The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe/Volume 3/Richard Wiche, Priest, Martyr

Richard Wiche, Priest, Martyr

After the burning of Richard Hoveden, and Nicholas Canon, and Thomas Bagley, priest, above recorded, whom the bishops condemned to death, A.D. 1431, not long after, about the year of our Lord 1439, which was the eighteenth of the reign of king Henry VI., they had another poor man by the back, named Richard Wiche, priest, mentioned both in Robert Fabian, and also in another old English chronicle borrowed of one Perminger. What his opinions were, they do not express. This they record, that this Richard Wiche was first degraded, then burnt at Tower-hill for heresy. Some do affirm, that he, before his death, revolted; but that seemeth, by his burning, not to be true.[1]

It is also testified of him, that before his death he spake (as prophesying) that the postern of the Tower should sink; which, also, afterwards came, as he saith, to pass: wherefore of many of the people he was counted for a holy man; Wiche, after his death sainted.insomuch that, as it is affirmed, they came to the place where he was burnt, and there made their oblations and prayers, and upreared a great heap of stones, and set up a cross there by night; so that, by this means, a great clamour ran upon the churchmen, and especially upon such as put him to death. Then, to cease the rumour, the king gave commandment to punish such as went thither on pilgrimage: the copy whereof is here to be seen as followeth.

The King's Writ, prohibiting Pilgrimage to the Tomb of Richard Wiche.

Rex Vicecomitibus London et Midd. salutem. Albeit Richard Wiche, late clerk, who heretofore long since heretically did hold, teach, and publicly preach, certain heresies and erroneous opinions in many places within our realm of England, and for the same many years now past being judicially convicted, did, before a judge, in that behalf sufficient, abjure all heresy generally, and afterwards, as a dog returning to his vomit, did presume to maintain, teach, and publicly preach, his former errors and heresies, so that he was worthily adjudged a relapse: and again, being impeached for the same before the reverend father in God, Robert, bishop of London, his lawful ordinary, was called forth to judgment; and being before him, did judicially confess his errors and heresies. For which cause the reverend father, upon mature deliberation by him, the said reverend father, first had, with the advice of the learned in the law, his assistants, lawfully proceeding against the said Richard, did, by his sentence definitive, pronounce and adjudge him to be a relapse, and did degrade him from the order and dignity of priesthood, and took from him all priestly ornaments, and deprived him of all priestly function and privilege (according to justice), and, last of all, turned him over to the secular power as the manner is; and afterwards you, by our princely commandment and warrant, did, according to the law of our realm, for his last punishment, consume the body of the said Richard to ashes, being a relapse, convict, and degraded, as a notorious traitor, not only against God, but also against us and our crown and dignity; all which notwithstanding, certain our subjects (as we have been sundry times informed) being pricked forward with a diabolical spirit, practising, of all likelihood, not only sedition, but also idolatry, within our realm, are not afraid publicly to affirm, that the said Richard was altogether innocent of heretical pravity. Nay rather they do most shamefully, with their vain devices, and wickedly conceived imaginations, blaze abroad, that he was, and died, a good, a just, and a holy man, and that he doth many miracles: whereas indeed no such miracles be done by him. Which disordinate persons we may well, and upon probable causes, repute and deem culpable, not only of heretical pravity, but also of high treason, and as rebels to our person, majesty, and violators of the peace and dignity of our realm, as withal, breakers and trespassers against the sacred canons of the church, who dare so presumptuously adventure to worship the said Richard as a saint, whereas it is not lawful to worship any manner of person, be he ever so holy, before he be canonized by the authority of the bishop of Rome: We, therefore, being very careful for the good preservation of our peace, and desirous to abolish from out of all the coasts of the same all manner of idolatry, do charge and command you, that, in certain places within your liberties, where you shall think most convenient, you cause, forthwith, proclamations to be made on our behalf, straitly charging that no person from henceforth presume to resort to the place where the said Richard was executed, under colour of a pilgrim, or for any other cause of devotion whatsoever; nor send any offering thither, nor worship him hereafter openly or secretly, or adjudge, esteem, repute, name, or talk of him as otherwise justified or innocent, than such as the said reverend father, by his definitive sentence, hath pronounced him to be: upon pain and penalty to be taken and reputed for a heretic or a favourer of heretics, and to receive condign punishment provided for heretics. And that you arrest all and every person whom you shall find to do any thing contrary to this our proclamation, and the same, so arrested, commit to our prison; there to remain until we shall think good to send countermand for their deliverance.

Witness the king at his manor of Easthampstead, the fifteenth day of July, in the eighteenth year of his reign.

Per ipsum Regem.

Like writs, and to the same effect, were directed to all the sheriffs through all the realm, bearing all one and the same date; by virtue of which letters, the mayor and sheriffs did use such diligence, that shortly after, that concourse and seeking of the people was left off.

After the burning of this man, which was about the month of June, in the same year, about November, a convocation was called by Henry, archbishop of Canterbury, wherein was propounded among the clergy, The bishops consult to abolish the law of Præmuniri consult with themselves what way were best to be taken for the removing away the law of 'Præmuniri facias;'[2] for so were the hearts then of the temporalty set against the ecclesiastical sort, that where any vantage might be given them by the law, they did nothing spare; by reason whereof the church-men at that time were greatly molested by the said law of 'Præmuniri,' and by the king's writs, and other indictments, to their no small annoyance. By long consultation and good advisement, at last this way was taken: that a petition or supplication should be drawn and presented to the king, for the abolishing of the aforesaid law of 'Præmuniri facias;' and, also, for the restraining of other briefs, writs, and indictments, which seemed then to lie heavy upon the clergy. This bill or supplication being contrived and exhibited, by the archbishops of Canterbury and of York, unto the king, standing in need at the same time of a subsidy to be collected of the clergy, this answer was given to their supplication, on the king's behalf: The king's answer to the bill.that, forasmuch as the time of Christmas then tbew near, whereby he had, as yet, no sufficient leisure to advise upon the matter, he would take therein a farther pause. In the mean time, as one tendering their quiet, he would send to all his officers and ministers within his realm, that no such brief of 'Præmuniri' should pass against them or any of them, from the said time of Christmas, till the next parliament, A. D.1439.[3]

  1. Ex Fabia. par. 7. Ex antique alio Chronicho.
  2. Ex Regist. Henr. Chichesley.
  3. Ex Regist. Cant.