Brendan Gilligan

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Off with his head! Henry shows his anger over monk’s defiance

A death warrant of a 16th century monk issued by King Henry VIII has gone on display. The notice, believed to have been written by a secretary under dictation from King Henry VIII in October 1536, ordered the abbot to be ‘hung, drawn and quartered’ before the Tudor monarch changed his mind, deciding that he should just be hanged.

King Henry VIII, who initiated the English Reformation and appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England while dissolving the monasteries from 1536-1541, was infuriated when clergy prevented his men from closing Norton Priory in Runcorn, Cheshire. In response, the angry king demanded that the abbot be hanged, drawn and quartered and his body parts displayed ‘around the country’.

It is not known why the king changed his mind and crossed out the words ‘drawn and quartered’.
The letter is on public display at Norton Priory Museum, on loan from the National Archives until the end of August. Sean Cunningham, head of medieval at The National Archives, said: “As a king with a reputation for delegating the routine business of state, this draft shows that Henry VIII took very close interest in events that threatened his power and undermined him. We can almost hear his outrage as he decides on the most effective response to the news of events at Norton Abbey.

“Although ministers like Wolsey and Cromwell were famous for doing most of the bureaucratic moving-and-shaking on Henry’s behalf, the king was educated and intelligent enough to know when and how to bend the system to his will when necessary.”

The letter will also be displayed alongside a silver-gilt monstrance created around 1540, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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