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19 February 1555: Writ for John Bradford’s execution withdrawn

Bradford 'portrait' from FoxeOn this day in 1555 the prominent Protestant preacher, John Bradford, who had been condemned to death for heresy on 30 January, had the writ for his execution temporarily withdrawn. He had expected to be executed in short order, but the authorities were delaying the carrying out of his sentence while they sought to find ways to diminish his influence – preferably by securing his recantation, even at this late stage. If Bradford could be persuaded to recant, it would have a very demoralising effect indeed on the Protestants.

After the writ for his execution had been withdrawn, Bradford was subjected to numerous attempts to get him to change his mind, a number of eminent churchmen and theologians, including Nicholas Heath (who would become Archbishop of York later that year), George Day (the Bishop of Chichester) and two Spanish divines, being enlisted in the exercise. With the Spaniards, one of whom was Alfonso de Castro, the Franciscan theologian who was highly respected by King Philip and who had recently preached a sermon urging caution over the burning of heretics, Bradford discussed the question of how Christ could be present both in heaven and in the bread on the altar, deliberately poking fun at the Catholic position.

‘How does this hang together?’ he demanded. ‘It is as if you should say because you are here, you must therefore be in Rome. And so you reason that because Christ’s body is in heaven, it must therefore be in the sacrament in the form of bread. No wise man will agree with that.’

Alfonso got to the heart of the matter when he asked: ‘So will you believe nothing that is not expressly said in the Scriptures?’

‘I will believe anything you like,’ responded Bradford, ‘provided you can demonstrate it through the Scriptures.’

Details of the life and death of John Bradford can be found in my book, The Burning Time.

18 February 1847: Mary Duplessis’s belongings up for sale

Marie DuplessisOn this day in 1847 an announcement of the sale of the goods of the famed Parisian courtesan, Marie Duplessis, who had died only weeks earlier, appeared in Le Moniteur des Ventes. Viewing commenced at noon on the following Tuesday and the auction took place, in her apartment on the boulevard de la Madeleine, from Wednesday 24 to Saturday 27 February. Much of fashionable Paris attended the sale, fascinated to see the interior of an apartment few would have deigned to enter during the courtesan’s life. Among items up for sale were furniture, including pieces in rosewood and marquetry, wardrobes, beds, tables, dressing tables, armchairs, other chairs, mirrors and a piano by Ignace Pleyel, curios, including clocks and candelabras, clothes, silverware, diamonds, other jewels, curtains, carpets, books, pictures, horses and a carriage and its accoutrements. Despite the pecuniary difficulties she had been in before her death, which had led to her selling or pawning many of her more expensive clothes, Marie left a wardrobe of about 150 articles, including dozens of pieces of lingerie, 27 peignoirs, more than 30 gowns, masses of lace, boas and shawls. She also left a stash of invoices stuffed in a drawer, detailing the myriad purchases she had made over several years from dressmakers, milliners, restaurants, pastrycooks, florists, booksellers and other suppliers.

The sale realised just over 89,000 francs, of which nearly 50,000 went to her creditors, who had been waiting for her to die to claim at least some of what was owing to them.

The brief, turbulent life of Marie Duplessis is recounted in my book, Grandes Horizontales.

18 February 1533: Thomas Cromwell receives a letter

Cromwell by HolbeinOn this day in 1533 an Observant Franciscan lay brother by the name of Richard Lyst wrote a letter to Thomas Cromwell, one in a series of letters denouncing a fellow Observant Franciscan, Friar John Forest. Cromwell had recruited Lyst as an informer in 1532, Lyst thereby becoming a small cog in Cromwell’s machinery to discredit, and ultimately destroy, monastic life in England.

Richard Lyst, a former grocer and apothecary in Cheapside, and at one time a servant of the late Cardinal Wolsey, saw himself as what we might term a ‘whistle blower’, telling Cromwell in his letter of 18 February 1533:

[Forest] says that he will labour to the King to get out of your hands all such letters as I and others have written about him, that he may get us punished, though we have written nothing but truth. Our fathers have made a law that whoever shows any act done secretly in the religion, or makes any complaint of any in the religion to secular persons, shall be grievously punished.

Lyst continues in a superior, self-righteous tone, as he tells Cromwell how he means to point out to Forest the error of his ways:

I wish you to burn all my letters, for I intend to write a long ‘epistle’ to Father Forest, containing all his faults and transgressions among us, for which he has always avoided punishment. I shall remind him of them, that in this holy time of Lent he may be sorry for them, and make some amends to God and the religion. I shall mention his unfaithful and indiscreet conduct towards the King and you, and will show you a copy of the letter, if he take it not well secundum evangelium, to which, I think, his perfection will not extend.

Lyst’s tone is that of every lay person who has ever written in indignation to their bishop to complain about the vicar. He reported that Forest had been unpleasant towards him personally, which is hardly surprising in the circumstances:

Since you first rebuked him for his indiscreet words about you, of which I gave you knowledge, he will never speak to me, nor show any tokens outward that he is in charity with me.

