1541: Claude Le Painctre, giving himself willingly to be burned

Add comment November 17th, 2018 Headsman

A French evangelical named Claude Le Painctre — on mission evangelizing back in his dangerous homeland after previously escaping to exile in Geneva — was burned at the stake in Paris on this date in 1541, after having his tongue torn out.

A Prussian-born student resident in Paris in those years, named Eustache Knobelsdorf, witnessed this execution and recorded the event in his memoir.

His striking impression of a joyous martyrdom captures not only the agonies of a 16th century heretic’s execution, but the ecstasies by which those same heretics turned the whole spectacle to evangelizing effect.

This translation of Knobelsdorf comes via
Bruce Gordon’s 2009 biography Calvin

I saw two burnt there. Their death inspired in me differing sentiments. If you had been there, you would have hoped for a less severe punishment for these poor unfortunates … The first [Claude Le Painctre] was a very young man, not yet with a beard … he was the son of a cobbler. He was brought in front of the judges and condemned to have his tongue cut out and burned straight afterward. Without changing the expression of his face, the young man presented his tongue to the executioner’s knife, sticking it out as far as he could. The executioner pulled it out even further with pincers, cut it off, and hit the sufferer several times on the tongue and threw it in the young man’s face. Then he was put into a tipcart, which was driven to the place of execution, but, to see him, one would think that he was going to a feast … When the chain had been placed around his body, I could not describe to you with what equanimity of soul and with what expression in his features he endured the cries of elation and the insults of the crowd that were directed towards him. He did not make a sound, but from time to time he spat out the blood that was filling his mouth, and he lifted his eyes to heaven, as if he was waiting for some miraculous rescue. When his head was covered in sulphur, the executioner showed him the fire with a menacing air; but the young man, without being scared, let it be known, by a movement of his body, that he was giving himself willingly to be burned.

Such spectacles had palpable effect for snowballing the evangelical project. Another onlooker in the crowd was a 21-year-old just out of university named Jean Crespin … present with some “several who had a stirring sense of truth.” We can’t draw anything so dramatic as a direct causal line to Claude Le Painctre, but sometime during Crespin’s stay in Paris in the early 1540s he converted to the reformed faith — and in this guise he would in time become a notable Protestant publisher. (Of interest to these grim annals, he Le Livre des Martyrs.)

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1541: Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

1 comment May 27th, 2013 Nancy Bilyeau

Thanks for the guest post to Nancy Bilyeau, the author of The Crown and The Chalice, thrillers set in Tudor England. The main character is Joanna Stafford, a Dominican novice.

On this date in 1541, 68-year-old Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury, was beheaded within the confines of the Tower of London, as befitted her rank. She was cousin to Henry VIII’s mother, and well trusted by the king for years. Yet this intelligent and dignified aristocrat died without trial in a horribly botched execution that is considered a low point of Henry’s reign.

Margaret knew better than most how difficult it was to survive royal storms if your family was close to the throne. Yet despite all her efforts to stay out of danger, it was her family that doomed her to the axe in the end.

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence and brother to Edward IV, was her father and Isabel Neville, oldest daughter of the “Kingmaker,” Earl of Warwick, her mother. This glittering pair didn’t last long. Mother died of disease (some whispered poison); the duke, disloyal to his brother the king, was drowned in a barrel of Malmsey in the Tower of London.

First Murderer. Take him over the costard with the hilts of thy
sword, and then we will chop him in the malmsey-butt
in the next room.

Second Murderer. O excellent devise! make a sop of him.

-Shakespeare’s Richard III, Act 3, Scene 4. Margaret Pole is an ensemble character with no lines in this play.

Once the Tudors were in charge, royal children were either imprisoned, such as Margaret’s brother, who spent the rest of his life in the Tower of London,* or assimilated. At the age of 14, Margaret was married to Sir Richard Pole, a trusted relation of Henry VII‘s. The marriage was not unhappy, and they had four sons and one daughter.

When Catherine of Aragon arrived in England to marry Prince Arthur, Margaret became one of her ladies and a deep friendship sprang up. Years later, when Margaret was a relatively young widow, tall and red-haired, and Catherine was married to Arthur’s brother, Henry VIII, Margaret was singled out for several great honors. In 1512, the king gave Margaret many of the lands of her Warwick grandfather and a family title. She became the countess of Salisbury in her own right.

Margaret was selected by king and queen to be the governor for the 9-year-old Princess Mary, their only child. In a separate, vast household, she would be the one to guide Mary toward her destiny as heir to the throne. Some of Margaret’s own children made excellent marriages, such as her daughter Ursula to the oldest son of the duke of Buckingham. Her son, Reginald, began to shine as a cleric and intellectual; Henry VIII paid for his studies at the University of Padua.

