Friday, March 31, 2023

William Peto at Greenwich, Before and After

On March 31, 1532, authorities agree, Observant Friar William Peto or Peyto, preached in the chapel at Greenwich in the presence of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, comparing them to King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Jezebel, which was not a compliment!

Janet Wertman provides the account from Stowe's Chronicle on her blog:

The first that openly resisted or reprehended the King touching his marriage with Anne Boleyn was one Friar Peto, a simple man yet very devout, of the order of Observants: this man preaching at Greenwich, upon the two and twentieth Chapter of the third book of Kings, viz, the last part of the story of Ahab, saying even where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, even there shall the dogs lick thy blood also O King, and therewithal spake of the lying Prophets [i.e. false and selfish counselors] which abused the King, etc. I am quoth he, that Micheas whom thou wilt hate, because I must tell thee truly that this marriage is unlawful and I know ye shall eat the bread of affliction, and drink the water of sorrow, yet because our Lord hath put it into my mouth, I must speak it. . . .

Please read the rest there.

Eustace Chapuys, the ambassador for Charles V the Holy Roman Empire (Katherine of Aragon's nephew) offers a less dramatic report (dated April 16 of that year):

On Easter day the provincial (fn. 2) [William Peto] of the Friars Minors preached at their convent at Greenwich before the King, who was not pleased with the sermon; for the preacher said that the unbounded affection of princes and their false counsellors deprived them of the knowledge of the truth. The King spoke to the provincial afterwards, and heard words which did not please him; for the provincial told him clearly that he was endangering his crown (son estat) for both great and little were murmuring at this marriage. The King dissembled his ill will, and, not being able to alter the provincial's opinion, gave him leave to go to Tholouse. When he heard of his departure, he caused one of his chaplains (fn. 3) [Dr. Richard Coren or Curswen] to preach there in his presence, contrary to the custom of the convent and the wish of the warden. The chaplain began to contradict what the provincial had preached, saying that he wished he were present to answer him. On this the warden (fn. 4) [Henry Elston] rose, and said that he would answer for his minister in his absence. At the close of his sermon the chaplain dared to say that all the universities and doctors were in favor of the divorce. The warden could not stand this lie, and said, in presence of the King, that it was not so. The King was very angry, and has caused all the bishops to tell the provincial, who has returned, that he ought to deprive the warden, and make him amend his error. This he will not do, and yesterday the King had them both arrested. They have promised Chapuys they will rather die than change their opinion. The provincial went abroad more to have a book in the Queen's favor printed than for the chapter. The King thinks he will benefit his cause by allowing preaching in favor of the divorce; but his cause grows worse, for the people murmur incredibly.

As British History Online notes, at one time Henry VIII, as he had the Carthusians, commended the Observant Franciscans of Greenwich:

Henry VIII, in 1513, wrote from his palace of Greenwich to Leo X that he could not sufficiently commend the Observant Friars' strict adherence to poverty, their sincerity, charity and devotion. No Order battled more assiduously against vice, and none were more active in keeping Christ's fold. (fn. 12)

(Remember that it was from Pope Leo X that Henry VIII received the title Defender of the Faith for Henry's book against Martin Luther.)

Once their opposition to his marital plans became known Henry VIII's opinion of them changed, and like the Carthusians, they were at first pressured to support his will and then imprisoned and martyred when they did not comply. Peto and Elston were imprisoned after these exchanges at Greenwich in 1532 and then allowed to retreat to the Continent.

You may read more about the fate of the Greenwich Observant Franciscans at British History Online, as linked above.

