Executions at the Tower

On 22 June 1535, the execution of Bishop John Fisher, advisor to Queen Katherine of Aragon, was carried out at the Tower of London only a few days before that of Sir Thomas More (see here), who was executed for the same reason.

Both of them were Catholics and opposed the annulment of King Henry VIII‘s marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon, and argued that the king could not be named Supreme Head of the Church. For this refusal they were tried, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.

During his life, Fisher had a great reputation for being a religious, intelligent, stern and austere man. It is said that he placed a human skull on the altar during Mass and on the table during meals.
When Henry VIII was crowned King, Fisher became his chaplain and the Queen’s confessor, earning the respect and admiration of both of them.

When Henry decided to get his annulment and marry Anne Boleyn, the bishop began to publicly support Catherine, and when the King broke ties with the Catholic Pope and declared himself the supreme head of the Church of England, Fisher refused to accept that

After the Act of Succession declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine void and that with Anne Boleyn valid, both Fisher and More refused to take the required oath arguing that, while willing to accept the succession as a proper matter for Parliament, they could not accept the rest of the Act, especially because it repudiated papal authority. Therefore they were imprisoned in the Tower of London

Fisher, who was already seriously ill, was to remain there for over a year, underfed and in atrocious conditions, to the point that when the Londoners saw him at the time of his execution, they were shocked by his emaciated figure – he had even been forbidden to meet a priest, till the very end.

In May 1535, the Pope appointed Fisher cardinal hoping to save his life, but the King forbade the cardinal’s hat to be brought to England, declaring he would make sure that there would no longer be a head to put it on.
Soon after, he called a special commission for Fisher’s trial. He was charged for treason, because he had not recognized the King as the supreme head of the Church of England, he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
A sinister irony began to be seen in the correspondence of Fisher’s convictions and that of St. John the Baptist, both ready to die for the indissolubility of marriage: St. John had been executed by King Herod Antipas for challenging the validity of his marriage to his brother’s divorcée Herodias.

For fear that on the feast of St. John the Baptist, on 24 June, Fisher would attract too much sympathy or the idea that he was the reincarnation of St. John, King Henry spared him from hanging, drawing and quartering, and commuted his death sentence to something faster: a simple beheading to be performed before the feast of St. John.

The execution took place at Tower Hill on 22 June 1535 and it was said that Fisher met his end with a calm dignified courage which deeply impressed those present, who were also impressed by the great quantity of blood sprinkled from such a thin and emaciated body.

After the beheading, what happened to his body was horrible: it was treated with particular rancour, apparently on Henry’s orders . It was stripped naked and left on the scaffold for many hours until evening, when it was taken and thrown into a rough grave in the churchyard of All Hallows.

His head was placed on a spike and displayed on London Bridge, but its ruddy and lifelike appearance caused so much attention that, after a fortnight, it was taken down, tossed into the Thames, and replaced by Sir Thomas More’s head whose execution, also at Tower Hill, occurred on 6 July.
John Fisher is honoured as a martyr and saint by the Catholic Church and shares his feast day with Thomas More on 22 June (date of Fisher’s execution) in the Catholic calendar and on 6 July ( date of More’s execution) in that of the Church of England that decided to add the two saints to the Church of England’s calendar of Saints and Heroes, despite having both been opponents of the English Reformation.

Il 22 giugno 1535 ci fu presso la Torre di Londra l’esecuzione del vescovo John Fisher, consigliere della regina Caterina d’Aragona, solo pochi giorni prima di quella di Sir Thomas More (qui), giustiziato per lo stesso motivo.

Entrambi cattolici, si opposero all’annullamento del matrimonio di re Enrico VIII con la regina Caterina, e sostennero che il re non poteva essere nominato Capo supremo della Chiesa. Per tale rifiuto furono processati e ritenuti colpevoli di tradimento e condannati a morte.