The Pole family fortunes crashed — as so many others did — after Anne Boleyn became the second wife of Henry VIII. Not surprisingly, Margaret had sided with Catherine and Mary during the divorce struggle. When in 1533, the king’s men came to Mary’s household to claim her jewels as part of Henry’s move to bastardize his daughter, Margaret refused to hand them over. She was then discharged from her office by the king, who called her a “fool.”

Margaret did and said nothing else that was publicly critical of the king. She never saw Catherine of Aragon again and rarely saw Mary, to whom she had been a second mother. She spent her time in country retirement. She adhered to traditional Catholic doctrine, and priests lived in her homes. This was not illegal, but as religious reform gained steam, it brought her under scrutiny.

However, from the safety of France and Italy, her son, Reginald, chose to make public remarks sharply critical of Henry VIII. He published a treatise in 1536 attacking the king’s claim to superiority over the English church and calling on the princes of Europe to depose him. The king was enraged.

Margaret and her oldest son, Henry Pole, Lord Montagu, wrote Reginald letters pleading with him to cease his attacks. “Do your duty or you will be my undoing,” she warned — correctly.

In 1538 another of Margaret’s sons, Geoffrey, was questioned and then confined in the Tower of London. He eventually gave statements that his brother, Montagu, and their relations and friends sympathized with Reginald Pole and had privately criticized Henry VIII. Under law, this was treason, punishable by death. All the noblemen accused of being part of the “Exeter Conspiracy” were executed. But there was no proof that Margaret Pole ever wrote or said anything that fell under the definition of treason.

It didn’t matter. She was questioned, held under house arrest, and then imprisoned in the Tower of London for two years. She suffered in the winters, and Henry VIII’s fifth wife, the teenage Catherine Howard, bravely sent her some warm clothes.

A minor rebellion broke out in England, led by a Neville, her mother’s family, but unconnected to Margaret. Nonetheless, it seems to have prompted Henry VIII to eliminate the woman whom he had once trusted and admired, who was his closest female relative after his daughters.

Early in the morning of May 27, the Constable of the Tower woke up Margaret to tell her she would die within the next few hours. The ailing countess replied she had never been charged with any crime.

Because of her royal descent, she was executed on the Tower grounds, on the same spot as Anne Boleyn five years earlier, before more than 100 spectators. There was not enough time to erect a scaffold; also, the executioner was not in residence, only his novice.

Margaret commended her soul to God and asked the spectators to pray for the king and queen, Prince Edward and of course the Princess Mary. Reports conflict on what happened next. Some say she refused to kneel before the block on the ground, or to stand still. The novice swung at her with his ax, hacking at her shoulders, before managing to kill her. It may have taken 10 chops.

Margaret Pole was buried in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula, within the Tower, not far from Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, Sir Thomas More and Cardinal John Fisher. Within the year Catherine Howard would join them. In the 19th century Macauley said of St Peter Ad Vincula, “In truth there is no sadder spot on earth than that little cemetery.”

* The rest of Edward Plantagenet’s life ended at the block in 1499, after he tried to escape with Perkin Warbeck.

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1541: Cristóvão da Gama, Portuguese crusader in Ethiopia

Add comment August 29th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1541, Cristóvão da Gama — “the most chivalrous soldier of a chivalrous age” — was beheaded in Ethiopia.

This moment was the apex of Lisbon’s empire-building, most vividly symbolized by Cristovao’s famous dad, explorer Vasco de Gama. In the Age of Discovery, Caravels bore Portuguese colors from Brazil to Japan.

Alas, Portugal’s global maritime empire of coastal colonies and remote ports was immediately menaced by rival powers like the also at-its-apex Ottoman Empire.

Young Cristovao would be ground up in this conflict whose mixture of geopolitics and sectarianism overtly smacked of those old-time Crusades.

After a jaunt to India in the train of his older brother, appointed the Portuguese governor of India, Cristavao was sidetracked on a return voyage for an intervention on the Christian side in a raging local war. For Europeans who for generations had trafficked in the vague and fantastical rumors of mythical Abyssinian ruler “Prester John”, putting a thumb on the scale for Ethiopian Christians against the rampant Arabs must have been nigh irresistible.

Let’s listen in.

Joao III and his government, faced with mounting debts as the costs of military operations in the East steadily grew, were now forced to re-evaluate their global commitments … the new viceroy, Estevao da Gama, was ordered to destroy the Turkish fleet in Suez …

Estevao da Gama’s raid into the Red Sea became one of the best remembered episodes in the history of the Portuguese Estado da India. The fleet assembled at Massawa on the African shore and then proceeded to Suakin which was burnt and plundered. Part of the fleet then returned to Massawa while the rest sailed on to Suez where the Turkish ships proved to be securely based and inaccessible. On the shore of Sinai, as close to Jerusalem as the Portuguese were ever to come, Estevao da Gama enacted some of the rituals of crusading chivalary and made a number of knights before returning to Massawa. Meanwhile, Dom Joao de Castro, who accompanied the expedition, used the time to produce his famous guide to the Red Sea, the Roteiro do Mar Roxo, complete with the meticulous drawings of the ports and anchorages, a masterpiece of Portuguese Renaissance geography and science.


One of Joao de Castro’s drawings. (Source, a Portuguese pdf)

Meanwhile the Portuguese at Massawa had suffered extreme privations and a hundred of them had deserted, having been persuaded by [untrustworthy Potuguese-descended Ethiopian ambassador Joao] Bermudes of the richness and wealth of the interior. Their fate was to be captured and massacred by Ahmed Gran. Estevao da Gama now dispatched a force of four hundred soldiers under the command of his brother, Cristovao da Gama, into the interior to assist the Ethiopian king. Cristovao da Gama advanced from the coast with a force much the same size as that which Cortez had led into Mexico in 1519. He had with him horses, arquebuses and eight small cannon. His first objective was to link up with the fugitive Ethiopian king and his followers, but da Gama got separated from his supplies and was forced to fight a superior Somali force supported by Turkish mercenaries. The result was catastrophe. The small Portuguese army was badly mauled and da Gama himself fled wounded from the battlefield and was taken prisoner.

The capture of the viceroy’s brother, son of the great admiral, carried with it huge importance for the Turks. After being ritually humiliated (his beard being set on fire and his face buffeted with the shoes of his negro servant) Cristovao da Gama was beheaded.* For the Portuguese this was a disaster, the symbolic significance of which far transcended the military consequences of the defeat. However, the Christian church had long experience of turning catastrophe into triumph and, soon after the news of Cristovao da Gama’s death reached the outside world, rumours of miracles began to circulate.** Da Gama became one of the first martyrs of the new church overseas which in a hundred years of expansion had had all too few heroic deeds to celebrate.

After the death of their commander fewer than two hundred of the original army survived, but they were able to meet up with the Christian Ethiopian forces and, when the next campaigning season started in 1542, the combined army inflicted a heavy defeat on the Muslims, a defeat which took on a decisive complexion when it was realised that the leader of the jihad, Ahmed Gran, had been killed in the battle.

Da Gama’s expedition had been mounted from the resources of the official empire and had been commanded by one of the leading fidalgos of the Estado da India. However, few of da Gama’s soldiers returned to India Instead they settled in Ethiopia and married Ethiopian women, establishing a ‘Portuguese’ community that mirrored the ‘Portuguese’ communities in Aythia, Bengal, Kongo and elsewhere where soldiers had offered their military expertise to local rulers an had been content to settle and make their fortures far removed from the jurisdiction of the Portuguese Crown.

Although da Gama’s own end was unfortunate, his surviving force’s exploits on a side badly pressed could arguably be considered the decisive factor enabling Christianity to survive in Ethiopia’s highlands interior. Prester John would have been proud.

* “I write what I heard, it may well be that it was thus, for all that is barbarous and cruel about the Moorish king can be believed. The body, after death, was dismembered and sent to various places … because once when Granha was speaking with Dom Christovao, he asked him: ‘If you had me in your power, as I have you, what would you do to me?’ Dom Christovao, with great resolution and freedom replied, ‘If I had you in my power, I would have you killed, the head I would send to one place and the quarters I would distribute to other places’ (naming them, but I do not recall them). And Granha, they say that it was because he heard this, scattered the body to various places.”

** “Directly they cut off his head, God worked a great and manifest miracle through it, which was, that in the place where they slew him a fountain of running water gushed out, which had never been seen before: its water, through the goodness and power of God, gives sight to the blind, and cures those ill of other diseases. It appears that this miracle is like the one that God did in Rome for His Apostle St. Paul. The remains of the body of D. Christovao smell sweetly, giving forth so delightful an odour, that it seems rather of heaven than of earth.”

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1541: Thomas Fiennes, 9th Baron Dacre

Add comment June 29th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1541, an English peer hanged (!) at Tyburn for an unpremeditated murder.

