Tuesday, August 4, 2015

August Martyrs: Blessed William Horne and Companions


In July, we had a cluster of English Catholic martyrs at the end of the month. The anniversaries of Supremacy, Recusant, and Popish Plot martyrs are spread throughout August, with some unique stories (the Feltons, father and son; St. John Kemble's pipe; a martyr who had witnessed another priest's martyrdom (NOT Walpole and Campion); etc). Today's beatified martyr and his companions represent, in a way, some tidying up in the last years of Henry VIII's reign: the last Carthusian, the last Carmelite, and one more connection to Thomas More.

From my research, I don't think anyone knows why Blessed William Horne survived all his Carthusian brothers until August 4, 1540, but for some reason he was kept alive while the others starved to death. Refusing to abandon his religious habit, he was not attainted till 1540, when he was hanged, disemboweled, and quartered at Tyburn on August 4, 1540 along with five other Catholics: the two laymen Robert Bird and Giles Heron, Friar Lawrence Cook, Carmelite Prior of Doncaster, the Benedictine monk, Dom Thomas Epson, and (probably) the secular priest William Bird, Rector of Fittleton and Vicar of Bradford, Wiltshire.

Blessed William Horne had survived all his faithful companions from the execution of the first three priors on May 4, 1535 (pictured above).

His companions are also interesting: the Carmelite friar represented the last of his order in Henry VIII's England. Thirty-six Carmelite monasteries in England were destroyed or sold to private owners; and a score of others in Scotland and Ireland. In 1539 the famous Carmelite library in London suffered a similar fate. Friar Cook had supported the Pilgrimage of Grace and had been kept in Beauchamp Tower--where Blessed Thomas Abell had also been held in great destitution for almost seven years before his execution--for two years after his arrest in 1538. The last active friar of the Carmelite order, George Rayner, died "in chains" during Elizabeth I's reign--what must it have been like to be the last? The last Carthusian, having seen his fellows starve and die; the last Carmelite, having seen his order destroyed in his own country?

With Giles Heron, we have a connection to St. Thomas More; he was one of More's wards and married More's daughter Cecily:

Giles Heron’s father had served both Henry VII and Henry VIII as treasurer of the chamber. He was still a minor at his father’s death and in March 1523 his wardship was granted to Sir Thomas More, then under treasurer of the Exchequer. In July 1525 he obtained livery of an inheritance in south-eastern England, his chief residence being at Hackney: shortly afterwards he and William Dauntesey, the son of another royal official, each married one of More’s daughters.

There are only occasional references to Heron in More’s letters, and he was probably not so close to his father-in-law as was William Roper; when More was chancellor Heron is said to have refused a settlement in a chancery case, hoping for a favourable decision, only to have More finally make a ‘flat decree against him’. Yet there is no reason to regard Heron as unsympathetic to More’s ideals: his fate indeed implies the contrary. It was doubtless More who, as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, secured the election of both Heron and Dauntesey for Thetford in 1529, the first Parliament to which that borough is known to have returned, although they must also have enjoyed the support of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, himself a duchy official and the patron of William Roper at Bramber. Nothing is known of Heron’s role in the Commons. Cromwell did not include him with Dauntesey, Roper and two others of the More circle (all three bracketed as ‘of Chelsea’) on a list compiled in the spring of 1533 and thought to be of Members opposed to the bill in restraint of appeals. On the contrary, what little is known of Heron’s career outside Parliament at this time suggests that he remained in royal favour: in 1532 he sold his messuage of Alderbrook in Wanstead, Essex, to the King and in the same year, as an esquire of the body, he and three of his brothers were pardoned offences against the forest laws. He was presumably returned again to the Parliament of 1536, in accordance with the King’s request for the re-election of the previous Members, and he was on the Middlesex grand jury which found a true bill against Anne Boleyn; for the next three years, however, nothing is known of his activities.

