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Foxe's Book of Martyrs

Particulars of the Ascendancy of the Popes Throughout Christendom, From the Time of Williams The Conqueror, to that of Wickliffe.

(Containing a History of the Reformation, and the circumstances which preceded it, from the time of Wickliffe to the reign of Mary, including a summary of events connected with Christian Martyrdom, previous and subsequent to the reign of William the Conqueror.)

In a preceding part of our volume we traced the influence of popery over the continent and in our own kingdom, down to the reign of the vicious and monkish king Edgar, who was so great a patron of the religion of the popes, that he is said to have built as many monasteries for them as there are Sundays in the year. Ediner reports that they were forty-eight in number; but perhaps he does not include the nunneries. It is certain that from this period till the reformation was attempted by Wickliffe, the abominations of these arch and unchristian rulers increased with rapid strides, till at length all the sovereigns of Europe were compelled to do them the most servile homage. It was in the reign of Edgar that monks were first made spiritual ministers, though contrary to the old decrees and customs of the church, and in the time of this sovereign they were allowed to marry, there being no law forbidding them to do so till the reign of pope Hildebrand, other wise called Gregory VII.

There are many curious facts relating to king Edgar, mentioned by the early writers, some of which we shall quote, because they are not to be found in our principal, if in any of our histories of England. He was the successor of Alfred, and though he imitated that great sovereign in some praise-worthy actions, yet he committed many horrid crimes, which have stained his name with infamy. His decree by which he compelled Ludwallus, prince of Wales, to furnish 300 wolves as a yearly tribute, is well known, by which, in the course of four years, the wolves were exterminated from England, and he also set many other notable examples, which it would be well for all nations if modern princes were to imitate. But in his religion he was superstitious to the greatest degree, and consequently cruel to those towards whom he had any dislike or antipathy. William of Malmsbury, and various other writers, report of him that about the thirteenth year of his reign, being at Chester, eight petty or under kings came and did homage to him. The first was the king of Scots, called Kinadius, Macolinus of Cumberland, Muckus or Mascusinus king of Monia and other Islands, and the kings of Wales, the names of whom were Dunewaldus, Sifresh, Huwall, Jacob, Ulkell, and Juchel. All these, after they had given their fidelity to Edgar, the next day entered with him on the river Dee; where sitting in a boat, he took the helm, and caused the eight kings to row him up and down the river, to and from the church of St. John, to his palace, in token that he was master and lord of so many provinces; and on this occasion he is reported to have said, "Tunc demun posse successores suos gloriari, se Reges Angliae esse, cum tanta praerogativa honorum fruerentur." Undoubtedly he would have spoken much better, had he said with St. Paul, "Absit mihi gloriari, nisi in Cruce Domini nostri Jesu Christi."

To trace the numerous disgusting innovations upon the religion of Christ, during the space of three hundred years and upwards, or rather from the time of king Edgar to the appearance of Wickliffe, would be the province of a writer on church history, besides which, it would be incompatible with our limits. Suffice it to say, that there was scarcely a war or civil broil in which this country was engaged, which did not originate in the artifices of popes, monks, and friars. It is true that they sometimes fell victims to their own machinations; for, from the year 1004, many popes were successively poisoned. Several died unnatural deaths: for example, pope Sylvester was cut to pieces by his own people, through the superstitious fears he had impressed upon their minds. Several of his successors used all manner of infamous means to gain the ascendancy, and their reigns were but short. Pope Benedict, who succeeded John XXI. thought proper to resist the emperor Henry III. the son of Conrad, and place in his room Peter, king of Hungary; but afterwards being alarmed lest Henry should prevail in battle, he sold his seat to Gratianus, called Gregory VI. for 1500l. At this time there were three popes in Rome, all striving against each other for the supreme power, viz. Benedict IX. Sylvester III. and Gregory VI. On which Henry, the emperor, coming to that city, displaced the three at once, and appointed Clement the second, enacting that there should no bishop of Rome henceforth be chosen but by the consent and confirmation of his imperial law. Though this law was both agreeable and necessary for public tranquillity, yet the cardinals would not suffer it long to stand, but strove to subvert it by subtlety and open violence. In the time of Clement, the Romans made an oath to the emperor concerning the election of the bishops, to intermeddle no farther, but as the assent of the emperor should go; but the emperor departing thence into Germany again, they forgot their oath, and within nine months after poisoned the bishop. This fact, some impute to Stephen his successor, called Damasus II. Some impute it to Brazutus, who is reported by some historians to have poisoned six popes, viz. Clement II. Damasus II. Leo IX. Victor II. Stephen IX. and Nicholas II.

