The Tudor Society

29 August – The Feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist

Today, 29th August, is the Feast of the beheading of St John the Baptist. Lovely!

In today's talk, I share the story behind this Tudor holy day, a story which is often depicted in illuminations in manuscripts and psalters.

You can see photos of illuminations at and a medieval wall painting at

My video on Midsummer and St John the Baptist:

Also on this day in Tudor history, 29th August 1538, Geoffrey Pole, son of Sir Richard Pole and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was arrested. He was already on thin ice, having been a staunch supporter of Queen Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary, but he now was suspected, like other members of his family, of being in communication with his brother, Cardinal Reginald Pole, a man who had upset King Henry VIII. Unlike other members of his family, including Margaret Pole, Geoffrey managed to survive this trouble - how? Why? What happened? Find out in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1503 – Death of Oliver King, Bishop of Bath and Wells, diplomat, former Secretary to Edward V and Registrar of the Order of the Garter.
  • 1582 – Death of Sir Thomas Offley, Mayor of London, in London. He was buried in the church of St Andrew Undershaft.
  • 1583 – Death of Maurice Browne, courtier, adventurer and mariner. Browne captained The Swallow and then The Delight on a venture to colonize North America in 1583. The venture failed and Browne, and the voyage leader, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, both died.
  • 1584 – Death of Lucas de Heere, the Flemish painter and poet, probably in Paris. His works included “Solomon and Sheba” (1559) in which de Heere gave Solomon the face of Philip II of Spain.
  • 1599 – Death of Henry Charteris, Scottish printer and bookseller.


Today, 29th August, is the Feast of the beheading of St John the Baptist. Lovely!

St John the Baptist, was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who was the cousin of the Virgin Mary. According to Luke’s Gospel, the elderly Zechariah was serving as a priest when he was visited by the Angel Gabriel who told him that his previously barren wife would give him a son, who would be named John and who would be “great before Jehovah”. Elizabeth did indeed become pregnant and a few months before John’s birth, she was visited by her cousin Mary who had just been told by the Angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Later, when John and Jesus were men, and John was a preacher telling people to repent their sins and be baptised, it was John who baptised Jesus in the River Jordan and the spirit of God descended on Jesus.

We find out from Matthew’s Gospel that John the Baptist is later imprisoned by King Herod for rebuking Herod for marrying Herodias, his brother’s former wife, and Herodias wants John dead. Here is Matthew’s account of what happened, from Matthew 14, and I’ve used William Tyndale’s 16th century New Testament:

“But when Herod’s birthday was come, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. 7 Wherefore he promised with an oath that he would give her whatsoever she woulde ask. And she being informed of her mother before, said: give me here John the Baptist’s head in a platter. And the king sorrowed. Nevertheless for his oath’s sake and for their sakes which sat also at the table, he commanded it to be given her: and sent and beheaded John in the prison and his head was brought in a platter and given to the damsel and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took up his body and buried it: and went and told Jesus.”

It’s a truly horrible story, and this feast day commemorated John the Baptist’s awful end at the hands of Herod, Herodias and her daughter, Salome. This event is depicted in lots of medieval illuminated manuscripts and psalters, and I’ll give you a link to see some images on the British Library website. I’ll also give you a link to see a wall painting of the event from St Peter and St Paul Church in Pickering.

Another feast day linked to St John the Baptist is on 24th June, the Feast of St John the Baptist, which coincided with midsummer and featured fires, dancing, feasting and drinking.

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29 August – The Feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist