30 July 1540 – Blessed Thomas Abel
The adage ‘publish and be damned’ was sorely tested in the case of Blessed Thomas Abel.
As Catherine of Aragon’s chaplain and a Catholic, he was naturally anti the 16th-century moves to ditch the Catholic church, in favour of establishing the Protestant Church of England. But, by all accounts, he felt particularly vehement because this step change was aimed primarily at ousting his beloved queen.
‘…by no maner of law it maye be lawfull for the moste noble Kinge of england…to be divorsid fro[m] the quenes grace [sic]’ he wrote in his ‘Invicta Veritas’ treatise condemning Henry VIII’s plan to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Ultimately, the main goal had been to enable Henry to divorce Catherine in order to clear the way for him to marry Anne Boleyn.
Of course, Abel was banged up for putting his thoughts down on paper, but that wasn’t the reason why he lost his life. Let’s just say his card was marked as early as 1532.
Meanwhile, Henry got his way and bagged Boleyn, but the legacy left behind was a new church, with a new leader – the monarch. And, for this reformation to catch hold, all sign of Catholicism had to be stamped out.
While many went underground, Abel seemed unable to contain his ecclesiastical endeavours and he was chucked in jail again, after he lent his covert-ish support to the ‘Maid of Kent’.
Here was a young girl who had divine visions and Abel was considered to be fuelling the religious resurgence by disseminating her prophecies.
The priest was accused of treason and this time kept in the Tower of London until his execution seven years later.
Pain and Abel
As it happens, Abel was dispatched two days after another Thomas – Cromwell to be precise. And like Cromwell it was not a quick job, for the priest was hanged, drawn and quartered. It took place at Smithfield, when he was roughly 43 years of age.
His was part of a job lot with fellow Catholics Edward Powell and Richard Featherstone, while three Protestants were being barbecued on stakes – Robert Barnes, William Jerome and Thomas Gerrard.
Given his death was in defence of the Catholic faith, Abel was blessed alongside Powell and Featherstone. And so the road to martyrdom began and Pope Leo XIII eventually beautified them in 1886.