succession. More having decided not to sign the oath must have known that by not signing it then that was to be his last day as a free man.

On 13th April More set off on a boat for Lambeth, when he was seated and asked to sign the oath More asked to read both the oath and the Act itself. He carefully read each document and told those in the room that his conscience would not allow him to sign the oath. His response was unexpected so the commissioners asked More to leave the room for them to decide what to do with More now that he had refused to sign the oath. More was summoned back and once again refused to sign it despite being threatened with prison. He was eventually given to the Abbot of Westminster for four days before being transferred to a cell within the Tower of London.

Thomas More would remain imprisoned where he would be interrogated and asked to sign the oath again on numerous occasions. In 1535 Cromwell interviewed More on the King’s behalf where he was asked his opinion on the Act of Supremacy an act that would declare Henry the supreme head. More refused to comment on it and was left in the Tower.

The trial of Thomas More was set for 1st July 1535 where he was once again asked to sign the oath. He was also charged and questioned on four points. At each one More gave clear answers but he must have known that a guilty sentence would be handed out in fear of displeasing the King. More was handed a guilty verdict and sentenced to death by means of hung, drawn and quartered. This was later changed to beheading by the King in recognition of the years that More had served him. Sir Thomas More was executed on 6th July 1535.

Sir Thomas More