The Tudor Society

Blessed Thomas Abel’s bell carving in the Beauchamp Tower

As it is the anniversary of the execution of Catholic priest Thomas Abel (Abell) on 30th July 1540, I thought I'd share this photo that Tim took of a carving done by Thomas into the stone wall of the Beauchamp Tower during his imprisonment there. You can click on the picture to make it bigger. As you can see, it's a rebus, i.e. a puzzle in which words are represented by pictures and letters - so we have "Thomas" then a picture of a bell with the letter "A" on it: Thomas Abell. It's one of my favourite carvings in the Beauchamp Tower.

Thomas Abel was born c.1497 and he studied at Oxford, obtaining a doctorate in theology, before becoming one of Queen Catherine of Aragon's chaplains. In 1528, the queen sent him to see her nephew, Charles V, regarding Henry VIII's plans to annul his marriage to her, and on Abel's return she rewarded him with a benefice in Essex. Abel supported the queen's stance on her marriage and in 1532 he published a treatise Invicta veritas, An answere, That by no manner of law, it may be lawfull for the most noble King of England, King Henry the eight to be divorced from the queens grace, his lawfull and very wife. As a result of this, he was imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower of London.

Although he was soon released, in December 1533 he was imprisoned again, this time for allegedly disseminating the prophecies of Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent who prophesied against the king marrying Anne Boleyn. Abel was also charged with encouraging Catherine of Aragon to "obstinately to persist in her wilful opinion against the same divorce and separation" and to retain her title of queen.

Abel was executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered at Smithfield with fellow Catholics, Edward Powell and Richard Fetherston, who refused to acknowledge the royal supremacy. Strangely, on the very same day at Smithfield, religious reformers Robert Barnes, William Jerome and Thomas Garrard were burned at the stake for heresy!


There's an interesting illustrated article on the carvings in the Beauchamp Tower available to read online -

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  1. H

    My mother’s maiden name was ABEL, descended from 1630 immigrant, Robert Abell, Esq.

    l have been to The Tower and have a pix of me next to the “etching”.

    Thomas ABELL, being a Catholic priest, “probably” had no progeny. I do have my ABELL line traced back into England; however, am un-ABELL to discover the parentage of Thomas. ANY ASSISTANCE IN THIS RESEARCH IS APPRECIATED!

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Blessed Thomas Abel’s bell carving in the Beauchamp Tower