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Anniversaries The Burning Time

20 February 1547: Coronation of Edward VI

220px-Edward_VI_of_England_c._1546On this day in 1547 Edward, the young son of the late King Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour was crowned in Westminster Abbey, the event accompanied by much pageantry and celebration, as recorded by the Grey Friars Chronicler:

Item the 20th day of the same month the said King Edward the Sixth came from the Tower of London through London, and in divers places pageants, and all the streets hanged richly, with all the crafts standing in Cheap, presenting them as loving subjects unto their King, and so to Paul’s; and at the west end of Paul’s steeple was tied a cable rope, and the other end beside the Dean’s place at an anchor of a ship, and a man running down on the said rope as swift as an arrow out of a bow down with his hands and feet abroad not touching the rope; and when the King had seen the said thing went forth unto the palace of Westminster; and the next day came from thence unto Westminster church, and there was crowned, and kept his feast in Westminster Hall. God of his mercy send him good luck and long life, with prosperity! And this was done in the 9th year of his age and birth.

Among those in charge of the arrangements for the coronation and accompanying festivities was Lord Rich (a title that by this time he had enjoyed for five days). On the day of Rich’s ennoblement, the corpse of Henry VIII had arrived at Windsor where it was received by Bishop Stephen Gardiner, who preached at the Requiem Mass, and at Edward’s coronation Archbishop Cranmer was flanked by both Gardiner and Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall. But that the tide was turning against such religious conservatives as Gardiner, Tunstall and Bonner was already evident, Cranmer in his coronation sermon extolling Edward as a royal iconoclast and second Josiah. (Josiah, according to the Second Book of Kings, became King of Judah at the tender age of eight, and was known for having destroyed the images, idols and other ‘abominations’ that had been spreading among the Hebrews.) The nine-year-old Edward must indeed have appeared a Josiah-like godsend to the convinced reformers at court and in the Church.

Many of those present at Edward’s coronation feature in my book, The Burning Time.

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Anniversaries 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.

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6 February 1550: Bishop Bonner’s appeal dismissed

EdmundBonner - caricatureBishop Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London under Henry VIII, and seen here in caricature, was quick to fall foul of the new regime of the young Protestant King, Edward VI. He had been called before the Privy Council and sent to the Fleet prison on 18 September 1547 for refusing to observe the Royal Injunctions to have the Epistle and Gospel at High Mass read in English. He was released a few weeks later from this first imprisonment in the Fleet, and actually attended the House of Lords during Edward’s first Parliament. In the second session of Parliament, Bonner again regularly attending proceedings in the Lords, opposing the religious changes introduced by the reformers, and encouraging others to follow suit. He neglected to enforce use of the new English prayer book, and this resulted in a remonstrance from the King who wrote to him on 2 August 1549, soon after this first Book of Common Prayer had come into force, taking him to task over the many people in his diocese who were neglecting to attend church and Holy Communion and putting this down to Bonner’s own ‘evil example and slackness’. Bonner had previously preached a great deal, particularly on all the major feast days, and he was now refusing to do so. The young King told him to reform, and commanded him to preach strongly against rebellion and resistance to temporal authority in his next sermon at St Paul’s, and in support of obedience in using the rites established by law to be used in the Church. On 10 August further injunctions were delivered from the King to Bishop Bonner, requiring him to celebrate communion in St Paul’s in a few days’ time and to declare in his sermon that the present King’s authority was no less than that of any of his predecessors, despite his youth, and to preach God’s displeasure at rebellion. The Greyfriars chronicler reported that, on 18 August 1549, Bishop Bonner, knowing what was likely to happen to him, ‘did the office at Paul’s both at the procession and at the communion discreetly and sadly’.

On 1 September  Bonner preached at Paul’s Cross and was subsequently accused regarding his teaching. His failure to obey the clear instructions from the King was discussed by the Privy Council on 8 September and a commission for his deprivation was appointed. He was made to appear before Archbishop Cranmer and others on 13, 16 and 18 September. On 20 September he was sent at night to Marshalsea prison and, reported the chronicler, ‘he went the same day unto Lambeth in his scarlet habit and his rotchet upon it’ (that is, dressed in his episcopal robes). He was deprived of his bishopric at Lambeth on 1 October 1549 by Archbishop Cranmer. He was then sent back to prison, where he was to remain at the King’s pleasure.

Only a few days after Bishop Bonner’s deprivation, Lord Protector Somerset was overthrown, and the shift of power to the Earl of Warwick (who later became Duke of Northumberland) presaged a strengthening of the reformist position. On Christmas Day 1549 a royal circular to the bishops was issued, reinforcing the message of an earlier proclamation, ordering the destruction of all Latin service books. There were bonfires of books all over England, the bishops being forced to supervise these burnings. The Greyfriars chronicler, sympathetic to Bonner, relates the hard time the former bishop had in prison – how, on 8 January 1550, Bonner had his bed removed by the keeper of the prison and for eight days had only straw and a coverlet to lie on, for refusing to pay his jailer the sum of £10. He appealed against his sentence, and on 6 February he was taken from the Marshalsea to appear before the Privy Council sitting in Star Chamber at Westminster. Here he was informed that his appeal had been considered, and dismissed, by eight privy councillors (among them Lord Rich). It was Rich, as Lord Chancellor, who concluded the proceedings by commanding that Bonner (with whom in the previous reign he had worked closely in the pursuit of heretics) ‘be had from thence to the place he came from, from there to remain in perpetual prison at the King’s pleasure, and to lose all his spiritual promotions and dignities for ever’.

