Henry VIII, the Reign
Richard Hunne was an English merchant tailor in the City of London during the early years of the reign of Henry VIII. After a dispute with his priest, Hunne sought to use the English common law courts to challenge the church's authority.
Church officials reacted by arresting him for trial in an ecclesiastical court on the capital charge of heresy. In December 1514, while awaiting trial, Hunne was found dead in his cell.
Murder by church officials was suspected and his death caused widespread anger against the clergy, a political and religious backlash followed.
In March 1511, Hunne had refused to pay the standard mortuary charge, which was the baby's christening robe – that is to say the actual item of clothing that his son wore at the ceremony – to the rector of St Mary Matfelon in Whitechapel following the funeral of his dead five-week-old son. The matter was not pursued by the Church until Hunne and a friend challenged the rector of St Michael Cornhill over a separate matter, the title to a tenement in November 1511.The rector then sued Hunne for the mortuary fee and appeared in the ecclesiastical Court of Audience in April 1512. The court found in favour of the rector.
After an incident in his local church on 27 December 1512, Hunne began legal proceedings in January the following year for slander claiming his character and business had been ruined by the priest's accusation of excommunication. He also countered further with a praemunire charge against the church court in which argued that its authority derived from a Papal legate and was thus a foreign court which could have no jurisdiction over the King of England's subjects.
The London clergy re-joined with a charge against Hunne, for heresy. On this charge Hunne was sent to the Lollards' Tower of St Paul's Cathedral. Where he was found hanging dead on 4 December 1514.
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