The Unfortunate George Tankerfield, burned at the stake aged Twenty-seven years…

… because Queen Mary Tudor (reigned 1553-1558) wanted to make an example of him to other protestants of the time. The queen was best known for her aggressive attempt to reverse the English Reformation which had begun under the reign of her father, Henry VIII. The executions that marked her pursuit of the restoration of Roman Catholicism in England and Ireland led to her denunciation as ’Bloody Mary’ by her Protestant opponents.” (Wikipedia)

I am able to bring this to your attention because I presently am lodged at Tankerfield House, #1 Romeland Hill, across the street from the site of the infamous execution, in the City of St Albans, England.

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Saint Albans, after whom the town was named, was also a martyr, beheaded sometime between the 3rd and 4th Century for protecting a priest from persecution by local Roman authorities.

The legend standing in the location of Tankerfield’s murder, now a park cum graveyard, reads, in part:

The name Romeland is derived from Room Land, meaning ’open space’, and throughout the Middle Ages Romeland was an open space immediately outside Abbey Gate, the most important entrance to the monastery… In medieval times it was an important open space in the town and was used for large gatherings.

(The city of) St Albans played a major part in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. Conflict had been growing with the Abbot over millihg rights and it was at Romeland that the local people gathered before breaking into the Abbey Gatehouse, which at the time housed the Abbott’s prison. The Present Great Gateway was built in the 1380s… (The gate) symbolises the conflict between the monastery and the town which was not resolved until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 (under Henry VIII).

Following the the dissolution… the land was sold off and a number of the Abbey buildings were demolished. Immediately east of Romeland is the north churchyard of the Cathedral and Abbey Church

During the reign of Queen Mary in 1555 a protestant baker, George Tankerfield, was brought to Romeland from Barnet and burnt at the stake as a warning to oher protestants…

The landlady of Tankerfield House, Jacqui, responded ’yes’ to my question if Mr. Tankerfield might have had a stone of some kind erected in his memory. She said it probably was well worn by time and weather, so I imagine this was the memorial among all the others present which were mostly legible, at least in part. There is much illegible writing on the side of the stone facing us in this picture.

During her five-year reign Queen Mary had 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake. After her death in 1558, her re-establshment of Roman Catholicism was reversed by her younger half-sister and successor Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Bolyn. Thus began the ’Elizabethan Era’.

Now I am much better informed regarding names and events I’ve heard about all my life, but I regret it took the supremely unhappy death of Mr. George Tankerfield to lead me here.

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate Californian living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles, memoirs, and creative writing.
This entry was posted in Church & Religion, History and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Unfortunate George Tankerfield, burned at the stake aged Twenty-seven years…

  1. Eric Gandy says:

    Many a cruel deed has been carried out in the name of religion. What really lies behind these acts is the struggle for power. My ancestors were founders of the Methodist Church in some villages in the north of England and were constantly harried and hunted, meeting in secret. This carried on iuntil the 19th century..

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  2. On the downside, the Protestant defeat of Catholicism meant the end of feudalism. And it was the beginning of British imperialism that altered the entire social and economic order of English life.

    The life of peasants was tied up with parishes and the commons, both of which were weakened and eliminated. Peasants were evicted and villages razed to the ground, in order to allow the grazing of sheep that was more profitable on the emerging international markets. With the commons privatized, the peasants were homeless and forced to seek out the poverty-stricken crowded cities. Millions of these landless serfs died from starvation and disease, were imprisoned for hung for petty crimes, were put into workhouses and sold into indentured servitude, or were sent off to die in the colonies.

    That was the new social and economic order that Protestantism brought to its full power as what we now know as capitalism. The Protestants turned out to be just as brutal as the Catholics, but in new ways. Under Catholicism, people at least had the rights of commoners. Even that was taken away from them. It would be centuries until the average English citizen saw the democratic reforms that began to improve life. But it came at great cost, as explained well in books such as Barbara Ehrenreich’s Dancing in the Streets.

    Then again, not many people would argue for a return to the theocratic rule of Catholicism during the Middle Ages. Still, one can’t help but wonder if there couldn’t have been a better result than our present capitalist realism. We have yet to come to terms with the theft of the commons, an economic and moral wrongdoing that Thomas Paine argued required compensation, such as with his Citizen’s Dividend which was an early equivalent of a basic income.

