A Short History Of The Diocese Of Nottingham.

The last catholic priest to serve Newark Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

Henry Lytherland was born around the year 1487. At school he had progressed well and at the age of fifteen was selected to attend Oxford University. The first year at Oxford Henry studied grammar including Latin and literature with rhetoric and logic, and because he was studying for reception of holy orders, theology. Henry later read both civil and church law and in June 1516, after fourteen years at university he was awarded a bachelors degree in civil law and five years later a doctorate in canon law.

At the age of 27 Henry became vicar of Pattishall, Northamptonshire. Eight years later the dean and chapter of Lincoln Cathedral appointed Fr. Henry to the important position of the Keeper of Altar of St. Peter at Lincoln Cathedral.

Lincoln Cathedral circa 1536.

Lincoln Cathedral circa 1536.

Fr. Henry was the Legal Advisor here for thirteen years (1522 - 1535) and then he held the post of Treasurer (until his arrest). In 1536 the Lincolnshire Rising occurred and it was probably Fr. Henry with all of his years experience as Legal Advisor who was asked to write the petition to the king on behalf of the Lincolnshire people.

Fr. Henry was a senior member of the Cathedral's Chapter and the Chapter House can be seen as the conical roofed building on the right hand side of this picture. On the left hand side are a close of houses and one of these was leased to Fr. Henry for 20 years.

The title, Keeper of St Peter’s Altar, carried with it responsibilities as the legal adviser to the bishop, dean and to the chapter (auditor et decidet causas et negocia quorum audicio spectat ad capitulum), on all issues that were of concern.

Father Henry had become a chantry priest in his new role, with an annual income of £20 per year, whilst other chantry priests were paid only £5 to £6 the additional money reflected the important responsibility carried at Lincoln Cathedral.

A couple of years later in addition to work at the cathedral he was given other churches to administer and was appointed vicar to the village of Alkborough, North Lincolnshire. In 1532 after vacating the position at Alkborough, he became the rector of the nearby village of Belton on the Isle of Axholme and was later appointed vicar at Newark by the Prior of the Gilbertine Priory of St Catherines’ at Lincoln.

On arrival at Belton in 1532, Fr. Henry would have met Augustine Webster the Carthusian Prior of Melwood Priory, as the Priory was situated only a couple of miles from Fr. Henry’s church on the Isle of Axholm. During the time Fr. Henry served at Belton, Augustine Webster had been asked, and had refused to take the oath of allegiance proclaiming King Henry VIII’s position as the new head of the English church. On a visit to the London Charterhouse, Augustine Webster was arrested with others and imprisoned on the orders of Thomas Cromwell. When questioned on the royal supremacy they declared, they could neither assent nor so believe. For this crime Augustine Webster and four others were hanged, beheaded and quartered at Tyburn on May 4, 1534.

It was in 1534, two years after Fr. Henrys’ arrival at Newark and through the government’s Act of Supremacy, the king declared himself head of the church in England. Shortly after followed the Act of Treason. Using this Act, anyone who opposed the king, and his self-appointment as head of the church, was charged with treason, which carried with it the death sentence.

The king ordered an investigation of every religious house and property owned by the church, including the church of St. Mary Magdalene at Newark. Money once paid to the Pope was ordered to be given to the king.

Government appointed Commissioners visited Newark and interviewed Fr. Henry on the value of his church’s assets, after which they visited the friary occupied by the Observant Friars and the house belonging to our fifteen chantry priests. Fr. Henry was commanded to give sworn testimony before these local commissioners as to his income as the parish priest, the lands, establishments owned and the revenues received from all sources. He was also asked to produce a detailed list of the treasurers at Lincoln Cathedral, which included the wealth that adorned the Shrine of St. Hugh.

In Newark Parish Church on Quinquagesima Sunday 1534, Fr. Lytherland advised his congregation against reading heretical books that contained anti papal rhetoric, which had recently arrived in the town. It is recorded that highly derogatory sermons against the royal supremacy were preached from the Newark pulpit.

Fr. Henry had spoken against the taking down of images including that of Our Lady, he had also requested that his congregation should continue prayers for the dead and those in purgatory, which was against the new religious doctrine coming from London. Fr. Henry was a brave man as he would have been well aware that giving such sermons might have later found him charged with treason but he must have believed firmly, he was defending the Catholic Church and the truth.

As the vicar of Newark he spoke against the king, saying, because of his actions he was not a Christian. It is recorded that he spoke against the king with “many powde wordes” and he spoke defending the Pope as the Head of the Universal Church.

In 1536 following the ‘Act of Suppression,’ the king moved forward with the dissolution of about four hundred smaller monasteries, those having a declared income of less than £200 per year, including the Observant Friary at Newark. The Observant Friars refused to swear the ‘oath of obedience’ to the king and his new church and spoke out against it. They were shortly after without a home. It is said that no other religious order resisted Henry VIII with greater fearlessness and tenacity than the Observants. Three of the Newark Friars were thrown into the king's dungeons for their opposition and it is said that two, Hugh Payne and Brother Hayfield died from the appalling treatment they received whilst in the Marshalsea Gaol. Two men that Fr. Henry would have known well no doubt.

