Elizabeth Barton is best known as the ”The Nun of Kent” and then later “The Mad Maid of Kent.” Her prophecies were ultimately her downfall. In 1525, at nineteen years old, she became ill and fell into trances having visions ‘of marvellous holiness’ in rebuke of sin and vice.”
A local priest by the name of Richard Master believed in Barton’s visions and reported them to the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham. From there the story of the prophetic girl grew and grew.
Eventually Barton left her job as a servant and became a Benedictine nun. She continued to have visions and began to be known as “The Nun of Kent.”
It was when she started prophesying about the King of England that she got into some hot water. Here is a quote from The Anne Boleyn Files website regarding the matter:
According to Nancy Bradley Warren, author of Women of God and Arms: Female Spirituality and Political Conflict, 1380-1600, in 1532 Elizabeth Barton claimed to have been miraculously and invisibly present when Henry VIII attended Mass in Calais during his visit to see the French King. She reported that an angel denied Henry the consecrated host, removed it from the priest’s hands and, instead, offered it to Elizabeth Barton. She said that this was a clear sign that God was displeased with Henry. Barton also prophesied that if Henry proceeded with his divorce and married Anne Boleyn, then he would lose his kingdom within a month and ‘should die a villain’s death’. Nancy Bradley Warren writes of how Elizabeth Barton and her prophecies struck at the heart of Henry VIII’s foreign policy and, perhaps even more significantly, at the heart of his representation of the English monarchy.” – The Anne Boleyn Files – Elizabeth Barton the Nun of Kent
This engraving of Elizabeth Barton is probably by Thomas Holloway based on a painting by Henry Tresham, and comes from David Hume’s History of England (1793-1806).
Elizabeth Barton was not alone, also implicated in her downfall were: Edward Bocking (monk), John Dering (monk), Richard Master, Harry Gold (priest), Hugh Riche (friar) and Richard Risby (friar).
The charges that were brought against Bocking were that he frequently railed against Henry’s upcoming marriage to Anne Boleyn. Barton, to please Bocking, claimed to have a revelation from God that the King would not live a month after his marriage; and when it failed to come to fruition she claimed to have another vision that the King was no longer accepted King, by God, after his marriage.
Barton eventually confessed that she was the cause “of all this mischief,” and that by her falsehood deceived “all these persons” but this did not save them. At that point it was too late and there was too much evidence to prove their involvement.
On the 20th of April 1534, Barton, Bocking, Dering, Gold, Riche and Risby were all drawn on a hurdle (fastened to a hurdle, or wooden panel, and drawn by horse to the place of execution) from the Tower of London to Tyburn. At Tyburn they were hanged and beheaded with their heads set on London Bridge or at the gates of the city, which was customary to warn off others from participating in similar antics. Richard Master received a stay of execution and was pardoned. It is believed that he signed the oath of succession, which both Riche and Risby were also offered but they declined. It is believed that Master was offered this because it coincided with the swearing of the citizens of London to the oath.
Elizabeth Barton was around 28 years old when she was executed.
Bernard, G.W.; “The King’s Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church” – page 98
Attainder of Elizabeth Barton and Others – Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, vii 54, 70, 72
Ridgway, Claire; The Anne Boleyn Files – Elizabeth Barton the Nun of Kent
Wikipedia – Elizabeth Barton