Archive for English Reformation

30 July 1540 – Blessed Thomas Abel

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged, drawn & quartered with tags , , , , , on July 30 by Last Writes

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.

Also on this day

30 July 1811 – Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo y Costilla Gallaga Mondarte Villaseñor
30 July 1902 – John Bedford
30 July 1901 – Charles Watkins

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28 July 1540 – Thomas Cromwell

Posted in Beheaded, Death penalty with tags , , , , , , on July 28 by Last Writes

Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell

Like anyone in Henry VIII’s inner circle, your future could never be guaranteed or considered secure. So Thomas Cromwell found out today in 1540.

A trained lawyer, he managed to earn the stripes necessary to enter Henry Tudor’s advisory council and for a long time he was a close confidante.

Main man

Cromwell played a key role in the English Reformation, which saw the break away from Roman Catholicism towards the newly formed Church of England. Of course this was brought about to allow Henry to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon to make way for his next conquest – the doomed Anne Boleyn.

He was on a roll. Almost as soon as Cromwell had helped facilitate Henry’s marriage to Boleyn, he was extricating him from it so the king could bag Jane Seymour.

By 1535, he was supreme judge and in his new capacity as vice-general, he oversaw 13 monasteries being disbanded.

The big hitch

But all these brownie points were wiped out in one fell swoop when he encouraged Henry to marry following the death of Seymour. She’d died just a couple of weeks after bearing Henry’s one and only son and heir.

Cromwell helped mastermind what could have been the coup of the century – the uniting of two Protestant powers to help consolidate the Reformation. There was only one big hitch – Anne of Cleves was no looker and Henry was none too impressed with his ugly, new bride. Others at court picked up on Henry’s dissatisfaction and turned it to their advantage.

Chops away

Up to that point, many others at court hadn’t got a look in. They all used this mess as an excuse to get him ousted and the ploy worked.

Cromwell was executed at Tower Hill, sadly at the hands of a novice axe-man. Three chops and eventually his head was detached on this day in 1540, aged about 55.

Also on this day

28 July 1794 – Maximilien Robespierre
28 July 1865 – Edward Pritchard
28 July 1976 – Christian Ranucci
28 July 1826 – Isaac Smith

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27 July 1681 – Donald Cargill

Posted in Beheaded, Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , , on July 27 by Last Writes

‘If believers loved Christ as He loves them, they would be in more haste to meet Him’, so said Donald Cargill, who met his maker on this day at the latter end of the 17th century. Maybe that’s why he did his level best to defy the laws of the land.


Ok, so the laws were being dictated by England, and the Scot was merely trying to practise his Presbyterianism north of the border, in Glasgow.

Sadly he was not being left alone to do so, after directives from London instructed clergy to adopt structural changes to the Church.

As a Presbyterian, he wholeheartedly believed that the ecclesiastical hierarchy centred around elders, while England was busy imposing a bishop-led organisation.

Well, the Scot wasn’t having a bar of it and he even went as far as to ‘excommunicate’ the then king, Charles II, during one of his sermons.

Bounty hunting

Yet, Cargill wasn’t alone. Many had vowed to uphold the faith of their forefathers and this open resistance had ensured that there was a price on their heads. As such, they became easy prey for bounty hunters.

Finally, Cargill was apprehended at Lanarkshire where he was dragged to jail, ‘with his feet tied tightly under a horse’s belly’, according to ‘Glimpses of Christian History’.

There, Cargill was tried and found guilty of heresy. Unsurprisingly, the death penalty was passed and his sentence was to be beheaded (although others reckon he was hanged).

His execution took place at Edinburgh, when he was aged roughly 70-odd.

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24 July 1588 – Blessed Nicholas Garlick

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged, drawn & quartered, Martyred with tags , , , , , on July 24 by Last Writes

‘Seducing’ the Queen’s subjects, that’s what Nicholas Garlick was found guilty of in 1588. Sadly his crimes were not racy as they sound.

Rome, if you want to

A priest by trade, he was a Catholic through and through, and despite harsh laws against anyone found spreading his religion, Garlick contrived to commit the cardinal sin.

As we’ve mentioned in relation to likes of Margaret Pole about 40-odd years beforehand, England was in the throes of the Reformation – which included a move away from the Pope towards Protestantism.

With the monarch (Elizabeth I) catapulted in to the prestigious religious top slot, the pro-Pope Catholics were in a tailspin.

But, hey, you can’t keep a good Catholic down and Garlick found illicit ways and means to spread the word.

