Monday, April 11, 2016

A Rebel (Beheaded) and A Heretic (Burned)

On April 11, 1554, Thomas Wyatt the Younger was executed on Tower Hill for leading his eponymous rebellion against Mary I. I have to post on this event for two reasons: using the word eponymous and using this great profile portrait.

The Wyatt Rebellion, as this site notes, failed completely:

The plan itself involved too many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ if it was to succeed. The noble conspirators planned to remove Mary, instate Elizabeth as Queen and arrange for her to marry Edward Courtenay – a man Mary had already rejected as a husband. [It sounds like the Gunpowder Plot!]

The plan was for three rebellions to take place in separate parts of the country. They would occur at the same time – in the Midlands, the West Country and Kent. The plan was that the government would not know which one to put down first and each would blossom as a result of their localised success and attract more and more supporters among the common people.

The French Navy would blockade the English Channel with eighty ships so that the Habsburgs would not be able to help Mary.

The plan failed miserably. The Imperial Ambassador, Simon Renard, had heard rumours that such a plot existed and informed the Lord Chancellor, Stephen Gardner [sic], of his concerns. Gardner brought in Courtenay for questioning as Renard had mentioned his name. The records stated that Gardner’s questioning was ‘robust’ and Courtenay was not a man who could stand up to this. Edward Courtenay told Gardner all that he knew about the plot so that the government knew about the plot even before it had begun – even if Courtenay would not have known about the details.

The ‘uprisings’ in the Midlands and the West Country were a failure as few of the people there gave Carew and the Duke of Suffolk the support they needed for success. It seems that though there was concern about Mary marrying a foreigner, loyalty to the Queen took precedence. Those in the Midlands did not want to commit treason (Suffolk raised a force of just 140 men) while many in the West were Catholic. . . .

Only two of the leaders were executed for their treason – Wyatt and the Duke of Suffolk. Other minor nobles were also executed but some – guilty of treason – were spared. In total about 90 rebels were executed but many of the common people who had joined Wyatt and survived were spared. Two other casualties were Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford Dudley. Both had been in prison since the failed attempt to put Lady Jane on the throne and had nothing to do with Wyatt’s rebellion. However Mary felt that she could no longer risk anyone rallying to Lady Jane’s cause – hence her execution – especially as her father, the Duke of Suffolk, had been involved in this plot and had been executed for treason.

I find it interesting that the website does not mention that Queen Mary had rallied her people to defend her and their city. Even John Foxe, who had no reason to present Mary in a good light, recounted her bravery, her devotion, and her resolve in her speech at Guildhall:
I am your Queen, to whom at my coronation, when I was wedded to the realm and laws of the same (the spousal ring whereof I have on my finger, which never hitherto was, not hereafter shall be, left off), you promised your allegiance and obedience to me…. And I say to you, on the word of a Prince, I cannot tell how naturally the mother loveth the child, for I was never the mother of any; but certainly, if a Prince and Governor may as naturally and earnestly love her subjects as the mother doth love the child, then assure yourselves that I, being your lady and mistress, do as earnestly and tenderly love and favour you. And I, thus loving you, cannot but think that ye as heartily and faithfully love me; and then I doubt not but we shall give these rebels a short and speedy overthrow.
The other execution on April 11, 1612. It was the last execution for heresy in England, during the reign of James I. Edward Wightman was actually burned at the stake twice:

Wightman seems to have denied the doctrine of the Trinity, denied that Jesus Christ was God, denied the Resurrection and the legitimacy of Holy Communion and maintained that he himself was both the Holy Spirit and, though not himself divine, the Messiah appointed by God as the saviour of the world. From a modern perspective it seems clear that he had gone completely insane.

Wightman was eventually put on trial in the diocesan court in Lichfield, which in December pronounced him guilty of blasphemy and of promoting the heresies of figures ranging from Simon Magus to the Arians, the Manicheans and the Anabaptists. He was sent to the stake in the square in Lichfield in March 1612. When the flames began to scorch him he cried out in pain and it was thought he wanted to recant. Some of the crowd of spectators rushed to rescue him, though getting burned themselves. He was taken back to prison to recover, but when he was brought before the court again he refused to sign a formal recantation and on Easter Saturday in April he was sent back to the stake and was this time burned to death.

I believe the author of that post is incorrect about the date of Easter Sunday in 1612 on the Julian Calendar. It was not April 11 but April 12 (at least according to this site and this one too).

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