Clement was succeeded by Damasus II. neither by consent of the people, nor of the emperor, but by force and invasion; and he also within twenty-three days being poisoned, much contention and striving began in Rome about the papal seat. Whereupon the Romans, through the counsel of the cardinals, sent to the emperor desiring him to give them a bishop. He gave them one whose name was Bruno, an Alman, and bishop of Cullen, afterwards called Leo IX. This pope was poisoned by Brazutus, in the first year of his popedom. After his death Theophylactus made an effort to be pope, but Hilderbrand, to defeat him, went to the emperor, and pursuaded him to assign another bishop, a German, who ascended the papal chair under the title of Victor II. The second year of his papacy, or little more, he also followed his predecessors, being poisoned by Brazutus, through the instigation of Hilderbrand and his master.

At this time the church and the clergy of Rome began to wrest from the emperor's hands the election of the pope; electing Stephen IX. contrary to their oath, and the emperor's assignment. From this period, indeed, their ascendancy was so great, that the most powerful sovereigns of Europe were obliged to do them homage, and it was in the time of pope Nicholas, who succeeded Stephen, A.D. 1059, that the synod of Sutrium was broken up by this pope, who came to Rome and established the dreaded Concilium Lateranum, or Council of the Lateran. In this council was first promulgated the terrible sentence of excommunication mentioned in the decrees, and beginning In nomine Domini nostri. The effect was that he undermined the emperor's jurisdiction, and transferred to a few cardinals, and certain catholic persons, the full authority of filling the pontiff chair. Then, against all such as crept into the seat of Peter by money, or favour, without the full consent of the cardinals, he thundered terrible blasts of excommunication, accursing them and their children with the anger of Almighty God; giving authority and power to cardinals, with the clergy and laity, to depose all such persons, and call a council-general, wheresoever they would, against them.

In the council of Lateran, under pope Nicholas II., Berengarius Andegavensis, and archdeacon, was driven to the recantation of his doctrine, denying the real substance of Christ's holy body and blood to be in the sacrament, otherwise than sacramentally and in mystery. In the same council also was invented the doctrine and term of transubstantiation.

Nicholas however only reigned three years and a half, and then drank of Brazutus's cup, like his predecessors. At the beginning of his reign or somewhat before, about the year of our Lord 1057, Henry the fourth was made emperor, being but a child, and reigned fifty years; but not without great molestation and much disquietness; for in the course of time, when Hildebrand came to the popedom, he had the audacity to excommunicate him, and absolve all his subjects from their oath of allegiance to him. On this all his nobles, through fear of the pope's curse, deserted him; and the emperor dreading the consequences that would ensue, though a brave man, found it necessary to make his submission. He accordingly repaired to the city of Canosus, where the pope then was, and went barefooted with his wife and child to the gate, where he from morning to night, fasting all the day, most humbly desired absolution, craving to be let in to the bishop. But no ingress being given him he continued three days together in his condition: at length answer came that the pope's majesty had yet no leisure to talk with him. The emperor, moved that he was not let into the city, patient and with an humble mind stopped without the walls, with no little distress; for it was a sharp winter, and the ground was frozen. At length his request was granted through the entreating of Matilda, the pope's paramour, and of Arelaus, earl of Sebaudia, and the abbot of Cluniak. On the fourth day being let in, as a token of his repentance he yielded to the pope's hands his crown, with all other imperial ornaments, and confessed himself unworthy of the empire, if ever he did against the pope hereafter, as he had done before, desiring for that time to be absolved and forgiven. The pope answered that he would neither forgive, nor release the bond of his excommunication, but upon condition that he should be content to stand to his arbitrement in the council, and to take such penance as he should enjoin him; also that he should be ready to appear in what place or time the pope should appoint him. Moreover, that he, being content to take the pope judge of his cause, should answer in the council to all objections and accusations laid against him, and that he should never seek any revenge; that he should stand to the pope's mind and pleasure whether to have his kingdom restored, or to lose it. Finally, that before the trial of his cause, he should neither use his kingly ornaments, sceptre nor crown; nor usurp authority to govern, nor exact any oath of allegiance from his subjects. These things being promised to the bishop by an oath, and put in writing, the emperor was released from excommunication.