Thomas Fiennes, scion of an ancient title still* extant today, was more accustomed to doling out the death sentences.

Dacre sat on the jury of peers that condemned Anne Boleyn, and also helped doom plotters in the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy.

This well-favored but evidently unrefined young rowdy had a penchant for the illicit hobby of poaching game, just becoming in this period a conflict zone in the proto-capitalist enclosure movement.

We may suppose that a callow youth of privilege didn’t have the means of production on his mind, just an overweening sense of entitlement about the forests of the next lord over. In any event, a 1537 letter to Thomas Cromwell testifies to the young Fiennes’ vice.

I have received your lordship’s letters wherein I perceive your benevolence towards the frailness of my yoyth in considering that I was rather led by instigation of my accusers than of my mere mind to those unlawful acts, which I have long detested in secret. I perceive your lordship is desirous to have knowledge of all riotous hunters, and shall exert myself to do you service therein. I beg you give credence to Mr. Awdeley, with whom I send some of my servants to be brought before you; he can inform you of others who have hunted in my little park of Bukholt.’

We don’t have the particulars of this situation, but secret detestation notwithstanding, four years’ time finds Fiennes up to similar shenanigans.

In this later, fatal case, our sportsman and a group of retainers went out to hunt deer on the lands of his neighbor, Sir Nicholas Pelham. There, they encountered some men of Pelham’s, and in the ensuing melee, one of the latter party was beaten to death. Pelham pressed the issue aggressively.

“Overpersuaded by the courtiers, who gaped after his estate,” Fiennes tried the dangerous gambit of pleading guilty and casting himself on the king’s mercy. The fact that testimony indicated that Fiennes himself had not participated in the fight might have meant an acquittal, though a guilty plea also positioned Fiennes to exculpate his mates.

Gaping courtiers may have realized better than their prey that the king’s mood this summer tended towards severity. Spurning a recommendation of clemency from the peers of the realm, Henry VIII insisted on Dacre’s execution.

The affairs of the luckless baron’s last day — which was only four days after his trial — remain a bit mysterious. Hopes for a clemency were raised by a last-minute reprieve from a scheduled morning beheading, only to have the noble led out that afternoon to the beneath-his-class death by hanging at Tyburn.

Oh, and the mates Dacre was (possibly) trying to protect? Three of them hanged this date as well, at St. Thomas a Watering on the Old Kent Road.

* It hasn’t been continuously extant, strictly speaking — in fact, it was terminated along with Thomas Fiennes, only restored in 1558 to the hanged man’s son.

These Tudor toffs are distant relations of actor Ralph Fiennes, whose turn as a hanged Nazi war criminal has already been noted in these pages.

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1541: Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham, the Queen’s lovers

2 comments December 10th, 2009 Headsman

Indictment:

That Katharine, queen of England, formerly called Kath. Howerd, late of Lambyth, Surr., one of the daughters of lord Edmund Howard, before the marriage between the King and her, led an abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous, and vicious life, like a common harlot, with divers persons, as with Francis Derham of Lambeth and Hen. Manak [Manox] of Streteham, Surr., 20 and 24 May 32 Hen. VIII., and at other times, maintaining however the outward appearance of chastity and honesty. That she led the King by word and gesture to love her and (he believing her to be pure and chaste and free from other matrimonial yoke) arrogantly coupled herself with him in marriage. And the said Queen and Francis, being charged by divers of the King’s Council with their vicious life, could not deny it, but excused themselves by alleging that they were contracted to each other before the marriage with the King;* which contract at the time of the marriage they falsely and traitorously concealed** from the King, to the peril of the King and of his children to be begotten by her and the damage of the whole realm. And after the marriage, the said Queen and Francis, intending to renew their vicious life, 25 Aug. 33 Hen. VIII., at Pomfret, and at other times and places, practised that the said Francis should be retained in the Queen’s service; and the Queen, at Pomfret, 27 Aug. 33 Hen. VIII., did so retain the said Francis, and had him in notable favour above others, and, in her secret chamber and other suspect places, spoke with him and committed secret affairs to him both by word and writing, and for the fulfilling of their wicked and traitorous purpose, gave him divers gifts and sums of money on the 27 Aug. and at other times.