Chopped and diced

Needless to say, the law eventually caught up with the 33ish-year-old and Garlick was roasted by his interrogators, alongside two other priests by the names of Robert Ludlam and Richard Simpson.

According to various sources devoted to Catholicism, the trio was found guilty and sentenced to death for heresy: ‘That you and each of you be carried to the place from whence you came, and from thence be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and be there severally hanged, but cut down while you are alive; that your privy members be cut off; that your bowels be taken out and burnt before your faces; that your heads be severed from your bodies; that your bodies be divided into four quarters, and that your quarters be at the Queen’s disposal; and the Lord have mercy on your souls.’

The very next day, the priests were strung up, before being rudely relieved of their bits and bowels, which were burned in front of them, then what was left was quartered.

Bits and bods

Their various bits were then strewn about Derby in a bid to put any would-be supporters off the thought of pursuing the same religion.

Apparently Garlick was still conscious when the second bit excruciatingly took place, but he, indeed all three met their fates so stoically that they were posthumously promoted to martyrs – the road to being blessed ended in 1987, when John Paul II successfully beautified them.

Also on this day

24 July 1923 – William Griffiths

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21 March 1556 – Thomas Cranmer

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , , , , , on March 21 by Old Sparky

Thomas CranmerThomas Cranmer was a wily old dog. He was pretty in touch with the changing world under the Tudors…that is until his luck finally ran dry. Cranmer was executed on this day in 1556, for his support of Lady Jane Grey against Mary I.

Why was he supportive? Well Cranmer had committed his life to freeing England from the iron grip of Catholicism, after he’d become a Lutheran convert during a stint in Germany.

Essex boy

Having gained a fellowship in Cambridge, Cranmer married a pub landlord’s daughter, who sadly died in childbirth so he entered the priesthood just as the plague forced him to flee to Essex, where he was thrown into the path of Henry VIII.

At the time, Henry was hell-bent on extricating himself from a marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so he could legally jump the bones of the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. Cranmer said ok, and headed up an envoy to the then head of the English church – the Pope.

Rising star

However, divorce was a dirty word to the Catholics and his mission was denied but as Cranmer had impressed the Roman emperor, he was made a special envoy instead.

Little did the Catholics know he’d married again, otherwise he’d have been barred, but what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them and the savvy clergyman bided his time and was finally made archbishop of Canterbury.

Then bam, he quickly annulled Henry’s first marriage and, after that, the reforms came thick and fast. England broke away from Rome, Henry was declared head of the English Church and Cranmer flourished. He even helped to translate the Bible into English, writing verses that are still in use today as well as co-writing the Book of Common Prayer.

Grey matter

All was rosy until Henry’s successor – the sickly Edward VI – passed away. Lady Jane Grey’s father-in-law tried to dismiss Mary I and install Grey on the throne in a move Cranmer heartily supported as the only other option was (staunch Catholic) Mary.

Mary I won and gleefully, one of her first victims was Cranmer – maybe in part due to the role he played in her mother’s divorce. At first he was tried for treason for his support of the Grey plot, but Mary deviously absolved him of guilt as she had bigger plans for Cranmer…and those included a heresy charge.

Of course the sentence was the same, so what was the big deal?

Well, maybe Mary wanted him to decry Protestantism and maybe the new queen was so committed to reinstating the Catholic Church that she would do all in her power to get key players to denounce the newfangled church. But first she had to get the backing of the nation and that wasn’t going to be easy because they seemed to like new church. After all, for once everyone could understand the prayers and could join in the services.

Right and wrongs

Cranmer, as a key advocate of the Church of England, was publicly tried and forced to denounce his support of Protestantism, yet despite this he was still sentenced to death.

The ex-archbishop was burned at the stake in Oxford and, as the legend goes, the 65-year-old is said to have theatrically thrust his right hand – the one that had signed his name to the anti-Protestant claims – into the flames. His death and others like him (such as Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, who are all honoured by a stone monument at one end of Giles Street) earned the queen the insalubrious soubriquet, Bloody Mary.

Talking of popular titles, it’s said that the nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’ is based on the three priests, according to Albert Jack in his book ‘Pop Goes the Weasel: the Secret Meaning of Nursery Rhymes.

Also on this day

21 March 2008 (and every Good Friday) – Devout Catholics in the Philippines re-enact the crucifixion of Christ. Some are actually nailed to crosses. No-one dies though.
21 March 1804 – Louis-Antoine-Henri de Bourbon-Condé, duc d’Enghien
21 March 1817 – Ann Statham
21 March 1901 – Herbert Bennett

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