11. Elizabeth Barton: The “Maid of Kent” Executed by Henry VIII for her Treasonous Prophecies.
Elizabeth Barton was born into a poor family in the village of Aldington, Kent in 1506. She began working as a servant for Thomas Cobb, a farmer in the town of Aldington. However in 1525 when she was 19, Elizabeth started to have visions of the future. Initially, she confined her visions to local issues, such as warnings of deaths in local families and avoiding the growing Protestant forms of religion. Elizabeth became something of a Catholic icon, urging people to pray to the Virgin Mary and undertake pilgrimages. When word spread to the local archbishop William Warham, he arranged for Elizabeth to enter the Benedictine convent of St Sepulchre in Canterbury.
By 1528, Henry VIII had begun the process of dissolving his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Elizabeth convinced of the wrongness of the situation asked permission of Archbishop Warham to approach Cardinal Wolsey. Warham agreed, probably because of the danger facing the church in England if Henry assumed supremacy. So, Elizabeth traveled to London where she had a sympathetic hearing with the Cardinal. Wolsey arranged for her to speak to the king. Face to face with Henry, Elizabeth told him that an Angel had appeared to her and said her if he married Anne Boleyn, God would seek vengeance.
Henry did not take the nun’s words seriously. However, the next year, Elizabeth prophesized against the king’s remarriage again- this time in front of crowds of supporters in Canterbury. Then, she had another audience with Henry and told him to his face if he did divorce Catherine and marry Ann; he would die within a month. Henry’s patience with Elizabeth was now wearing thin, and he declined to see the maid of Kent again. However, in 1532, Elizabeth accosted Henry and Anne when they were on their way to meet the French king. Once again she repeated her message regarding Henry’s death.
To prophecy the King’s death was a treasonable offense. Yet remarkably, Elizabeth evaded arrest for a year. During this time, the King’s agents tried to discredit her in the eyes of her followers by claiming she was having carnal relations with priests and her visions were a result of mental illness. However, when this did not work, Henry ordered her arrest in 1533.
Terrified and in the tower Elizabeth confessed without torture that she had made all her prophecies up. However, this confession could not save her. Parliament was condemned for treason and heresy. Stripped of her nun’s habit, she was attached to a hurdle and dragged to Tyburn where she was hanged and beheaded with 5 of her supporters. Her head was the only female head in English history to be placed on a spike on London Bridge.