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and say mass, never caring to seek a reconciliation
with the church. He denied that he was at all
aware that sentence of excommunication had passed
against him. A copy of the sentence, which had
been prepared by Bishop RofF, and afterwards
pronounced from Paul's Cross, was then produced
and read. This proceeding took place in the month
of May, and it was thought right to allow Chapel
some weeks to answer the charge, or it was incon-
venient for the convocation to continue its sittings.
An adjournment, at all events, took place to the
12th day of July.

At that date, the prisoner was again brought
up, when he was called upon to answer the charge
before preferred ; and it was demanded, how, under
the circumstances, he could presume to preach
without the bisliop's licence ? Chapel's spirit was
broken by the imprisonment he had endured, or
he was intimidated by the fearful scenes acted else-
where, and considered it prudent to give way to


power, to confess error and to solicit pardon.
Some scruple was made about granting it, but, in
the end, milder counsels prevailed, and he was re-
quired to abjure all the opinions he had formerly
held as heretical and schismatical, and to swear
never to hold the same again. All these conditions
being complied with, Chapel was absolved by the
archbishop, but with one or two exceptions. Of
these, the first declared, that he should not take
upon himself to say mass again, till he received a
dispensation from the Pope. It was further im-
posed upon him, as a penance, that he should
stand at Paul's, and there publish the following
pa^ er: —

" Imprimis, I confess that bishops, priestes, and
other ecclesiastical persones, having no other profes-
sion to the contrary, may lawfully have, receyve,
and reteyne landes and possessions temporall, to
dispense and dispose the same, and the rentes there-
of, to the behoof of themselves or of theyr church
where they dwell, according as seemeth good to

" 2 Item. I confesse that it were very unlawful,
yea, unjust, that temporall men, upon any occasion,
whatsoever it be, should take away temporall landes
and possessions from the church, either universal or
particular, to whom they are given ; the considera-
tion of the abuse of mortall prelates, priests, or


other ministers in the church conversant (which
are mixed together, good with bad), abusing the
same to ye contrary, notwithstanding.

*' 3 Item. I confesse that peregrinations to the
reliques of holy saintes, and to holy places, are not
prohibited, nor to be contemned of any Catholike,
but are avaylable to remission of sinnes, and ap-
proved of by holy fathers, and worthy to be com-

" 4 Item. I confesse that to worship the images
of Christ, or of any other saintes, beyng set up in
the church, or in any other place, is not forbidden j
neither is any cause inductive of idolatry, beyng
so used as the holy fathers do will tliem to be
worshipped: but rather, such images do profit
much to the health of Christians, because they do
put us in remembrance of the merites of those
saintes whom they represent, and the sight of them
doth moove and stirre up the people to prayers and

"5 Item. I confesse that auricular confession
used in the church is necessarye for a sinner to the
salvation of hys soul, and necessary to be done of
such a priest as is ordeyned by the church, to heare
the confession of the sinner, and to enjoyne him
penance for the same; without which confession
(if it may be had) there is no remission of sinnes
to him that is in sinne mortall.


** 6 Item. I confesse and fermely do hold, that,
although the priest be in m or tall sinne, yet may he
make the bodye of Christ, and minister other
sacramentes and sacramentals, which, nevertheless,
are profitable to all the fay th full whosever receiveth
them in fayth and in devotion of the church.

" 7 Item. I confesse that bishops, in their own
dioces, may forbid, decree, and ordayne, upon
reasonable causes, yt priestes should not preach,
without their speciall license, the word of God, and
that those that do agaynst the same should suffer
the ecclesiastical censures.

*' 8 Item. I confesse that private religions, as
well of monks, canons, and others, as also of the
begging friers, beyng allowed by the Church of
Home, are profitable to the universal church, and
in no means contrary to God's law ; but, rather,
founded and authorised thereon.

" 9 Item. I promise and sweare, upon these
holy Evangelists, which I hold here in my handes,
that I will henceforth never hold, affirm, nor by any
means teach anything contrary unto the premises,
either openly or privately."

