On the 19th May 1536, Anne Boleyn – Henry VIII’s second wife and mother of the future Elizabeth I – was beheaded in the Tower of London, having been found guilty of adultery, treason, and incest.
Although found unanimously guilty by a jury of 27 peers, the evidence against her was questionable. Only one person accused of an affair with Anne admitted his guilt, and this was allegedly extracted under torture. Some historians believe that her involvement in court politics led the influential Thomas Cromwell to engineer her downfall. Meanwhile, other historians point to the problem of her not having bourn the king a male heir. A series of miscarriages in the months prior to her arrest further suggested she wouldn’t do so in the future. The lack of a son from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had originally driven Henry to find a new wife. Anne found herself in a precarious situation. She gave birth to a stillborn son in January 1536, and soon afterwards Henry took Jane Seymour – one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting – as a mistress.
Since she was queen, the Treason Act meant that the queen’s infidelity was treasonous. The punishment for a woman was burning alive, but Henry commuted it to beheading and had an expert French swordsman brought over to carry out the execution with a single stroke.
Anne maintained her innocence to the end. She was buried in an unmarked grave, but the site was identified in 1876 and is now marked with a marble slab.
On the 23rd March 1540, Waltham Abbey in Essex became the last abbey to be dissolved by Henry VIII. Henry had visited the abbey a number of times and is known to have stayed there with Queen Anne Boleyn in 1532. However, despite surviving for a number of years Waltham Abbey eventually succumbed to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This caused an economic disaster in the town, which had grown prosperous as a result of pilgrims visiting the abbey.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries saw the more than 850 religious houses that existed in England at the start of Henry VIII’s reign disbanded and their property taken by the crown. Although only some of these were actual ‘monasteries’, England’s religious houses together owned between a quarter to a third of all the land in England. Furthermore, many of them were rumoured to tolerate decidedly un-monastic behaviour.
Having severed his ties with the Catholic Church in the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Henry was free to deal with religious houses without needing approval from the Pope. Within two years his ministers began to shut down religious houses on financial grounds, and by 1540 all the abbeys except for Waltham had been closed. Abbot Robert Fuller surrendered the abbey and its property on the 23rd March 1540, and within just a few years all the buildings except for the parish nave were demolished or collapsed due to neglect. The Dissolution of the Monasteries was completed in less than four years, but brought Henry significant income as well as suppressing political opposition from those who might have sided with the Pope.
On the 21st March 1556, Thomas Cranmer was executed for heresy. As a leader of the English Reformation he had not only promoted Protestantism but had also established the first structures of the Church of England. Despite having signed a number of recantations or retractions of his Protestant faith, on the day of his execution he in turn recanted these recantations before being burned at the stake.
Cranmer’s early career had seen him present the case for Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Although his argument did not result in the Pope agreeing to annul the marriage, Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by the King in March 1533 after which he quickly moved to declare Henry’s marriage to Catherine void. Within just a few years he also annulled the King’s marriages to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and had begun to work with Thomas Cromwell to promote the publication of an English Bible.
Cranmer’s actions led to him developing a large and powerful opposition, which only grew under the reign of Edward VI. His support for the Protestant Lady Jane Grey as Edward’s successor, rather than his Catholic older sister Mary, ultimately led to him being put on trial for treason in 1553. Cranmer’s execution in 1556 for heresy and was intended to act as way to discredit Protestantism. However, his eleventh-hour rejection of his earlier recantations against the Reformist movement meant that his death ultimately undermined the Marian Counter-Reformation.
He died at the stake having placed his right hand, with which he had signed his recantation, into the fire first as a punishment for being “unworthy”.
John Rogers became the first English Protestant martyr under Mary I after he was burnt at the stake.
John Rogers was educated at Cambridge, after which he became a Catholic priest. As the Reformation began to take hold, Rogers questioned his vocation and subsequently resigned his ministry. He moved to Antwerp in 1534 where he met William Tyndale who had published his English translation of the New Testament a few years earlier.
Tyndale was instrumental in converting Rogers to Protestantism, after which he married Adriana de Weyden with whom he had a number of children. Just a few months later his friend Tyndale was arrested and executed for heresy, and Rogers continued his friend’s work to produce a complete edition of the Bible in English. Rogers combined Tyndale’s New Testament with the parts of the Old Testament that he had been able to translate before his arrest, and used the translation of Myles Coverdale for the remaining books of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha.
