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Letter of Archbishop Cranmer to Archdeacon Hawkyns,1

Regarding the Nun of Kent.

[Harl. MSS. 6148. fol. 38.]

         Master Archdeacon, I[n] my right hearty wise I commend me unto you. These be to ascertain you of such news as be here now in fame amonges us in England. And first ye shall understand, that at Canterbury within my diocese, about eight years past, there was wrought a great miracle in a maid2 by the power of God and our Lady, named our Lady of Courteupstret;2 by reason of the which miracle there is stablished3 a great pilgrimage, and ever since many devout people hath sought to that foresaid Lady of Curte of Strett.
         The miracle was this: the maid was taken with a grievous and a continual sickness, and in during her said sickness she had divers and many trances, speaking of many high and godly things, telling also wondrously, by the power of the Holy Ghost as it was thought, things done and said in other places, whereas neither she was herself, nor yet heard no report thereof. She had also in her trances many strange visions and revelations, as of heaven, hell, and purgatory, and of the state of certain souls departed, and amonges all other visions one was, that [she] should be conveyed to our Lady of Courte of Strett, where she was promised to be healed of her sickness, and that Almighty God should work wonders in her; and when she was brought thither and laid before the image of our Lady, her face was wonderfully disfigured, her tongue hanging out, and her eyes being in a manner plucked out and laid upon her cheeks, and so greatly disordered. Then was there heard a voice speaking within her belly, as it had been in a tun; her lips not greatly moving; she all that while continuing by the space of three hours and more in a trance; the which voice, when it told any thing of the joys of heaven, it spake so sweetly and so heavenly that every man was ravished with the hearing thereof; and contrary, when it told any thing of hell, it spake so horribly and terribly that it put the hearers in a great fear. It spake also many things for the confirmation of pilgrimages and trentals, hearing of masses, and confession, and many such other things. And after she had lain there a long time, she came to herself again, and was perfectly whole, and so this miracle was finished and solemnly rung, and a book written of all the whole story thereof, and put into print, which ever since that time hath been commonly sold and gone abroad amonges all people. After this miracle done, she had a commandment from God in a vision, as she said, to profess herself a nun. And so she was professed, and hath so continued, in a nunnery at Canterbury, called St. Sepulcre's, ever since.
         And then she chose a monk of Christ's Church, a doctor in divinity,4 to be ghostly father, whose counsel she hath used and evermore followed in all her doing. And evermore since from time to time hath had almost every week or at the furthest every fortnight, new visions and revelations, and she hath had oftentimes trances and raptures, by reason whereof, and also of the great perfectness that was thought to be in her, divers and many as well great men of the realm as mean men, and many learned men, but specially divers and many religious men, had great confidence in her, and often resorted unto her and communed with her, to the intent they might by her know the will of God; and chiefly concerning the King's marriage, the great heresies and schisms within the realm, and the taking away the liberties of the Church; for in these three points standeth the great number of her visions, which were so many, that her ghostly father could scantly write them in three or four quires of paper. And surely I think, that she did marvellously stop the going forward of the King's marriage by the reason of her visions, which she said was of God, persuading them that came unto her how highly God was displeased therewith, and what vengeance Almighty God would take upon all the favourers thereof; insomuch that she wrote letters to the Pope, calling upon him in God's behald to stop and let the said marriage, and to use his high and heavenly power therein, as he would avoid the great stroke of God, which then hanged ready over his head, if he did the contrary. She had also communication with my Lord Cardinal5 and with my Lord of Canterbury my predecessor,6 in the matter; and [in] mine opinion, with her feigned visions and godly threatenings, she stayed them very much in the matter.
         She had also secret knowledge of divers other things, and then she feigned that she had knowledge thereof from God; insomuch that she conceived letters and sent them forth, making divers people believe that those letters were written in heaven, and sent from thence to earthly creatures. Now about Midsummer last, I, hearing of these matters, sent for this holy maid, to examine her; and from me she was had to Master Cromewell, to be further examined there. And now she hath confessed all, and uttered the very truth, which is this: that she never had vision in all her life, but all that ever she said was feigned of her own imagination, only to satisfy the minds of them the which resorted unto her, and to obtain worldly praise: by reason of the which her confession, many and divers, both religious men and other, be now in trouble, forasmuch as they consented to her mischievous and feigned visions, which contained much perilous sedition and also treason, and would not utter it, but rather further the same to their power.
         She said that the King should not continue King a month after that he were married. And within six months after, God would strike the realm with such a plague as never was seen, and then the King should be destroyed. She took upon her also to show the condition and state of souls departed, as of my Lord Cardinal, my late Lord of Canterbury, with divers other. To show you the whole story of all the matter, it were too long to write in two or three letters; you shall know further thereof at your coming home.
         As touching the bishopricks that be void, ye shall understand, that Doctor Salcott, the Abbot of Hydde, is elect Bishop of Banger, Doctor Lee, the lawyer, is elect Bishop of Chestre. There is as yet none elect Bishop of Elie: you shall know at your coming home who shall be. The Parliament is not holden this term, but is prorogued to the xv. day of January. The Queen's Grace was brought about the xiii. or xiv. day of September of a princess.7 I myself was godfather, the old Duchess of Northfolke8 and my Lady Marquess Dorset9 were godmothers. The Duke of Richmonde10 hath married my Lady Mary, the Duke of Northfolke's11 daughter. From Lamethe,12 the xx. day of December, A. xxv Reg. [1533.]

[AJ Notes:

  1. Nicholas Hawkins, Archdeacon (and, later, bishop elect) of Ely, succeeded Cranmer as ambassador to Emperor Charles V. He died in 1534, while returning from Spain, possibly of poison.
  2. See Elizabeth Barton, called the 'Nun of Kent', 'Holy Maid of Kent', or 'Fair Maid of Kent'.
  3. The free chapel of Court at Street, or Courtupstreet, as it was known at the time.
  4. stablished, established; begun.
  5. Edward Bockyng, who is thought to have masterminded the 'visions' after her arrival in Canterbury.
  6. Cardinal Wolsey had probably thought to use her to advantage; it is not likely Wolsey believed in her 'visions'.
  7. William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury.
  8. Queen Anne Boleyn actually gave birth to Princess Elizabeth on September 7. See Anne Boleyn's Announcement of Elizabeth's Birth to Lord Cobham.
  9. Agnes Howard, née Tilney, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, who had also taken part in the christening of the Princess Mary.
  10. Frances Grey, née Brandon, daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, wife of Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset, and mother to Lady Jane Grey.
  11. King Henry VIII's illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond.
  12. Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.
  13. Lambeth Palace.]

The Remains of Thomas Cranmer. Vol I. Rev. Henry Jenkyns, Ed.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1833. 79-84.

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Elizabeth Barton, the Nun of Kent
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Images of London:
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London, 1510, earliest view in print
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Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
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