1494: Joan Boughton, “old cankered heretic”

Lollard heretic Joan Boughton was burned on this date in 1494 — purportedly England’s first female Christian martyr.

Followers of pre-Luther English church reformer John Wyclif(fe) had been thick on the ground in the early 15th century, terrifying the English state into a violent suppression.

But these years of headline repression did not suffice to drive Lollardy into the grave … only underground. The Lollard heresy continued to persist, quietly, its trajectory and dimensions largely undocumented, barely surfacing here and there with the odd arrest. “Between 1450-1517, Lollardy was almost wholly restricted to the rural districts, and little mention is made of it in contemporary records,” notes this history. “How extensively Wyclif’s views continued to be secretly held and his writings read is a matter of conjecture.”

Its adherents still had the stuff of martyrdom, for on this occasion decades on from the heyday of Lollardy and into the reign of Henry VII,

an old cankered heretic, weak-minded for age, named Joan Boughton, widow, and mother unto the wife of Sir John Young — which daughter, as some reported, had a great smell of an heretic after the mother — burnt in Smithfield. This woman was four score years of age or more, and held eight opinions of heresy which I pass over, for the hearing of them is neither pleasant nor fruitful. She was a disciple of Wycliffe, whom she accounted for a saint, and held so fast and firmly eight of his twelve opinions that all the doctors of London could not turn her from one of them. When it was told to her that she should be burnt for her obstinacy and false belief, she set nought at their words but defied them, for she said she was so beloved with God and His holy angels that all the fire in London should not hurt her. But on the morrow a bundle of faggots and a few reeds consumed her in a little while; and while she might cry she spoke often of God and Our Lady, but no man could cause her to name Jesus, and so she died. But it appeared that she left some of her disciples behind her, for the night following, the more part of the ashes of that fire that she was burnt in were had away and kept for a precise relic in an earthen pot.

On this day..

One thought on “1494: Joan Boughton, “old cankered heretic”

  1. I have been reading the third of Hilary Mandel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. I have seen from these fascinating books (not my first acquaintance with English history of this and other periods) that Henry VIII was a vicious buffoon and heartless tyrant with whom sex must have been a hideous ordeal for his wives. Thomas More, was, I see, a brutal, murderous asshole from start to finish. Most of the people in those days, especially, courtiers, seem unspeakably despicable. Not much good to be said about any of them. I am sure that Anne Boleyn was not having sex with the likes of Mark Smeaton, or her brother George, etc. Possibly Harry Norris was a temptation, maybe Thomas Wyatt. Did they give hand-jobs in those days in England? The French were already great oralists, apparently.. Her likely character is well-drawn by Mantel. She remains a powerful, seductive force (for all the so-called plainness of her appearance, which cannot be entirely true because she had what today we call ‘sex appeal’) but I am sure that she was as conniving and cynical as the rest of them in real life.. The best of the lot (aside from Katherine of Aragon) was probably Katherine Parr the last of the wives and the one who saw Fat Harry off to the morgue and hopefully to the Hell he deserved. Self-indulgent pig who let Wolsey and Cromwell do all the work and then drove one to his death and had the other’s head chopped off.

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