The completed Bible was published in 1537 under the pseudonym Thomas Matthew, and immediately gained the support of Thomas Cranmer who managed to persuade Chancellor Thomas Cromwell to secure a license for it from King Henry VIII. Rogers stayed in Europe, including time at the University of Wittenberg, for a number of years afterwards.
He returned to England in 1548 but, following the accession of the Catholic Mary I, he became an outspoken proponent of Reformation principals. Having been sent to Newgate Prison in 1554, Rogers was sentenced to death the following January. He was burned at the stake at Smithfield, the first victim of the Marian persecutions.
The concept of a lottery, in which lots were drawn to determine a winner, had been around for centuries before Queen Elizabeth I chartered a prize draw to raise money for the “reparation of the havens and strength of the Realme, and towardes such other publique good works”. The scheme itself was announced in 1566, at a time when England was seeking to expand its international trade. Income from the lottery was therefore used to fund improvements to the country’s coastal infrastructure and the construction of new ships.
Unlike most modern lotteries, which seek to produce a profit, the value of Elizabeth’s prize fund equalled the money raised through ticket sales. Each ticket was also guaranteed to win one of the available prizes, which ranged from silver plate and tapestries to a jackpot of £5,000. However, the fact that the draw didn’t take place until nearly three years after the scheme’s introduction effectively meant that the Crown benefited from a 3 year interest free loan.
400,000 tickets were put on sale at the cost of 10 shillings each, a cost that was far out of the reach of most ordinary people at the time, and which led to some forming syndicates in which they purchased a share of a single ticket. To entice purchases, all ticket holders were promised that they would be exonerated from any crimes they had committed other than murder, felonies, piracy or treason.
The draw itself was made outside the west wing of the old St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Sadly the name of the grand prize winner has been lost, but ultimately the lottery paid off for Elizabeth. She was able to invest heavily in her navy and coastal defences, which proved vital in 1588 and the successful defeat of the Spanish Armada.
On the 22nd August 1485, King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and the forces of Henry Tudor brought the Plantagenet dynasty to an end. Henry secured his reign soon afterwards by later marrying Elizabeth of York, the niece of Richard III and daughter of Edward IV, and united the two warring houses through the symbolism of the Tudor rose.
Wishing to capitalise on Richard’s diminishing support following the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the death of his wife, Henry Tudor prepared to invade England from his base in Brittany and fight Richard for the throne. Funded by Charles VIII of France, and supported by three times as many French mercenary soldiers as his own troops, Henry set sail on the 1st August with 2,000 men. Landing at the Welsh port of Milford Haven, Henry secured the support of the influential Welsh landowner Rhys ap Thomas, on his march to England.
Richard’s army gathered in Leicester from the 16th August and, on the night of the 21st, camped on Ambion Hill near the town of Market Bosworth with 10,000 men. The next morning, facing Henry and his force of around 5,000 soldiers, the Yorkists were defeated when the Stanley family switched sides and surrounded and killed Richard after the king chose to break ranks and target Henry himself. Henry was crowned under an oak tree near the site.
Richard’s body was taken to Leicester by the Lancastrians where it was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars church. The body was only found again in 2012.
On the 11th October 1521, Pope Leo X granted the title “Defender of the Faith” to King Henry VIII of England. To be accurate he actually granted the Latin title ‘Fidei defensor’ but the message was the same: Henry was being rewarded for upholding the Catholic faith in the face of the developing Protestant Reformation and the ideas of Martin Luther.
The Pope granted the title after Henry published a book – Assertio Septem Sacramentorum – in which he defended Catholic doctrine against the criticisms levelled at it by Luther. Known in English as the ‘Defence of the Seven Sacraments’, and dedicated to Pope Leo X, Martin Luther even wrote his own book in response known as Against Henry, King of the English. Two of the key points raised by Henry related to the sanctity of marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. It is notable, therefore, that Henry was later stripped of the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ in 1530 by Pope Paul III after he broke from Rome and established himself as the head of the new Church of England.
Although he was excommunicated, Henry was later re-awarded the title “Defender of the Faith” by the English Parliament in relation to defending the Anglican faith. All of Henry’s successors – except for his Catholic daughter Mary – have therefore held the title, which makes them the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and therefore superior even to the Archbishop of Canterbury. To this day, British coins are inscribed with the abbreviations F D or FID DEF in reference to the original Latin phrase – Fidei Defensor.