The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe/Volume 3/The Second Apprehension of the Lord Cobham

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Concerning sir John Oldcastle the lord Cobham, and of his first apprehension, with his whole story and life, sufficiently hath been expressed before, how he, being committed to the Tower, and condemned falsely of heresy, escaped afterwards out of the Tower, and was in Wales about the space of four years. In the mean time, a great sum of money was proclaimed by the king, to him that could take the said sir John Oldcastle, either quick or dead: *who[1] confederated with the lord Powis (who was at that time a great governor in Wales), feeding him with lordly gifts and promises, to accomplish their desire.*

The lord Powis playeth Judas.About the end of which four years being expired, the lord Powis, whether for love or greediness of the money, or whether for hatred of the true and sincere doctrine of Christ, seeking all manner of ways how to play the part of Judas, and outwardly pretending him great amity and favour, at length obtained his bloody purpose, *and most cowardly and wretchedly took him,* and in conclusion brought the lord Cobham bound up to London; which was about the year of our Lord 1417, and about the month of December; at which time there was a parliament assembled in London, for the relief of money the same time to be sent to the king, whom the bishops had sent out (as ye heard before) to fight in France. The records of which parliament do thus say: That on Tuesday the fourteenth day of December, and the nine and twentieth day of the said parliament, sir John Oldcastle, of Cowling in the county of Kent, knight, being outlawed (as is afore minded) in the King's Bench, and excommunicated before by the archbishop of Canterbury for heresy, was brought before the lords; and having heard his said convictions, answered not thereto in his excuse. Upon which record and process it was adjudged, that he should be taken as a traitor to the king and the realm; that he should be carried to the Tower of London, and from thence drawn through London, unto the new gallows in St. Giles without Temple-Bar, and there to be hanged, and burned hanging.

*[2]Thus, after long process, they condemned him again for heresy

and treason, by force of the aforenamed act;[3] he rendering thanks unto God, that he had so appointed him to suffer for his name's sake.

And, upon the day appointed, he was brought out of the tower with his arms bound behind him, having a very cheerful countenance. Then was he laid upon a hurdle, as though he had been a most heinous traitor to the crown, and so drawn forth into St. Giles's-fields, where they had set up a new pair of gallows. As he was coming to the place of execution, and was taken from the hurdle, he fell down devoutly upon his knees, desiring Almighty God to forgive his enemies. Then stood he up and beheld the multitude, exhorting them, in most godly manner, to follow the laws of God written in the Scriptures, and, in any wise, to beware of such teachers as they see contrary to Christ in their conversation and living; with many other special counsels. Then was he hanged up there by the middle, in chains of iron, and so consumed alive in the fire, praising the name of God, so long as his life lasted. In the end he commended his soul into the hands of God, and so departed hence most christianly, his body being resolved into ashes. And this was done A. D. 1418, which was the fifth year of the reign of king Henry V.; the people, there present, showing great dolour. Not the pope's servant, but Christ's.How the priests that time fared, blasphemed, and accursed, servant, requiring the people not to pray for him, but to judge him damned in hell because he departed not in the obedience of their pope, it were too long to write.

This terrible kind of death, with gallows, chains, and fire, appeareth not very precious in the eyes of men that be carnal, no more than did the death of Christ, when he was hanged up among thieves. "The righteous seemeth to die" (saith the wise man) "in the sight of them which are unwise, and their end is taken for very destruction. Ungodly souls think their lives very madness, and their passage hence without all honour; but, though they suffer pains before men," saith he, "yet is their expectation full of immortality. They are accounted for the children of God, and have their portion among the saints. As gold in the furnace doth God try his elect, and as a most pleasant burnt offering, receiveth he them to rest." The more hard the passage be, the more glorious shall they appear in the latter resurrection. Not that the afflictions of this life are worthy of such a glory, but that it is God's heavenly pleasure so to reward them. Never are the judgments and ways of men like unto the judgments and ways of God, but contrary, evermore, unless they be taught of him. "In the latter time," saith the Lord unto Daniel, "shall many be chosen, proved, and purified by fire; yet shall the ungodly live wickedly still, and have no understanding that is of faith." By an angel from heaven was John earnestly commanded to write that "blessed are the dead which hence departed in the Lord," "Right dear," saith David, "in the sight of God, is the death of his servants."

