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March 31, 1532 – Friar Peto’s Easter Sermon

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

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. Peto was the one who delivered the Easter Sunday sermon at the Mass attended by the King and Anne Boleyn in 1532…and he took advantage of the opportunity to warn Henry that if he abandoned the faithful Catherine of Aragon for the Jezebel Anne Boleyn, the dogs would lick his blood as they had Ahab’s.

As you can imagine, this caused quite a stir – and a more careful vetting of the preachers who were allowed to deliver sermons before the King! Because this was still relatively early in Henry’s move to total tyranny and because the threat was conditional (it would happen IF the King behaved like Ahab), he was not executed (though he was imprisoned until the end of the year, after which he fled to the Continent!). And while Peto did become a bit of a legend because of this, the legend 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).

I have included the account from Stowe’s Chronicle, though if you want another version you can also read the one from Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador, in Letters & Papers

The first that openly resisted or reprehended the King touching his marriage with Anne Boleyn was one Friar Peto, a simple man yet very devout, of the order of Observants: this man preaching at Greenwich, upon the two and twentieth Chapter of the third book of Kings, viz, the last part of the story of Ahab, saying even where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, even there shall the dogs lick thy blood also O King, and therewithal spake of the lying Prophets [i.e. false and selfish counselors] which abused the King, etc. I am quoth he, that Micheas whom thou wilt hate, because I must tell thee truly that this marriage is unlawful and I know ye shall eat the bread of affliction, and drink the water of sorrow, yet because our Lord hath put it into my mouth, I must speak it. And when he had strongly inveighed against the King’s second marriage, to dissuade him from it, he also said, there are many other preachers, yea, too many, which preach and persuade thee otherwise, feeding thy folly and frail affections upon hope of their own worldly promotion, and by that means they betray thy soul, thy honor, and posterity to obtain fat benefices, to become rich Abbots, and get Episcopal jurisdiction and other ecclesiastical dignities. These I say are the four hundred Prophets who in the spirit of lying, seek to deceive thee, but take good heed lest upon being seduced, you find Ahab’s punishment, which was to have his blood licked up by the dogs, saying it was one of the greatest miseries in princes to be daily abused by flatterers etc. The King being thus reproved endured it patiently and did no violence to Peto, but the next Sunday being the eighth of May, Doctor Curwin preached in the same place, who most sharply reprehended Peto and his preaching, and called him dog, slanderer, base beggarly friar, rebel, and traitor, saying that no subject should speak so audaciously to princes, and having spoke much to that effect and in commendation of the King’s marriage thereby to establish his seed in his seat forever.


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March 31, 1532 - Friar Peto\'s Easter Sermon
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