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Elizabeth Barton – Holy Maid of Kent, Executed

Living in England during the reign of King Henry VIII was a risky proposition. The man was famous for swift executions. Somewhere around 60,000 people were executed under his watch. Everyone from political dissidents, his wives, and people he found to be annoying could find themselves sentenced to death. After a good deal of torture, that is.

One of his victims was a Catholic nun by the name of Elizabeth Barton. She started off as a servant, but would later ascend to the role of prophetess. Her predictions made her famous enough to meet the king. Their meetings proved disastrous for the nun.

She is the only woman in history to have her head impaled on a spike on the London Bridge. What an honor.


Becoming the Maid of Kent


Elizabeth Barton started on her road to stardom as a servant. Everything seemed to be going well, until 1525 when Elizabeth started showing symptoms of what modern scholars believe may have been Epilepsy.

Whatever was wrong with Barton, it was the predictions she made while in the throes of her fits that earned her notoriety. One of her earliest predictions was the death of a boy who was at the time being nursed back to health.

After his death, people started flocking to Elizabeth Barton. Her fame spread quickly. Soon she became known as the Maid of Kent. Her piety was confirmed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Barton was admitted to the Benedictine order of nuns at the Priory of St. Sepulchre in Canterbury. Her fame couldn't be contained by the nunnery. She traveled across England, becoming a public sensation. Much like the modern phenomenon of mega pastors, who usurp the worship of their deity.

In 1527 Elizabeth allegedly performed a miraculous healing at Court-at-Street in Kent. Because of course she did.

One year later Elizabeth Barton met in private with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. She was really rubbing shoulders with the religious elite now. Wolsey was so impressed with the Maid of Kent that he arranged for her to meet with the only person with more political power than himself.

King Henry VIII was a fan of Elizabeth's prophecies. Mostly because her message was one of maintaining the status quo. Everyone loves a yes-man, uhm, woman. Either way, the meeting didn't quite go as planned.


Don't Make King Henry Angry, You Wouldn't like Him when he's Angry


Obnoxiously long headings aside, this is pretty much what happened. Barton had gotten word of the King's plans to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon. She warned the king that an annulment was contrary to God's will.

Elizabeth made some concrete predictions about the annulment. According to her, if King Henry VIII left his wife and married Anne Boleyn he would suffer a cruel death within a month. If he cut ties with Barton's beloved Catholic Church, then the country of England would be beset upon by a pestilence that would devastate the populace.

Wouldn't you know it, the prediction of his death and the attempts at publicly thwarting his plans made the king a bit huffy. Due to Elizabeth Barton's public following, her claims were making waves. People were turning against the king, which isn't great for a king.

Henry VIII went ahead with his plans anyway. He made his own church, and divorced his first wife. Speed was necessary because his mistress, Anne Boleyn, was pregnant at the time. He didn't die one month after his wedding, in fact, he lived for another 15 years.

Elizabeth Barton wasn't having it. She went on the offensive. Her predictions were now all about the downfall of King Henry VIII. This led the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, to investigate the Maid of Kent.

Investigation here means having her arrested and tortured in the Tower of London. If you are unfamiliar with torture, think of it as Enhanced Interrogation – as used by the USA in modern times.

Elizabeth Barton, the holy maid of kent, is hanged for treason
All's terrible that ends terrible

After much torture and unimaginable suffering, Elizabeth Barton publicly confessed to making up all of her prophecies. She claimed to be nothing more than a stupid peasant. Having used her fame to attack the good and honorable name of King Henry VIII.

The king's agents went on a smear campaign against Barton. They called her the 'Mad Maid of Kent'. Accusing her of sleeping with nearly every priest who crossed her path. They also attested that she had a mental illness.

Either way, Elizabeth Barton – The Maid of Kent, was hanged at Tyburn on 20 April 1534. Joining her on the gallows was a group of her supporters. Father Edward Bocking, who acted as Barton's advisor was right behind her. Richard Masters her local priest, was up next. The warden of the Canterbury friary, Richard Risby joined them. Finally, the warden of the Richmond friary, Hugh Rich, swung from the rope. Thus, the saga of Elizabeth Barton was put to an end.

After her government mandated murder, he head was chopped off. King Henry VIII had a thing for cutting off heads. Elizabeth Barton became the first and only woman to have her head displayed on a spike on the London Bridge.

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