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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 42.djvu/94

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Oldcastle
Oldcastle
88

that he was one of Henry's boon companions. Bale, indeed, makes him confess at his trial to ' gluttony, covetousness, and lechery in his frail youth,' but whether he had authority for this is by no means clear; and in any case he cannot refer to the time of Henry's wild life in London. For Oldcastle was then already a convinced and prominent lollard, and any inconsistency in his life would no doubt have been eagerly noted. How he became a lollard it is now impossible to say. But it is worth noticing that Herefordshire, and especially the district in which Almeley lay, was a hotbed of lollardy in the last decade of the fourteenth century. William Swinderby, the proceedings against whom in 1391 are given at length by Foxe,was charged with having denied the validity of absolution by a priest in deadly sin, at Whitney, four miles south-west of Almeley; Walter Brute, a Herefordshire layman, made himself very obnoxious to the clergy by his heretical preaching, and was supported by force, so that the king had in September 1393 to order the officials and notabilities of Herefordshire, among them Thomas Oldcastle, to see that the bishop was not interfered with, and that illegal conventicles were no longer held (Foxe, Acts and Monuments, iii. lll, 131, 196).

The earliest evidence of Oldcastle's own lollard opinions belongs to 1410, when, owing to the unlicensed preaching of 'Sir John the Chaplain,' the churches of Hoo, Halstow, and Cooling, all on the estates of his wife, were laid under interdict (Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 329). He is said to have done his utmost to convert the prince himself to his views (Gesta Henrici V, p. 2). Elmham (Vita, p. 31) declares that Henry had already dismissed him from his service on account of his lollard heresies before he came to the throne. But this seems to be contradicted by the evidence of the proceedings against him in 1413. Oldcastle's position and earnestness certainly made him a most formidable leader of the lollard party. He was striving to secure the reformation of the clergy in the lollard sense, and, according to Thomas Netter or Walden [q. v.], he had, at the instance of John Huss, provided for the diffusion of Wiclif's writings (Goodwin, Henry V, p. 167; Bale, p. 251).

At the first meeting of the convocation which assembled at St. Paul's on 6 March 1413, a fortnight before the death of Henry V, John Lay, a chaplain there present, was denounced as a heretic, and confessed to having 'celebrated ' that very morning in the presence of Oldcastle, though unable to produce the license of his ordinary (Wilkins, iii. 338). Convocation sat well on into the summer, and accumulated fresh evidence against Oldcastle. A large number of Wiclifite tracts were seized, condemned, and burnt. In the course of the search a book containing a number of small tracts much more dangerous in tendency was discovered in the shop of an illuminator in Paternoster Row, who confessed that Oldcastle was the owner. The latter was summoned to Kennington, and in the king's closet there on 6 June the tracts were read in the presence of Henry and 'almost all the prelates and nobles of England.' The king expressed his abhorrence of the views expounded in them as the worst against the faith and the church he had ever heard. Oldcastle, being appealed to by him, is alleged to have confessed that they were justly condemned, and pleaded that he had not read more than two leaves of the book (ib. iii. 352). This encouraged the clergy to make a general attack upon him for his open maintenance of heresy and heretical preachers, especially in the dioceses of London, Rochester, and Hereford. It was thought prudent, however, in view of the close relation in which the culprit stood to the king, to consult Henry before taking any further steps. The bishops accordingly went to Kennington and laid the matter before the king, who thanked them, but begged them, out of respect for Oldcastle's connection with himself and for the order of knighthood, to postpone any action until he had tried what persuasion could do to wean Sir John from his errors. If he failed, he promised that the law should be put into force in all its rigour. The clergy, we are told, were inclined to resent the delay, but their leaders acquiesced in the king's wishes. Henry must have had good hopes of the success of his intervention, for on 20 July he issued a warrant for the payment at Michaelmas 1414 of four hundred marks, the balance of the purchase-money of a valuable buckle, perhaps part of the spoil of the French expedition of 1411, sold to him by Oldcastle and four other persons (FÅ“dera, ix. 41). But Oldcastle was proof against the royal arguments, and after a final stormy interview at Windsor early in August, when the king chid him sharply for his obstinacy, he went off without leave and shut himself up in Cowling Castle. Henry thereupon authorised Arundel (about 15 Aug.) to proceed against him, and issued (21 Aug.) a stringent proclamation against unlicensed lollard preaching (ib. ix. 46; Wilkins, iii. 352-3; cf. Bale, p. 255). The archbishop sent his summoner with a citation to Cowling; but Oldcastle refusing to accept personal service, another