Bocher, Joan (DNB00)

BOCHER, BOUCHER, or BUTCHER, JOAN (d. 1550), anabaptist martyr, sometimes called Joan of Kent and Joan Knel, seems to have first come into notice about 1540 as 'a great dispenser of Tindal's New Testament' to the ladies of Henry VIII's court. She was a 'great reader of scripture,' and found a sympathetic friend in Anne Askew [q. v.], who was burnt for heresy in 1546. Before 1543 she had adopted opinions about the incarnation which conflicted with the contemporary notions of both catholic and protestant orthodoxy, and she was charged with heresy before Dr. Leigh, the commissary of Archbishop Cranmer. Articles drawn up in 1543 by the archbishop's enemies against Dr. Leigh charge him with displaying illegal clemency towards her, but Strype asserts that Henry VIII himself interfered to stop proceedings against her at this time (Memorials of Cranmer, 1848, i. 257). In 1548 Joan was again in trouble and with fatal result. She was examined before Archbishop Cranmer, Sir Thomas Smith, Hugh Latimer, and other divines, and she insisted that Christ did not 'take flesh of the Virgin.' According to Latimer, she said that 'our Saviour had a phantasticall body' (Latimer, Works, Parker Soc., ii. 114). Sentence of excommunication was passed on her, and was read by the archbishop in St. Mary's chapel of St. Paul's Cathedral on 12 April 1549. On 30 April Cranmer sent a detailed account of Joan's heresy and of his proceedings against her to the king, Edward VI, and at the same time handed her over to the privy council for punishment. She was kept in prison for a year, and was there visited by Roger Hutchinson, Lever, Whitehead, Latimer, and other protestant clergymen, but they failed to induce her to change her opinions. For a time she was detained by Lord-chancellor Rich in his own residence, York House, 'where my lord of Canterbury and Bishop Ridley resorted almost daily to her. But she was so high in spirit that they could do nothing' Foxe, Acts and Monuments, 1847, vii. 631). On 27 April 1550 Lord-chancellor Rich, in accordance with an order of the council, issued a writ to the sheriff of London to burn her. On 2 May following Joan was burned at Smithfield. Dr. Scory, afterwards bishop of Rochester, 'preached at her death,' and was reviled by Joan as a lying rogue.

Foxe in his 'Acts and Monuments' (ed. Townsend, 1847, v. 699), following Sir John Hayward's 'Life of Edward VI,' asserts that Cranmer was solely responsible for Joan's death, and that he obtained the king's signature to the order for her execution by something like coercion. It has been pointed out, however, that in Edward VI's private diary, printed from the 'Cottonian MS.' Nero C. x) in Burnet's 'Reformation' (ed. Pocock, vol. ii.), the king notes the fact of Joan's execution without comment: that Joan was burned under a writ issued by the lord chancellor to the sheriff of London, in accordance with a resolution drawn up by those members of the council who were present at the meeting of 27 April 1550; and that neither the king nor the archbishop attended that meeting. Burnet (Reformation, ed. Pocock, ii. 202) rightly condemns the policy that led the protestant reformers to burn Joan, a supporter of their own party, and adds: 'The woman's carriage made her be looked on as a frantic person fitter for Bedlam than a stake.' Edmund Becke [q. v.] took at the time another view, and published immediately after Joan's death 'A brefe Confutacioun of this Anabaptisticall Opinion … For the maintenaunce wherof Jhone Boucher … most obstinately suffered,' mdl. (reprinted in J. P. Collier's 'Illustrations of Early English Literature,' 1864, vol. ii.)

[Cranmer's report of the heresy and excommunication of Joan made to the privy council (30 April 1549) is printed from his register in Strype's Memorials of Cranmer, 1848, ii. 488–92, in Wilkins's Concilia, iv. 43, and in Burnet's Reformation, ed. Pocock, v. 246–9. See also Strype's Memorials, ii. i. 335 et seq.; Roger Hutchinson's Works (Parker Society), 145–7; Fabyan's Chronicle, 1559, fol. 555; Stow's Chronicle, 1615, p. 604; Froude's History, iv. 407, 526; Lingard's History, v. 159; and especially the notes on Strype's Cranmer (1848), ii. 97–100. Other authorities are mentioned in the text.]

S. L. L.