Also the said Queen, not satisfied with her vicious life aforesaid, on the 29 Aug. 33 Hen. VIII., at Pomfret, and at other times and places before and after, with Thos. Culpeper,† late of London, one of the gentlemen of the King’s privy chamber, falsely and traitorously held illicit meeting and conference to incite the said Culpeper to have carnal intercourse with her; and insinuated to him that she loved him above the King and all others. Similarly the said Culpeper incited the Queen. And the better and more secretly to pursue their carnal life they retained Jane lady Rochford, late wife of Sir Geo. Boleyn late lord Rochford, as a go-between to contrive meetings in the Queen’s stole chamber and other suspect places; and so the said Jane falsely and traitorously aided and abetted them.

On this date in 1541, Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham paid the penalty for their indiscretions; the former queen would see her lovers’ severed heads mounted on pikestaffs on London Bridge as she was rowed to the Tower.

The onetime court favorite Culpeper was beheaded for cuckolding the royal person, and that’s no more than one would expect. But the political pull-less Dereham — who had slept with (and possibly “pre-contracted” to wed) the willing young Kate before she meant anything to the king — enjoyed the full measure of the traitor’s torture: hanged, emasculated, eviscerated, and dismembered, all of it basically for having failed to anticipate that his little conquest would one day grow up to turn the monarch’s head.

What a time to be alive.

* Catherine Howard’s confessional letter to Henry VIII … desperately attempting to limit her indiscretions to the time before her marriage:

I, your Grace’s most sorrowful subject and most vile wretch in the world, not worthy to make any recommendation unto your most excellent Majesty, do only make my most humble submission and confession of my faults. And where no cause of mercy is given on my part, yet of your most accustomed mercy extended unto all other men undeserverd, most humbly on my hands and knees do desire one particle thereof to be extended unto me, although of all other creatures I am most unworthy either to be called your wife or subject.

My sorrow I can by no writing express, nevertheless I trust your most benign nature will have some respect unto my youth, my ignorance, my frailness, my humble confession of my faults, and plain declaration of the same, referring me wholly unto Your Grace’s pity and mercy. First, at the flattering and fair persuasions of Manox, being but a young girl, I suffered him a sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body which neither became me with honesty to permit, nor him to require. Also, Francis Derehem by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose, and obtained first to lie upon my bed with his doublet and hose, and after within the bed, and finally he lay with me naked, and used me in such sort as a man doth his wife, many and sundry times, and our company ended almost a year before the King’s Magesty was married to my Lady Anne of Cleves and continued not past one quarter of a year, or a little above.

Now the whole truth being declared unto Your Majesty, I most humbly beseech you to consider the subtle persuasions of young men and the ignorance and frailness of young women. I was so desirous to be taken unto your Grace’s favor, and so blinded by with the desire of worldly glory that I could not, nor had grace to consider how great a fault it was to conceal my former faults from your Majesty, considering that I intended ever during my life to be faithful and true unto your Majesty ever after. Nevertheless, the sorrow of mine offenses was ever before mine eyes, considering the infinite goodness of your Majesty toward me from time to time ever increasing and not diminishing. Now, I refer the judgment of my offenses with my life and death wholly unto your most benign and merciful Grace, to be considered by no justice of your Majesty’s laws but only by your infinite goodness, pity, compassion and mercy, without which I acknowledge myself worthy of the most extreme punishment.

** Early the next year, parliament declared, “to avoid doubts in future” — read: “retroactively legislated” — that “an unchaste woman marrying the King shall be guilty of high treason.” This also made anyone who knew about said unchastity guilty of (at least) misprision of treason for failing to report it.

Surviving letter from Howard to Culpeper:

Master Culpeper,

I heartily recommend me unto you, praying you to send me word how that you do. It was showed me that you was sick, the which thing troubled me very much till such time that I hear from you praying you to send me word how that you do, for I never longed so much for a thing as I do to see you and to speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now. That which doth comfortly me very much when I think of it, and when I think again that you shall depart from me again it makes my heart die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company. It my trust is always in you that you will be as you have promised me, and in that hope I trust upon still, praying you that you will come when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment, thanking you for that you have promised me to be so good unto that poor fellow my man which is one of the griefs that I do feel to depart from him for then I do know no one that I dare trust to send to you, and therefore I pray you take him to be with you that I may sometime hear from you one thing. I pray you to give me a horse for my man for I had much ado to get one and therefore I pray send me one by him and in so doing I am as I said afor, and thus I take my leave of you, trusting to see you shortly again and I would you was with me now that you might see what pain I take in writing to you.

Yours as long as life endures,
Katheryn.

One thing I had forgotten and that is to instruct my man to tarry here with me still for he says whatsomever you bid him he will do it.

Though this letter is far from conclusively inculpatory, Culpeper confessed that he “intended and meant to do ill with the queen and that in like wise the queen so minded to do with him.”

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