Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham.
Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, was renowned for his charity and he provided copies of Wyckcliffe`s writings to the people from his home, Cowling Castle, near Rochester, Kent.
He was also concerned with providing copies of all of Wickcliffe`s works for
John Huss, in Prague, as well as sending copies to Bohemia, France, Spain
and Portugal. He would attend the preaching of the `poor priests and was known to threaten with his sword anybody who tried to interrupt the proceedings. Inevitably his bold stance brought him to the attention of Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury and was the subject of discussion at a synod of the clergy at St Pauls in 1413. With Wyckcliffe dead their concern now was to deal with his followers and those who supported them. Into the latter category fell Lord Cobham whom they decided was a `most pernicious heretic`. Knowing him to be a royal favourite, the Archbishop and others went to Henry and complained about him. Henry`s first response was a request that they try to get him to mend his ways, but if that was not successful he would speak with Cobham about the matter.
The king subsequently admonished Cobham but was unable to get him to change his views.
John Lewis, in “The History of the Life and Sufferings of the Reverend
and learned John Wicliffe” (1720), p 203, describes the meeting thus:
The king being willing to
reduce Sir John Oldcastle by such means as
might reflect no dishonour on him, required the Archbishop to desist
for some time from all furthre process, promising that he himself
would discourse the business with him speedily; which he did, sending for
him soon after, and in a private conference admonishing to submit to
the Church and to make a recantation of his errors. Sir john heard him with
becoming reverence, and mad this respectful answer.
I am, said he, as I have
always been, most willing to obey your Majesty minister of GOD appointed to
bear the Sword of Justice for the punishment of evil doers, and the
protection of those that do well: To you therefore (Next
to my Eternal Living Judge) I owe my whole obedience, and intirely submit (
as I have ever done ) to your pleasure, my Life, and all my Fortune in this
world, and in all affairs of it whatever, am ready to perform exactly
your Royal Commands: But as to the Pope , and the Spiritual Dominion which
he claims, I owe him no service that I know of, nor will pay him any: for as
sure as GOD`s word is true, to me it is fully evident that he is the Great
Antichrist, the Son of Perdition, the open Adversary of GOD and the
Abomination standing in the Holy Place.
The King seeing him thus
immovable abandoned him to the Ecclesistical Court. The Archbishop was authorised to proceed against Cobham who sent a messenger with a summons to Cowling Castle, but afraid to enter the messenger returned with the summons not served. Then somewhat craftily, the Archbishop obtained the help of one John Butler, doorkeeper of the king`s privy chamber. Taking the summoner with him, Butler went to Lord Cobham showing him that it was the king`s pleasure that he obey the citation. Cobham again refused to appear and the Archbishop ordered that Cobham be cited publicly by notices displayed on the gate of Rochester Cathedral. These were removed by Cobham`s supporters as were other notices. When he failed to appear as cited Cobham was excommunicated. Another citation was then made coupled with threats if he did not appear. By now Cobham realised he was surrounded and sought to make a declaration and response to the citations to King Henry, who rejected it saying ` lay it before your judges`. At this Cobham replied with the ancient challenge of `trial by combat` , but was nevertheless taken to the Tower.
On 23 September 1413 he was taken before an ecclesiastical council at St Pauls where he was berated and told that he must believe what the church of Rome teaches. He replied succinctly that he was prepared to believe the Scriptures but rejected that the Pope had authority to teach that which was not in the Scriptures. He was returned to the Tower. On the 25th September he was again brought before the Archbishop in the hall of the Dominican friars at Ludgate, London where in a large crowd of clerics, priests, friars et al, he was attacked with abusive language – part of the strategy to break down his resistance. At first the prelates thought that they had won as Cobham, in tears, confessed to a rebellious youth but he would not yield in his stated beliefs. Cobham, like so many others was hoisted on the unblinking and rigid interpretation of transubstantiation held by Rome. Thus the proud knight was condemned as a heretic and returned to the Tower to await execution.
While in the Tower Cobham wrote a testimonial which his friends caused to be posted in various places throughout London. This was a statement that ” he is untruly convicted and imprisoned, falsely reported and slandered among his enemies…” The response by the discredited clergy was to maliciously and falsely counterfeit an abjuration by Cobham which was intended to confuse the public – a ploy often used in those days to allow a respite and time for unease to settle. But on 10 October 1413 Lord Cobham
was sentenced as a heretic. However, this was delayed as one dark night he
escaped ( possibly with the help of his guardian Sir Roger Acton,) and
sought refuge in Wales.
On or about 20 February 1414 Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury was
so stricken in his tongue, that he could neither swallow or speak for a
certain space before his death, much like the example of a rich glutton; and
so died upon the same”.
Lord Cobham was finally taken in December 1417, betrayed for money by Lord Powis. The Parliamentary records of 14 and 29 December record that he was adjudged a traitor to the king and a heretic. It was ordered that he be taken on a hurdle to be ” hanged, and burned hanging”. There,
in January 1418 he was hanged up by the middle, wrapped in chains, and consumed alive by the fire,
a veritable spit roast for the prelates` dining table.
Such was the
shame of the Church that as late as 1546 (128 years later) they still
continued to ban a modest account of events – “A
Brief Chronicle, concerning the examination, and the death of Sir John Oldcastle the Lord Cobham.”