As the supreme head of the new Church of England, Henry, required all religious to sign an Act of Supremacy acknowledging his new role and renouncing the supremacy of the Pope. Many signed the oath of loyalty to the king, but for many this was done under fear of death. To some of the heads of religious houses, it seemed incredible that the old system was passing away forever, and they surrendered believing that their loss was only to be temporary.

William Griffiths, the Prior of the Gilbertine Order of St. Catherine Lincoln who had appointed Fr. Henry to Newark as the parish priest had later been forced to watch the execution of his neighbours, the Abbots of Barlings and Kirkstead, for resisting the king and the suppression of their monastic houses. It is no surprise therefore, that a short time after William voluntarily surrendered the Priory of St. Catherine's, which by that time had held responsibility for Newark's Parish Church, since work began on its construction in the 12th century.

It must have sadden Fr. Henry greatly to have heard of the execution of Augustine Webster, of the two Lincolnshire Abbots and of others who had opposed the king and also of the destruction of the Lincolnshire monasteries which were looted, and many razed to the ground, some say in retaliation for the role that the Lincolnshire people played in their brave resistance to the king but it did not stop Fr. Henry speaking out against what was happening.

Fr. Henry with his legal qualifications and experience was probably involved in drafting the petition that was sent to the king from Lincoln cathedral in 1536. As a senior member of the chapter house he no doubt witnessed the great uprising of the Lincolnshire people that protested against the destruction of the monasteries and of the old faith.

The Lincolnshire Rising started at Louth and made its way to the cathedral where it is said that 40,000 gathered demanding changes. The petition was drafted in the chapter house of that cathedral. The response received from the king stigmatized the county as king described the county as “the most brute and beastly of the realm.”

Later in 1538, Fr. Henry was informed of the proposed destruction of the shine of St. Thomas of Canterbury. The saints bones were to be disinterred and publicly burned and the treasures of that shrine taken for the king. Fr. Henry knew that the shine of St. Hugh at Lincoln cathedral was the second largest in England and like that of St. Thomas, covered in gold, silver and precious stones and therefore the same fate given to Canterbury was to follow at Lincoln. Fr. Henry was outraged and spoke out against what he considered to be an unacceptable and intolerable, sacrilege. Feeling strongly about this issue he resigned his position at the Cathedral making his displeasure known to members of the chapter and to all that would listen.

Fr. Henry was arrested by a John Horsely for his opposition to the king and to the changes made to his religion . For his troubles John Horsely was paid £ 100 by the King for Fr. Henrys delivery to the York Assizes. A small fortune for this betrayal.

Fr. Henry could not therefore deny, that he expressed views against king’s policies. Policies designed by the king and his advisors to dismantle the English Church, which was formerly part of the Universal Church. Fr. Henry was accused of two charges, speaking against the King as the new head of the English Church and financing rebels who participated in the Pilgrimage of Grace in Yorkshire (another rising that shortly followed the Lincolnshire rising). The prosecution said that on the Isle called Crowle, men were well harnessed at Fr. Henrys own cost. Both charge made against him were punishable by death. And so speaking out as he did against the enforced changes made to his religion provided sufficient grounds.

Up until the time of his trial, Fr. Henry was held in a small, dark, and foul smelling cell within the inner sanctum of the castle prison. After the trial and the guilty verdict he was marched from the adjacent assizes, loaded with irons the short distance across the castle grounds back to the prison. After the guilty verdict Fr. Henry would have been held in cells reserved for condemned prisoners.

On 1st August 1538 Fr. Henry made an inventory of his possessions and made a will. He must have signed his last will and testament with some considerable trepidation, knowing the agonising death that was to be his fate.

From his prison cell he would have seen prisoners taken for execution to a place named Knavesmire just outside the city walls. These prisoners were transported in horse drawn carts, sitting on their own coffins, with the noose around their necks.

Fr. Henry would have been aware, as he was charged with treason, that his was to be a more humiliating and horrible death. He would not to be given a coffin, but dragged to the scaffold known as the York’s Tyburn. There he would be hung and then, whilst still alive, lowered, and butchered into quarters. His body parts were not to be buried in consecrated ground, but separated and buried apart.

Father Henry Lytherland was executed at York on 2nd August 1538 (R.I.P.).

A Catholic Priest being lead to his execution, 1583. Guarded by the Sheriff and his men, a Catholic Priest being led to his execution, 1583. From a book entitled 'Martyrs to the Catholic Faith' by Bishop Challoner, 1878. No doubt Fr. Henry was escorted to his horrible death at York in a similar manner.

Even though Father Henry Lytherland died defending the catholic church he has not been canonised. But we here in Newark remember in early August each year the sacrifices made by the last serving Catholic Priest of our town and Newark’s Observant Friars who also died resisted the Reformation. May they rest in Peace.