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Authors: Suzannah Lipscomb

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‘They were dragged [to the place of execution] in their habits, to the great grief of the people. They were hanged, cut down before they were dead, opened, and their bowels and hearts burned. Their heads were then cut off, and their bodies quartered.’

harterhouse (simply meaning ‘Carthusian monastery’) is one of London’s great secrets. Its historic buildings, some dating back to the late fourteenth century, are well preserved, despite surviving a direct hit from a bomb during the Second World War. Yet not everyone knows about this incredible site in the middle of the City, and even fewer know about the sad and terrible fate that met some of its Tudor inhabitants.

Work began on the Carthusian priory of Charterhouse in 1371, next to the site of a burial ground of victims of the Black Death that had ravished London in 1349. The remains of this phase of building can be seen in the Norfolk Cloister: the rubble-stone wall was part of the original monastic cloister and you can still see the doorway to the first monastic cell to be built in 1371, Cell B, complete with serving hatch for the monk’s food. The current
chapel was the original priory’s Chapter House and dates from the early fifteenth century.

By the time of the Tudors, the austere priory was thriving. The young Thomas More spent time at Charterhouse between 1499 and 1503, and the famous Tudor medical writer Andrew Boorde also passed thirteen years here. By the early 1530s, there was a healthy community of sixty-three souls under the prior, John Haughton. You can spot Haughton’s influence on the architecture: Wash-House Court has both medieval stonework and brick buildings that were added in 1531—2, with characteristic diaperwork (the diamond or lozenge-shaped crisscross pattern made in brickwork using black or glazed bricks) among the red bricks, and the initials ‘IH’, for John Haughton, also picked out in black.

Haughton’s name is noted here for a far more sobering reason, however, and it is one to remember as you approach Charterhouse gateway. In 1535, Haughton died a terrible death, and one of his limbs was hung outside this very gate — as a foreign reporter noted at the time — to ‘terrify the other monks’ into submission.

Haughton’s crime was that he refused to accept in conscience Henry VIII’s position as Supreme Head of the Church of England. In order to have his marriage to Katherine of Aragon annulled, and to marry Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII and his government had passed a series of Acts of Parliament in the early 1530s that effected the ‘break from Rome’, and established Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the new Church of England. In April 1534, every man in the country had been required to swear the Oath of Succession, in which they promised ‘to be true to Queen Anne [Boleyn], and to believe and take her for the lawful wife of the King and rightful Queen of England, and utterly to think the Lady Mary daughter to the King by Queen Katherine, but as a bastard, and thus to do without any scrupulosity of conscience’.

This incredible attempt by Henry VIII to make the whole kingdom complicit in his decision — even in their very thoughts — meant that everyone was forced to agree to the King’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and, according to the oath’s preamble, to his position as Supreme Head of the Church (in place of the Pope).

After some early resistance, Haughton and most of his monks agreed to swear to the oath, but with some undisclosed conditions, which obviously came to Henry VIII’s attention for, in April 1535, he required them to swear further oaths recognising his position as Supreme Head of the Church (and therefore, his displacement of the Pope). Haughton and a number of other Carthusians refused.

Punishment was swift. On 20 April, ten Charterhouse monks were sent to Newgate Prison, including Robert Lawrence, prior of the Charterhouse of Beauvale in Nottinghamshire, and Augustine Webster, prior of the Charterhouse of Axholme, Lincolnshire. Less than three weeks later, and the day after Bishop John Fisher declared that he also could not, in conscience, consent to the King’s supremacy over the Church, Haughton, Lawrence and Webster were tried, convicted of treason and executed.

The foreign report on the gruesome event was graphic: ‘they were dragged [to the place of execution] in their habits, to the great grief of the people. They were hanged, cut down before they were dead, opened, and their bowels and hearts burned. Their heads were then cut off, and their bodies quartered.’ Another shocking report added the horrific detail that the executioner ‘caused them to be ripped up in each other’s presence, their arms torn off, their hearts cut out and rubbed upon their mouths and face’. The barbarity of the act was blamed directly on the King of England himself.

In June, three more monks: Sebastian Newdigate, William Exmew and Humphrey Middlemore suffered the same horrendous fate.

By May 1537, some two years later, with the memory of the martyrs still fresh and with ongoing deprivations — their food restricted, their books removed — twenty of the monks at Charterhouse agreed to sign an acknowledgement of the King’s supremacy. Incredibly, there still remained ten brave monks willing to deny it: a testament to their extraordinary faith given the certainty of their punishment. They were taken to Newgate Prison and put in chains. By mid-June, three were dead, and four perilously sick. By September, all but one had died. The survivor was executed at Tyburn in August 1540. It seems highly likely that the others had starved to death.

It is fitting, therefore, that on the east wall of Chapel Court there is a memorial to the Carthusian martyrs who suffered for their conscience.

In 1537, Charterhouse was surrendered to the Crown, and went the way of all monasteries in November 1538. But it was to have a new lease of life in the second half of the sixteenth century as a private home.

In 1545, Sir Edward North, Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations — a kind of select committee responsible for disposing of monastic lands — took Charterhouse for himself, and converted it into a sumptuous aristocratic mansion. He demolished the church and cloisters, and built Master’s Court in 1546. The Long Gallery that he put on the first floor of the south range was destroyed as a result of a 1941 firebomb, as was the hammer-beam ceiling of the Great Hall, but the rest of the Hall — its high windows, oriel window and interior décor complete with Tudor roses — is from North’s original scheme. Elizabeth I came to stay with North in 1558, soon after her accession, and again in 1561.

