Ward's Book of Days.

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APRIL 21st

On this day in history in 1534, died Elizabeth Barton.

Barton was a soothsayer whose outlandish prophesies made her popular with the masses but unacceptable to authority.   

Elizabeth Barton, known as the Holy Maid of Kent, was born in 1506, on the estates of the Archbishop of Canterbury. She had no education and, according to some sources, no intellect. In 1525, whilst working as a domestic servant, she fell ill of an unspecified disease and experienced visions and trance like states. She began to utter prophesies on the lines of predictions of death, which on some occasions came true. Many of her pronouncements called for prayer and pilgrimage and in particular, for regard to adherence to the Catholic faith.  

As her fame spread, she gained a group of disciples, who propagandised her words. In 1527, she entered a convent, but far from shutting herself off from the world, gave personal interviews to state dignitaries. She spoke personally to Cardinal Wolsey, the leading churchman of England, and even had a brief appointment with Henry VIII.  

However, when the king announced his intention of divorcing Catherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn, Barton became a prophet of doom, threatening a calamitous outcome to the king’s matrimonial machinations.  She predicted that the king would die within the next year if he went through with the marriage. 

This drew the attention of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had her arrested and examined under torture. The arrest was greeted by widespread protest but Cranmer defused dissent by spreading rumours that Barton was engaged in sexual relations with a number of priests. After extracting a confession that her visions were falsified, Cranmer put Barton on trial before Parliament where she was convicted of treason and hanged at Tyburn.

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