In Memory of Elizabeth Barton, March 10 1798 – April 20 1534

Last week, I was speaking at the East Coast Game Conference, my mind full of live action and augmented reality game design, and so I missed the chance to post on April 20, in honor of one of Henry VIII’s lesser-known victims: Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent.

Yeah. Elizabeth Barton. Of Kent.

She claimed to be born in 1506, but little is known of her early life. Her fame began in her nineteenth year, when, working as a servant in Thomas Cobb’s household, she fell seriously ill on Easter Sunday of 1525, and began to speak in rhyming prophecies. An inquiry was held, presided over by Archbishop William Warham, and the inquisitors determined her trances and visions to be genuine, and her theology to be sound. Elizabeth became a Benedictine nun at St. Sepulcre’s in Canterbury, and thereafter Sister Elizabeth rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential men of the day, including Thomas Wosley, Thomas More, and Thomas Cramner, the latter of who said she spoke “of many high and godly things, telling also wondrously, by the power of the Holy Ghost as it was thought, things done and said in other places, whereas neither she was herself, nor yet heard no report thereof.”

I wonder how Elizabeth Barton could have possibly known what was being said and done in other places, or what would come true in future days.

At first Sister Elizabeth confined her prophetic warnings to “rebukes of sin and vice” and to criticism of the growing Lutheran movement. But when Henry declared his intention to have his marriage to Katherine of Aragon annulled in order to marry Anne Boleyn, Sister Elizabeth waded into political matters. She spoke openly against the King’s proposed annulment, gathered around her a group of important supporters, and went so far as to “force herself into the King’s presence” and warn him to his face that if he divorced Katherine and married Anne, he would no longer be king of the realm, would reign a mere seven months after his second marriage, and would die a villain’s death.

(The seven months thing didn’t come true, obviously. Elizabeth must have been from an alternate timeline.)

Unsurprisingly, her prophetic career ended badly. She and her supporters were arrested on charges of treason, Elizabeth confessed to being “a poor wench without learning” who had invented all her visions, and she and all her supporters except Thomas More were sentenced to death. Elizabeth Barton’s head was struck off, parboiled, and impaled upon a pole of London Bridge–the only woman in British history accorded such an honor.

So let’s review–a “prophetess” whose career started at the age of nineteen, who grew powerful enough to speak on equal terms with the King’s foremost advisors, who was brave and outspoken enough to threaten the King to his face, and who died the death of a traitor, a heroine, or a saint, depending on your point of view. And who was named Elizabeth Barton. Of Kent. Sound like anyone we know?

As to whether this part of her story will be teased in Timekeeper, or fully explored in Timebound…well, like many other things, that would be telling. You’ll just have to wait for June to find out.

Reposing woman with three men, only one of whom is looking at her.

image from Volume 3 of David Hume’s History of England


Comments (1)

Johanna EttinApril 26th, 2017 at 12:08 am
Oh my God, Heather. You have to use this!

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