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June 14, 1557 – William Peto Named Cardinal

Portrait in the cloister of the church Ognissanti (licensed through WIkimedia Commons)

Does the name sound familiar? It should. This is one of those great stories that could only happen in Tudor times – well, that was most likely to happen in Tudor times — because of the extent of irony and twists.

So William Peto was a monk, an Observant Friar who was so “known for his holiness of life” that he was appointed confessor to Henry VIII’s daughter Mary. He got into deep trouble in 1532, in the middle of the King’s Great Matter, for denouncing Henry’s planned divorce and defending Catherine of Aragon. Friar Peto was the one who warned Henry – to his face mind you – that he was acting as Ahab and that if he abandoned the faithful Catherine for the Jezebel Anne Boleyn, the dogs would lick his blood. Now, you you would think this would run afoul of the laws prohibiting prophesying evil to the king – but Peto got away with it because he “spoke conditionally”…saying that this would happen if the king were to behave like Ahab. Still, this made him somewhat of a legend, a legend that faded with time UNTIL it was resurrected right after Henry died and a story sprang up surrounding the procession of Henry’s remains from Whitehall to Windsor for his funeral and burial, a two-day affair. On the road, the coffin was damaged from the jolts, and when the cortege stopped at Syon House for the night, it leaked. Henry’s attendants returned to the chapel in the morning to find a red-eyed dog intent on its task of licking the blood from the stone floor – just as Peto had predicted. (As an added Tudor-like ironic twist: Syon House was where Catherine Howard was held before her execution…which had occurred almost exactly five years prior).

But anyway. Now you remember who Peto is – so fast forward to 1557: Mary is on the throne, married to Philip who hopes to drag her into his quarrels with France. The new Pope, Paul IV, wants to stop the conflict from escalating. He also wants to push Mary harder to restore England to the papacy, and believed that Cardinal Reginald Pole is not working hard enough on either of these fronts. So Pope Paul tried to appoint a new – substitute – Cardinal for England, one that would be loyal to Rome… and chose Friar Peto for the position. It must have been difficult for Mary since Peto would have inspired her full confidence and trust – but she stayed loyal to Pole and her own judgment. She refused the recognize the change, declared that the new legate would menace the liberties of her people, and ordered all the ports to be closed against him. Peto died soon afterwards, named but not consecrated as a Cardinal (though the portrait of him above shows him wearing the hat!)

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