On 10th April 1540, priest Sir William Peterson, former commissary of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Calais, and William Richardson, priest of St Mary’s in Calais, were hanged, drawn and quartered in the marketplace at Calais for denying Henry VIII’s supremacy.
In his article "Martyrdoms at Calais in 1540?", Rev. L.E. Whatmore writes of how from 1525, Sir William Peterson was "the most important priest in Calais" because of his "double capacity" as "the Archbishop's and the Cardinal's representative" in Calais. 1532 saw the death of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was replaced by Thomas Cranmer. Peterson continued in his office under Cranmer and in September of that year was also appointed rector of Bonynges in the Calais Marches.
Sir William Richardson comes up in the records in Calais in 1537 because he ordered the Feast of the Translation of St Thomas of Canterbury to be kept after it had been suppressed by Henry VIII. Thomas Cromwell ordered for Richardson and another priest, Sir William Minstreley, to be sent back to England, to be taken into custody, despite Lady Lisle writing in support of Richardson. Richardson was imprisoned for a time in the Fleet, but was later released and returned to Calais.
In 1540, Sir William Peterson was examined regarding his beliefs regarding the king's supremacy and the case of Sir William Richardson. Whatmore notes that "the retention of the papal indulgences and dispensations shews that he could never bring himself entirely to disbelieve in the jurisdiction of the Pope. Moreover, his refusal to denounce Sir William Richardson for his treasonable words .... is some indication of his lingering sympathies". However, as Whatmore points out, misprision of treason was usually punished by a fine, rather than a full traitor's death, so Peterson must have gone on to be more forthright in his support of the pope. On 18th February 1540, Richardson and Peterson were arraigned at Guildhall in London, being described as "popish priests", and on 10th April 1540, they were executed in Calais.
The Chronicle of Calais records:
The x. of Apryll ther was set up a payre of gallows in the market place of Caleys, and theron was hanged ser William
Peterson prist, late comissary of Caleis and the marches, and ser William Richardson, late the maior’s preste; thes ij. were browght owt of England to Caleis, and ther they wer judged to be hanged, drawne, and qwartered ; they were drawne from the Watargate strete, and then to the Castle strete, and so rownd abowght to the market to the gallows. The maior’s prest was hanged, and shortly cut down, and his clothes pulled of, and his belly cut, his bowels and membars cut and cast in the fire, he lokynge on ; then his heade was smiten of. Ser William Peterson was hanged and served as the othar ; then they wer qwartered, and theyr heads and qwartars set on the towres about the towne.
Whatmore points out that a marginal note in the chronicle states that the two priests had been arraigned and condemned "for the pope's supremacy" and John Stow, in his "Annales", writes of how the priests "were both drawn, hanged and quartered in the Market-place for the supremacie".
- Whatmore, Revd L. E. "Martyrdoms at Calais in 1540?." The Downside Review 64.3 (1946): 168-179.
- ed. Nichols, John Gough. The Chronicle of Calais, in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII to the year 1540, the Camden Society, London, 1846, p. 47.
- ed. Howes, Emund. Annales or a General Chronicle of England begun by John Stow, 1631, p. 579.