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HENRY VIII: THE EVEN HANDED PERSECUTOR

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.

* https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/whatever-happened-to-henry-pole-the-younger-2011/

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Julian of Norwich

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07l6bd0

I would highly recommend this documentary by Janina Ramirez, whose book on the subject will soon be available

. She showed how Julian, who was female by the way, was born during the fourteenth century. She may well have had a husband and children but lost both to the Black Death before becoming an anchoress at St. Julian’s, Norwich.

Ramirez spoke about Julian’s magnum opus: Revelations of Divine Love, the first known book in English by a female author, quite revolutionary in tone and probably composed during the reign of Richard II and prominence of John of Gaunt. On the deaths of these two men, the religious atmosphere changed dramatically. Under the Lancastrians, Lollards were regularly burned and already being dead, as Wycliffe could testify, did not ensure safety. Julian would have been in great danger if her manuscript had been read more widely at this time.

She died early in Henry V’s reign of natural causes and was probably in her seventies at the time but the story does not end here. Her manuscript was taken to France to avoid the Reformation only for the French Revolution to strike. The nuns caring for the document saw some of their French sisters mount a tumbril and return in two pieces for their burial. The manuscript re-emerged during the last century, to be viewed as a feminist tract.

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