After the death of Hildebrand came pope Victor, who was set up by Matilda and the duke of Normandy, with the faction and retinue of Hildebrand. But his papal authority was brief, for being poisoned, it is said in his chalice, he reigned only one year and a half. Notwithstanding, the imitation and example of Hildebrand continued in them that followed. And as the kings of Israel followed the steps of Jeroboam till the time of their desolation; so for the greatest part of all popes followed the steps and proceedings of Hildebrand, their spiritual Jeroboam, in maintaining false worship, and chiefly in upholding the dignity of the see against all rightful authority, and the lawful kingdom of Christ. In the time of Victor began the order of the monks of the Charter-house, through the means of one Hugo, bishop of Gracianople, and of Bruno, bishop of Cologne.

In the time of pope Honorius the second, a christian preacher named Arnulphus was martyred at Rome. Some say he was archbishop of Lugdune, as Hugo, Platina, Sabellicus. Tritemius says he was a priest, whose history, as he describes it, we will briefly give in English:--About this time, in the days of Honorius the second, one Arnulphus, a priest, a man zealous and of great devotion, and a worthy preacher, came to Rome, and in his preaching rebuked the dissolute and lascivious looseness and incontinency, avarice and immoderate pride of the clergy, provoking all to follow Christ and his apostles rather in their poverty and pureness of life. Thus this man was well accepted, and highly liked of the nobility of Rome, for a true disciple of Christ; but by the cardinals and clergy he was no less hated than favoured by the other, insomuch that privily in the night they took him and destroyed him. His martyrdom is said to have been revealed to him before from God by an angel, he being in the desert, when he was sent forth to preach; whereupon he said unto them publicly, "I know ye seek my life, and know you will take me away privily: but why? Because I preach to you the truth, and blame your pride, stoutness, avarice, incontinency, with your unmeasurable greediness in getting and heaping up riches; therefore you are displeased with me. I take heaven and earth to witness, that I have preached unto you that which I was commanded of the Lord. But you contemn me and your Creator, who by his only Son hath redeemed you. And no marvel if you seek my death, being a sinful person, preaching unto you the truth, when if St. Peter were here this day and rebuked your vices which so multiply above measure, you would not spare him." And as he was expressing this, with a loud voice he said moreover: "For my part I am not afraid to suffer death for the truth's sake: but this I say unto you, that God will look upon your iniquities, and will be revenged. You, being full of all impurity, play the blind guides to the people committed unto you, leading them the way to hell." Thus the hatred of the clergy being incensed against him for preaching truth, they conspired against him, and laying wait for him, took him and drowned him. Sabellicus and Platana say they hanged him.

We shall close our accounts of the ascendancy of the popes with one more remarkable fact of history. In the time of pope Innocent, king John of England, alarmed at the offence he had given to the see of Rome, and fearful of the invasion which the infamy of that see had excited against him, entreated for peace with the pope, and promised to do whatever he should command him. On this the pope sent his legate Pandulph to the king at Canterbury, where he waited their coming, and on the 13th day of May the king received them, making them an oath, "That of and for all things wherein he stood accursed, he would make ample restitution and satisfaction; and the lords and barons of England who were with the king attending the legate sware in like manner, that if the king would not accomplish in every thing the oath which he had taken, then they would cause him to hold and confirm the same whether he would or not."

Then the king himself submitted to the court of Rome and the pope, and gave up his dominions and realms of England and Ireland from him and from his heirs for evermore. With this condition, that the king and his heirs should take again these dominions of the pope to farm, paying for them yearly to the court of Rome 1000 marks of silver. Then the king took the crown from his head, kneeling down in the presence of all his lords and barons of England to Pandulph, the pope's chief legate, saying, "Here I resign the crown of the realm of England to the pope's hands, Innocent the third, and put me wholly in his mercy and ordinance." Then Pandulph took the crown of king John, and kept it five days as a possession of the realms of England and Ireland. This humiliating ceremony took place, some say at the Ewell monastery between Canterbury and Dover; others, at the monastery of St. John, then standing in all its glory at the extreme point of Dover, opposite the coast of France. The latter is the more probable, as it was the greater establishment; and more likely from its situation and celebrity to be chosen as the scene of this papal parade and disgraceful royal resignation.