Durante la sua vita, Fisher ebbe fama di essere molto religioso, intelligente, severo e austero. Si dice che mettesse un teschio umano sull’altare durante la messa e sul tavolo durante i pasti,

Quando Enrico VIII fu incoronato re, Fisher divenne il suo cappellano e il confessore della regina, guadagnandosi il rispetto e l’ammirazione di entrambi.
Ma quando il re decise di ottenere l’annullamento del suo matrimonio sposare Anna Bolena, il vescovo sostenne pubblicamente Caterina d’Aragona, e quando il re ruppe i legami con il papa cattolico e si dichiarò capo supremo della Chiesa d’Inghilterra, Fisher rifiutò di accettarlo

Dopo che l‘Atto di successione dichiarò nullo il matrimonio di Enrico con Caterina e valido quello con Anna Bolena, sia Fisher che Sir Thomas More non vollero prestare il giuramento richiesto sostenendo che, pur essendo disposti ad accettare la successione come una questione adatta a decisioni prese dal Parlamento, non potevano accettare il resto della legge, soprattutto perché ripudiava l’autorità papale. Pertanto furono imprigionati nella Torre di Londra.

Fisher, che era già gravemente malato, vi sarebbe rimasto per oltre un anno, denutrito e in condizioni atroci, al punto che la gente, quando lo vide al momento dell’esecuzione, rimase scioccata dalla sua figura emaciata. Gli era stato persino proibito di incontrare un sacerdote, fino alla fine.

Nel maggio 1535, il papa nominò Fisher cardinale sperando di salvargli in tal modo la vita, ma il re proibì che il cappello cardinalizio fosse portato in Inghilterra, e dichiarò che avrebbe fatto in modo che non ci fosse più una testa su cui appoggiarlo.
Poco dopo riunì una commissione speciale per il processo di Fisher. Accusato di tradimento, poiché non voleva riconoscere il re come capo supremo della Chiesa d’Inghilterra, fu ritenuto colpevole e condannato a essere impiccato, sventrato e squartato.
La gente cominciò a vedere una sinistra ironia nel parallelismo delle convinzioni di Fisher e quella di San Giovanni Battista, entrambi pronti a morire per l’indissolubilità del matrimonio: infatti San Giovanni era stato giustiziato dal re Erode Antipa per aver contestato la validità del suo matrimonio con Erodiade, divorziata da suo fratello.

Per paura che durante la festa di San Giovanni Battista, il 24 giugno, la sorte di Fisher suscitasse troppa compassione o l’idea che fosse la reincarnazione di San Giovanni, re Enrico gli risparmiò l’impiccagione, lo sventramento e lo squartamento e commutò la sua condanna a morte in qualcosa di più veloce: una semplice decapitazione da compiersi prima della festa di San Giovanni.

L’esecuzione ebbe luogo a Tower Hill il 22 giugno 1535 , e Fisher dimostrò un coraggio calmo e dignitoso che impressionò profondamente i presenti, colpiti anche dalla grande quantità di sangue sprizzato da un corpo così magro ed emaciato.

Dopo la decapitazione ciò che successe al suo corpo fu orribile, un trattamento pieno di rancore, probabilmente per ordine di Henry. Fu denudato e lasciato sul patibolo per molte ore, fino a sera, quando fu preso e gettato in una fossa nel cimitero di All Hallows

La sua testa fu posta in cima a una palo ed esposta sul London Bridge, ma il suo aspetto rossastro e realistico provocò così tanta attenzione che, dopo una quindicina di giorni, fu tirata giù, gettata nel Tamigi e sostituita dalla testa di Thomas More la cui esecuzione, sempre a Tower Hill, avvenne il 6 luglio.

John Fisher è onorato come martire e santo dalla Chiesa cattolica e condivide la sua festa con Tommaso Moro il 22 giugno (data dell’esecuzione di Fisher) nel calendario cattolico e il 6 luglio (data dell’esecuzione di More) in quello della Chiesa d’Inghilterra, che decise di aggiungere i due santi al suo calendario dei Santi ed Eroi cristiani, pur essendo stati entrambi oppositori della Riforma inglese.

