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Saint of the week

The Carthusian monk hung, drawn and quartered for refusing to accept Henry VIII as head of the Church

St Robert Lawrence (May 4)

By on Friday, 4 May 2012

The London Charterhouse was suppressed and turned into a mansion

The London Charterhouse was suppressed and turned into a mansion

Robert Lawrence was hung, drawn and quartered on May 4 1535, one of the first three Carthusians to be martyred by Henry VIII.
Perhaps it was the very meekness of the Carthusian ideals that irritated the King, whose own character was compounded of self-righteousness, power mania and ruthless cruelty. Certainly the Order did not appear to represent any obvious threat to the Crown.

In 1530 there were but nine Charterhouses in England, with no more than 170 monks in total. These houses were at Witham (founded 1178-79), Hinton/Henton (1222-27), Beauvale (1343), London (1371), Hull (1377), Coventry (1381), Axholme (1397-98), Mount Grace (1397-98) and Sheen (1413-15).

The Order, moreover, was founded upon a complete rejection of the outside world. The Rule was austere in the extreme: except during services and chapter meetings each monk lived in silence within his own set of rooms.

There could be no question, therefore, of the Carthusians forming a dangerous opposition to the King. Their entire training inclined them to keep their own counsel.

Possibly Henry VIII believed there had been some sympathy within the London Charterhouse for the prophecies of Elizabeth Barton, the Nun of Kent, who predicted that the King would not survive six months after divorcing Catherine of Aragon.

Certainly, in the spring of 1534, some of the London Carthusians appeared reluctant to sign an oath under the Act of Succession, which asserted the invalidity of Henry’s first marriage and thus secured the royal succession to the children of Anne Boleyn.

The prior, John Houghton, and another monk, were briefly held in the Tower. Eventually they subscribed to the Act of Succession, along with 46 other members of the London Charterhouse. Henry, though, cannot have appreciated the rider which they added to their consent, that they had signed only in so far as it was legal.

Up to this time Robert Lawrence had not been directly involved. Although he had formerly been a member of the London Charterhouse, he had subsequently become prior at Beauvale in Nottinghamshire.

In February 1535, however, he came to London in order to consult John Houghton about the proper reaction to the King’s religious policies. While he was there, in April 1535, Henry decided that the Carthusians should be required to swear a further oath, recognising him as Supreme Head of the Church in England.

Houghton, Lawrence and Augustine Webster, the prior of Axholme, refused to comply. Robert Lawrence, indeed, took advantage of the occasion to inform Thomas Cromwell that there was but one Catholic Church, with the Pope at its head.

Several churchmen, including Thomas Cranmer, were inclined to be merciful, suggesting that the recalcitrant Carthusians might benefit from a course of theological instruction. King Henry VIII, however, preferred immediate execution, with all the disgusting accompaniments.

  • chiaramonti

    Meat is hung. Men are hanged. Incidentally, the jury which tried the first three Priors alongside the Bridgettine,Richard Reynolds initially refused to convict “these holy men” and only did so when threatened themselves with death by Cromwell. It was because of their evident holiness and the high reputation of the Charterhouse that Henry demanded their compliance. In the event, 18 monks perished for upholding the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. There is a lovely story that Margaret Giggs, the adopted daughter of Thomas More, bribed the jailer of those monks who were left to die of starvation in prison and brought them food until she was refused further admittance. She later Married and moved abroad. When she lay dying, many years later, she told her husband that she could stay no longer “because the monks of the Charterhouse were standing around her bed, bidding her to go with them and she could stay no longer.” Henry Tudor was indeed a monster.

  • Fr Bill

    Drawing and Quartering was remembered by the people who wrote the Constitution of the United States. The term “cruel and unusual punishment” has it in mind. And I might point out that the writers were mostly Anglican. You might stop playing the victim role.

  • R Collinsassoc

    I like the phrase “cruel and unusual punishment” it obscures neatly the horrific act of hanging, drawing and quartering. Perhaps we could add “physical enhancement” ie racking or capital dislodgment (beheading).
    Well done Fr Bill.

  • Warren

    Cartusia numquam reformata quia numquam deformata.
    Thanks be to God for the Carthusians!