Heron had been involved in a number of disputes over lands and with his tenants, dependants and relatives, including one with his brother Christopher and another with Robert Dormer over lands which had belonged to Heron’s brother-in-law John Dynham. When recording Heron’s sale of Rycote in Oxfordshire to Sir John Williams, Leland was to describe him as ‘wise in words, but foolish in deeds’; the sale was confirmed by a private Act (31 Hen. VIII, c.19). It was a dispute with a tenant, one Lyons, whom Heron had expelled from his farm, which led to his downfall. In 1539 Lyons, seeking revenge, appears to have informed Cromwell of certain treasonable words or deeds attributed to Heron and to have tried to get others to confirm them. In February of that year Heron had to find three recognizances of 500 marks each for his appearance before the Council when called to answer charges: at this time he can hardly have been suspected of treason but in May he was ‘in trouble’ in the Fleet and in July he was sent to the Tower as a suspected traitor. Cromwell’s memoranda include a number of references to Heron and from these it appears that Lyons was the only witness against him. It was perhaps because he could not easily have secured a conviction on this evidence that Cromwell had a bill of attainder introduced into the Lords on 3 May 1540 which passed through all its stages in both Houses in six days (32 Hen. VIII, c.58). The minister’s own fall delayed the execution until Aug. 1540, when Heron was hanged at Tyburn.

Lyons’s malice did not stop there, for it was at his instance that in the month following Heron’s death three of his brothers were examined by the Council with regard to their share in his treason: all were found innocent and were dismissed. Two of them, Christopher and John, were servants of (Sir) Ralph Sadler, a neighbour of the Herons to whom Giles Heron’s schoolboy sons had appealed for help during their father’s imprisonment. In July 1554 Queen Mary restored to Thomas Heron, the elder of these sons, part of his father’s lands.

Blessed William Horne was included with the other Carthusians to be beatified, but the others executed on August 4, 1540 have been passed over for some reason.

Monday, August 3, 2015

"This Republic of Suffering": Death and the Civil War

This is a portmanteau review and I'm afraid it's a little mixed up in its combination, because I'm reviewing a television documentary and a book. I'm looking at the same subject via two different media and I'm going back and forth between the two.

First, I watched the PBS documentary, Death and the Civil War, written and directed by Ric Burns (he and his brother Ken Burns produced The Civil War--cue the "Ashokan Farewell") on the PBS Roku station. Then I bought the book upon which the documentary was made, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust, the current president of Harvard University.

At first I thought I had made a mistake, that the documentary had recreated the book so exactly that I did not need to read the book. But the documentary did not include everything that is in the book, including Faust's examination of the literary responses of Ambrose Bierce, Emily Dickinson, and Herman Melville, the influence of Swedenborgianism and spiritualism after the Civil War, and the popularity of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Gates Ajar, which was the second best-selling book of the nineteenth century (after Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin). Faust comments that if the latter, according to Lincoln, "helped to cause the war, Phelps's work dealt with the war's consequences." The novel offered comfort beyond commonplace religious generalities, Faust notes, offering a vision of Heaven as an eternal Earth, with all the comforts of home: "Victorian family and domesticity are immortalized, and death all but disappears."

The documentary had all the hallmarks of a Burns' film: the use of photographs (some of which were in the book); the reading of letters and other first-hand accounts (drawn directly from the book), so I was still in the multimedia, documentary experience as I read the book, especially in the early chapters. Both the documentary and the book convey how much both the North and the South failed to prepare for the casualties of the War Between the States. Both sides thought that the military conflict between the remaining United States of America and the Confederate States of America would be over quickly: Lincoln first called for soldiers to serve only 90 days--no one realized how bloody and long the Civil War would be; how many would die on so many battlefields; how little everyone was prepared to deal with 620,000 (estimated) dead.

There were no dog tags, no ambulance corps, no cemeteries, no administrative structure to notify relatives--no infrastructure at the local, state, or federal level to deal with the numbers of dead or wounded. The first Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) was a shock--not just because the South won the first engagement, but because: "Nine hundred men in all had been killed and 2,700 wounded -- nearly half the battlefield deaths of the entire two-year long Mexican War -- in just 12 hours." (Documentary transcript)

Because of the Civil War, the United States federal government had to develop some of these processes, although even during westward expansion, the U.S. Army did not implement the use of dog tags--not until World War I.


