Oldcastle, Sir John
Oldcastle, Sir John (Lord Cobham), called "the good," was the first martyr and the first author among the nobility of England. He was born in the 14th century, in the reign of Edward III, and married to the heiress of lord Cobham, by whom he obtained that title. He gained military distinction in the French wars under Henry IV and V, and was a domestic and a favored attendant of the latter sovereign. Lord Cobham was a man of extensive talents, qualified for the cabinet or the field, of ready wit in conversation, and of great learning. He examined the writings of Wickliffe as a philosopher, and in the course of his study became a convert to the doctrines of that Reformer, and thereupon most zealously labored for the propagation of the new opinions. He not only collected and transcribed the works of Wickliffe, but also maintained preachers of that persuasion, and in every sense of the word became a leader of the Ante-Reformers. In the convocation assembled during the first year of the reign of Henry V, the principal subject of debate was the growth of heresy. Thomas Arundel, a prelate equally remarkable for zeal and bigotry, was at that time archbishop of Canterbury. Lord Cobham being considered the head of the Wickliffites, it was presumed that if his destruction could be effected it would strike a salutary terror into his adherents; but as he was known to be in favor with the king, and also highly popular, it was deemed prudent to dissemble for a while. The archbishop, therefore, contented himself, for. the present, by requesting his majesty to send commissioners to Oxford to inquire into the growth of heresy, with which the king complied. The commissioners having made inquiry, reported to the archbishop, who informed the convocation that the increase of heresy was especially owing to lord Cobham, who encouraged scholars from Oxford and other places to propagate heretical opinions throughout the country. The archbishop, accompanied by a large body of the clergy, waited upon Henry, and having laid before him the offense of lord Cobham, begged, in all humility and charity, that his majesty would suffer them, for Christ's sake, to put him to death. To this meek and humane request the king replied that he thought such violence more destructive of truth than of error; that he himself would reason with lord Cobham; and, if that should prove ineffectual, he would leave him to the censure of the Church. Henry, having sent for lord Cobham, endeavored to persuade him to retract his errors; but to the reasoning and exhortation of the king he returned the following answer: "I ever was a dutiful subject to your majesty, and I hope ever shall be. Next to God, I profess obedience to my king. But as for the spiritual dominion of the pope; I never could see on what foundation it is claimed, nor can I pay him any obedience. As sure as God's Word is true, to me it is fully evident that he is the great Antichrist foretold in Holy Writ." This answer so exceedingly displeased the king that he gave the archbishop leave to proceed against lord Cobham with the utmost extremity; or, as Baile says, "according to the devilish decrees which they call the laws of the Holy Church." On September 11, the day fixed for his appearance, the primate and his associates sat in consistory; lord Cobham not appearing, the archbishop excommunicated him, and called in the civil power to assist him, agreeably to the late enacted law. Conceiving himself to be now in danger, Cobham drew up a confession of his faith, which he presented to the king, who coldly ordered it to be given to the archbishop. Being again cited to appear before the archbishop, and refusing compliance, he was committed to the Tower, from which he escaped into Wales. The clergy then got up a report of a pretended conspiracy of the Lollards, headed by lord Cobham, whereupon a bill of attainder was passed against him, a price of 1000 marks set upon his head, and exemption from taxes was promised to any person who should secure him. At the expiration of four years he was taken, and without much form of trial executed in the most barbarous manner: he was hung in chains on a gallows in St. Giles's Fields, London, and a fire kindled under him, by which he was roasted to death, December 25, 1417. He wrote Twelve Conclusions addressed to the Parliament of England; he also edited the works of Wickliffe, and was the author of several religious tracts and discourses. See Bayle, A brefe Chronycle concernynge the Examynacyon and Death of the blessed martyr of Christ, surJohan Oldecastell (reprinted 1729); Gilpin, Lives of Lgtimer, Wickliffe, etc.; Fox, Acts and Monunments; Walpole, Royal and Noble Authors; Milner, Church History, vol. iv, ch. i; Engl. Cyclop. s.v.; Jones, Religious Biography, s.v.; Milman, History. Lat. Christianity (see Index); British Quarterly, April, 1874. SEE LOLLARDS.