Barton, Elizabeth

Barton, Elizabeth the "holy maid of Kent," first becomes known to us in 1525, when, while a servant at an inn at Aldington, in Kent, she began to acquire a local reputation for sanctity and miraculous endowments. She was subject to epileptic fits, and in the paroxysms vented incoherent phrases, which Richard Master, parson of Aldington, took advantage of to make people believe that she was an instrument of divine revelation. A successful prediction lent its aid to the general delusion. A child of the master of the inn happened to be ill when Elizabeth was attacked by one of her fits. On recovering, she inquired whether the child was dead. She was told that it was still living. "It will not live, I announce to you; its death has been revealed to me in a vision," was the answer. The child died, and Elizabeth was immediately regarded as one favored by Heaven with the gift of prophecy. She soon after entered the convent of St. Sepulchre's at Canterbury, and became a nun. In this new situation her revelations multiplied, and she became generally known as the "holy maid of Kent." Bishop Fisher and Archbishop Warham countenanced her pretensions. Led by her zeal, or more probably worked upon by others, she boldly prophesied in reference to the divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine and his marriage with Anne Boleyn, "that she had knowledge by revelation from heaven that God was highly displeased with our said sovereign lord, and that if he proceeded in the said divorce and separation and married again, he should no longer be king of this realm; and that, in the estimation of Almighty God, he should not be king one hour, and that he should die a villain's death." The prediction was widely diffused, and caused great popular excitement. In November, 1533, the nun, with five priests and three lay gentlemen, her accomplices, were brought before the Star Chamber, and sentenced to do public penance as impostors at St. Paul's Cross. But the nun's confession, whatever were its motives, availed her nothing. From the pillory she and her companions were led back to prison, where they lay till the following January, when they were attainted of high treason. On the 21st of April, 1534, the nun was beheaded at Tyburn, together with the five priests. — English Cyclopoedia; Burnet, History of Reformation, 1:243-249.

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