Faust points out that even counting the wounded and dead after a battle had a strategic purpose: The main reason to count the dead and wounded is to know how many soldiers you have for the next battle. Robert E. Lee warned against over-estimating casualties because it gave the enemy too much information. George McClellan, to the frustration of Abraham Lincoln, over-estimated his own loses and under-estimated Lee's: that's why he so often held back from pursuing the Confederate army even when he had won a battle. Survivors and the soldiers facing death began to press for greater care of the dead, who were giving their lives for the cause: both book and documentary cover this story very well, the struggles, the monumental task, the role of the women and the Black soldiers in the efforts to find, identify, and bury the dead, etc.

In both the book and the documentary there is a discussion about how this process changed the federal government and the relationship between the citizen and the federal government--rather parallel to the commentary at the end of The Civil War series: before the war, people would say "the United States of America ARE"; after the war, they would say "the United States of America IS". One of commentators, historian Mark S. Schantz, who has written his own book on this theme,  states that:
Certainly, as we think about the obligation of citizens to the state, and what the state owes its citizens -- particularly with regard to the thing that we, in some sense, is the only thing we really own, which is our own body and our own mortality. The Civil War made us rethink that definition as a country, and as a people. What do governments owe to their bodies -- to the bodies that make them up? And that becomes a central question in the war. In the Civil War, I think we come as a nation to the insistence that citizenship is predicated on the willingness of people to lay down their lives for the state. That's the absolute bottom line.
and later he comments, after the discussion of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:
What the war does is take notions of immortality that had been previously located in heaven -- in some afterworld (sic) -- you know, you'll be reconstituted -- and shift that sort of eternal frame to the state. And that your eternity, your lasting contribution, will be to the body politic -- and to the nation now that this new birth of freedom in America is based on the sacrifice -- and, literally, the martyrdom -- of Union troops; of American troops. That those deaths are redemptive. And they serve a theological purpose, but now they serve a political and civic end, too. They are literally rebuilding -- remaking -- reconstituting -- the American civic order.
And those sections were rather disquieting to me--the state taking over for heaven? The citizen dies for the state? I always think of the soldier dying for his country. I think Schantz overstates his argument: if it was true today, we would have mandatory military or social services for each citizen and not a volunteer armed forces.

In her book Faust doesn't speak that way about the change in how Americans thought about death in the service of country before and after the Civil War, but she does address how religious--how Christian--how overwhelmingly Protestant--America was in the nineteenth century and how the Civil War experience of death on such a huge scale affected that religiosity. She highlights how popular Jeremy Taylor's Holy Dying was and how there was a firm idea of what constituted a good death: in one's own home, in the presence of family, with some statement of the hope of Heaven, the hope that the dying will soon see other family members, and will be in a better place, etc. 

I think Faust's consideration of America's religious attitudes before and after the Civil War may be the weakest points of the book. She needed to give more detailed attention to the orthodox Protestant thought at that time re: the Four Last Things (Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell), and the variety of beliefs. Did some Protestants in antebellum America believe in Christian mortalism, that the souls of the dead sleep until the Second Coming, the Last Judgement, and the Resurrection of the Dead? If they were looking forward to reunion with family and friends on the other side immediately after dying, they seem to have rejected a crucial Lutheran and Calvinist teaching (cited for example by William Tyndale against Thomas More when the latter defended Catholic teaching on Purgatory and prayer for the dead). She passes over these issues with a brushing reference to a certain "Protestant ecumenism" that Catholics and even Jews who served in the war accepted. But the Catholic idea of a good and holy death required more than a peaceful, comfortable death at home: the presence of a priest, the sacramental confession and forgiveness of sins, the reception of Viaticum, and Extreme Unction, then thought of as the anointing sacrament of the dying, and the promise of prayer for the soul after death. I think that Faust ignores some of this complexity.

Her discussion of growing uncertainty in these orthodoxies after the war--including the practice of spiritualism with seances and other efforts to contact the dead, particularly to find out how the body of the dead in Heaven can be reunited with its severed limbs (before the Resurrection of the Dead?)--also has to be in some ways superficial. Faust would have to choose to write the companion to Owen Chadwick's The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century--quite a Faustian choice!--to explore the influence of the Civil War experience on religious belief about death and the hereafter. 

