The Tudor Society

December 19 – A clash with a mob causes the death of an abbess

On this day in Tudor history, 19th December 1576, Katherine Palmer, Abbess of Syon, died in Mechelen in Belgium. Her death came just over a month after she had confronted a mob that had broken into her monastery.

Find out more about Abbess Katherine Palmer, how her order had ended up settling in Mechelen, and how her order is the only surviving pre-Reformation religious community in England today, in this talk.

Also on this day in history:

  • 1562 – The Battle of Dreux between Catholics, led by Anne de Montmorency, and Huguenots, led by Louis I, Prince of Condé, during the first war of the French Wars of Religion. The Catholics were victorious, but both commanders were taken prisoner.
    1578 (19th or 26th December) – Executions of Egremont Radcliffe and a man called Gray at Namur in Belgium. They were beheaded in the marketplace after being suspected of poisoning Don John of Austria.
  • 1583 – John Somerville, convicted conspirator, was found dead in his cell at Newgate Prison. Death was by strangulation, and it was said that his death was suicide. His body was buried in Moorfields, and his head was put on display on London Bridge. Somerville had been convicted of high treason for intending to shoot and kill Elizabeth I.
  • 1587 – Death of Thomas Seckford, lawyer and administrator, at Clerkenwell in Middlesex. He was buried at Clerkenwell, but then moved to the family vault at Woodbridge in Suffolk. Seckford served Mary I as Deputy Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster and Elizabeth I as Master of Requests and Steward of the Marshalsea court.

On this day in Tudor history, 19th December 1576, Katherine Palmer, Abbess of Syon, died in Mechelen in Belgium.

Katherine and her nuns had fled from England to the Low Countries in 1559, following the accession of the Protestant queen, Elizabeth I, and had finally settled at Mechelen. There, on 8th November 1576, a mob of Calvinists broke into the monastery and the courageous abbess confronted them. It is thought that the trauma of confronting the mob led to her death just over a month later, on 19th December. She was laid to rest at Mechelen in the Church of the Augustinians.

I dug a little into Katherine Palmer and her order for an article for the Tudor Society and found that Katherine was of a gentry background and had given up that life to join the Bridgettine Order at Syon Monastery, in the parish of Isleworth, which had been founded by Henry V in 1415 and that had a reputation for its pious monastic life. Unfortunately, the abbey was dissolved in 1539 as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. However, the sisters kept their monastic life in small groups, one of which was led by Katherine.

In 1551, Katherine and six nuns and four brothers relocated to Termonde in the Low Countries. They returned to England in 1555, in the reign of the Catholic queen, Mary I, at Cardinal Pole's urging, and refounded Syon. Katherine was elected as abbess. As I said earlier, they fled England in 1559, moving to Termonde and then Antwerp and on to Mechelen, where Katherine died in 1576.

In his article for the Telegraph newspaper, Christopher Howse writes of how the order “went through astonishing sufferings from poverty and war, seeking refuge in France and Portugal” before finally settling back in England in 1861. In 1925, the order settled at South Brent, in Devon.
What is amazing is that they are the only surviving pre-Reformation religious community in England - wonderful!

Only 1 comment so far Go To Comment

  1. R

    Thanks for that information about a pre Reformation order and this courageous lady, Katherine Palmer.

    What a brave load of yobs, albeit Puritan, so holy yobs, breaking into a convent and threatening helpless women for their own ends!

    They can’t legally close the convent and retire the nuns, oh no, like a load of violent hooligans they have to arrive with an armed angry mob, probably in the night, and commit vandalism and harm to body and property and this wonderful lady stood up to them. She deserves a virtual medal.

    Her death most probably was from this terrible frightening and traumatic experience and today they would even be arrested and prosecuted if they were identified. If their actions were linked to her eventual death they could be prosecuted for manslaughter. Whether the jury agreed would be another thing and the standard the prosecution has to meet is exceptionally high, but it’s certain they would be tried. What utter cowards, no matter what their purpose or belief system, there are ways of doing things, you don’t just burst in and try to break somewhere down, there are lives that you are putting at risk, or perhaps they just didn’t care, so engulfed in religious fervour and hatred were they.

    RIP Katherine Palmer.

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December 19 – A clash with a mob causes the death of an abbess