Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Stephen Gardiner's Nephew, Blessed Germain Gardiner

Blessed Germain or Jermyn or German Gardiner was executed at Tyburn on March 7, 1544 at Tyburn. He was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII. As Bishop of Winchester Stephen Gardiner's nephew and secretary, he became involved in the Prebendaries' Plot of 1543 and was hung, drawn, and quartered for the denial of Henry VIII's Supremacy over the Church of England.

The Prebendaries' Plot was named after the five prebendary canons of Canterbury Cathedral (including William Hadleigh, a monk at Christchurch Canterbury prior to the monastery's dissolution) who formed its core. Others involved were two holders of the new cathedral office of "six preacher" (created in 1541), along with various local non-cathedral priests and Kentish gentlemen (eg Thomas Moyle, Edward Thwaites and Cyriac Pettit). Simultaneous agitation at the court in Windsor, and the conspiracy in general, was led covertly by Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester.

Henry VIII's chaplain Richard Cox was charged with investigating and suppressing it, and his success (240 priests and 60 laypeople of both sexes were accused of involvement) led to his being made Cranmer's chancellor (and later, under Elizabeth, bishop of Ely). Gardiner survived, though his relation German Gardiner, who had acted as his secretary and intermediary to the plotters in Kent, was executed in 1544for questioning the Royal Supremacy.

So Blessed Germain Gardiner was left as the scapegoat to suffer for the plot, while Henry VIII, still valuing Bishop Stephen Gardiner's efforts in supporting both Henry's "Great Matter" and his more "conservative" reformation of the Church, spared his uncle.

Along with Gardiner, Blessed John Larke, friend of St. Thomas More and former rector of Chelsea (More's parish) and Blessed John Ireland, also connected with St. Thomas More and Chelsea, were executed for denying Henry VIII's Supremacy. Robert Singleton, a parish priest, was also executed under a charge of treason, but he has not been beatified. John Heywood, the playwright and grandfather of John Donne was also on the scaffold at Tyburn sentenced to death, but he recanted and was spared. He also had connections to St. Thomas More and survived the ups and downs of the Tudor succession until Elizabeth I's reign. Then he went into exile in Mechelen, Belgium where he died around 1580.


  1. You're one of the few people who has ever mentioned Germyn Gardiner.
    According to our family history he was an ancestor and the last layman butchered during the reign of Henry VIII.
    We have a scapular the Victoria & Albert Museum dated to the 16th century and part of a New Testament dated 1539 both of which are reputed to have belonged to him.
    As practising Catholics we are immensely proud of our ancestor who remained true to the Faith in the face of a most unspeakable and gruesome death. We often remark on the fact that he watched John Heywood walk away after a signature and yet he remained to die.
    All of us agree we would have probably signed The Act twice in the face of such horrors!
    The Reformation is my favourite area of history and I am fortunate to have been born in London and able to visit many of the sites associated with that period.
    When the Holy Father Pope Benedict visited the UK we were at the Vigil in Hyde Park within sight of Tyburn. As 90,000 Catholics simultaneously dropped to their knees in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, I remember thinking if someone had told Germyn Gardiner that almost 500 years after his martyrdom, there would be a Convent dedicated to Catholic martyrs and the Pope along with 90,000 Catholics including his descendants would be adoring the Blessed Sacrament in the parkland where he was about to die. I'm not sure he would have believed it.
    I was given your book last week as an Easter present and look forward to reading it as all my friends say it is excellent.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment: I am so happy to hear that you venerate your ancestor so thoughtfully and appropriately. Blessed Germyn Gardiner, pray for us! Best wishes for a holy Lent and Happy Easter.

    2. As in Germane to the case.. People forget Steven was a laywer first and formost.. He wrote the legal opinion canon law supports man right to communicate to God directly.. After arguing the opinion the majority agreed.. He then inserted the opinion into English common law and reformation was born.. Legally speaking.. Steven Gardyner did more for the Protestant religion than he ever did for the Catholic religion.

    3. Am I correct in thinking that Blessed Germane Gardiner was married to the daughter of St. Thomas More? I am an American relative of Blessed Germane.