Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Sunday 16 May |
Saint of the Day: St. Simon Stock
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Was this the most terrifying religious persecution in history?

Public Domain via Wikipedia

Daniel Esparza - published on 03/16/17

Spoiler alert: we’re not referring to the Spanish Inquisition.

In popular imagination, the Spanish Inquisition holds the (in)famous title of being the religious persecution par excellence. Some of its reputation, though, is owed (even if partially) to a black legend already long studied and debated. However, the Spanish Inquisition also had its reverse: persecutions and executions of Catholics in France and other European countries were, indeed, quite common in certain specific periods.

Of all these persecutions, probably the cruelest – and also maybe the most neglected by historians – were those originated during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth of Tudor, both fueled by the British monarchy after the Anglican Schism.

The Spanish newspaper ABC is currently running a series on history and, in one of their most recent issues, they addressed this controversial historical period, showing the harshness of religious repression during those times, best exemplified in the slaughtering and hanging of the Carthusian Monks of London in 1534, their prior John Houghton in capite. They were hanged, mutilated and slaughtered in the notorious Tyburn Square.

In 1537, a Catholic rebellion against the King ended up with the death sentences of 216 people, 6 abbots, 38 monks and 16 priests.

Later on, Mary Tudor would become the “blood-thirsty queen”  nicknamed “Bloody Mary” – although some voices claim this is also part of yet another black legend. During her reign, there was no respite for Anglicans, as this time they also suffered persecution. Political power and an interested use of religion would lead to the execution of almost 300 men and women charged with heresy between February 1555 and November 1558. Many of them were the Queen’s enemies since her early childhood. As Protestant heretics, these victims were burned at the stake, a form of execution favored by Catholic countries. (A side note: No witches were burned during the New England witch trials, as the Puritans abhorred burning as a “Papist” custom. The Salem “witches” were executed by hanging, and one man was pressed to death under stones as part of torture seeking information.)

After Mary Tudor, Elizabeth I rose to the throne. Would things settle down? Would Elizabeth abandon Protestantism? Was that the reason she was chosen queen? Well, not at all. Rather, the complete opposite. This is where some of the darkest pages in the history of the English crown just begin to be written, under the shadow of one of the greatest persecutions in history: 1,000 dead, both clergy and laymen. Catholics were the most persecuted group, but also Calvinists, Quakers, Baptists, Lutherans, Mennonites and other religious groups were hunted down. Legal prescriptions against Catholics in England continued until the late 19th century.

If you want to read more on the matter, please visit ABC’s article (in Spanish) here, or visit the Wikipedia article on Penal Laws under Stuart and Cromwellian Rule.

Religious Freedom
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Philip Kosloski
Ascension vs. assumption: What is the difference?
Philip Kosloski
Why Matthias was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
Larry Peterson
Benedict XVI called him “one of the most unusual saintsR...
Philip Kosloski
What was the message of Our Lady of Fatima?
J-P Mauro
We need better church music, say Catholics in the Philippines
I.Media for Aleteia
These 30 shrines will lead the Rosary Relay for end of the pandem...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.