These weaknesses aside, I recommend both the documentary and the book if you want to explore another view of the American Civil War. 

I'm off now to explore Mark A. Noll's The Civil War as a Theological Crisis and St. Robert Bellarmine's The Art of Dying Well. By the way, did you know that St. Thomas More and his daughter Margaret worked on a study of the Four Last Things together? We have only part of More's examination of Death.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Jamestown in The National Catholic Register

After posting about the reliquary found in the grave of Captain Gabriel Archer, I wrote an article and posted it off to my contact at The National Catholic Register. My story was posted on-line the next day:

Several articles have appeared recently about the discovery and identification of remains in Jamestown, Va., in The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Atlantic headline on July 28 summed up the issue: “A Skeleton, a Catholic Relic and a Mystery About American Origins.” In the article by Adrienne Lafrance, the researchers at Jamestown and others discuss the ramifications of one of the discoveries in the grave of Capt. Gabriel Archer, a leader of the English colony. His grave and those of three others were found in the sanctuary of the Anglican chapel.

A small silver box found in his grave is “a historical bombshell” because the archaeologists believe it is a reliquary, which leads them to believe that Archer, who had many conflicts with Capt. John Smith of Pocahontas fame, might have been a secret Catholic in Anglican Jamestown.

A reliquary is a receptacle containing a piece of bone or some other object associated with a saint. Relics have always been important to Catholics: Every church altar contains a reliquary, and the priest kisses the altar, usually on top of the reliquary, at the beginning and end of each Mass.

The presence of a Catholic reliquary buried in an Anglican church has provoked quite a few questions. Was Archer secretly a Catholic and just seeming to conform to the Church of England, with King James I as its supreme governor and defender of the faith? Since Jamestown “was fundamentally anti-Catholic” and was “meant to be the beachhead for an English empire in America that will serve as a bulwark against Catholicism,”
The Atlantic article states, his crypto-Catholicism brings questions about his leadership in the colony.

Please read the rest there.

The Last Late July Martyr: Blessed Everald Hanse (1581)

Blessed Everald Hanse was born in Northamptonshire; executed 31 July 1581. He was educated at Cambridge, and was soon presented to a good living. His brother William, who had become a priest in April 1579 tried to convert him, but in vain until a sharp attack of illness made him enter into himself. He then went over to Reims in northern France (1580–1581), was ordained and returned but his ministry was very short.

In July he was visiting in disguise some Catholic prisoners in the Marshalsea, when the keeper noticed that his shoes were of a foreign make. He was closely examined, and his priesthood was discovered. As yet there was no law against priests, and to satisfy the hypocritical professions of the persecutors, it was necessary to find some treason of which he was guilty. He was asked in court at the Newgate Sessions, what he thought of the pope's authority, and on his admitting that he believed him "to have the same authority now as he had a hundred years before", he was further asked whether the pope had not erred (i.e. sinned) in declaring queen Elizabeth I Tudor excommunicated, to which he answered, "I hope not." His words were at once written down as his indictment, and when he was further asked whether he wished others to believe as he did, he said "I would have all to believe the Catholic faith as I do." A second count was then added that he desired to make others also traitors like himself. He was at once found guilty of "persuasion" which was high treason by Elizabeth. He was therefore in due course sentenced and executed at Tyburn.


The trial is noteworthy as one of the most extreme cases of verbal treason on record, and it was so badly received that the Government had afterwards to change their methods of obtaining sentences. The martyr's last words were "O happy day!" and his constancy throughout "was a matter of great edification to the good". The Spanish ambassador wrote: "Two nights after his death, there was not a particle of earth on which his blood had been shed, which had not been carried off as a relic."

