Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Top 10 Heads That Rolled During the Reign of Henry VIII


7
Elizabeth Barton
Elizabeth Barton had visions that it was against God's will for Henry to marry Anne Boleyn. He put an end to her mysticism.
Elizabeth Barton had visions that it was against God's will for Henry to marry Anne Boleyn. He put an end to her mysticism.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

­Executed 1534

Elizabeth Barton was a young, lowly servant when she first made a name for herself as a mystic. At the age of nineteen, she got sick, and in her illness, she began to have visions. In 1525, with Henry VIII's pursuit to gain permission from the pope to marry Anne Boleyn in full swing, Barton's visions became supernatural evidence of God's will: Henry was not to marry Anne.

Some people thought she was simply crazy, others believed her visions were a result of her illness, and still others believed she was a conduit for God. Her master, the Archbishop of Canterbury, fell into the latter group. He got Barton into a convent, where she became a nun and so attained a degree of legitimacy. Over the course of the next 10 years, her visions became bolder and increasingly threatening to Henry's assertion that his desire to divorce Catherine was based on legitimate religious principal.

Barton's visions about the consequences of the king's pursuit eventually became so ominous that they were considered treasonous. She was arrested, and under intense interrogation, she confessed to having faked everything. She was beheaded in 1534. No consensus was ever reached on whether her visions were divinely inspired or the result of a troubled mind. To this day, the Catholic Church gives some credence to Barton's apparent mysticism [source: Catholic Encyclopedia].

Barton is just one of the many insistent Catholics who lost their heads to Henry VIII's pursuit of a divorce. Cardinal John Fisher became a martyr and a saint when he refused to support the Supremacy Act that made Henry VIII the head of the church and the Act of Succession that made Anne Boleyn the legitimate queen of England.

­


More to Explore