The Catholic Encyclopedia offers this summary of his life:

Cardinal; d. 1558 or 1559. Though his parentage was long unknown, it is now established that he was the son of Edward Peyto of Chesterton, Warwickshire, and Goditha, daughter of Sir Thomas Throckmorton of Coughton. He was educated by the Grey Friars and took his degree of B. A. at Oxford; but he was incorporated in Cambridge university, 1502-3, and became M. A. there in 1505. He was elected fellow of Queen's College in 1506, and on 14 June, 1510, was incorporated M. A. at Oxford. Entering the Franciscan Order, he became known for his holiness of life, and was appointed confessor to Princess Mary. Later on he was elected Provincial of England and held that office when in 1532 he denounced the divorce of Henry VIII in the king's presence. He was imprisoned till the end of that year, when he went abroad and spent many years at Antwerp and elsewhere in the Low Countries, being active on behalf of all Catholic interests. In 1539 he was included in the Act of Attainder passed against Cardinal Pole and his friends (31 Hen. VIII, c. 5), but he was in Italy at the time and remained there out of the king's reach. On 30 March, 1543, Paul III nominated him Bishop of Salisbury. He could not obtain possession of his diocese, nor did he attempt to do so, on the accession of Queen Mary in 1553, but resigned the see and retired to his old convent at Greenwich. There he remained till Paul IV, who had known him in Rome and highly esteemed him, decided to create him cardinal and legate in place of Pole. But as Peyto was very old and his powers were failing, he declined both dignities. He was, however, created cardinal in June, 1557, though Queen Mary would not allow him to receive the hat, and the appointment was received with public derision. It was a tradition among the Franciscans that he was pelted with stones by a London mob, and so injured that he shortly afterwards died (Parkinson, op. cit. below, p. 254). Other accounts represent him as dying in France. The date frequently assigned for his death (April, 1558) is incorrect, as on 31 October, 1558, Queen Mary wrote to the pope that she had offered to reinstate him in the Bishopric of Salisbury on the death of Bishop Capon, but that he had declined because of age and infirmity.

Please note that William Peto or Peyto's mother was Goditha Throckmorton of Coughton in Warwickshire. Most of the Throckmorton family was resolutely Catholic throughout the Tudor and Stuart eras, and suffered recusancy fines and imprisonment for decades, especially during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. Note the comment Sir George Throckmorton made, apparently because of a remark William Peto made* to him, about Henry VIII's plan to marry Anne Boleyn: 

Unlike her niece, however, [Katherine Vaux, half sister of Sir Thomas Parr] Sir George and Lady Throckmorton remained resolutely Catholic in the face of Henry VIII’s reformation, resisting the annulment of Katharine of Aragon’s marriage. Sir George was apparently the author of the remark that Henry should not marry Anne Boleyn because

‘it is thought that you (Henry VIII) have meddled with both the mother and the sister.’

To which Henry could only deny any ‘meddling’ with Anne’s mother. Following this rather unwise discussion with Henry, Sir George retired somewhat, but his open sympathy with the Pilgrimage of Grace earned him arrest, although not execution. 

Sir George and Katherine Vaux had 19 children. These children divided along confessional lines. The oldest son, Sir Robert (d. c1580), adhered to the faith of his fathers and was probably responsible for the priest hole. Another son, Sir Nicholas (1515 – 1571), who was employed in the household of his cousin, Katherine Parr, embraced Protestantism. . . .

*Per George Throckmorton's biography on the History of Parliament website:

In the course of this he related how, before the Parliament began, he had been sent for to Lambeth by his cousin William Peto, the Observant Franciscan and future cardinal, with whom he had a long conversation about the King’s proposed marriage to Anne Boleyn. Peto alleged that the King had ‘meddled’ with both Anne’s mother and her sister and advised him if he were in the parliament house ‘to stick to that matter as I would have my soul saved’.

So Friar William Peto not only opposed Henry VIII early on, but his mother's family continued to oppose, if only by remaining Catholic, the English Reformation as it continued and developed. There is a book, Catholic Gentry in English Society: The Throckmortons of Coughton from Reformation to Emancipation edited by Peter Marshall and Geoffrey Scott (OSB), narrating episodes from those centuries.

Also, please note the connections to Reginald Cardinal Pole, including Peto's inclusion in the Attainder of 1539 and Pope Paul IV's attempt to replace Pole with the elderly Peto as Papal Legate and Archbishop of Canterbury, an attempt thwarted by Mary I and Peto himself.

Image Credit (Public Domain): Jezabel (sic)and Ahab (c. 1863) by Frederic Leighton

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