He was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII. As you might recall, Elizabeth I's Parliament did not create the statutes that made the presence of a Catholic priest in England a matter of treason until 1585. When her government came to try St. Edmund Campion and his companions later in 1581, the court had to find them guilty of some conspiracy or another, because the kind of verbal twisting and interpretation they had to do to find Father Hanse guilty did not look good.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Penultimate Late July Martyrs: Catherine of Aragon's Chaplains

On July 30, 1540, two different sets of martyrs set off for Smithfield for execution. There were three Catholics, who had refused to swear Henry VIII's Oaths of Succession and Supremacy, and there were three Protestants--more properly, Zwinglians--who refused to accept the definition of Christian sacramental doctrine outlined in Henry VIII's Six Articles. The three Catholics were what I call Supremacy Martyrs, since the immediate cause of their execution/martyrdom was their refusal to accept Henry VIII as the Supreme Head and Governor of the Church of England.

Thomas Abell, Richard Fetherston, and Edward Powell had all been chaplains and defenders of Queen Catherine of Aragon--very learned men; graduates of the University of Oxford. Thomas Abell had written Invicta veritas. An answere, That by no manner of law, it may be lawfull for the most noble King of England, King Henry the eight to be divorced from the queens grace, his lawfull and very wife. B.L. in 1532 and had also been implicated in the Nun of Kent cause celebre. During his long imprisonment he wrote to Thomas Cromwell asking to be allowed to say Mass. Richard Fetherston had also written against Henry's divorce of Catherine in Contra divortium Henrici et Catharinae, Liber unus although no copy of the text survives. He also tutored the Princess Mary. Henry VIII had favored Edward Powell for his works against Lutheran doctrines in earlier days, but then Powell ran afoul of Henry's changing policies and desires to cast aside Catherine of Aragon.

The Zwinglians Robert Barnes, Thomas Garrett, and William Jerome were also taken to Smithfield that day. Robert Barnes had attended the University of Cambridge and had "hung out" at the White Horse Inn with other Lutheran minded students and masters. While Thomas Cromwell was in power, they had preached against the Catholic Bishop, Stephen Gardiner, but once Cromwell fell and was executed on July 28, 1540, they lost their protector and were sentenced to death.

Both the Catholics and the Zwinglians were sentenced to death without trial. Bills of Attainder condemned the Catholics as Traitors and the Zwinglians as Heretics. Three hurdles dragged the men to Smithfield from the Tower; each hurdle held a traitor and a heretic. At Smithfield, the traitors were hung, cut down and butchered while alive, their bodies quartered and their heads cut for display; the heretics were burnt alive at the stake. A poem titled, "The Metynge of Doctor Barnes and Dr. Powell at Paradise Gate and of theyre communicacion bothe drawen to Smithfylde fro the Towar" described the juxtaposition of the Catholic and the Protestant that day.

This day demonstrates Henry VIII's equal opportunity injustice; he sentenced both those who refused to swear the oaths he demanded and those who refused to obey the religious doctrine he required. The Catholics certainly knew the dangerous route they were taking -- defending Catherine against the king's wishes and refusing the oaths. By 1540, the pattern of execution for those offenses was well established. The Zwinglians were probably caught off guard by Cromwell's sudden fall; on the leading edge of Protestant thinking and theology, they lost their protector and were caught up in the strange factional divisions Henry countenanced in the later years of his reign. (See chapter 2 in Supremacy and Survival, in the section titled, "Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, and Henry's Reformation" for more insight into that period.)

Catherine's former chaplains were beatitified by Pope Leo XIII; the Zwinglian preachers were honored by John Foxe in his Acts and Monuments

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Were There Catholics at Jamestown?

From The Atlantic, news that archaeologists have found indications that one of the founder of Jamestown, Captain Gabriel Archer, might have been a secret Catholic:

“One of the major surprises was the discovery of this mysterious small silver box,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “I have to say, we’re still trying to figure this out. You have the very strange situation of a Catholic reliquary being found with the leader of the first Protestant church in the country.”The finding is a historical bombshell, unearthed in a grave on the site of what was once the first church built at Jamestown. Which means researchers may have just discovered proof of an underground community of Catholics—including Archer and perhaps the person who buried him with the relic—who pretended to be Protestants.


“The first settlers there were mostly members of the Church of England,” said James O’Toole, a history professor at Boston College who focuses on the roots of American Catholicism. “While they didn't have the same active hostility to Catholics that the slightly later Puritan colonists in New England did, they were not particularly welcoming to Catholics. If there were Catholics in Tidewater Virginia ... that would be news.”

