Little is known about the early life of Elizabeth Barton. We do not know anything about her childhood or her family; however, she probably received little to no formal education and was probably illiterate. She first enters the public eye aged 19, when she was working as a servant in the house of Thomas Cobb, the farm manager to Archbishop William Warham.
While working as a servant, Barton became severely ill, during which time she claimed to receive divine inspiration. This ‘illness’ prevented Elizabeth from eating and drinking, and during her sickness, she began prophesying. She predicted that a sickly child would die, spoke about the ten commandments and the seven deadly sins, and saw visions of heaven. Her visions and prophecies began to gain traction in the local community. Eventually, the parish priest Richard Master travelled to Canterbury to inform Archbishop Warham of her seemingly holy abilities. Warham investigated Barton’s skills, and when questioned, she was found to be of a strong and orthodox faith. Following her interrogation, it is said that she predicted God would cure her illness in the village of Court-at-Street. In 1526, it was reported that she travelled there and was cured, in front of three thousand spectators. Barton also professed that it was divine will that she become a nun and that a monk named Father Bocking, who conducted her investigation, should be her spiritual advisor.
On this day in Tudor history, 20th April 1534, Elizabeth Barton, a Benedictine nun who became known as “the Nun of Kent” or “the Holy Maid of Kent”, was hanged for treason at Tyburn along with a few of her supporters.
This young woman had experienced religious visions and people had even flocked to her on pilgrimages. All was well until her visions concerned Henry VIII, his quest for an annulment and his marriage to Anne Boleyn.
Also on this day in history:
1483 – Burial of Edward IV in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
1523 – Death of Henry Clifford, 10th Baron Clifford, magnate. At around the age of sixty, Clifford led a force at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 against the Scots.
1534 – Prominent citizens of London were required to swear the “Oath of the Act of Succession”.
1578 – Death of Lady Mary Keys (née Grey), sister of Lady Jane Grey and wife of Thomas Keys, Sergeant Porter to Elizabeth I. Mary married Keys in secret in 1565, angering Elizabeth I. As a result, Keys was thrown into Fleet Prison and Mary was put into the care of Sir William Hawtrey at Chequers. Mary was later moved to the home of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk and her stepgrandmother, and then on to that of Sir Thomas Gresham. In 1568, Keys was released from prison, but he died in 1571 without ever being reconciled with Mary. Mary stayed with Gresham, voluntarily because she had nowhere else to go, until moving to her stepfather's house in 1573 and setting up her own home in London. She died at her home in London.
1584 – Execution of sixty year-old James Bell, Catholic priest and martyr, at Lancaster. Bell had been found guilty of being a Catholic recusant and celebrating the mass, and sentenced to death for high treason.
1587 - Burial of John Foxe, martyrologist, in St Giles, Cripplegate. He died 18th April at his home in Grub Street, in the same parish.