Houghton, John (1488?-1535) (DNB00)

HOUGHTON, JOHN (1488?–1535), prior of the London Charterhouse, born in Essex of honourable parents in or about 1488, studied at Cambridge, and took the degrees of B.A. and LL.B. His parents then wished him to marry, but as he had resolved to embrace the ecclesiastical life, he left them and dwelt in concealment with a devout priest until he could himself take holy orders. Subsequently he graduated B.D. at Cambridge (Cooper, Athenæ Cantabr. i. 52). Having exercised the functions of a secular priest for four years, he entered the Carthusian order in London at the age of twenty-eight, and after acting as sacristan for five years, became procurator for about three years. In 1530 he was made prior of Beauvale, Nottinghamshire, but was elected prior of his old house in London in November 1531. His biographer says ‘he was slight of stature, elegant in appearance, shy in look, modest in manner, sweet in speech, chaste in body, humble of heart, amiable and beloved by all’ (Chauncy, Hist. of the Sufferings of Eighteen Carthusians, ed. 1890, p. 21).

The Charterhouse was perhaps the best ordered religious community in England. From the commencement of the divorce cause the monks had espoused Queen Catherine's side, and they regarded the reforming measures of the parliament with consternation. In 1534 the act was passed cutting off the Princess Mary from the succession, and requiring of all subjects of the realm an oath of allegiance to Elizabeth and a recognition of the king's marriage with Anne Boleyn. Royal commissioners appeared at the Charterhouse to require the submission of the brethren. They refused to take the oath of allegiance, and Houghton and Father Humphrey, the procurator, were accordingly sent to the Tower. At the end of a month Houghton was persuaded by ‘certain good and learned men,’ including Stokesley, bishop of London, that the cause was not one for which it was lawful to suffer. He therefore undertook to comply conditionally, with some necessary reservations, and was sent back to the cloister. The royal commissioners went there with the lord mayor for the oath, and it was refused. They went again, with the threat of instant imprisonment for the whole community, and then all the monks swore as they were required, protesting that they submitted only as far as it was lawful for them so to do.

Subsequently the Carthusians were called upon to acknowledge that the king was supreme head on earth of the church of England. Notice of the intention of the government having been signified to the order, Augustine Webster, prior of Axholme, Lincolnshire, and Robert Lawrence, prior of Beauvale, Nottinghamshire, came up to London, and with Houghton presented themselves before Cromwell, and entreated to be excused from submission. They were sent to the Tower, where they were soon joined by Richard Reynolds, a Brigittine monk of Sion. These four were examined on 26 April 1535 before a committee of the privy council, of which Cromwell was a member. On their refusal to accept the act of supremacy, they were brought to trial before a special commission, and on the following day (29 April) were found guilty by a jury and condemned to death. The execution took place at Tyburn on 4 May 1535, when for the first time in English history ecclesiastics were brought out in their habits without undergoing the previous ceremony of degradation. With the monks, John Haile, a secular priest, vicar of Isleworth, Middle- sex, suffered death. Houghton, in a touching and simple address to the people from the scaffold, said: ‘Our holy mother the Church has decreed otherwise than the king and parliament have decreed, and therefore, rather than disobey the Church, we are ready to suffer.’ One of his quarters, with an arm, was hung over the gate of the Charterhouse to awe the remaining monks into submission, but they were firm in their refusal of the oath.

Houghton was beatified by a decree of Pope Leo XIII, dated 29 Dec. 1886. He is said to have written: 1. ‘Conciones,’ lib. i. 2. ‘Epistolæ maxime ad Theodoricum Loerum Carthusianum.’ 3. An account of all the questions proposed to him in his different examinations, and of the answers which he made. The manuscript of the last work he sent to Father William Exmew, from whom it passed to Maurice Chauncy, who entrusted it to a learned Spaniard, named Peter de Bahis, for presentation, with a portion of Houghton's hair-shirt, either to the pope or to the president at the Grande Chartreuse (Gillow, Dict. of English Catholics, iii. 416).

[Chauncy's Historia aliquot nostri sæculi Martyrum (1583), and the English translation entitled History of the Sufferings of Eighteen Carthusians in England, London, 1890; Froude's Hist. of England (1875), ii. 363–82; Baga de Secretis, pouch vii. bundle i.; Gasquet's Henry VIII and the English Monasteries, i. 205–43, ii. 331; Pits, De Angliæ Scriptoribus, p. 724; Sanders's Anglican Schism (Lewis), p. 117; Morris's Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers, i. 8–20; Tanner's Bibl. Brit. p. 416; Stanton's Menology, p. 195; Addit. MS. 5871, f. 46 b; Wright's Letters relating to the Suppression of the Monasteries (Camden Soc.), p. 34; Lingard's Hist. of England (1849), v. 38; Tablet, 15 Jan. 1887, pp. 81, 82; Dixon's Hist. of the Church of England, i. 219–21, 269, 273, 275; Hendricks's London Charterhouse, 1889; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII for 1535, ed. Gairdner.]

T. C.