Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20 and the Beginning of England's Reign of Terror

I was browsing through Father Philip Hughes' A Popular History of the Reformation, in the old Doubleday Image paperback edition (95 cents). [There were several pages of book descriptions at the back of the book, including everything from Summa Contra Gentiles to Marie de Chapdelaine.] I read the two chapters he dedicated to the English Reformation.

Father Hughes provides an excellent chronological narrative of events, describing the influence of the Lutheran Reformation in England before Henry VIII's Break from Rome. He then traces the events leading up to the Break, the Reformation Parliament and "the deed of blood" that was a turning point:

The deed of blood was the condemnation by attainder (i.e., by an act of Parliament, without any trial) and the execution at Tyburn of "the Nun of Kent" and four priests condemned as her accomplices. "We now enter on a period which is happily unique in the annals of England, a period of terror. It lasts from [1534 to 1540]. --quoting H.A.L. Fisher's History of England from the Accession of Henry VII to the Death of Henry VIII (1918).

I have discussed the Nun of Kent, Elizabeth Barton before on this blog, so I will not recount the details here. I was impressed by the quotation Father Hughes selected and the use of the term "period of terror" like the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. As Father Hughes goes on to comment by April 20, 1534 Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester are imprisoned--even though they escaped being included in the attainder because of their contact with Elizabeth Barton.

Between 1534 and 1540, the king's terror did rage and the list of victims is long: The Carthusians of the Charterhouse of London, executed and starved to death; the Observant Franciscan Friars of Greenwich; More and Fisher; the rebels from the Pilgrimage of Grace, the abbots of Colchester, Reading, and Glastonbury, Anne Boleyn, the Knights of Malta, Catholic "traitors" and Protestant "heretics"--even Thomas Cromwell, Vice-Regent and Earl of Essex! I might extend the period of terror to 1541 or 1542 to include Margaret Pole, her family and Catherine Howard. Henry VIII had certainly terrorized the bishops in Convocation to get his way and his actions were definitely intimidating to many at his Court and in his family (his wife and daughter certainly experienced the threats and intimidation!).

So what changed after 1540? Henry had his male heir, of course, and diplomatic events turned his attention away from asserting his will over his subjects in religious matters. The opposition was gone and he might have regretted Cromwell's death since it removed such a loyal head from his service. The bishops and Parliament had done all he wanted . . . perhaps Henry had just won.


  1. Hi Stephanie.
    Since you brought up the subject, I was wondering, have you come across and numbers on how many 'traitors' (code word for Catholics) that Bloody Queen Bess ordered, especially the first five years?
    Prots love to call Queen Mary Tudor 'bloody' but i think Elizabeth was so much worse.

    When I first heard about your book and found this site , you had posted a link to a site which provided the complete history of House Stuart down to the present day. Could you provide that link again? I messed up a few months ago and deleted all my addresses without a backup. It was accidental but stupid!
    In trying to locate it in past posts I saw that you are interested in Anglicanorum Coetibus and attended an Anglican Use event. Are you planning to 'move over' to an Anglican Use parish after the establishment of the Ordinariate? Just curious.
    Glad you are doing well.

  2. During the first five years of QEI's reign everyone was still feeling the new regime out; after all, Edward VI and Mary I had changed religious practice but had not lasted long--perhaps this would pass quickly too. Since all but one bishop refused the oaths, they were exiled or imprisoned and suffered for their stance.

    I can't think of the link you mentioned--I'll look around a little more.

    As to the Anglican Use, our diocese does not have any prospects of such a community right now. When traveling I might attend a liturgy if available.

    Thanks for stopping by, Matthew.