Thus rested this valiant christian knight, sir John Oldcastle, under the altar of God, which is Jesus Christ, among that godly company, who, in the kingdom of patience, suffered great tribulation with the death of their bodies, for his faithful word and testimony, abiding there with them, He, fulfilling of their whole number and the full restoration
Burning of Lord Cobham.


of his elect. The which He grant, in effect, who is one God eternal! Amen.

Treason falsely surmised.Thus have you heard the whole matter concerning the martyrdom of the good lord Cobham, as we have gathered it partly out of the collections of John Bale and others.* As touching the pretensed treason of this lord Cobham, falsely ascribed unto him in his indictment, rising upon wrong suggestion and false surmise, and aggravated by rigour of words, rather than upon any ground of due probation, sufficiently hath been discoursed before in my defence of the said lord Cobham, against Alanus Copus; where again, it is to be noted, as I said before, and by this it appeareth, that the lord Cobham was never executed by force of the indictment or outlawry, because if he had, he should then have been brought to the bar in the King's Bench, and there the judges should have demanded of him, what he could have said, why he should not have died; and then not showing sufficient cause for the discharge or delay of execution, the judges should have awarded and given the judgment of treason: which being not so, it is clear he was not executed upon the indictment. Besides, to prove that he was not executed upon the indictment and the outlawry, the manner of the execution proveth it, because it was neither an execution of a traitor, nor was the whole punishment thereof pronounced by the judge, as by due order of law was requisite.

Finally, as I said before, here I repeat again, that albeit the said lord Cobham was attainted of treason by the act, and that the king, the lords, and the commons, assented to the act: yet all that bindeth not in such sort (as if indeed he were no traitor) that any man may not, by search of the truth, utter and set forth sincerely and justly the very true and certain cause whereupon his execution did follow. Which seemeth by all circumstance and firm arguments, to rise principally of his religion, which first brought him in hatred of the bishops; the bishops brought him in hatred of the king; the hatred of the king brought him to his death and martyrdom. And thus much for the death and execution of this worthy servant of Christ, the lord Cobham.

*This[4] is not to be forgotten, which is reported by many, that he should say: that he should die here on earth after the sort and manner of Elias; which, whether it sprang of the common people without cause, or was foreshowed by himself, I think it, not without good consideration. That it sprang not without some gift of prophecy, the end of the matter doth sufficiently prove; for, like as when Elias should leave this mortal life, he was carried by a fiery chariot into immortality; even so the order of this man's death, not being much unlike, followed the figure of his departure. For he, first of all, being lifted up upon the gallows, as into a chariot, and encompassed round about with flaming fire; what other thing, I pray you, did this most holy martyr of Christ represent, than only a figure of a certain Elias, flying up into heaven, who went up into heaven by a fiery chariot.[5]

Such, gentle reader, are the fruits of Wickliff's doctrine. Now let the papists mark and consider what profits or fruits their papistical holiness hath brought forth unto the world. If we would measure every man's doctrine by his fruits, let us behold this man, whom, together with an infinite number of others, this most optable doctrine of Wickliff hath brought forth. For thus, as is before said, Walden, who otherwise was his most grievous enemy, reported of the said sir John Oldcastle: That he did never understand how great the poison and spot of sin was, but only by reading of Wickliff's books.[6] This I thought good to recite in this place, because of Polydore Virgil, who, in the twenty-second book of his Story of England, calleth him valiant, but a wicked man. But if Polydore had showed himself as faithful in the writing of tlie history, as the lord Cobham was distant from impiety and wickedness, he would never have spoken those words, and would have defiled so noble a history with fewer lies.*

Moreover, in the records above mentioned, it followeth, how, in the said parliament, after the martyrdom of this valiant knight, motion then was made, that the lord Powis might "be thanked and rewarded, according to the proclamation made, for his great travail taken in the apprehension of sir John Oldcastle, knight, heretic." Thus stand the words of the record; where two things are to be noted: First, how sir John here in the record is called, not traitor, Judas but heretic only. Judas seeketh for his reward.Secondly, mark how this brother of Judas here craveth his reward for betraying the innocent blood. Wherein it is not to be doubted, but that his light fee, and 'quid vultis mihi dare' in this world, will have a heavy reward hereafter in the world to come, unless he repented.

