Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sawtrey, William

SAWTREY, WILLIAM (d. 1401), lollard, was a priest at St. Margaret's, Lynn, Norfolk, in 1399, when he was summoned before Bishop Henry le Despenser [q. v.] of Norwich, and charged with heresies, which he was afterwards officially declared to have at this time abjured. Whether he actually did so is uncertain (Wilkins, Concilia Magnæ Brit. et Hib. iii. 256 seq.). It seems probable that he was implicated in the rising of the Earls of Kent and Huntingdon next year. In 1401, however, he was attached to St. Osyth's or St. Syth's, London, though not as rector (Concilia, iii. 255, but cf. Newcourt, Repert. Eccles. Paroch. Londin. i. 30), and his heretical teaching drew upon him the attention of Archbishop Thomas Arundel [q. v.] The statute ‘De Hæretico Comburendo’ had just been passed, and Sawtrey was its first victim. On 12 Feb. Sawtrey was summoned to appear before convocation at St. Paul's. He was charged with refusing to adore the true cross save as a ‘symbol’ by ‘vicarious adoration;’ with maintaining that priests might omit the repetition of the ‘hours’ for more important duties, such as preaching; that the money expended in pilgrimages for the attainment of any temporal good might be more profitably distributed to the poor; that men were more worthy of adoration than angels, and that the bread of the eucharist after consecration, though it was the bread of life, remained bread (Concilia, iii. 255–6). Sawtrey demanded a copy of the charges and the appointment of a time for the hearing of his defence. His requests were granted, and on 18 Feb. he produced his answer, opening it by an appeal to king and parliament. On all the points of the indictment he maintained his opinion simply and firmly, quoting St. John, St. Paul, and St. Augustine in his defence (Fasciculi Zizaniorum, pp. 408 seq. Rolls Ser.). On the question of the eucharist Arundel pressed him closely, and next day spent three hours on this one point. He laboured to convince Sawtrey, and, failing that, tried to induce him to submit to the decision of the church. Sawtrey refused, save with the proviso ‘where such decision be not contrary to the divine will.’ For his bearing we have only the testimony of his enemies, who describe it variously as vacillating, derisive, fanatical, and defiant. On 23 Feb. documents purporting to be his previous abjuration were produced, and, according to the official record, Sawtrey could not object to them. The final promulgation of the sentence was still deferred until 26 Feb., when Sawtrey was condemned as a relapsed heretic. Through seven successive stages he was degraded from priest to doorkeeper, then stripped of every clerical function, attribute, and vestment, even his tonsure being clipped away. Finally he was delivered up—a layman—to the secular arm (Concilia, iii. 257–9). His appeal to king and parliament did not avail, and on the same day the king's writ was signed at Westminster (Rot. Parl. iii. 459). Sawtrey was burnt in chains at Smithfield amid a crowd of spectators.

[See, in addition to the authorities cited in the text, Chronicon Adæ de Usk, p. 57, ed. E. M. Thompson, Royal Soc. of Literature; Ann. Hen. IV, pp. 335–6, in Chron. Monast. S. Albani, 28; Thomæ Walsingham, Hist. Angl. ii. 247, Eulog. Hist. iii. 388, all Rolls Ser.; Rymer's Fœdera, viii. 178; Foxe's Acts and Monuments, i. 671 seq.; Hook's Lives of the Archbishops, iv. 502 seq.; Pauli's Geschichte von England, v. 52; Ramsay's Lancaster and York, i. 33–5; Richards's History of Lynn, pp. 589–617; Stubbs's Constitutional History, iii. 32.]

A. M. C.-e.