Elizabeth Barton

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Elisabeth Barton (* around 1506 in Aldington , County Kent ; † April 21, 1534 in Tyburn , London ) was an English preacher who was widely regarded as a prophetess. She was charged with high treason because of her verbal attacks on King Henry VIII and her appeal to resist the king . She had to revoke and was executed in 1534.


Little is known about Elizabeth Barton's origins and childhood, as all documents about her were confiscated and probably destroyed after her arrest. First she worked as a maid in the household of Thomas Cobb, administrator of the Archbishop of Canterbury , William Warham . When Elizabeth was sixteen, she first stated that she had visions of the Virgin Mary and spoke to her while she was sick . The archbishop had the case investigated and the Benedictine Edward Bocking confirmed the authenticity of the visions. Elizabeth was accepted by the Benedictine Sisters of Canterbury in 1526 , where she spent the next eight years.

Barton's prophecies quickly drew many pilgrims to the Monastery of the Holy Sepulcher, including Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher . She also preached and exhorted sinners to repent. Allegedly she was able to name in detail the sins of the people she visited, which earned her great respect among the common people. Soon she became known as the "Holy Maiden of Kent", later also the "Mad Maiden of Kent". Thomas More, for example, was unimpressed by her and described her revelations as things that “in my opinion a simple-minded woman would speak by virtue of her own wit”. Barton's prophecies were initially directed against heresy and the teachings of Martin Luther . She called the people to a godly life and to obedience to the king.

Elizabeth Barton in a trance, to her right Edward Bocking. 19th century illustration

As the intention of King Henry VIII. Was known marriage to Catherine of Aragon for void to be explained, to Barton spoke against it. In 1528 she received an audience with the influential Cardinal Thomas Wolsey , whose fall she predicted. Wolsey got her an audience with the king. Before him, Barton declared that Heinrich would cause great misfortune if he kept trying to marry Anne Boleyn . An angel had prophesied to her “that one month after such a marriage he would no longer be king of this kingdom” and also “no longer king in the eyes of God, but would die a shameful death”. In addition, she stated that she had seen the place in hell that was reserved for Heinrich.

She also spoke about God's revenge on Pope Clement VII if the marriage were declared null and void. As she expressed fears of the nobility of a rebellion, she was contacted, among others, by Gertrude Courtenay , a close friend of Katharina's, whose husband Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter was the cousin of the king. Thomas More, on the other hand, warned them to be careful with what they said, as the prophecies of a monk Edward Stafford would have plunged Lord Buckingham into disaster.

When Anne Boleyn was crowned in June 1533, Elisabeth Barton called for rebellion and the overthrow of the king. She expressly sided with Princess Maria, who had been declared a bastard, and demanded that her claim to the throne be enforced by force of arms if necessary. “She would have enough support and help that no one could touch her birthright”. It is unclear whether Barton had visions or whether opponents of the divorce used them as a mouthpiece. Despite his break with Rome, Heinrich was a believer and Barton's prediction that he would go to Hell made a visible impression on him. It is also known that the Carthusians and the Franciscans printed and disseminated Barton's prophecies. Barton thus became a popular opponent of the King's Reformation and posed a power-political risk.

Barton was interrogated for the first time in July 1533. In November the king had her arrested. The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer , heard them and took them to the Star Chamber Court . She was subjected to interrogation and threats at the Tower of London until she was finally withdrawn under pressure and possibly fear of torture. Minister Thomas Cromwell also made sure that all writings about them were collected and destroyed. Church services were also held at which the preachers mocked Barton and those who believed her. On November 23, Barton and some of its supporters were brought before the public and ridiculed.

However , the facts were not enough for a charge of treason . According to the law of 1532, only active actions against the king were to be considered treason, not words. Barton was only legally convicted through the so-called Act of Attainder . Parliament sentenced Barton and the religious Edward Bocking, William Hadley, Hugh Rich, Richard Risby and two others to death as their accomplices in February 1534. In the first draft of the relevant parliamentary bull, Thomas More and John Fisher were also accused. More, however, filed a legal challenge and was able to remove his name from the bull.

Elizabeth Barton was hanged in Tyburn on April 21, 1534 at the age of 28 . Her last words were:

“I am the cause not only of my death, which I rightly deserve, but also of all who will suffer with me. Oh! I was a poor, illiterate woman, but the priests' praise turned my head and I thought I could say anything I could think of. Conceited by their praise, I fell into pride and a foolish fantasy about myself. Now I call on God and beg the king for forgiveness. "

Her head was separated from her body and displayed over London Bridge. The same was done with the heads of the other executed people outside the city gates. Her body and those of Rich and Risny were buried at Greyfriar's Church in Newgate that same day .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e WM Spellman: Elizabeth Barton. In: Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World. A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Press 2000
  2. Linda Porter: Mary Tudor: The First Queen. Piatkus 2009, pp. 63–64: "a right simple woman might, in my mind, speak of her own wit well enough"
  3. a b Sarah's History: The Holy Maid of Kent ( Memento of the original from March 27, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Accessed March 25, 2013  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / sarahshistoryblog.wordpress.com
  4. a b c Linda Porter: Mary Tudor: The First Queen. Piatkus 2009, p. 64
  5. John A. Guy: A Daughter's Love. Thomas & Margaret More. Harper Perennial, London 2009, ISBN 978-0-00-719232-8 , p. 225
  6. a b Anna Whitelock: Mary Tudor. England's first queen . Bloomsbury Publishing 2010, p. 64
  7. John A. Guy: A Daughter's Love. Thomas & Margaret More. Harper Perennial, London 2009, ISBN 978-0-00-719232-8 , p. 226
  8. Diane Watt: Barton, Elizabeth (c.1506–1534) , Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, online edition, Jan 2008