*In D. Johan. Cobhami equitis aurati et Martyris cineres, Carmen I. F. in felicem memoriam. Anno 1418.

Stemmate, pace, toga præstans: et clarus in armis
Miles, eques, martyr: gemma, monile, decus;
Militæque dominique potens Cobhamius Heros,
Lux patriæ, et gentis gloria digna suæ:
Pertulit infestas acies, tulit aspera multa,
Bella profana gerens, pælia sacra gerens.
Hæc mente, ilia manu, parili cum laude, subibat
Parte etenim victor semper utraque stetit.
Hinc equitis debetur honos, hinc martyris illi
Gloria, qua victor tempus in omne manet.
Victus erat. Quid tum? mens quando invicta manebat,
Pars potior, nullis cedere docta malis.
O tibi, te dignus rex, si Cobhame tulisset
Suppetias, nec te destituisset ope,
Turmis sat fueras istis, turbisque Cyclopum:
Quas tua fregisset dextra labore levi
Hoc sibi, sed Christus quid si diadema reponit?
Tu meliora, quidem, tempore dignus eras.*[7]

Furthermore, in the said parliament,[8] it was enacted, That the church and all estates should enjoy all their liberties, which were not repealed, or repealable by the common law: meaning, belike, the excluding of the jurisdiction of the pope's foreign power, which hath always, by the common law, been excluded out of this realm. In the same parliament also,[9] a grievous complaint was made (by the bishops, no doubt) against insurrections. All the blame laid to the Lollards.In the end they suspected that they were the Lollards, heretics, and traitors, with a request that commissions might at all times be granted to inquire of them. Whereunto answer was made, That the statutes therefore made should be executed, &c. Thus the clergy, 'Tanquam leones rugientes,' ceased not to roar after christian blood; and whosoever was else in fault, still the clergy cried, "Crucify Christ, and deliver us Barabbas:" for then all horrible facts and mischiefs, if any were done, were imputed to the poor Lollards.

  1. For these, and other words following in asterisks, see Edition 1563, p. 276.—Ed.
  2. This interesting narration of the execution of the lord Cobham is from the first edition of the Acts and Monuments, page 276. The particulars here recorded are briefly repeated at page 281 of that edition, with the following variation: "In this manner, he, having finished the course of his life, commending his soul unto God, and praying for the salvation of his enemies, after he had exhorted the people to the study of the pure and sincere faith and religion, he slept in the Lord, An. 1418." In the year 1514, John Bale, afterwards bishop of Ossory, published a full account of the life and martyrdom of lord Cobham, under the following title; "A brefe Chronycle concernynge the Examinacyon and Death of the blessed Martyr of Christ, Sir Johan Oldecastele the Lorde Cobham." See also Wilkins's Concilia. vol. iii.—The Registers of Archbishop Arundel at Lambeth.—Harleian MSS. in the Brit. Mus. No. 420, art. 63; and 421, art. 132, &c.—Ed.
  3. "Aforenamed act." See page 353 of this Volume. "A new and cruel law, which, at that time, was made by king Henry V., against the Wickliffites." Edition 1563, p. 281.—Ed.
  4. See Edition 1563, p. 281.—Ed.
  5. Among the many rumours, which either the superstition of the age, or the subtlety of the lord Cobham's enemies were accustomed to circulate respecting him, was the following: "That at the time of his execution he requested sir Thomas Erpington to procure protection to the followers of Wicklilf, and the maintainers of the antipapal doctrines, in case he (the lord Cobham) should rise from the dead the third day." See Walsingham's History, page 400. The reader will perceive, in this absurd charge, a distorted version of the above narration.—Ed.
  6. Walden, in his preface to his 7th book of Doctrine.
  7. These verses are introduced from the Latin Edition of 1559, pags 97.—Ed.
  8. Anno 5. Hen. V., act. 17.
  9. Anno 5. Hen. V., act 17.