Sir John Oldcastle

Posted on 15th December 2020 under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History


Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

On 15th December 1417 Sir John Oldcastle was executed in a predictably brutal manner, burnt as he hung on the gallows. His crime? He was a Lollard.

Oldcastle was born in Almeley, son of a Herefordshire family, and was well connected. By 1400 he had been knighted, and fought the Scots alongside Henry IV. He was friends with local landowners, and was at one stage a trustee of lands including Fownhope. He was also a friend of Henry V, and that friendship gave him protection. Protection he needed.

Herefordshire was a stronghold of Lollardy, and today their beliefs would not look revolutionary. They wanted the Bible to be read in English, and rejected the use of icons in worship. They held what became the Protestant view of communion, and rejected the necessity of making confession to a priest. In other words, they were the forerunners of the Reformation. And that was a dangerous business.

Oldcastle ended up in the Tower of London, and promptly escaped. He plotted with others to overthrow the crown, and that act of treason added urgency to those who hunted him. A bounty of a thousand marks was put on his head, but he managed to hide out for years in North-West Herefordshire. Eventually he was captured near the Black Mountain, and brought before Parliament to defend himself.

Typically, Oldcastle refused to defend himself and preached a sermon instead. Incensed, the Commons asked the Lords to sentence this son of Herefordshire as a traitor. They did so, and Oldcastle was executed the very same day.

The Bible is, you see, a dangerous book. Those who read it well end up giving their allegiance to a higher King.

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