Paul's Cross in the Reformation

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Paul's Cross in the Reformation

Paul's Cross outside St Paul's Cathedral had been an assembly place since the thirteenth century and sermons began to be preached there in the fourteenth century. During the Reformation it became perhaps the most important pulpit for putting forth religious views in a public place, especially those of the government.

In the period following 1517 the primary focus of the sermons was the denouncing of Lutheranism, which Bishop John Fisher spoke of on two occasions, the first in 1521, which was accompanied by burning of his texts, and the second in 1526. Another aspect was the repudiation of Tyndale's New Testament, which included burnings of copies of it in 1527 and 1530. For the whole period in which the question of Henry VIII's divorce was being settled, both sides took their place at Paul's Cross, although those who spoke against it risked imprisonment. Prior to 1534 several preachers spoke out against the King's divorce and forecast the destruction of churches and religion. The imperial ambassador suggested that the 1533 sermon announcing the King's marriage to Anne Boleyn was met with a muted response.

In 1534, following the proclamation of Royal Supremacy, the customary prayer for the Pope was omitted for the first time, signalling the new direction of both the realm and Paul's Cross. This also marked the year when speakers at Paul's Cross, who had previously been chosen by the Bishop of London, began to be chosen more centrally. This was part of a running battle between the conservative Bishop of London, John Stokesley, and Thomas Cromwell, the Chief Minister, who sided with the radicals. Although both were supporters of the King's divorce, Cromwell wished to go further in reform and impress the Lutherans on the continent, whereas Stokesley wished to maintain order in the diocese and also maintain as much of the old ways as possible in the new settlement.

In 1535, following a battle over sermons on the nature of purgatory, Cromwell granted the right to appoint preachers at Paul's Cross to John Hilsey, Bishop of Rochester, who was a reformer. In this year also the message of royal supremacy and the denigration of the pope began to be proclaimed more vociferously. In 1536 sermons by Archbishop Cranmer and Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, took this further, partly as a kind of response to the Pilgrimage of Grace, which was a challenge to the King's religious reforms. Following the legislation on images and relics in 1538, powerful sermons were preached by Hilsey at Paul's Cross, where he debunked both the famous Rood of Boxley Abbey, which was said to move by divine will but was actually moved by a mechanism of pulleys, and the Holy Blood of Hailes, which was a mixture of honey and saffron, in front of the audience. However, despite this Hilsey was still cautious in some of his appointments, and sought to keep Stokelsey on side as much as possible, since he still had a great deal of power in his diocese, allowing sermons by the conservative minded Bishop Tunstall of Durham and Archbishop Lee of York. Some more radical preachers were reluctant to speak for fear that Stokesely might cross-examine them afterwards. In 1539, Hilsey handed back control of Paul's Cross to Stokesley, signalling a victory for the Bishop of London.

The tide began to turn more fully in the conservative direction in 1539, with the publication of the conservative Six Articles in June. Earlier in the year the King had signalled his more traditionalist intent by ordering that a Catholic Dirge be sung at St Paul's for the soul of Empress Isabella, deceased wife of Charles V. Soon after the publication of the articles, Stokesley died and he was replaced by Edmund Bonner. In February 1540 Bishop Gardiner of Winchester made a fiery sermon in which he attacked Lutheranism, but just two weeks later the preacher Robert Barnes publicly rebutted Gardiner's sermon, and attacked Gardiner himself. Barnes was forced to recant in Gardiner's presence but following two sermons at Paul's Cross by the preachers Jerome and Garrett he retracted his recantation. All three were called before Gardiner again, where they first recanted and then retracted their recantations, and they were committed to the Tower. Two days after Cromwell’s execution in July 1540, the three men were burned at the stake, arguably marking the final triumph of the conservative faction. However, some have suggested that the King sought to strike a balance between the two factions, having executed three Catholics and three Protestants by 1540; some have even suggested that he may have wished to go further in reformation, as is evidenced by the choice of Protestant tutors for his son and the actions of his will, although all this is debatable.

Paul's Cross was a frequent venue for Lutherans and other so-called heretics to publicly recant their faith, including the rector of St Mary Alderney Dr Edward Crome, a man with Lutheran sympathies who was forced to publically recant three times. The former Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Shaxton was persuaded to recant publicly at Paul's Cross in 1536 rather than face the flames with Anne Askew. Also at this time the English bibles of Tyndale and Coverdale were burned at Paul's Cross. Towards the end of the reign, in January 1547, John Feckenham gave a sermon in which he railed against the growth of the German heresy amongst the young. Generally during the reign of Henry VIII, Paul's Cross was a place where the view of the establishment would be put forth, although it was not exclusively a kind of pulpit for the nation.

With the accession of Edward VI, the momentum swung back in the direction of the reformers. At Lent in 1547 Nicholas Ridley, William Barlow and Hugh Glasier preached at Paul's Cross against the worship of images and fasting in Lent, and later in the year Barlow broke images of the Virgin in front of the crowds. In May Dr Richard Smith, the first Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, was forced to condemn books which he had published just months before as papist, although he later recanted this and was deprived of his posts. Despite Smith's change of heart, his recantation caused a stir around the country and the continent, and was published and widely distributed. It signalled the direction of the new regime, where things which had been uncontroversial previously were now deemed heretical. In January 1548 Hugh Latimer, now Chaplain to the Royal Household, preached around eight sermons at Paul's Cross calling for the Reformation to continue at pace. With this new tide of radicalism, conservatives such as Bishop Gardiner had to fall in line. He had been imprisoned early on in Edward's reign and when released he was accused of arming his retainers. He offered to defend himself in a sermon at Paul's Cross, which he gave in June. Before one of the largest audiences ever assembled there, Gardiner defended royal supremacy but, despite the specific injunction of the protector Somerset not to do so, he defended the Catholic idea of mass, which led to his committal in the Tower. The following sermon by Richard Cox at Paul's Cross was specifically tasked to rebut Gardiner's doctrines.