There had also recently been some scandal concerning the Greenwich friary, involving the death in prison of one ‘brother Ravenscroft’. Lyst had made this fact known to Cromwell and the King, referring to Ravenscroft’s death as ‘suspect’ and somehow implicating Forest, in the hope that it would furnish them with an excuse to investigate the Observant Friars and come down hard on them.

The horrifying fate of Friar John Forest is recounted in my book The Burning Time.

18 February 1516: Birth of Mary Tudor

Mary-I-Hans_Eworth_Mary_I_detail2On this day in 1516 a child was born to Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine of Aragon who would become known to history as ‘Bloody Mary’, the scourge of English Protestants, ultimately responsible for the death by burning of scores of her subjects with whom she had profound disagreements over matters of religion.

Of the 288 people estimated to have been burn for heresy during Mary’s five-year reign (1553-58), 48 were burnt in London’s Smithfield. Originally known as ‘Smoothfield’, this had been a place of public execution for over 400 years; many witches and heretics had been burnt, roasted or boiled alive here. It was here that the Scottish hero and patriot, Sir William Wallace, was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1315, and where Wat Tyler, the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, was fatally stabbed by the Lord Mayor in 1381. Many tournaments had also taken place here, royal jousts having begun in Smithfield in the reign of Edward III (1327-77). The other activity for which the area was (and is) famous was the craft of butchery, meat having been traded in Smithfield since the tenth century.

Adjacent to the open space of Smithfield was the great Augustinian Priory of St Bartholomew, one of the City’s most important monasteries. The annual Bartholomew Fair was held on the priory’s land, attracting all manner of people – cloth merchants from all around Europe mingling with jugglers, acrobats, innkeepers and pickpockets. It was also an area which drew the poor and the sick, the monastery’s sister-foundation, St Bartholomew’s Hospital (still world-famous as ‘Barts‘), offering relief for the body while the prior and canons (as the members of an Augustinian community were known) offered prayers for the soul.

Accounts of the lives and deaths of many of those burned in Smithfield during the reign of Mary Tudor can be found in my book The Burning Time.

14 February 1551: Stephen Gardiner deprived of his see

Gardiner by unknown artistOn this day in 1551, 11 years after he had preached against the new Protestant doctrines at Paul’s Cross, Stephen Gardiner was officially stripped of his position as Bishop of Winchester.

Gardiner had been summoned to appear before the Privy Council early in the reign of Edward VI, the young Protestant King, and had been incarcerated in the Fleet prison. He was held there until January 1548, not being released until after the closure of Edward’s first Parliament (it was Gardiner’s belief that he was kept locked up expressly to prevent him attending Parliament and being anywhere near the centre of power), and he was then asked to subscribe to a statement on the doctrine of justification. This he refused to do and was subsequently placed under house arrest in his Southwark palace. He then returned to his diocese where he continued in his stubbornness.

When Bishop Gardiner was made to preach in the summer of 1548, as a test of his orthodoxy, he was instructed to comply with the recent ruling that no one was to preach on the theology of the Eucharist until it had been properly determined. As with most other instructions emanating from the Edwardian hierarchy, Gardiner refused to obey. In his sermon, preached on the feast of St Peter and St Paul, 29 June, he spoke of the sacrifice of the Mass and, though he admitted that communion could be received in both kinds and he attacked papal authority, he went on to defend religious ceremonies on the basis that they helped to move men towards God. His insistence on speaking in this way afforded his opponents a pretext for his immediate rearrest and exclusion from the second session of Parliament under Edward, that second Parliament convening in November 1548. A year later, in November 1549, when the third session was convening at Westminster, Gardiner again wrote to the Privy Council, urging them to release him so that he could sit in the Upper House, which he claimed to be his right. But by the time the next session convened, he had been tried on 19 charges in front of royal commissioners, headed by Thomas Cranmer, the trial beginning at Lambeth on 15 December 1550. Though he strongly defended himself, many witnesses spoke against him. The eighth session of the court appointed to try him was held at Lord Rich’s house at St Bartholomew’s in Smithfield on 20 January 1551. He was deprived of his bishopric on 14 February, and spent the rest of Edward’s reign in the Tower.

More about Stephen Gardiner’s fluctuating fortunes under the Tudors can be found in my book, The Burning Time.