It’s the kind of discovery that makes historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and other academics giddy with curiosity. But it raises even bigger questions, too—ideas that could rewrite our understanding of the intersection of religious and cultural identities in colonial America.

The English settlement of the New World is most often remembered as a Protestant endeavor. But if indeed there were Catholics at Jamestown, then, from the very beginning, it was a project pursued by those of multiple faiths, seeking new opportunities.

“There is this sense that American Catholic history begins in the 19th century with a wave of immigrants from Germany and Ireland in the 1820s and 1830s, but there is a history of earlier Catholicism,” said Maura Jane Farrelly, an associate professor of American studies at Brandeis University. “What’s captivating about it is the notion of the secretive nature. If he’s secretly Catholic, what does that faith mean to him that he’s willing to hold onto it even though it’s dangerous?”

I would take some issue with the statement that Anglicans weren't as actively hostile to Catholics in colonial England as Puritans. In England at least the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury under James I had led crackdowns on Catholics. Jamestown had recusancy laws too, at least as stated in this Smithsonian article, which has another issue:

But hadn’t Catholicism been banished in England? Weren’t they all Anglicans? Yes, Horn pointed out, but there were still Catholics practicing underground. Rosary beads, medallions of saints and a crucifix carved on jet have also turned up at Jamestown. Gabriel Archer’s father was among the Catholics, called a “recusant” and cited in court for failing to attend Anglican services. Archer had learned resistance at home.

Elizabethan recusancy and penal laws never officially "banished" Catholicism. It was illegal to attend Catholic Mass, to convert to Catholicism or influence another to convert, and it was certainly illegal for Catholic priests to be in England. Jamesian laws, passed after the Gunpowder Plot scare in 1605, made it more difficult for a Catholic to live and work in England. 

But if Captain Archer's father was a recusant and other Catholic objects have been dated to that period, as this paragraph implies, that silver box may indeed be a reliquary and Captain Archer a secret Catholic. Perhaps he was a Church Papist, outwardly conforming and secretly remaining a Catholic. One of the researchers in The Atlantic article wonders if Archer could have a Catholic priest, which seems doubtful: whatever other disguise Catholic priests in England donned, they would not attend a Church of England service in the normal course of events. 

Fascinating.

The Reverend Owen Chadwick (OM, KBE, FBA, FRSE), RIP

The historian and Anglican minister Owen Chadwick died on July 17, 2015. I have read at least six of his books:






And have dipped into one a few times:


According to the obituary article in The Telegraph:

The Reverend Professor Owen Chadwick, OM, who has died aged 99, was a clergyman-academic of a kind once common in universities but now very rare; the holder successively of Cambridge University’s chairs of both Ecclesiastical and Modern History, he was a leading authority on the history of religion and the churches.

The greater part of his career was devoted to the study of post-Reformation history, particularly the English Church, state and society since the industrial and French revolutions.

His single biggest publication, The Victorian Church – published in two parts in 1966 and 1971 – was a gigantic survey of religious life in Britain in the 19th century, exploring the social and intellectual developments which lay behind the waning power of religion in the Victorian period.

Although it was based on a quite astonishing range of research, The Victorian Church was – typically for Chadwick – essentially a personal interpretation. It showed less interest in dissent than in the establishment, less liking for evangelicals than for the Oxford Movement, and less love for town than for country. If some critics accused him of lack of balance, they were unable to fault his analysis of the politics of established churchmanship.

Nor could they fault his prose style. For Chadwick was no dry-as-dust historian; he always preferred to tell a story to explore a situation or illustrate a point. The Victorian Church was enlivened by a wealth of vivid detail: Queen Victoria trying to slip a favourite preacher into a bishopric; a Dorset parishioner complaining that his astronomy-minded rector kept “a horoscope top o’ his house to look at the stares and sich”.

Although he wrote extensively on the relationship between the Christian denominations, Chadwick’s strength lay in his sympathetic understanding of the spiritual and social foundations of the Church of England.

He always wrote most warmly about the country clergy and, as he put it, their “reasonable, quiet, unpretentious, sober faith in God and way of worship”. The history of the English Church, he believed, was made not only by the decisions of the great at Lambeth or Westminster or in debates at Oxford, but by the convictions of obscure country parsons in Lincolnshire.