During the rebellions of 1549, the sermon at Paul's Cross by Cranmer's chaplain John Joseph specifically warned of the evils of sedition. At this time Bishop Bonner was also under increasing suspicion and he was tasked with giving a sermon in support of the Royal Supremacy. In his sermon at Paul's Cross in September he neglected to mention this and he was put into prison and deprived of his bishopric. He was replaced by the radical Nicholas Ridley, who had become a regular preacher at Paul's Cross. The next sermon after Bonner's was, like the one after Gardiner before him, designed to rebut his ideas.

There were also heretical denunciations in Edward's reign at Paul's Cross, mainly against radical Protestants, most notably the Anabaptist sect. Three Anabaptists did penance at Paul's Cross in 1549, including one Putto, who did penance twice, and these may have been representative of a larger number, as is referenced by the number of times the Anabaptists are referenced in sermons down to the seventeenth century. This perhaps shows that the religious reforms of the Edwardian regime did not take as well as the regime would have liked, and this is shown among the more conservative subjects as well, and the more neutral folk, who seemed to think things were going too far too fast.

Perhaps the major threat to the Edwardian regime was his sister Mary, who was an avowed Catholic. This was referenced in sermon at Paul's Cross in August 1550, when, although she was not mentioned by name, the speaker said Mary was a great supporter of the Pope and they should pray that she would change her ways. The speaker also spoke disparagingly of Henry VIII and his religious opinions. Although many, including Ridley and the King, tried to convert Mary it was to no avail and when the King lay dying in 1553, he named his Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor. Ridley threw his lot in with Queen Jane, and preached a sermon at Paul's Cross in July 1553, following Edward's death, in which he denounced Mary and her sister Elizabeth as illegitimate and said that Mary would reverse all the gains of Edward's reign. The sermon was poorly received by the congregation and Mary quickly deposed Jane. Ridley was removed and later burned and Bonner was reinstated. In August John Rogers made an impassioned plea from pulpit to resist Popery and stay true to the Protestant faith; he too was soon imprisoned and later burned.

An interesting episode of the unpredictability of the Paul's Cross crowd was the sermon given by the Queen's chaplain Gilbert Bourne in August 1553, in which he denounced the imprisonment of Bonner as illegal, praised Bonner and spoke strongly against Ridley. He antagonised the crowd to such an extent that a dagger was thrown at him and he had to be pulled to safety, and a riot began. The account may have been slightly embellished by later writers but it still shows that perhaps the preaching of Edward's reign at Paul's Cross had had some effect. Following the riot a sermon was given on the importance of obedience to the sovereign and the old religion, and to make doubly sure the preacher was surrounded by 200 armed men.

Two further sermons in 1553 denounced the Protestant ways and the Church in Edward's time, in order to further try and shepherd the people back to the old religion. However, there was still evidence of sedition; a dead cat which had been made to look like a priest saying mass was found on a cross in Cheapside, and at a sermon in April 1554, Bonner's chaplain gave a sermon displaying the cat and ordering the culprit to come forward. In June, when the chaplain spoke again, he was shot at and a search was made of every house in the precinct of St Paul's to find the culprit, but to no avail. In November 1554, Dean John Feckenham of St Paul's gave a sermon suggesting all confiscated church property should be returned, which was extremely problematic for the government, and Feckenham was forced to appear before the Privy Council.

In July 1554, Mary I married the future Philip II of Spain at Winchester. The marriage was controversial and had led to the rebellion of Thomas Wyatt the Younger and at Paul's Cross in July a woman was forced to do penance for speaking against the mass and Philip. Paul's Cross became the venue for public praise of the marriage. In July soon after the marriage the Archdeacon of Canterbury gave a sermon praising Mary and Philip and praying for them. In September, in front of many of the Council and the largest crowd ever assembled at Paul's Cross, Bishop Gardiner gave a sermon praising Philip as a 'perfect Prince' and also denouncing the preachers of Edward's reign.

Another major event in 1554 was in December, that of the formal reconciliation with Rome. This was solemnised by the visit of Cardinal Pole as Papal legate to the Cathedral in a grand procession. Following the service, which was attended by Philip, Gardiner again ascended to the pulpit and addressed a crowd of reportedly 15,000. He praised the reconciliation, even suggesting that it had nearly happened before in the reigns of both Henry and Edward, and granted absolution to the entire congregation.

In September 1555 the last Papal bull to be published at St Paul's, which was for the remission of the nation's sins, was proclaimed. In August 1557 a grand procession was held to celebrate the Spanish victory at St Quentin, and a sermon was given at Paul's Cross, this seems to have been the last major event at Paul’s Cross in Mary's reign. Aside from these showpiece political events, Mary did not use Paul's Cross as strategically as her predecessors had, and the more important sermons accompanied the burnings at Oxford and Smithfield. There were several sermons on doctrinal matters and the elimination of heresy but not as co-ordinated as they had been under Henry or Edward. Following the death of Mary I in November 1558 and the accession of Elizabeth I, Paul's Cross continued to be an organ of the establishment, only this time of the Protestant establishment again.