The promulgation of this confession, obtained by
intimidating his chaplain, though a sweet morceau
of vengeance for the enemies of Lord Cobham,
w^as, however, far from satisfying their highly
excited appetite. He had made war on their

238 LORD cobham's butler.

hypocrisy and on their enjoyments too rudely ever
to be forgiven ; and, besides, a feeling existed that,
while two distinguished men who shared his prin-
ciples had been publicly burned at Constance,
England, the country in which those hated opinions
for which they suffered had originated, had not yet
redeemed its fame for piety by sending one man
above "the common sort" to the stake.

7. But, in the absence of the nobler game, they
were content to pursue, in the spirit of " The Con-
stitution" of Chichely, the smaller deer with indus-
trious unsparing zeal. It was 'not enough for the
honour of the sacred Catholic faith that a recanta-
tion had been extorted from a minister formerly
chaplain to Cobham, — his household were next to be
attacked. Edmund Frith, his butler, fell into their
hands, and was threatened with great severity.
The poor man, who, perhaps, had but a very im-
perfect knowledjjje of what his master's religious
opinions were, was soon vanquished, and made his
recantation in due form. That he subscribed to a
certain prepared declaration for their purpose, was,
in his case, all-sufficient : whether he was sincere
in making it was a question on which they did not
think it necessary to enter.

They did not confine their hostilities to those
who were known to be immediately under the eye
of Lord Cobham. Parties who were onlv sus-


pected of favouring Ins views, — and this was very
generally the case of the humbler classes who lived
in his neighbourhood, — were called to an account for
their opinions. His wealth and generosity, as well
as his fame for courage, had rendered him popu-
lar ', and, in consequence, searching inquisitions
were made in Tenterden, Romney, Woodchurch,
and other places in Kent, and many unfortunate
persons, alarmed at the proceedings instituted,
fled from their houses, and wandered about the
country in great distress, but in the hope of avoid-
ing, by such expedients, more intolerable hardships.

8. The vast revv^ard offered to those who should
bring in Lord Cobham, dead or alive, which was
from time to time recalled to the memory of the
nation by new announcements, presented, to avari-
cious minds, a great and almost overpowering
temptation. Such an accession of wealth few
could contemplate with indifference, while others
looked to the countenance they would receive from
the highest authorities of the church, for giving to
its righteous vengeance a condemned heretic.

It had been absurdly reported, even when the
king was in England, that Cobham had thought of
preferring a claim to the crown. While Henry was
in France, his brother, the Duke of Bedford, who
acted as regent, was frequently disturbed by sinister
rumours of what Cobham was actually doing, or


intended to do. At one period, a new rising in
London was spoken of, and he was believed to be
on the spot, ready to lead the insurgents ; at ano-
ther, it was understood that his influence had pre-
vailed upon the King of Scotland to resolve upon
invading England. No danger could threaten the
state from any quarter, but the malice of his
enemies, or the imprudence of his friends, was on
the alert to magnify his importance, by causing it
to be regarded as proceeding from the labours and
influence of Lord Cobham.

This, as already stated, had for several years been
the course pursued by the enemies of the Lollards.
" Many," says a writer of the seventeenth century,
" had their eyes opened to see with indignation how
deplorably the purity of the Catholic religion had
been corrupted by the pride, avarice, and ambition
of priests ; and, by freely protesting against these
corruptions, they had made the clergy their impla-
cable enemies, who therefore endeavoured their
ruin by all ways of violence, torture, fire, and death,
and were very industrious to make them odious to
the people. If a conspiracy was formed against
the state, the Lollards were presently accused as
the chief contrivers. Thus, when that execrable
plot of the Earl of Cambridg was upon the point
of being executed, and infamous libels were found
posted on the doors of the churches in London, the