More about Bishop Edmund Bonner and his role in the persecution of heretics under Henry VIII and Mary Tudor, as well as his own disgrace under both Edward VI and Elizabeth I, can be found in my book The Burning Time.

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The Burning Time

THE BURNING TIME Some more from the Introduction: Setting the scene

             

Of the burnings which took place in England between 1529 and 1558 by far the largest number occurred in one small area of London – the area known as (West) Smithfield. Just outside the City walls though still within its bounds, not far from Newgate prison, ten minutes’ walk from both the Guildhall and St Paul’s Cathedral on Ludgate Hill (the old pre-Fire of London cathedral, over 600 feet in length and with a spire rising to some 500 feet), this was a convenient place to take people to die, with space enough to erect viewing stands from which ‘the great and the good’ could watch the spectacle. Smithfield, originally known as ‘Smoothfield’, had been a place of public execution for over 400 years; many witches and heretics had been burnt, roasted or boiled alive there. 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 there, 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.

Of the 288 people estimated to have been burnt for heresy during the five-year reign of Mary Tudor, forty-eight were burnt in Smithfield. The next-highest numbers were eighteen in Lewes in Sussex, seventeen in Stratford-atte-Bow (now Bow in East London), fourteen in Canterbury and seven in Maidstone (both these latter in the county of Kent). Some seventeen people had suffered the same fate in Smithfield under Henry VIII, as had two ‘Anabaptists‘ (extremists whom even Protestants regarded as heretics) during the brief reign of Edward VI.

However interesting and harrowing, the lives and deaths of individual ‘martyrs’ (and the meanings of that emotive word will be considered in due course), my hope is that this book will be more than a compilation of biographies. During the time I have been working on it, the questions that the stories of the Smithfield martyrs provoke have become ever more pertinent, the need for answers (if any exist) ever more urgent. What is it that makes people kill other people in the name of religion? Why are some people prepared to die – or kill – for their beliefs, while the rest of us are content to muddle along with compromise and uncertainty? What led to this ‘burning time’ in the history of England? Could it have been avoided and how was it overcome? Could it happen again? And, most importantly, is there anything we can learn from this dark period in our history to help bring an end to today’s deathly religious conflicts – or are we doomed to go on repeating the same mistakes, in different parts of the world, until we finally succeed in annihilating humankind altogether? The instances of heroism that emerge from the stories of the martyrs, the occasional glimpses of a different kind of light from that produced by flames, suggest it is worth struggling on …

Read more in The Burning Time.

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The Burning Time

THE BURNING TIME Introduction: Setting the scene


Anne Askew was burnt at the stake along with John Lascelles (a lawyer and Gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber), John Hadlam (a tailor from Essex) and John Hemsley (a former Franciscan friar), on 16 July 1546. A great stage was built at Smithfield for the convenience of Chancellor Wriothesley, other members of the Privy Council and City dignitaries, to watch the burning in comfort. Anne herself, having been broken on the rack, was unable to stand, and was chained to the stake in a sitting position. John Louth, the Archdeacon of Nottingham, who witnessed the execution, described Anne as smiling throughout her torment and looking like an angel, and insisted that, at the moment of her death, there was ‘a pleasant cracking from heaven’. Whether that was the sound of the flames, or summer lightning, or merely a figment of the imagination, cannot now be determined; nor can we know how, or if, the witnesses could actually have identified the precise moment of death.

So what was the terrible crime that Anne was deemed to have committed and that led her to this appalling end? Why was being a ‘Protestant’ or ‘reformer’ considered so heinous, and what was this ‘heresy’ with which she was charged?

A word deriving from the Greek, ‘heresy’ originally meant merely ‘choice’, but by the Middle Ages it had come to mean ‘wrong choice’, especially in matters of religion. In Europe, and particularly Spain, the ‘Inquisition’ had been set up to identify heretics, with the aim of their contaminating heresy being cut out of society, like a cancer. Heretics were given one chance to ‘abjure’ or ‘recant’ – effectively, to make a public confession that they had been wrong, to accept some kind of ‘shaming’ penance (such as standing in front of a church congregation wearing a white sheet or being paraded through the streets on a cart), and to agree to follow ‘orthodox’ belief (‘orthodoxy’ meaning both ‘right doctrine’ and ‘right worship’) from now on. If a heretic, having recanted, fell back into his or her old ways, there was to be no second chance. They were to be handed over by the Church to the civic authorities for punishment – which meant death by burning.

But the nature of what constituted heresy kept changing, particularly in England during the tumultuous years of the mid-sixteenth century. There were several types of possible heretical belief under the respective reigns of the three monarchs which constitute the burning time (the period which saw the greatest number of burnings for heresy) in Tudor England – Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I. Some were based entirely upon interpretations of religious doctrine; some hinged on changes in society and questions of authority and were linked to the increased availability of the printed word; others were dictated by the whim of the individual monarch …

Read more in The Burning Time