14 February 1540 – Stephen Gardiner preaches at Paul’s Cross

Gardiner by unknown artistOn this day in 1540 (a Sunday), the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, preached the first of that year’s Lenten sermons at Paul’s Cross. These occasions drew large crowds and whatever was said at Paul’s Cross would be heard in the highest quarters. Bishop Gardiner used the opportunity to attack the doctrine of justification by faith, arguing that those who said good works were not necessary for salvation were guilty of misinterpreting the scriptures. This could be seen as an act of deliberate provocation, intended to goad the emerging Protestant clergy of London to contradict him and thereby land themselves in trouble with the authorities (King Henry VIII at this time was showing himself to be increasingly conservative in matters of religious doctrine and practice). The reformist preacher Robert Barnes duly rose to the bait, taking issue with Gardiner and accompanying his argument with personal insults in his own Paul’s Cross sermon, preached a fortnight later. Gardiner complained to the King, who ordered both preachers to be examined before him. Thomas Cromwell (previously a protector of Barnes, but now feeling the threat of the King’s displeasure himself) realised it would be impolitic, and probably useless, to intervene and so did nothing.

The French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, was following – and reporting on – these events with interest, not least because Bishop Gardiner was well known to the French court:

A private matter, which might become of public consequence, has occurred in the shape of a great contention about religion between the Bishop of Winchester, formerly ambassador in France, and a great doctor of the law, called Barnes, principal preacher of these new doctrines. The Bishop, one of these Sundays in Lent, did marvels of preaching in St Paul’s Cathedral against the said doctrines, confirming wisely the old and sharply refuting the new. This Barnes could not endure, so that, some days after, although another was appointed to preach, he mounted the pulpit and, after long insisting on the contrary of what the Bishop had said, angrily threw his glove upon the people, as a defiance to the Bishop, against whom he would maintain what he said to the death. The King, much scandalised by this farce, has ordered both to dispute before him and the Council, in order that it may be seen who is right and who is to suffer punishment.

Gardiner and Barnes both appeared before Henry on 5 March, when the King declared Barnes to have lost the theological argument (there can never have been much doubt as to whose side he would come down on). He ordered Barnes to apologise to Gardiner and preach a recantation sermon, which order Barnes initially complied with, again at Paul’s Cross, on 12 March. Eighteen days later, however, unable to live with his conscience, he publicly withdrew his recantation – despite also begging Gardiner for forgiveness – in another sermon, preached at St Mary Spital in the presence of the Lord Mayor and members of the Court of Common Council. (The ‘Spital sermon‘ is a civic tradition that continues to this day, though it rarely generates such excitement as in 1540.) Barnes seems to have wished to distinguish the personal insults he had made to Gardiner, for which he was sorry, from the statements of his faith, for which he could not apologise. Gardiner, his actions almost as ambiguous as Barnes’s words at this point, was slow to respond to the request to indicate his forgiveness and, after hesitating, held up a finger rather than the hand Barnes had asked for. He explained later that he had been taken aback by the request and embarrassed, though also rather put out. His apparent lack of generosity, along with his whole role in the undoing of Barnes – with whom he was reported actually to have been friendly in their younger days at Cambridge – contributed to the reputation for treacherous cruelty he acquired among Protestants as one of their chief persecutors, to be forever remembered (by the name of his see) as ‘Wily Winchester’.

More about both Stephen Gardiner and Robert Barnes, and their respective fates, can be found in my book The Burning Time.

13 February 1542 – Execution of Queen Katherine Howard

HowardCatherine02On this day in 1542, Queen Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of King Henry VIII, was beheaded. Her alleged pre- and extramarital liaisons had come to light in the previous year, during the King’s so-called ‘Great Progress‘ to York, undertaken with the aim of demonstrating Henry’s power and authority in the north of England, in the wake of the failed popular rising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, which was partly a protest at the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries.

Business transacted by the Privy Council at its meeting back in London on 14 November 1541 included the sending of letters to the Deputy of Calais and the ambassadors in Flanders, France and the Holy Roman Empire, declaring ‘the story of the Queen’s misdemeanour’. On 1 December Richard Rich was appointed as one of the three privy councillors to examine Francis Dereham, William Damport and Joan Bulmer in the case against the Queen, and he was also a member of the special commission appointed to try Thomas Culpeper and Dereham at Guildhall the same day. The indictment against Katherine contained the accusation that she:

queen of England, formerly called Kath. Howard, late of Lambeth, Surrey, one of the daughters of Lord Edmund Howard, before the marriage between the King and her, led an abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous and vicious life, like a common harlot, with divers persons, as with Francis Dereham … maintaining however the outward appearance of chastity and honesty. That she led the King by word and gesture to love her and (he believing her to be pure and chaste and free from other matrimonial yoke) arrogantly coupled herself with him in marriage …

Katherine (who had been stripped of her title of Queen on 23 November) was accused of having continued her relations with Dereham, and of having seduced Culpeper, during the Progress at Pontefract, among other places. On 6 December Rich was involved, with other members of the Council, in examining the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, suspected of complicity with the accused. While Rich and other councillors remained in London to deal with the Howard affair (Culpeper and Dereham were executed at Tyburn on 10 December, Katherine herself being beheaded on 13 February 1542), the King went away to try to recover his spirits after this latest marital disaster.

Several of these characters, particularly the great survivor Richard Rich, feature throughout the pages of my book The Burning Time.