Elizabeth Barton Holy Maid of Kent
The Imposture of the Holy Maid of Kent

On this day in 1534 the English Catholic nun, Elizabeth Barton, known as “The Nun of Kent” or “Holy Maid of Kent”, was hanged at Tyburn for treason along with Father Edward Bocking (a monk and Barton’s spiritual adviser), Barton’s parish priest Richard Masters, Richard Risby (warden of the Observant Friary at Canterbury) and Hugh Rich (warden of the Observant Friary at Richmond).

Why would a nun and four priests be hanged for treason?

Because they were a threat to Henry VIII and his plans.

You can find out more about Elizabeth Barton’s story in my article “Elizabeth Barton, The Nun of Kent”. It is a sad story which also involves Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More.

Also on this day in 1534, prominent citizens of London were required to swear the oath of the Act of Succession (thanks Nasim for reminding me of that one!).

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4 thoughts on “20 April 1534 – The Hanging of Elizabeth Barton, The Nun of Kent”
  1. I suspect that, if tried today, Elizabeth Barton would have been declared insane. All the time her visions suited Henry he paid no heed, save to accept the enhanced popularity this brought him, it’s only when she started speaking against Henry in the matter of remarriage that Henry decided to silence her, it became the expedient thing to do (Henry was very good at doing the expedient thing for the good of himself). This took a little time due to the popularity of Barton, but was only ever going to end one way. Were the visions real or was Barton suffering from mental illness? Some say she was not insane and that these allegations were instigated by Henry to allow him to erode her popular support. I believe she must have been ill to say what she did, after all no sane person would speak against Henry in this way and expect to get away with it, would they?

  2. I wonder if therre are any studies of other cases involving “visions”; I wonder if simply encouraging people to live better is characteristic of the visions due to insanity, epilepsy, or other medical conditions. I also wonder if there are any studies comparing her “visions” to those of Joan of Arc … the stories in many ways are similar.

  3. Was any link to Katharine and Mary’s supporters ever found? Or did they distance themselves from Elizabeth Barton, who could have been argued to have been a madwoman?

  4. I been studying Elizabeth Barton for years since1992- and as an American Historian of The Times of The Tudors My opinion is She did commit Treason by threatening King Henrys Popularity among his people. Whether insane or medically ill I believe her so called visions were a result of Epilepsy seizures . What I read up on This disorder some when having these seizures see colored lights or dreamlike states afterwards. The brain can play tricks on one who has certain seizure types. And Its my own opinion that’s probably was wrong with the Holy Maid of Kent. 1 Question if she had these visions why didnt the vatican make her a saint which to this day she isnt.

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