Lollards are arraigned by Walslngham as the
authors of era. And now, the same historian, on
occasion of the Scots invading England, takes the
opportunity to blacken these poor people as guilty
of inviting their ancient enemies to bring fire and
sword into the bowels of their country ; but let
the reader judge whether there be not reason to
suspect that he, who was a Benedictine monk of
St. Alban's, might be influenced to partiality in his
relation of things of this nation ; for King Henry
gives a different account of the matter ; and, by his
letter to the Duke of Exeter, we understand that it
was the solicitation of the French which brought
the Scots into England. The king had exact in-
formation of the design before put in execution,
and received intelligence, from a person of quality
and great credit, that it was concerted between the
Duke of Orleans, prisoner in England, and the
Duke of Albany. The king, therefore, ordered
the Duke of Exeter to communicate this business
to the Duke of Bedford, and the Chancellor, and
to the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland,
that all preparations might be made for defence of
the nation. He also commanded that the Duke of
Orleans should no more have the liberty of going
at large, but be kept close prisoner in Pom fret

* History of the Reign of King Henry the Fifth.

Vol. II. Y


9. Under these circumstances, piety, patriotism,
or cupidity, moved the Lord Powis to aspire to
the glory of arresting the fugitive. Residing in
Wales, he had gained information that the noble
object of priestly vengeance had sought conceal-
ment in his neighbourhood, and he determined, if
possible, to secure him, and thus gain fame, as
well as a considerable acquisition of fortune. The
friends of the bishops corresponded with him
from time to time, and are described as " feeding
him with lordly gifts and promises, to accomplish
their desire,'^ which, in the end, he did. Having
gained a knowledge of the unfortunate Lollard's
hiding-place, he proceeded, accompanied by a num-
ber of armed men, determined to take him, dead or
alive. The appearance of a force which he had no
prospect of opposing with success, did not awe Cob-
ham into submission. He had always borne the cha-
racter of a brave man, and the desperate situation
in which he stood made him resolute to sell life as
dearly as possible. A cruel death, in the midst of
exulting enemies, was all he could expect from a sur-
render; and feeling this, and preferring to die like a
soldier in conflict, rather than as a malefactor at a
place of execution, he was prepared to struggle to the
last. But this consolation was denied to the veteran.
In a fierce encounter, he had the misfortune to be
grievously wounded. The accounts which have


reached us are confused and somewhat at variance.
** It cost/' says Fuller, " some blows and blood to
apprehend him, till a woman, at last, with a stool,
broke the Lord Cobham's legs, whereby he became
lame." What female was likely to be there, and
to act a part so unfeminine, savage, and determined,
we are at a loss to guess. It is not to be supposed
that the force despatched against him by Lord
Powis would have included a female; and it is
most improbable that any woman in the neigh-
bourhood, or elsewhere, volunteered to take a share,
and such a share, in the scene. To say nothing of
the danger inseparable from mingling in a fight like
that which preceded Lord Cobham's capture, the
good name which he enjoyed was such that a
tumultuary rising against him could hardly have
taken place, and there was nothing in his life to
make him the object of woman's vengeance.

Sir Edward Charlton is the name mentioned by
some writers, as that of the individual who made
Cobham prisoner. It is stated in a writ published
by Hearne, but no reason can be assigned why this
should be relied upon rather than the rolls of parlia-
ment. If Sir Edward Charlton were an actor in the
tragedy, he was certainly acting under the directions
of Earl Powis. That Cobham was seized by the
peer's own hand, was never asserted ; but it has not
been doubted that to him belonged the merit, such



as it might be, of making the heretic prisoner. The
struggle was desperate, and Cobhara became un-
happily disabled. A wound in the leg rendered it
impossible for him to defend himself, and in that
crippled state he was secured by the assailants.

10. This was early in December, 1417. A parlia-
ment had been called to sit on the 16th of November,
which had met and been warmly congratulated
on the successful progress of the king's arms in
France. The joy inspired by victory did not
make the enemies of Lord Cobham less thirsty for
his blood than they had previously shown them-
selves. The moment it was known that he was
wounded and a prisoner, his noble captor received
instructions to send him, sick as he was from the
injuries he had received, to London without delay.
A horse-litter was procured for him, in which he
proceeded, by what would now be called slow jour-
neys, though they were as expeditious as could be
made in those days, with the means of travelling
then at command, through roads nearly impassable
at that season of the year. His health rallied, not-
withstanding the hardships he had endured, and the
dismal prospect before him; and on the 18th of
December the captive reformer was brought before
the House of Peers. The Duke of Bedford and
many lords of parliament, and members of the
Lower House, were present; and, the prisoner being


placed at the bar and identified, the sentence pro-
nounced on the charges preferred against him, in the
year 1413, was read, and he was asked if he had
anything to say why judgment should not pass
against him.

