Some folks out there have recently been trying to justify the long list of people executed by Henry VIII because ‘at least they had a trial’ or ‘because it was over religion, and there were always beheadings, pressings, burnings over religion.’
Well, surprisingly, I must agree with them on one thing. Henry sure could be fair and evenhanded.
He dealt out his brand of ‘justice’/punishment to both Catholics and Protestants, peasant and nobles, strangers and relatives, men and women, and young and old alike!
From the Protestant side, the list of victims include twelve clergymen, 3 monks, 2 lawyers, a courtier, several servants, an apprentice, a leatherseller and a tailor, a player and a musician, a painter and a mercer. Poignantly, there is also listed a poor artificer and a poor labourer, a wife, a man called Valentine Freese alongside his wife, a child under 15 called Richard Mekins, and an ‘aged father.’ All were burnt at the stake save for the ‘aged father’ who had his brains bashed out prior to the fire taking hold. (I presume this was meant to be merciful.)
From the Catholic side, we have a list of well over 200, mostly priests and monks, but also the Nun of Kent, and some laymen and laywomen, including 67-year-old Margaret Pole, who was charged with nothing but faced death because her son was out of vengeful Henry’s reach.
Of the ‘rich and famous/infamous’ there are approximately 25 executed nobles and some ordinary folk connected with the supposed nobles’ misdeeds, such as Mark Smeaton, who was tortured into confessing a fling with Anne Boleyn. The executed include Edward Stafford, son of Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham (who raised rebellion against Richard III) , Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, de la Poles and Poles (including a young boy who was imprisoned in the Tower and was never seen again…he might be there still*!), a Courtenay and a Hungerford (both of these families had helped Henry’s father to his throne), Jane Boleyn, and of course wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.
As we can see, Henry was a very even handed chap indeed. No one got favouritism. No one got out alive.