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Thomas Abel

Priest and martyr, b. about 1497; d. July 30, 1540

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Thomas Abel , BLESSED (also ABLE, or ABELL), priest and martyr, b. about 1497; d. July 30, 1540. He was chaplain to Queen Catharine, and defender of the validity of her marriage with Henry VIII, for which reason he was eventually put to death. He was a graduate of Oxford, and appears to have taught the queen modern languages and music. After a journey to Spain in her behalf, he received the parochial benefice of Bradwell in Sussex. He soon published (May, 1532?) in defense of the queen’s marriage a work entitled: “Invicta Veritas, an answer to the determination of the most famous Universities, that by no manner of law it may be lawful for King Henry to be divorced from the Queen’s grace, his lawful and very wife”. For this he was thrown (1532) into Beauchamp Tower, and after a year’s liberation again imprisoned, in December, 1533, on the charges of disseminating the prophecies of the Maid of Kent, encouraging the queen “obstinately to persist in her willful opinion against the same divorce and separation”, and maintaining her right to the title of queen. He was kept in close confinement until his execution at Tyburn, two days after the execution of Cromwell himself. There is extant a very pious Latin letter written by him to a fellow-martyr, and another to Cromwell, begging for some slight mitigation of his “close prison”—i.e. “license to go to church and say Mass here within the Tower and for to lie in some house upon the Green”. It is signed “by your daily bedeman, Thomas Abell, priest”. His act of attainder states that he and three others “have most traitorously adhered themselves unto the bishop of Rome, being a common enemy unto your Majesty and this your Realm, refusing your Highness to be our and their Supreme Head of this your Realm of England“. There is in Beauchamp Tower a rebus of the Martyr, probably executed by himself; the figure of a bell carved on the wall, the letter A in front and the word “Thomas” above. He is one of the fifty-four English martyrs beatified by Leo XIII December 29, 1886.

THOMAS J. SHAHAN

Blessed Edward Powell.—With Blessed Thomas Abel there suffered Edward Powell, priest and martyr, b. in Wales about 1478; M. A. Oxon.; Fellow of Oriel, 1495; D.D. June 26, 1506 and styled perdoctus vir by the university. He was rector of Bleadon, Somerset, and prebendary of Centum Solidorum in Lincoln, which he exchanged for Carlton-cum-Thurlby in 1505, and the latter for Sutton-in-Marisco in 1525. He also held the prebends of Lyme Regis, Calstock, Bedminster, and St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, and the living of St. Edmond’s Salisbury. A court preacher in high favor with Henry VIII, he was ordered to publish a reply to Luther (“Propugnaculum summi Sacerdotii Evangelici, as septem Sacramentorum, aeditum per virum eruditum, sacrarum literarum professorem Edoardum Poelum adversus Martinum Lutherum fratrem famosum et Wiclifistan insignem”, London, 1523, three books in the form of a dialogue between Powell and Luther). The University of Oxford commended this work, and styled Powell “the glory of the university” in a letter to the king. Powell was one of the four theologians selected to defend the legality of the marriage of Catharine of Aragon, in connection with which he wrote the very rare “Tractatus de non dissolvendo Henrici Regis cum Catherina matrimonio” (London).

In March, 1533, Powell was selected to answer Latimer at Bristol, and was alleged to have disparaged his moral character. Latimer complained to Cromwell, and Powell fell into further disfavor by denouncing Henry’s marriage with Anne Boleyn. He was discharged from the proctorship of Salisbury in January, 1534, and in November he was attainted, together with Blessed John Fisher, for high treason in refusing to take the oath of succession, deprived of his benefices, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. His confinement was very rigorous: the keeper himself was sent to the Marshalsea Prison for allowing Powell and Abel out on bail. The sentence was not carried out until July 30, 1540. Three Catholics (Powell, Abel, and Richard Featherstone) and three Protestants suffered together. The victims were dragged on hurdles from the Tower to Smithfield, a Catholic and a Protestant on each hurdle. Powell’s companion was Robert Barnes, the Protestant divine. A dialogue in verse was published shortly after, “The metynge of Doctor Barnes and Dr. Powell at Paradise Gate and of theyre communication bothe drawen to Smithfylde fro the Towar” (London, 1540), in the British Museum. The Catholics were hanged, drawn, and quartered as traitors; the others were burned as heretics.

C. F. WEMYSS BROWN


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