May he rest in peace. David Warren wrote an appreciation of Chadwick for The Catholic Thing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nancy Bilyeau on Cromwell's Execution--and Sir Walter Hungerford

For the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, author Nancy Bilyeau writes about the former Earl of Essex, Thomas Cromwell's execution--and the other man who suffered beheading on July 28, 1540:

Cromwell was arrested on June 10, 1540, in a way meant to cause as much humiliation as possible. The Duke of Norfolk ripped the Order of St. George from around Cromwell's neck while the Earl of Southampton tore the Order of the Garter insignia from his gown."Traitors must not wear the garter," shouted Norfolk. Cromwell was then hustled directly to the Tower of London; within two hours, the treasurer of the royal household had emptied Cromwell's house of valuables while others ransacked his papers.

There was no trial. Cromwell was condemned of treason and "abominable heresies" and executed on July 28, 1540.

But Cromwell did not die alone.

Following Thomas Cromwell to the scaffold erected on Tower Hill (not Tyburn, as some historians have written) was Sir Walter Hungerford. The decision to behead two men that day was unusual, though not unprecedented. Two noblemen that Cromwell had targeted for destruction--Henry Pole, Lord Montague, and Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter--died together in late 1538. But those two men, condemned without trial for treason, were lifelong friends, distantly related, and requested a joint execution.

Why was Sir Walter Hungerford chosen for this ghastly honour? Cromwell was the author of the Reformation, a brilliant and ruthless statesman. His enemies sent Hungerford on the same path, from Tower of London cell to scaffold. It's a mystery that still swirls around that hot, pitiless day. In this post, I examine the myths, the theories and evidence. . . .

Cromwell was the first to die, in a bungled beheading infamous for its ghastliness. Hungerford followed. Both bodies were carted to the nearby Church of St. Peter ad Vincula, within the Tower walls. Their graves are a few feet from Anne Boleyn's. As Macaulay wrote, "In truth there is no sadder spot on earth than that little cemetery."

Because he was a traitor, Hungerford's estates and homes were claimed by the crown. Henry VIII gave Farleigh Hungerford Castle to his brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Seymour. It was not a small acquisition. Which is perhaps as good a reason as any for the destruction of Sir Walter Hungerford.

Nancy depicts these executions, and the atmosphere of such public events, most immediately in the third novel of her Joanna Stafford trilogy, The Tapestry, which I reviewed here. Two days hence and we will see some of the fallout of Cromwell's demise as three Zwinglians suffer at Smithfield.

New Book about Syon Abbey

The Once I Was a Clever Boy blog features a post about a new book from Gracewing Publishing:

For those who do not know the story of Syon it can be summarised briefly as follows. In 1415 King Henry V - who was quite busy that year invading France - founded the only Bridgettine monastery in England. This was close to his palace at Sheen ( now Richmond) in Surrey and prospered until the reign of King Henry VIII. It was one of the mainsprings or wellsprings of late medieval English spirituality and devotion, influencing many members of the elite and beyond. The chaplain, St Richard Reynolds was one of the first martyrs of May 1535, and the house was dissolved four years later. Nothing daunted the Sisters went off to their family homes in groups and continued their common life. Returning to Syon in 1557 they were again dispersed in 1559, and left England with the retiring Spanish ambassador for Flanders. Forced by the Netherlandish revolt to seek refuge elsewhere they settled in Rouen until the victory of King Henri IV led this pro-Spanish community to seek refuge in Lisbon. There, always an English community in exile,they survived the Portuguese uprising against Spanish rule in 1640, the Earthquake of 1755, the Peninsular War, and desire some sisters leaving for England soon after the core community remained there until 1861 when they returned to England after more than three centuries. They settled first in Dorset and then Devon, latterly at South Brent. Tragically in recent decades the community has declined in numbers and they gave up their house in 2011 and now the two remaining sisters live the Bridgettine life within a home run by other religious in Plymouth.

Their archives are now at Exeter University where Prof Jones is based, and Exeter has made an important contribution to modern scholarship on this remarkable community.

