John Ashton – a “poor priest”

John Ashton was one of the “poor priests” who went to preach to the people; he is variously described as a student, a bachelor of arts and a master of arts at Oxford University. By the summer of 1382 he had garnered sufficient notoriety in the Church`s eyes to be named along with Wickcliffe, Nicholas Hereford, Philip Rappyngdon and Lawrence Bedeman  in a diktat dated 12 June by William Courtney, Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Chancellor of Oxford University. In this the Archbishop wrote  they were “vehemently and notoriously suspected of heresy …. and we suspend the said suspected persons  from every scholistic
act till such time as they shall purge their innocence before us”.

Unable to gain the protection of the Duke of Lancaster on this occasion the preachers were forced to appear before the Archbishop on 20 June where their views and alleged statements were examined. Ashton was  separately interviewed and forced to respond in Latin because the prelates and friars present feared a response from the public standing around them if their business was conducted in the vulgar tongue . Somewhat craftily Ashton interjected with English phrases and gesticulations nevertheless, which probably influenced the crowd and a decision to admonish him, forbidden to preach and required to return  to hear sentence (when the public was not present). This was duly delivered  “According to the canonical sanctions  have been condemned as savouring of heresy and heretical; and declared to be  such: we pronounce and sententially declare to have been and continue to be still, a heretic.”

It seems that on 27 November 1382 Ashton was reconciled to the Archbishop. When appearing before him Ashton confessed to being “too simple and ignorant and therefore  would not, could not, answer anything clearly or distinctly” . A learned professor William Rugge was assigned to him and was taken away to have explanation made to him. Returning after dinner he abjured his heresy.

 However, this was not the end of matters as Ashton fell foul of Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury (1397)  who sat in examination of him in London. On this occasion the public “broke open the door of the conclave and did hinder the archbishop himself ”  Arundel was reputedly a particularly vicious and unforgiving prosecutor who detested the people of London, and Ashton was sentenced to perpetual prison, wherein he died.

 This was the time when Londoners were equated with rabble, deemed to be Lollards and followers of Wickcliffe. The Church had no love for them neither had King Richard because amongst other things, he had borrowed a thousand pounds from the City of London  and was avoiding repayment. It was the beginning of his downfall as he removed the Court to York and London generally suffered in consequence. Richard was subsequently deposed in a dispute over his appointment of favourites, who were detested by many in Parliament, and the execution or murder of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. He was himself, allegedly starved to death in Pomfret Castle. The accession of Henry of Lancaster, Henry IV, was on 30 September 1399 and his coronation on 13 October – overseen by Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, who had returned from exile.