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Anniversaries 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.

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Anniversaries The Burning Time

11 February 1526 – Robert Barnes recants

Robert BarnesOn this day in 1526 (a Sunday) Robert Barnes, a prominent early advocate of Protestantism in England, was forced to recant his beliefs in public at Paul’s Cross.

Robert Barnes was born in Bishop’s Lynn in Norfolk in about 1495 and entered the house of the Austin Friars in Cambridge while still a boy. He subsequently studied under Erasmus at the University of Louvain, which was at that time a distinguished centre of academic humanism and where Barnes developed humanist sympathies. He returned to Cambridge in the mid-1520s, where he became prior of the Austin Friars and, as a result of his studies at Louvain, initiated a series of educational reforms in the house, including the introduction of various classical Latin authors into the curriculum. One of his pupils was Miles Coverdale, who would go on to produce the first complete translation of the Bible into English. Barnes played a significant role in the meetings of young intellectuals that took place at the White Horse tavern in St Edward’s parish in Cambridge. Just about everyone who was anyone in the church reform movement seems to have encountered and been influenced by Robert Barnes. The conservative Stephen Gardiner, who knew Barnes well and had himself been a devotee of Erasmus from an early age, does not seem to have been overly impressed, thinking of him as a typical friar of his period, albeit a very entertaining one – ‘a trim minion friar Augustine, one of a merry scoffing wit, friarlike, and as a good fellow in company was beloved of many’.

Barnes received the degree of Bachelor of Theology in 1522 and a doctoral degree a year later. He first attracted adverse attention from the wider authorities towards the end of 1525 when he preached a Christmas Eve sermon in the Cambridge church of St Edward King and Martyr, in which he criticised various aspects of traditional religion, decried the way festivals were observed and condemned the ostentatious splendour of Cardinal Wolsey. The sermon had been planned in advance, Barnes being encouraged to deliver it by Thomas Bilney and his other friends. Once in the pulpit, however, he departed from the prepared discourse, based on Luther’s sermon on the epistle for the day, and went further than any of his friends had anticipated, particularly in lashing out at the cardinal himself. On this first occasion of his getting into trouble, Barnes was brought to London where he was examined before Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall and Wolsey himself and persuaded, though not without protest, to recant his opinions. He was assisted in his trial by Miles Coverdale, who subsequently abandoned his monastic vows and went abroad.

At his recantation, Barnes was made to perform public penance by processing around the cathedral bearing a bundle of twigs and kneeling while Bishop Fisher preached a sermon. The service was presided over by Cardinal Wolsey himself who, with 36 bishops and mitred abbots, sat on a platform specially constructed for the occasion. Bishop Fisher based his sermon on the day’s Gospel reading (Luke 18:31-43), concerning the healing of a blind man; he likened the blind man to a heretic and declared: ‘Heresy is a perilous weed, it is the seed of the devil, the inspiration of the wicked spirits, the corruption of our hearts, the blinding of our sight, the quenching of our faith, the destruction of all good fruit, and finally the murder of our souls.’

More about the life and death of Robert Barnes, who later repented of his recantation and went to the flames, can be found in my book The Burning Time.

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Anniversaries The Burning Time

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 Final extract from Introduction: Setting the scene

If we open our story in the year 1530 or thereabouts, we find little to suggest the turmoil to come – apart from the King’s increasing impatience with Rome, and the rise of Lutheranism in parts of Europe. (Soon after Luther’s teachings had been condemned by the Pope in 1521, his works had been publicly burnt in Oxford, Cambridge and at Paul’s Cross – the site of the open-air pulpit outside St Paul’s Cathedral – in London.) Henry was still married to Katherine of Aragon, though becoming increasingly desperate to cast her off and marry Anne Boleyn. He had been insinuating to Pope Clement VII that, if the Pope would not hurry up and make it possible for him to divorce Katherine, a way of dispensing with papal authority must be sought. In 1529 Henry had dismissed Cardinal Thomas Wolsey from the post of Lord Chancellor, under pressure from Anne, and replaced him with Thomas More. The disgraced Wolsey died in November 1530. Earlier that year, in July, John Stokesley, who was supportive of the King’s campaign for a divorce and involved in the making of the case for an annulment under canon law, was appointed Bishop of London in succession to Cuthbert Tunstall, who had become Bishop of Durham.

 

Cardinal Wolsey, English School
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

 

At the heart of the small community of Augustinian canons living in St Bartholomew’s Priory was William Bolton, who had been the prior since 1505. Now nearing the end of his life, Bolton had in his heyday been not only a cleric but also a builder of some eminence, having been employed as ‘master [or clerk] of the works’ by both Henry VII and Henry VIII. (The word ‘builder’ in this context implies something more akin to architect or project manager in modern terms, rather than someone involved in the physical work of construction.) Bolton’s main work for Henry VIII had involved the rebuilding of New Hall in Essex, which the King had procured from Thomas Boleyn, the Earl of Wiltshire, and grandfather of Anne. The prior had also undertaken large building operations at St Bartholomew’s itself and at Canonbury Tower in Islington, which formed part of the monastery’s possessions (and from where its water supply was derived). Another notable commission entrusted to Bolton had been the ordering of the chimney pots for Cardinal Wolsey’s palace at Hampton Court. But by 1530 Bolton’s active life was over; in addition to his post at St Bartholomew’s, he had for the last eight years been Rector of Harrow on the Hill, in Middlesex, but he was by now about eighty years old and virtually immobile. He died in April 1532.

Within the Priory Church, as was common in monastic churches, a chapel was set aside for the use of parishioners – the lay people who lived and worked in the monastic close. The parish also had its own priest, who would celebrate Mass in the chapel and look after the general spiritual welfare of the parishioners. It is not known who was fulfilling this role around the time of Prior Bolton’s death, but by the end of the decade the post was held by a man who remained a constant presence at St Bartholomew’s throughout all the turmoil of the burning time. This was Sir John Deane, the last parish priest of the chapel and subsequently the first rector of the parish church. In the early 1530s, Deane was already connected to the monastery, being Rector of Little Stanmore in Middlesex, one of the possessions of St Bartholomew’s.

 

Sir John Deane
Sir John Deane

 

Meanwhile, steadily making his way up a different professional ladder, negotiating the twists and turns of Tudor politics, was a lawyer of the Middle Temple called Richard Rich, in 1530 aged thirty-four and recently returned as Member of Parliament for the borough of Colchester in Essex. His is a name that is already well-known, if in fictionalized form, to readers of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and of C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series – where he appears as the principal villain – as well as to viewers of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. Rich’s life would intersect with that of John Deane at many points over the following years, and both men would be witnesses at close quarters to all the horror of the burning time.

 

461px-1stLordRich
Richard Rich, by Hans Holbein the Younger

 

Nothing they had known before 1530, in their respective careers, could quite have prepared them for the sights, sounds and smells they would encounter over the next thirty years, as many of their closest acquaintances were consumed in the fires of Smithfield.

Read more in The Burning Time.