From his book I discovered that one of the great treasures of Syon is now at the Catholic church at Heavitree near Exeter. This is one of the pinnacles from the original gatehouse at Syon, and presumably the one on which St Richard Reynolds head was impaled in 1535. This substantial relic has accompanied the sisters on their wanderings from Syon to Flanders, France, Portugal and back to England. They also, in token of ownership, retained the door key of the abbey buildings at Syon - the site now being occupied by Syon House, now the property of the Duke of Northumberland.

The book is handsomely illustrated and reflects academic research and the latest scholarship on the Order and the unique place of Syon on English Catholic history.

A comment on the post reveals there is a blog dedicated to the study of Syon Abbey presented by the Syon Abbey Society. 

St. Bridget of Sweden, pray for us! St. Richard Reynolds, pray for us!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Another Late July Martyr: Blessed Robert Sutton (and His Brother)

There are two Blessed Robert Suttons among the martyrs of England and Wales. One was a priest and the other was a layman. Today's martyr is the priest, who was executed on July 27, 1587. Father Robert Sutton had studied at Oxford and had been attracted by Protestant doctrines but responded to the call of some friends to leave Oxford and study for the priesthood at Douai, along with his brother Abraham. They were both ordained there and then returned to England as missionary priests.

According to Bishop Challoner, Father Robert Sutton served in his native county, Staffordshire, and both he and Abraham were captured and exiled in 1585. They both returned to England and Robert was captured again, found guilty under the Elizabethan statute against Catholic priest, and then hung, drawn, and quartered in Stafford.

The parish of Our Lady of Our Lady of Victories and St. Alphonsus in Lutterworth has more detail:

Our Robert Sutton, (not to be confused with another martyr of the same name who came from the Kegworth area) was born in Burton on Trent. He was baptised in St Modwen's Parish Church on 11th September, 1545. The son of a carpenter, he was one of four sons who were all brought up as Protestants. Later, three of them became Catholic priests.

In 1561 Robert Sutton became an undergraduate at Christchurch College, Oxford, where he gained his BA in 1564. He was ordained an Anglican Minister in 1566 and gained his MA in 1567. Under Elizabeth 1st he was appointed to theliving of Lutterworth and was inducted on 17th June, 1571. So Robert was only 32 when he made his historic announcement and set in train the events which he no doubt knew all along were likely to end with painful martyrdom.

Robert was arrested again and was tried for treason on the basis of his being a Catholic Seminary Priest at Stafford Assizes in June 1588.

He was martyred at Gallows Flat, Stafford on July 27th 1588. As was the practice he was hanged, cut down while still alive, disembowelled and dismembered. As commanded his body was left on public display for 12 months. During that time his bones were picked clean by the birds except for the flesh around one forefinger and thumb which did not corrupt. Why that part of him should remain is open to conjecture, but he would certainly have used is forefinger and thumb to hold the sacred host.

The relic was passed on to his brother Abraham who, in spite of a second arrest, was still working in Lancashire as late as 1610. He passed the relic on to Father John Gerrard (sic) who composed a note of authentication in Latin. This note, written within 40 years of Robert Sutton's martyrdom, has accompanied the relic from that time and is still in existence.

"The thumb of Mr Robert Sutton priest, who, when in prison in Stafford, the night before his passion was seen to pray surrounded by a great light. After the parts of his body being exposed to the birds of the air for a year, they were carried away by Catholics. The thumb and forefinger were untouched though the rest was consumed to the bones."

Father Gerrard (sic) gave the relic and the note to the Jesuit order. From around 1830 the relic was venerated at Stoneyhurst College where it remained until 1987. In that year thanks to the co-operation and generosity of the Jesuits, it was permanently translated back to Lutterworth and is reserved in a niche within the altar.


The statue pictured above is in the Church of Our Lady of Victories and St. Alphonsus; the picture is from Wikipedia commons and used by permission of the photographer. Father Abraham Sutton remained in England through the latter part of Elizabeth I's reign and into the reign of James I. Then he was exiled from England again in 1605 and did not return. What a remarkable mission for two brothers have shared!

Blessed Robert Sutton, pray for us!