11. Lord Cobham called the attention of their
lordships to the opinions which he had formerly
avowed, and to the object which he had uniformly
had in view, and which was simply a reform of
crying abuses. He denied that he had been guilty
of the offences imputed, and reminded them, as all
men were by nature sinners and dependent on God's
mercy, that it was for them, sitting robed in au-
thority as his judges, to prefer mercy to judgment.
Vengeance belonged to the Lord of Hosts alone, and
his true and faithful servants oujjht not to interfere
with his prerogative, to effect, in cold blood, the
destruction of their fellow-creatures.

12. Such language was pronounced to be wholly
irrelevant. The chief justice appealed to the Duke
of Bedford, as reg^ent, to interfere, and to order
the prisoner to cease wasting thus the time of the
nobles of England, and to command that he should
answer directly, if he had aught to say to the par-
ticular charges brought against him.

He again spoke, but resumed his former argu-
ment, denying that any one had proved, from the
scripture, that he had countenanced error. He



appealed to the Searcher of all hearts for the purity
of his motives, and declared, that, assured of a
righteous judgment before the last dread tribunal,
he stood little in awe of any sentence which their
lordships, who were men like himself, might

This conduct was reproved as highly indecorous,
and the chief justice again interrupted him to de-
mand if he had any objection to make to the
legality of the proceedings ? Lord Cobham replied
that he had had no impartial judge. Falsehoods
reported of him were allowed to have the force of
truth, and his enemies were encouraged in all their

13. His fate was soon decided. One so impeni-
tent was not to be spared. His former escape, the
outbreak which immediately followed, and the sub-
sequent discontents, while the king was in France,
were all brought against him. The truth was
hideously exaggerated, and injurious falsehood was
invented. Though Wickliffe's opinions had made
great progress, and though many had been taught
by Lord Cobham to deride the vaunted sanctity of
the church, and to condemn its luxury, avarice,
and tyranny, this was not the source of the discon-
tent which generally prevailed. Much of the dis-
affection at different periods manifested, grew on
the heavv burthens thrown on the nation by the war.


The people of England, at that date, as at subse-
quent periods of history, though really fond of
glory, great as their triumphs were, found it so
costly, that it was no easy matter to pay its price.
Of course, this was not borne in mind, and every
symptom of disaffection was made an aggravation
of the prisoner's guilt by the parliament. They
condemned Cobham to death, — to be hanged as a
traitor and burned as a heretic ; and tlie warrant
for his execution was instantly signed.

Nothing dismayed, the prisoner calmly surveyed
the regent, the bishops, and the rest of his judges,
while they were engaged in this harsh proceeding.
He expressed himself perfectly resigned to quit a
world in which he had suffered so much ; and
solemnly thanked the Almighty, for having, in his
infinite wisdom, ordained that he should lay down
his life in so good a cause.

The sentence pronounced set forth, that, having
before been outlawed for treason, in the Court of
King's Bench, and excommunicated by the Arch-
bishop of Canterbury for heresy, he was, upon that
record and process, now to suffer. It was there-
fore directed that he should be taken, first, to the
Tower of London, and thence dragged, on a hurdle,
to the new gallows beyond Temple-bar, in St. Giles's
Fields. The gallows then, and for more than three
centuries afterwards, was not periodically erected


when criminals were to die, but permanently fixed
at the place of execution, which, at that date, was
near the spot where Oxford-street now leads from