North’s son sold Charterhouse in 1565 to Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk [see A
], and, as Norfolk’s primary London establishment, it became known as Howard
House. Norfolk added the beautifully carved wooden screen to the Great Hall. Look out for his initials and the date of the installation: 1571. Norfolk also enlarged the Great Chamber left by North, adding in the fireplace, elaborate chimneypiece and the decorated plaster ceiling (unfortunately, only the part within the bay is original; the rest did not survive the 1941 fire, but is a faithful reproduction). Norfolk also added the brick wall and vault to the Norfolk Cloister, to create a striking entrance to his tennis court, and it still bears his name. Unfortunately, like the fortunes of so many Tudor courtiers, Norfolk’s luck took a turn for the worse, and Howard House became Norfolk’s prison: in 1571 he was put under house arrest and was executed for treason at the Tower in 1572.

The house passed to his son Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, spent a brief period as the Portuguese embassy (of all things) in the 1570s and returned to the Howard family in 1601. Elizabeth stayed once more soon before her death. In James I’s reign, the then owner, Lord Thomas Howard, sold it to Thomas Sutton. Sutton set up a school, which was the forerunner of the famous Charterhouse public school in Godalming, and an almshouse for eighty elderly men, ‘the Brothers’, still known as Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse.

‘Pluck up thy spirits, man, and be not afraid to do thine office. My neck is very short.’

t the centre of bustling London, Lincoln’s Inn is a leafy, peaceful eleven-acre enclave that has housed law students, barristers and Benchers (the highest rank of membership of the Inn) for nearly 600 years. It is by far the oldest of the four Inns of Court. Its oldest records, the ‘Black Books’, date from 1422, and there is evidence of an even earlier history in the form of an archway surviving from a previous building: the London palace of the Bishop of Chichester. Many of the Inn’s buildings look outwardly Tudor, including both the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Gatehouse and the Great Hall with its chimneys, onion domes and diaperwork, but they are actually Victorian, constructed in a Tudor style.

Nevertheless, there are two pieces of architecture here that provide a tangible connection to one of the most revered men of the Tudor age: Sir (or Saint, depending on your theological inclination) Thomas More.

Born in 1478, More was sent as a child to the household of Cardinal John Morton — who, legend has it, prophesied that More
would ‘prove a marvellous man’ — before being educated at Canterbury College, Oxford and New Inn. He was then admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, where his father was already a Bencher, on 12 February 1496, having just turned eighteen years of age. He was called to the Bar five or six years later.

The Lincoln’s Inn that More knew centred on the Old Hall, built between 1489 and 1492, only a few years after Henry VII came to the throne and before Christopher Columbus headed for the New World. This beautiful building would have been where the young More ate and drank, debated with his friends, or watched the Christmas revels when a ‘Lord of Misrule’ (often some lowly person, dressed in motley) presided over the Feast of Fools, a bacchanalian time of drinking and partying. The hall was enlarged with two bay windows in 1582, and has been remodelled over the years (in the eighteenth century, a disproportionately heavy plaster ceiling was added which was removed when the hall was rebuilt stone by stone in 1924—8), but it would still be familiar to More, whose arms are now shown in two of the windows. In later years, More would also have regularly walked into the Inn through the old gatehouse on Chancery Lane, which was built in 1521 (the gates themselves date from 1564).

It was Thomas More’s early adult life at Lincoln’s Inn that fundamentally shaped both his identity and destiny. Here, More made some influential friends: scholars like John Colet, the future Dean of St Paul’s, and Thomas Linacre, the noted physician. They were humanists, which in the sixteenth century did not imply atheism but an intellectual focus on the rediscovery of classical learning, including an interest in reforming the Church by turning to the original Greek scriptures. Through another scholar, Lord Mountjoy, More met the greatest humanist of the age, Desiderius Erasmus, who became his lifelong friend, and in whose company, in 1499, More walked from Lincoln’s Inn to Eltham Palace to
meet the young Prince Henry, who would ultimately determine his fate.

More was attracted to the austere monastic life and spent time at nearby Charterhouse. Later, his son-in-law recorded that More wore a hair shirt and practised self-flagellation. More, however, decided against the monastic life and chose instead to marry — in 1505 to Jane Colt and, after her death in 1511, to Alice Middleton — and accounts of his character suggest a cheerful, charismatic and intelligent man. Erasmus called him ‘a man for all seasons’ — the moniker Robert Bolt used as the title to his famous play and film about More’s life — because of his jovial disposition, while in 1521, Richard Whittington described him as ‘a man of angel’s wit and singular learning’. This wit found its apogee in his book
(‘utopia’ is an ambiguous word that suggests both the Greek for ‘no place’ and ‘happy place’). This is a satirical account of a traveller in a fabled land in which pride and greed do not exist, war is thought only fit for beasts, all property is communal and potential spouses can inspect each other’s naked bodies before deciding to marry. The book remains one of the founding texts of political science and philosophy, and is still on undergraduate reading lists around the world.

More eventually entered the public sphere. He sat in Parliament, acted as a diplomat and became a member of Henry VIII’s council. Henry was very fond of More: there are accounts of the two going up onto a palace’s lead roofs to study the stars and planets together, and of Henry visiting More at his house in Chelsea and walking with him in the garden ‘by the space of an hour, holding his arm about his neck’.

Henry was particularly pleased with More’s help in composing the riposte to Martin Luther that won the King the title of ‘Defender of the Faith’. It was the first of More’s many antiheretical actions: in 1525, More was involved in raids on Lutheran
books, and four years later produced a sharp and brilliant volume called
Dialogues Concerning Heresies
which challenged and refuted the teachings of William Tyndale, among others. After Cardinal Thomas Wolsey fell from grace [see C
] and More took his role as Lord Chancellor, he used his new powers to further his campaign against heretics, including approving several executions.

BOOK: A Journey Through Tudor England
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