55 thoughts on “Executions at the Tower

  1. Omg! What a horrific tale of cruelty! I appreciate both Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More for standing up to their principles in spite of death threat looming over them. They were so brave to accept death rather than bowing before a despotic tyrant King Henry VIII. The horrible king didn’t spare even Anne Boleyn and later got her beheaded. Thank you so much for sharing an important, interesting but a cruel part of the History of England. It gives me goosebumps. Wonderful job. 🥰🥰🥰🥰😘😘😘😘♥️♥️♥️😍😍. Waiting for your next interesting surprise.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Luisa, for the remainder of what dreadful events took place at The Tower of London, now a place of
    beauty with thousands of wildflowers blooming for the Queen’s special weekend.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Luisa ! What you have written is painful . There had not been less bloodshed within the Christianity itself . John Fisher was beheaded only for not accepting the King Henry VIII as Supreme head of the church of England , and annulment of the marriage of the Queen Catherine with Henry VIII . He was a Catholic and duly appointed Chaplin of the Church of London by the Pope and , of course , a confessor of the marriage of the Duo . He was beheaded . His head was placed on a spike and put on the London Bridge for display . What a ferocious style of punishment was that . I was reading the history of Crusades in Europe recently . In Europe during the Crusade not only increased the idea of Christensendom — the world of Christianity — against all the non-Christians but fight within Christianity also went on and very severely . Such an action of cruelty of the middle age did not stop even in 1535 . And two innocent saints were brutally executed only due to flimsy reasons as such . Luisa ! We are thankful to you to let us know about such a cruel fact of history . Thanks again !

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    1. It has been about twenty years that our Catholic Popes have begun to apologize for a series of atrocities committed in the name of the church and carried out, among other things, against Jews, women, people convicted by the Inquisition, Muslims killed by the Crusaders and almost everyone who had suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church over the years.

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      1. Thanks for this information . But mere apologies can not change the tide of history . What was written in the past is history . And what you have written about the saints Duo is also now the part of history . So no need to feel guilty for the present Pope because he has not committed the fault in the past . It was the fault of history . And the credit goes to you that you have narrated the facts of history truly as it was . Thanks !

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  4. Well written, Luisa. We like to think that the age of atrocities is in the past, but unfortunately,it is not. I learn so much from reading your blog. Interesting comparison to John the Baptist.

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    1. You’re right, Pat, we like to think that atrocities are just a thing of the past, but they still are present in our lives, and in large numbers, perhaps more refined in some cases

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  5. Ah, questa — accadutami l’anno scorso — la voglio raccontare, Luisa, anche perché nessuno dei tuoi lettori può capire con esattezza cosa vuol dire fare la fine dei protagonisti della tua splendida storia.

    Si comprenderà così che altro è leggere un fatto letterario e sentirsi da ciò disturbati, ed altro è sia pure oniricamente provarlo.

    SOGNI ED INCUBI FINALI

    Nella mia vita ho sempre sognato
    fin dalla mia più giovane età:
    due vite ho quasi avuto . . . addormentato
    di notte, e sveglio in piena attività.

    Chissà se i sogni anticipano ciò
    che poi a noi succederà in futuro,
    specie quando si invecchia, quando . . . oh, no! . . .
    andremo via per sempre. Di sicuro

    qualche aggancio c’è, e quindi tremo,
    essendo io già oltre gli . . .“anta”
    per incubi continui. Ah, se gemo
    per incontri sgraditi! Perciò tanta

    paura avuto ho proprio ieri
    quando sognando una bella festa,
    fra tintinnio di piatti e bicchieri,
    vidi che mi tagliavano la testa.

    La lama ho sentito arrivare
    liscia liscia e fredda dentro il collo,
    e giù la testa ho visto rotolare.
    Mi son svegliato di sudore a mollo.

    Un colpo secco e nel giusto posto,
    e certo meglio di finire arrosto,

    oppur di non potere respirare
    perché si va a fondo in alto mare!

    Duemilaventuno 3 Agosto.

    Un sogno del cazzo a quanto pare,
    buon per chi sta la Storia a ricordare!

    (Cassandro)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A man of conviction, for sure. What a horrible way to die. Little seems to have changed over the years, except perhaps the manner in which world leaders and politicians are enforce their will over the people they serve. Apparently they still are getting away with it. Thanks for the history Luisa. Allan

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      1. Mamma mia, ho i brividi al solo pensiero, bastava poco a perdere la testa con lui, nel vero senso della parola! Che brutta persona, anche se non si dovrebbe giudicare mai.
        Un abbraccio cara Luisa 🥰
        Buona serata 😃

        Liked by 1 person

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