4 May 1535 – The Executions of the Carthusian Martyrs

Posted By on May 4, 2013

Carthusian Martyrs by Sanchez Cotan

Carthusian Martyrs by Sanchez Cotan, photo by Tim Ridgway

On 4th May 1535 three prominent Carthusian monks were put to death at Tyburn, along with a Bridgettine monk and a priest. They were executed for refusing to accept the King as the Supreme Head of the Church and “for writing and giving counsel against the King”. The men were John Houghton, Robert Lawrence and Augustine Webster, respectively priors of the London Charterhouse, Beauvale and Axholme – and a Bridgettine monk, Richard Reynolds of Syon Abbey. Their deaths are recorded in Letters and Papers (in a report from the Vatican Archives):

“First, the “said” four monks and one of the secular priests (because the young man [Robert Feron, Curate of Teddington] was pardoned) were drawn from the Tower of London to the place of execution (about a French league distant) and without respect for their Order hanged with great ropes. While they were still alive the hangman cut out their hearts and bowels and burned them. Then they were beheaded and quartered, and the parts placed in public places on long spears. And it is believed that one saw the other’s execution fully carried out before he died,—a pitiful and strange spectacle, for it is long since persons have been known to die with greater constancy. No change was noticed in their colour or tone of speech, and while the execution was going on they preached and exhorted the bystanders with the greatest boldness to do well and obey the King in everything that was not against the honor of God and the Church.”1

Between 1535 and 1536, eighteen Carthusian monks were executed and you can read more about them in my article 19 June 1535 – 3 Carthusian Monks Hanged, Drawn and Quartered. All 18 have been recognised by the Catholic Church as martyrs.

Coincidentally, I spent the day in the Spanish city of Granada yesterday where I visited “La Cartujua”, the Carthusian monastery. In the refectory of the monastery is a series of paintings by Fray Juan Sanchez Cotan, the Spanish painter and monk who was based at the monastery from 1612. The series of paintings shows the persecution of the Cathusian order and includes the suffering of the Carthusian monks in England during Henry VIII’s reign. Click here to read about my visit and click here to read about my visit to the Capilla Real in Granada to see the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, the great “Reyes Catolicos”, and Juana and Philip.

Stephanie Mann has informed me that another man was also executed at Tyburn on this day, Father John Haile, a parish priest. Click here to read Stephanie’s blog post.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP viii. 661

6 thoughts on “4 May 1535 – The Executions of the Carthusian Martyrs”

  1. Marilyn R says:

    What terrible times they were. A man named John Candysshe bought Augustine Webster’s Axholme priory after the Dissolution of the Monasteries and used it as a quarry for stone for a grand new house on the site. (He was also one of the local worthies sitting on the jury that found Katherine Howard guilty of misbehaviour with Culpeper during her visit to Lincolnshire in 1541.)

    In my other life, when I’m not doing research of some sort, I am a Collections Co-ordinator at Epworth Old Rectory Museum, the childhood home of the Methodists John and Charles Wesley. The Low Melwood Priory in the Isle of Axholme, properly named the Charterhouse of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was situated between Epworth and the village of Owston Ferry and I sometimes go home that way. It is a beautiful and peaceful drive past the old place, which is a farm now. The moat remains, and once-in-a-while the farmer will plough up a bit of the old stonework.

    The executed Prior was canonised in the twentieth century. Farmer Ron Thornton allows a service to be held in one of the Low Melwood barns on 4th May to remember St Augustine Webster and the others. It’s a beautiful day here today, with big Lincolnshire blue skies with cotton-wool cloud formations that stretch as far as the eye can see without interruption from buildings or hills – a fine day on which to be remembering those brave people who dared to defy Henry VIII.

    As Claire says, the proceedings against Webster and the others can be found in ‘Letters and Papers’: the men first appear before Cromwell on 20th April. (Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 8: January-July 1535.)

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      Marilyn R,Thank you for your comment the info is great!Have a Qs ,was Fisher also put too death along with these monks,as it stated he would also not sign,any, Act ;for the King.The picture speaks volumes ,on just how bloody Henrty V111 really was ,and then we can’t forget Q’Mary Tudor,as she kept the family TREND ,going on. KInd Regards Baroness x

      1. Marilyn R says:

        No, John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, was beheaded on Tower Hill in June.

  2. BanditQueen says:

    On holiday in a hotel in Italy many years ago there was a picture of the martyrdom of the monks and friars in England and it was both horrific and moving. I was in my late teens at the time and on holiday alone for the first time and it was a very strange thing to find in a hotel bedroom. But it reminded me of my Catholic heritage and when I got home I was received back into the Catholic Church. It reignited my faith and it was an image that stuck with me my whole life. Well I did have to look at it every night as I slept in a bed facing the picture. I also started to read about the Catholic martyrs, not just about those I already knew Saints Thomas More (martyred July 6th) and Saint John Fisher (June 24th) but about many other saints and martyrs for the true faith. It was a fascinating read and it also stunned me that such a brutal form of execution was given to men that Henry had once held in high esteem.

    The members of the religious orders were specifically chosen to undergo the full horrors of the treason laws: hanging, drawing and quartering as Henry now also had a thing against the monastic orders and they also refused to leave their religious houses and accept him as head of the Church in England, which of course he was not. Henry felt doubly insulted by the monks and friars and so they suffered even more harshly than the men that served at court like Fisher and More. For these men there would be no swift and merciful beheading. I

    It is a holy depiction to see the monks at prayer and giving up their lives for their faith, still in prayer, but a sobering one, knowing that it happened here, in our native land.

  3. Sean Marshall says:

    Hi Marilyn
    Re Low Melwood do you have any photographs of the farm house prior to it being partially demolished in the early sixties. Ron T does not have any. He very kindly gave me a tour of the remains of the house, although we did not go into the undercroft. My great great great grandfather Jonas Hall owned Melwood between 1830 – 1881 and then by his son William and finally Williams widow Hannah until around 1910 when their son sold it to the Thompson family. Both Jonas and William died at Melwood. All the above are buried in Owston cemetery. Here’s hoping you can help. Sean Marshall.

  4. Jenn says:

    I think that the greatest punishment for Henry VIII *even though he is not alive to see it* is the fact that people mock and ridicule him now. Oh, and don’t forget the fires of Hell.

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