Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tudor Persecution of the Carthusian Monks

On February 1, 1535, King Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy came into force, and one of the first groups he proceeded against were the Carthusian monks. Although this order had long been a respected and peaceful group, Henry labeling himself 'Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England' made it possible for him to charge them with treason for their failure to accept his self-proclaimed level of spiritual power. His retribution was fierce and intended to be an example of any who considered refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy.

Three representatives of a Carthusian house attempted to compromise with Cromwell regarding the oath, but on April 26, 1535, they were sent to the Tower. On May 4th, after a farce of a trial, they were dragged by hurdle to Tyburn where they were hanged while still wearing their religious habits. Taken down while still alive, they were disemboweled, beheaded, and dismembered. Far from traitors, the monks were seen as martyrs of their faith.

Roman broadsheet of the martyrdom of the English Carthusians

Persecution of the Carthusian order was far from complete. Three more monks who refused the oath were chained to posts around the neck and legs and left in this state for weeks. They continued to refuse the oath, but the king and Cromwell were aware that the savagery of the first execution had created public sympathy for the men of faith rather than the king. Efforts to convert the men continued through house arrest, threats, and lectures on the king's supremacy. The monks who continued to refuse the oath were chained to pillars in the dungeon of Newgate and starved to death. Two more were hanged in chains from the city walls at York until they died.

The Carthusian houses fell to King Henry as some took the oath in fear and others fled to Bruges for safety. A small community of English Carthusians remained in Bruges until the reign of Queen Mary. When they began to arrive, they were housed in the Savoy by Queen Mary's Controller, Robert Rochester, whose brother had been one of the monks martyred at York. Mary and her key counselor on religious reform, Cardinal Reginald Pole, wished to reestablish the Carthusians but had also made promises to the purchasers of dissolved religious property that it would not be confiscated.

On November 17, 1555, The House of Jesus of Bethlehem of Shene was reestablished with Maurice Chauncy as Prior. Unfortunately, the restoration did not last long. Queen Mary and Reginald Pole, who was by that time Archbishop of Canterbury, both died on November 17, 1558. Queen Elizabeth forced the Carthusians into exile once more on July 1, 1559. There would be no return to England for them this time.

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