Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Execution Bill of a Supremacy Martyr: St. John Stone of Canterbury

St. John Stone was an Augustinian Canon, who refused to acknowledge Henry VIII's title as the Supreme Head and Governor of the Church in England, and thus I call him a "Supremacy" martyr:

Almost nothing is known of John's early years or of his life and activities as an Augustinian.

The Parliament of England in 1534 approved a law known as the Act of Supremacy. This Act proclaimed King Henry VIII the supreme head of the Church in England.

Four years later, an official of the King arrived in Canterbury to close all the monasteries and to obtain the written assent of every single Friar to the provisions of the Act of Supremacy. The official first went to the monasteries of several other Orders. Then they went to Austin Friars, the Augustinian house where John was a member. All the other Augustinian Friars signed the document, but John refused.

John was arrested and thrown into prison in the Tower of London. He remained firm in his refusal to accept the King as head of the Church. While in jail, he spent many hours in prayer. One day, God spoke to him, encouraging him to be of good heart and to remain steadfast in his belief, even if it meant death. From this point on, John felt great strength.

John was tried and convicted of treason in 1539. Right after Christmas of that year, a slow procession passed through the streets of Cangerbury. The prisoner John was being taken through the city to a hill outside the city walls. There he was hanged, drawn and quartered. Because he was considered a traitor, his head and body were put on display at the entrance to the city.

In 1886, Pope Leo XIII beatified him and he is among the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970. The Catholic Society at the University of Kent has chosen St. John Stone as their

It's sad to note that the official of the king who visited the Austin Friars was actually the Bishop of Dover, Richard Ingworth, a former Dominican prior who had been promoted by Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell after the suppression of the Langley priory, according to the British History on-line site:

The bishop of Dover, who came to Canterbury on 13 December, 1538, to negotiate the surrender of the friaries, found the Austin Friars specially in great poverty. (fn. 37) Their debts were £40, and their implements not worth £6, except a little plate weighing 126 oz. He reports to Cromwell that at the Austin Friars on 14 December, 'one friar very rudely and traitorously used himself,' and declared he was ready to die for it that the king might not be the head of the Church, but it must be a spiritual father appointed by God. This was probably Friar Stone . . .

St. John Stone had long opposed Henry; he had spoken against Henry's effort to have his first marriage nullified to remarry--it is no surprise that he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy! His last words were: "Behold I close my apostolate in my blood, In my death I shall find life, for I die for a holy cause, the defence of the Church of God, infallible and immaculate." He alone of his friary stood up against Henry VIII; the rest of them would be pensioned off a few years later when the friary was suppressed. 

According to that the British History site entry on the Austin Friars of Canterbury, the city records contain these details for what it cost to execute Friar John Stone: 

"Paid for half a ton of timber to make a pair of gallows to hang Friar Stone, 2s. 6d.; to a labourer that digged the holes, 3d.; to four men that helped set up the gallows for drink to them, for carriage of the timber from Stablegate to Dongeon (i.e. Dane John), 1s.; for a hurdle, 6d.; for a load of wood and for a horse to draw him to the Dongeon, 2s. 3d.; paid two men that set the kettle and parboiled him, 1s.; to two men that carried his quarters to the gates and set them up, 1s.; for halters to hang him and Sandwich cord and for straw, 1s.; to a woman that scoured the kettle, 2d.; to him that did the execution, 3s. 8d." 

Those are rather horrible details: sharing 1s. for parboiling the quarters of a friar; sharing 1s. for hanging his quarters to the gates of Canterbury! He was drawn to the hill of Dane John overlooking Canterbury and would have seen his suppressed friary below before he died the death of a traitor. The date of his execution is not certain, but I chose today's date as it is also the Feast of St. John the Beloved Apostle in the Octave of Christmas. 

This Augustinian Friar website supports my choice of the date because Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's fourth wife, visited Canterbury on Saturday, December 27, 1539, 475 years ago today:

Usually such a sentence was carried out without delay but in this instance an extraordinary event complicated matters. Anne of Cleves, who was coming to England to be the fourth wife of King Henry VIII, was due to arrive on Sunday, 7th December 1539, and would be stopping at Canterbury overnight on her way to London.

Her arrival, however, was delayed by bad weather. Her visit and John Stone’s execution probably happened on Saturday, 27th December 1539. As bizarre as it sounds, John Stone's execution was timed to be part of the reception festivities arranged for Anne of Cleves, despite the shortness of her stay.

This conclusion is deduced from the extraordinary expenses for the execution and from the fact that the paraphernalia needed for it were removed only after her departure. Even so, the historian, Rev Dr Michael Benedict Hackett O.S.A., who was an expert on John Stone and died in April 2005, questioned whether the execution occurred during Anne of Cleves' time in Canterbury.

The bill for the execution amounted to £15.9.11d (fifteen pounds, nine shillings and eleven pence). This was a great sum when compared to a previous execution which had cost only six pence.

Coming from overseas in Anne's company was also the apostate English Augustinian, Dr Robert Barnes, then at the height of his power. He probably witnessed Stone’s execution. In Barnes and Stone the worst and the best of the Order in England in 1539 confronted each other. Paradoxically, also by order of Henry VIII Barnes himself was burned to death at the stake in London just six months later.

St. John Stone, pray for us!

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