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 Richard Hunne

Richard Hunne

Birth
Death 4 Dec 1514
London, City of London, Greater London, England
Burial Cremated, Ashes scattered, Specifically: Body burned at Smithfield, London, ashes cast into the River Thames
Memorial ID 87122628 · View Source
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English Reformation Figure. Hunne was a prosperous London merchant with Lollard (Reformist) sympathies. Early in the reign of Henry VIII, he was imprisoned and murdered for waging an unprecedented lawsuit that challenged Catholic intervention in civil affairs. Future Protestants would cite the case as an example of the injustices that made the English Reformation inevitable. The controversy began at Whitechapel's Church of St. Mary Matfelon in March 1511, over the funeral of Hunne's one-month-old son Stephen. Under Catholic law the officiating priest could claim the deceased's most valuable possession as a "mortuary fee", and rector Thomas Dryffeld demanded the christening gown the infant was to be buried in. Hunne balked, arguing that under civil law the dead could not own property and therefore the gown belonged to him. In April 1512 Dryffeld filed suit in ecclesiastical court and Hunne was ordered to pay the value of the garment. Apparently he didn't, for that December he was ordered to leave a service at St. Mary Matfelon by Dryffeld's chaplain Henry Marshall, who denounced him as "accursed" in front of the congregation. Hunne brought a slander suit against church authorities before the King's Bench, as he was still an observant Catholic and Marshall's actions had caused him to be ostracized by business associates. The church fought back by excommunicating him, but was not prepared for his next step. In April 1513 he asserted the civil nature of his complaint by issuing a writ under the 1393 Statute of Praemunire, which prohibited papal or other foreign jurisdiction over English temporal law; the penalties included execution for treason and confiscation of property. Rome had long exercised a degree of rival legal power in England, and this was a test case with profound implications that sent the clergy into a panic. They stalled it with endless adjournments. A raid on Hunne's home in October 1514 found him in possession of a banned Wycliffe Bible and he was imprisoned in the Lollard's Tower of St. Paul's Cathedral as a heretic; even then he refused to give up his praemunire suit. On the morning of December 4, 1514, Hunne's body was found hanging from a beam in his cell. He was posthumously convicted of heresy on December 16 and four days later his remains were exumed and burned at the stake in Smithfield. Hunne's accusers claimed he committed suicide, but skepticism from Londoners turned to outrage when one of his jailers, St. Paul's summoner Charles Joseph, went into hiding. A coroner's inquest determined that Hunne died from a broken neck during a violent struggle with assailants who tried to smother him, and in February 1515 a jury ruled the death a homicide. Three were arrested for Hunne's murder: Dr. William Horsey, chancellor to Bishop of London Richard Fitzjames, Charles Joseph, and St. Paul's bellringer John Spalding. Joseph allegedly confessed under torture, implicating the others, though his maid also testified that he admitted the crime to her "in great fear" before fleeing. Bishop Fitzjames appealed to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who intervened with the king, who "instructed" his attorney general to find the defendants not guilty. In November 1515, Dr. Horsey, Joseph and Spalding went free. Hunne's fatal lawsuit was thrown out of court after his death, but King Henry would remember it. In 1523 Parliament passed a bill restoring Hunne's estate of 1500 pounds, forfeited after his heresy conviction, to his heirs; the king ordered Dr. Horsey to make the restitution. During the Reformation of the 1530s Henry used the Statute of Praemunire to accuse the entire English Catholic hierarchy of being agents of a foreign power (the pope), and to help establish the Church of England with himself as supreme head. The first published chronicles of the Hunne affair were Protestant dissident Simon Fish's pamphlet "Supplication for the Beggars" (1529) and Sir Thomas More's reply, "The Supplication of Souls" (1529). Unlike Fish, More had personal knowledge of the subject. As a London undersheriff he was involved in Hunne's investigation for heresy, and was house speaker of the 1523 Parliament. He sided with the Bishopric of London's position that Hunne took his own life ("it is well known that the man hanged himself out of despair and contempt, and for lack of grace"), facetiously dismissed the civil verdict and rearranged certain facts to suit his purposes. The best known account - as vigorously partisan as More's, but detailed and bolstered with documents - appeared in Protestant historian John Foxe's "Book of Martyrs" (1563). Recent scholarship has uncovered archival information that provides fascinating new insights into this tragic and divisive case.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Bobb Edwards
  • Added: 20 Mar 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 87122628
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Richard Hunne (unknown–4 Dec 1514), Find A Grave Memorial no. 87122628, ; Maintained by Find A Grave Cremated, Ashes scattered, who reports a Body burned at Smithfield, London, ashes cast into the River Thames.