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FROM THE YEAR 1534 TO THE DEATH OF HENRY VIII.
The separation which took place between the church of England and the church of Rome, on Henry VIII. assuming the title of supreme of the church of England, was not founded upon a change in his views on any of the doctrines held by the church of Rome, excepting the supremacy, as appears from his violent proceedings against all who were charged with the crime of heresy. But the providence of God overruled his proceedings for the accomplishment of a work which he never contemplated,—that of emancipating millions of human beings from the degrading and oppressive yoke of spiritual bondage.
The king met with much opposition from the monks and friars, who traversed the country in various directions, preaching vehemently in support of the papal pretensions, and against the king's supremacy. Nor was the publishing of these sentiments limited to the country; for one Peto, having to preach before his majesty in the king's chapel at Greenwich, took his text from
the prophecy addressed to Ahab, which he himself applied to the king, and told him to his face that many lying prophets had deceived him,that he was a true Micaiah, and warned him that the dogs should lick his blood as they had done Ahab's,that it was the greatest misery of princes to be daily abused by flatterers as he was.
The king made no reply at the time, but, to counteract the impression it was intended to make on the public mind, he appointed Dr. Curwin to preach on the following Sunday, who justified the king's proceedings and condemned Peto as a rebel, a slanderer, and a traitor. Peto was gone to Canterbury, but another friar, from the same house, interrupted the doctor, and told him that he was one of the lying prophets who sought to establish the succession to the crown by adultery,—that he would justify all that Peto had said; and he became so vehement that he could not be silenced till the king commanded him to hold his peace.
The only punishment inflicted upon Peto for his insolence was that of being called before the privy council and admonished. The public preaching of the monks and friars was not the only machinery employed by the priests against the proceedings of the king and parliament. In 1525, Elizabeth Barton, who was living as a servant at Aldington in Kent, was well known as a person that was subject to hysterical fits. Richard Masters, the priest of the place, thought Elizabeth might be advantageously used in raising the de
clining interest of the church of Rome. He first informed archbishop Warham of her wonderful speeches, and that all who heard her believed she was inspired of God. Warham directed him to pay particular attention to her, and inform him of any new trances she might have. The priest took her immediately under his tuition. Before she was put under the discipline of Masters she could never remember any thing she had uttered in her fits; but he soon convinced her that what she then said was by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and that it was her duty openly to avow it. Being a very ignorant girl, she became a pliant tool in the hands of this crafty priest. The fame of this new prophetess soon spread from one end of the kingdom to the other. Among the number of her more respectable proselytes were Sir Thomas More, Fisher, bishop of Rochester,—and Warham, archbishop of Canterbury. The scheme of Masters succeeded beyond his most sanguine expectations, and he found an active coadjutor in Dr. Bocking,
canon of Christ-church, Canterbury. They taught her how to counterfeit trances, in the art of which she soon became an adept, which was followed by a number of the most barefaced impositions ever practised in the world. The more effectually to cover their designs, a deputation was appointed to investigate the matter, and their report, being favourable, gave greater credit to the imposture. She now assumed the character of a nun, and chose Dr. Bocking for her spiritual
father. In one of her trances she said that the Virgin Mary had appeared to her, and told her that she would never recover from her affliction until she visited the Virgin's image in Masters's chapel. On the day appointed, great multitudes attended to witness the miracle of healing. On being brought into the chapel, she fell prostrate in one of her trances, and delivered a number of rhymes in honour of the Virgin and the popish religion. She also delivered some set speeches against the new doctrines, which were called heresies. She predicted terrible things against the king for divorcing queen Catharine, and announced that Almighty God had declared that if he married Ann Boleyn he should not be king a month longer, but should die a villain's death.
The king for some time despised the ravings of this impostor, until he found that it was only one part of a plot on a large scale. In November, 1533, he issued an order for apprehending the maid and her accomplices, who were forthwith brought to the Star Chamber. Their examination took place in the presence of a great number of lords, when the nun, Richard Masters, Dr. Bocking, Richard Deering, Henry Gold, Hugh Rich, Richard Risby, Thomas Gold, Edward Twaites, and Thomas Laurence, who without any rack or torture confessed the whole conspiracy, and were sentenced to stand in St. Paul's during the sermon. At the close of the service, the king's officers gave each of them his bill of confession, to be openly read before the congregation on the following Sunday. To convince the people of the gross impositions practised upon them by their spiritual guides, a scaffold was erected in front of the pulpit on which they all stood, while the bishop of Bangor preached, after which each read his bill of confession. They were then conveyed from the church to the Tower, and in all probability their punishment would not have amounted to more than imprisonment, had not some of their accomplices found access to the nun, and persuaded her to protest that all she had said in her former confession had been extorted from her by force.
The affair now assuming a more serious aspect was taken up by parliament, and pronounced a conspiracy against the king's life and crown. On the 29th of April, 1534, the nun, Masters, Bocking, Deering, Risby, and Gold, were all beheaded at Tyburn. At the place the nun made a full confession of her own guilt, and the justice of her sentence, but most solemnly declared that she had been encouraged in it by those learned men, who knew that she " was a poor wench without learning;” that, “ being puffed up with their praises,” she “ fell into a certain kind of pride,” and fancied that she “might feign whatever she would.” After asking pardon of God and the king, she requested the people to pray that God would have mercy on her soul, and then submitted to her fate. Though this was one of the most atrocious impositions ever palmed upon the world, yet the nun and