It was not to be expected that after this submission the king was freed from popish influence; on the contrary, he was surrounded by monks in the interest of foreign countries, who did every thing they could to degrade and dishonour him. He died in the year 1216, after an imbecile reign of eighteen years, and historians differ as to the manner of his death, some asserting that he died of an inflammation, others of a flux, while the fact generally believed is, that he was poisoned, as we shall presently shew.

It is recorded in the chronicle of William Caxton, called Fructus Temporum, that a monk named Simon, being much offended with a talk that the king had at his table, concerning Ludovic the French king's son, began to speculate how he most speedily might destroy him. First he counselled with his abbot, shewing him the whole matter, and what he was minded to do. He alleged for himself the prophecy of Caiaphas, saying--"It is better that one man die, than all the people should perish." "I am well contented," he added, "to lose my life, and so become a martyr, that I may utterly destroy this tyrant." With that the abbot wept for gladness, and much commended his fervent zeal. The monk then being absolved by the abbot for doing this act, went secretly into a garden near at hand, and finding there a venomous toad, he so pricked him and pressed him with his pen-knife, that he made him vomit all the poison that was within him. This done, he conveyed it into a cup of wine, and with a smiling and flattering countenance said thus to the king--"If it should like your princely majesty, here is such a cup of wine as ye never drank better before in all your life-time: I trust this draught shall make all England glad." With that the king drank a great draught thereof, pledging him. The monk soon after went to the farmery, and there is reported to have perished by a dreadful death. However, he had continually from thenceforth three monks to sing mass for his soul, confirmed by their general chapter.

The king within a short space after feeling great pain in his body, asked for Simon the monk; and answer was made that he had departed this life. "Then God have mercy upon me," answered the king; "I suspected as much, after he had said that all England should be glad." In Gisburne, we find, that dissenting from others he says that the king was poisoned with a dish of pears, which the monk had prepared for him on purpose; and asking the king whether he would taste of his fruit, and being bid to bring them in, did so. At the bringing in whereof the king doubting some poison, demanded for the monk what he had brought. He said, some fruit, and that very good, the best that ever he did taste. "Eat," said the king; and he took one of the pears which he knew, and did eat. Being bid to take another, he ate that also, and so likewise a third. Then the king, refraining no longer, took one of the other pears, and was poisoned.

Equally vindictive were the different popes towards the other christian sovereigns of Europe, but particularly those of Germany, one of whom, the valiant emperor Frederic, was compelled to submit to be stepped on by the feet of pope Alexander, and dared not make any resistance. In England, however, a spirit of resentment broke out in various reigns, in consequence of the papal oppressions, which continued with more or less violence till the exertions of the great Wickliffe, about whom we shall speak in the following section. Previous, however, to this time, there were several martyrdoms of religious men in England, though the cruelties inflicted on them did not arise so much from their sacred character, as from the political motives which caused the invasions and insurrections. The massacre of the monks of Bangor, A.D. 856, was a dreadful instance of barbarity under the Saxon government. These monks were in most respects different from those who bear the name at present. Though catholics, they were generally pious and holy men.

The Danes landing in different parts of Britain, both in England and Scotland, in the eighth century, were at first repulsed; but in A.D. 857, a party of them landed near Southampton, and not only robbed the people, but murdered the clergy and burnt the churches. These barbarians penetrated into the centre of England, and took up their quarters at Nottingham in 868; but the English, under their king Ethelfred, drove them from those posts, and obliged them to retire into Northumberland. In the year 870, another body of these barbarians landed in Norfolk, and engaged in battle with the English at Hertford. Victory declared in favour of the pagans, who took Edmund king of the east Angles prisoner, and after treating him with a thousand indignities, transfixed his body with arrows, and then beheaded him. They burnt many of the churches, and among the rest that belonging to the Caldees at St. Andrew's, in Fifeshire, Scotland. The piety of this order of men made them objects of abhorrence to the Danes, who, wherever they went, singled out their priests for destruction, of whom no less than 200 were massacred in Scotland. Similar scenes took place in that part of Ireland now called Leinster; there the Danes murdered and burnt the priests alive in their own churches; they carried destruction wherever they went, sparing neither age nor sex; but the clergy were the most obnoxious to them, because they exposed their idolatry, and persuaded the people to have nothing to do with them. These Danish incursions and cruelties continued with greater or less force till the conquest, when new scenes arrested the public attention, and the pious ministers and members of the christian church had to contend with new enemies.