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In 1534 Henry VIII passed the Act of Supremacy, giving him the position of supreme head of the Church of England. This gave him ‘permission’ to divorce Catherine of Aragon. The Act of Succession put Anne Boleyn by Henry’s side as his lawful queen and any children she produced would be heirs to his throne.
All English subjects were required to swear the oath to accept these legal and ecclesiastic changes, but many devout Catholics were prepared to defy the king. Any of the king’s Catholic enemies who refused to accept these new laws, were declared traitors.
Charterhouse Monastery, the flourishing Carthusian monastery in central London, was home to a group of monks who did refuse to accept these new changes to the country’s laws. Prior John Houghton was the head of the monastery. His monks bravely refused to swear the oath outlined by the throne, and thus paid the ultimate price for defying Henry.
In April 1535 ten of the monks at Charterhouse were taken to Newgate Prison nearby and then taken to the Tower of London. The legal process was speedy, and within three weeks they were tried, convicted and executed for treason. Eye witnesses reported that the monks were dragged out of the prison in their habits, and in front of a crowd of people at Tyburn they were hanged and cut down before they were dead. As their limp bodies lay on the ground, they were cut open, their hearts and bowels removed and burned. Their arms were torn off and their blood and flesh was smeared on the faces of the other victims. Their heads were finally cut off and their bodies quartered.
As Prior John Houghton was disemboweled, his dying words were uttered, “And what wilt thou do with my heart, O Christ?”. He was canonized in 1970 for being the first martyr of the Tudor persecutions. He is represented carrying a noose, or with a noose around his neck, carrying a heart.
Inside the walls of the court of Henry VIII, there was nothing but love and passion, but outside of the palaces there were horrific and tragic stories that remind us of the heartless acts committed in the soul pursuit of gaining a male heir for the Tudor dynasty.