Page:A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages-Volume I .pdf/373

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353
PERSECUTION IN ENGLAND.

royal warrant confirmed by Parliament, in 1400, the statute "de hæretico comburendo" for the first time inflicted in England the death-penalty as a settled punishment for heresy. It restricted preaching to the beneficed curates and those ex officio privileged, it forbade the dissemination of heretical opinions and books, empowered the bishops to seize all offenders and hold them in prison until they should purge themselves or abjure, and ordered the bishops to proceed against them within three months after arrest. For minor offences the bishops were empowered to imprison during pleasure and fine at discretion — the fine enuring to the royal exchequer. For obstinate heresy or relapse, involving under the canon law abandonment to the secular arm, the bishops and their commissioners were the sole judges, and, on their delivery of such convicts, the sheriff of the county or the mayor and bailiffs of the nearest town were obliged to burn them before the people on an eminence. Henry V. followed this up, and the statute of 1414 established throughout the kingdom a sort of mixed secular and ecclesiastical inquisition for which the English system of grand inquests gave especial facilities. Under this legislation burning for heresy became a not unfamiliar sight to English eyes, and Lollardry was readily suppressed. In 1533 Henry VIII. repealed the statute of 1400, while retaining those of 1382 and 1414, and also the penalty of burning alive for contumacious heresy and relapse, and the dangerous admixture of politics and religion rendered the stake a favorite instrument of statecraft. One of the earliest measures of the reign of Edward VI. was the repeal of this law, as well as of those of 1382 and 1414, together with all the atrocious legislation of the Six Articles. With the reaction under Philip and Mary came a revival of the sharp laws against heresy. Scarce had the Spanish marriage been concluded when an obedient Parliament reenacted the legislation of 1382, 1400, and 1414, which afforded ample machinery for the numerous burnings which followed. The earliest act of the first Parliament of Elizabeth was the repeal of the legislation of Philip and Mary and of the old statutes which it had revived ; but the writ de hæretico comburendo had become an integral part of English law and survived until the desire of Charles II. for Catholic toleration caused him, in 1676, to procure its abrogation and the restraint of the ecclesiastical courts " in cases of atheism, blasphemy, heresy, and schism and other damnable doctrines