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Anniversaries 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.

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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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Books, Poems, Thoughts

Three Stories from the Book of the Foundation

 

Seal SBGGODRIC THE BUTCHER

One day, as was his custom, Alfune from the Priory
was visiting the butchers one by one,
asking them for gifts to feed the poor;
he decided to approach a man named Godric,
famed as very stern and niggardly of mind.

When Alfune saw that Godric would give nothing,
being moved by neither fear nor love of God,
nor any human sense of shame,
he prayed for Godric and his hardened heart
and broke out with these words:

‘Oh you unhappy man! I beg you, wretch,
to lay aside your stubbornness;
give me just one morsel of your meat
and I swear you’ll sell that heap before the others,
losing nothing by this act.’

Exasperated by the old man’s importunity,
Godric turned towards his cheapest heap;
he chose a single piece of meat
and flung it at the priest,
calling him a vagrant.

At once a citizen drew near,
wanting meat for all his family;
just as Alfune had predicted,
he bought that cheapest heap
and took it all away.

butchering-pigs

MIRACLES

One day, towards evening, darkness at hand,
a light sent from heaven gleamed over the church
and remained for the space of an hour.

The sick lay prostrate, begging the mercy of God,
and calling on blessed Bartholomew.
The lamps glowed redly,
nor was God’s love far away.

For one man rejoiced with a cry of delight
at the cure of his aching head;
another man walked, a third heard again,
the limbs of a fourth healed of ulcers:
and all the people thundered praises to the saint.

bartholomewBulgarini

HUBERT’S VISION

There was in the congregation of the canons
one Hubert of distinguished birth,
advanced in years and wonderfully gentle.
In old age leaving all for Christ,
he had been admitted to the brethren
and directed all his zeal to loving God.

BVM

Once as he was praying at the altar
in the oratory which bore her name,
the Mother of Mercy appeared to him
and spoke to him with honeyed lips:
‘Here will I received the brethren’s prayers and vows,
for ever granting mercy and my blessing.’

 

©Virginia Rounding, 1996

 

 

 

 

First published in Awaiting an Epiphany

 

 

 

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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.