    Land and wealth having been privatized was a theft not only of one generation but of every generation following. We are still suffering the consequences and the theft continues. Protestant’s emphasis on individuality can offer no response to collective problems, a major stumbling block for countries like Britain and the United States. Catholicism, for all its failings, at least acknowledged and supported community with its communal sense of belonging, its communal rights and obligations.

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    • Ron Pavellas says:

      Was it you who mentioned (recommeded?) the book “The Unnamable Present,” by Roberto Calasso (in English translation from the Italian)? I’ve just begun it, but already I see that considerations such as you detail above are largely irrelevant (this is not a criticism; we are all in the same basket) because secularism has weakened us and we are vulnerable to those who believe in something, even if is to die, sacrificially, or merely as an individual for less coherent reasons.

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      • My original comment was tangential to what you were writing about in your post. I wasn’t exactly making a counter-argument. It really was a separate, if related, thought. So, its relevance depends on the point being made. That my point might not be relevant to your point (or Calasso’s point) is not too surprising. I don’t even know that there is any disagreement. My motivation maybe is simpler than it seems in what I wrote.

        History fascinates me. I love to think about points of crisis where things collide and something else emerges on the other side. That transition from Catholicism to something else points to multiple things, not only what happened but what might have happened instead. The reason I tend to focus on such things is because I look for other potentials, both in the past and the present and going into the future. Stating that the world could’ve gone down a different path is another way of radically imagining something different now, that the path we are on we don’t have to remain on.

        I’m not a Catholic. And I certainly have no desire to defend Catholicism. I’m mostly agnostic and non-religious with not too many strong opinions about specific religions. My reaction might be more of a response to my own religious upbringing, though. I was raised in the Unity Church, which I see as an extreme version of Protestantism taken its most individualistic conclusion. Also, as a liberal with conservative parents, I have a deep sense of how Protestantism is the beating heart of American conservatism.

        I don’t know exactly what point I’m making, beyond a feeling of unease about Anglo-American hyper-individualism — it feels false and illusory, limiting and harmful. Having fallen into history, we’ve fallen into a dream or else a nightmare. There is no going back, but without knowing how we got here I’m not sure we will ever find our way out. We need to study this prison we’ve made, to understand the construction of the bars and the design of the locking mechanism. We sought to escape theocracy by having locked ourselves into secularism. Meanwhile, the voices of the gods still speak within us, even as we no longer recognize their power over us.

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      • Ron Pavellas says:

        “… a feeling of unease about Anglo-American hyper-individualism — it feels false and illusory, limiting and harmful. Having fallen into history, we’ve fallen into a dream or else a nightmare. There is no going back, but without knowing how we got here I’m not sure we will ever find our way out. We need to study this prison we’ve made, to understand the construction of the bars and the design of the locking mechanism. We sought to escape theocracy by having locked ourselves into secularism. Meanwhile, the voices of the gods still speak within us, even as we no longer recognize their power over us.” Perfectly stated, from my POV. I was trying to explain to a friend (who is not unsympathetic my views and concerns) about what I am getting from the book I’m reading, combined with all else I’ve read and experienced and imagined. It came out something like this: FIrst, abstractions (including words) cannot capture what may be objective reality; there may be, in fact, no objective reality. How can we know? We are inside of “IT.” Some say we create it, moment by moment. In any case, what we perceive as Western Civilization began to unravel, with up-bumps along the way (Renaissance?) when the Spartans finally defeated the Athenians… Different tack: whether “I Know” or “I Feel” or “I Believe” or something else, there is something greater than Man of which Man is a part along with all other sentient and non-sentient entities. I don’t want to apply a word to this something, perhaps similarly with pious Jews who will not utter or write “G_D.” Perhaps the Muslims are on to something when they make obeisance to Allah in complete submission. We in assertedly secular places could use some of this to counter the hubris that is, IMO, destroying us. How to rally to a (something that may appear) which focuses most of us, a critical mass of us, on our humble position in the universe. I don’t want an individual (a living god or messenger) or an abstract idea; I want a life-changing gut-response to that (something). What could it be? A natural cataclysm? A visit by Martians? I just don’t know, and therefore I see no way to reverse the secular, self-desrutctive trend. As for history, I love it too, finally, after many decades of life, now more than I can absorb in the time that’s left (no presentiment here). Best wishes….

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