14. One other proceeding appears to have im-
mediately followed the condemnation of Lord Cob-
ham. A vote of thanks was moved to the Lord
Powis, for the signal service he had rendered to the
state, in bringing to justice the traitor and heretic,
as he was called, who, for four years, had success-
fully eluded all the efforts that were made to appre-
hend him. The motion was unanimously agreed
to. Lord Cobham was condemned to death by a
body who deemed themselves most upright and
august, and to a most painful, and, so far as they
could make it, ignominious death, not for any act
of atrocity which men, in what is called an un-
civilised state, would have judged it necessary to
punish with such severity, but because he differed
from them on certain points of faith, which they
judged essential to salvation, and which, if they
were so, involved consequences sufficiently awful
to him, it might be presumed, to satisfy enmity the
most rancorous. Such irrational severity must be
viewed with horror ; but it may justly be regarded
as the offspring of weakness, not less than of hatred.
Among the assembly who concurred in dooming
the <rallant soldier to a fate more dreadful than


that reserved for ordinary culprits, were some who
desired but to conciliate the favouring regard of a
God who loves " mercy rather than sacrifice."
Wherever religion has seemed to be most the
object of human care, pious men — men whose
general carriage proved them sincerely anxious to
act a virtuous part — have been found ready to
sanction the awful slaughter of their fellow-men,
on the plea of avenging the wrong offered to their
Creator, as if his resistless thunderbolt and blast-
ing lightning required the puny co-operation of a
mortal hand to vindicate his name.

15. The punishment his enemies doomed Lord
Cobham to undergo was somewhat out of the
common waj^ He was ordered to be suspended
horizontally in chains, and in that situation to be
burned to death. All things considered, this mode
of execution might not be more painful than the
usual course of chaining the sufferer to a stake,
while he stood on the ground, or was only elevated
by fagots placed beneath his feet ; but it was a dis-
mal novelty, or, at least, a frightful variety, which
gratified the gloomy minds of those who willed it ;
and probably they expected that such a deviation
from the ordinary course, not less than the name
and high rank of the victim, would strike terror
into the nation generally, and arrest for ever the
progress of reforming innovation.



The result did not justify their fond anticipations.
It was in vain they multiplied the startling circum-
stances which were to render memorable Lord
Cobham's exit from life. The prisoner viewed
them but as the brief thorny path to a life of never-
ending felicity, and derived such nourishing sup-
port from this assurance, that he was able to smile
at all the horrors of his situation, and pass to the
last fearful ordeal without any apparent depression.

From the fatal apparatus which frowned on
the spot we have described, three chains depended,
on the appointed day when Cobham was to suffer,
which were destined to hold his form over the fire
to be kindled on the ground beneath the gallows,
in order to reduce all that was mortal of the
Christian champion to ashes. To witness an exit
so remarkable, of one so honoured, a vast crowd
repaired to St. Giles's in the Fields. There were
some present who rejoiced in the melancholy
spectacle, but his hard fate was generally deplored
by those who had long known him as the friend to
religious liberty, the enemy of Romish tyranny,
and the constant advocate for that reform which
wa^ as naturally as ardently desired.

IG. No records of the time give the details of
the closing scene with that minute exactness and
calm impartiality which are looked for in a modern
newspaper. The foes of the victim speak dispa-


raglngly of Cobham in his last moments, and repre-
sent him to have been as wild and visionary as the
poor maniac, who, a few years back, caused several
lives to be lost, his own among them, in the neigh-
bourhood of Canterbury. It is told of him that
he entreated Sir Thomas Erpingham, who stood
near the apparatus of death, to bear witness that
he prophesied he would rise from the dead on the
third day after his execution ; and he added a
request, that, when this should take place, he. Sir
Thomas, would intercede with the king, that all
persecution of the Lollards might cease.

It is utterly incredible that Cobham should have
preferred such a request. All his previous con-
duct shows that, zealous as he was in the cause of
religion, insane enthusiasm, which only could have
carried him to this length, was no part of his cha-
racter. Surprise may be felt that a story so
extravagant should have been invented; but the
ridiculous fabrications which, even in these enlight-
ened times, frequently obtain credence, forbid great
surprise that such an unfeeling calumny should
have obtained circulation.

Further to dwell on such an invention, would he
folly. Though Walsingham affects to hold it en-
titled to the fullest credit, and exclaims, " Tantd
fait dementia /" the statement is at variance with
all probability. Lord Cobham was zealous and

252 cobham's last moments.

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Online LibraryThomas GaspeyThe life and times of the good Lord Cobham (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 18)