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SIR JOHN OLDCASTLE (d. 1417)

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Originally appearing in Volume V20, Page 67 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SIR JOHN OLDCASTLE (d. 1417), English Lollard leader, was son of Sir Richard Oldcastle of Almeley in Herefordshire. He is first mentioned as serving in the expedition to Scotland in 1400, when he was probably quite a young man. Next year he was in charge of Builth castle in Brecon, and serving all through the Welsh campaigns won the friendship and esteem of Henry, the prince of Wales. Oldcastle represented Herefordshire in the parliament of 1404. Four years later he married Joan, the heiress of Cobham, and was thereon summoned to parliament as Lord Cobham in her right. As a trusted supporter of the prince, Oldcastle held a high command in the expedition which the young OLDCASTLE Henry sent to France in 1411. Lollardy had many supporters in Herefordshire, and Oldcastle himself had adopted Lollard opinions before 1410, when the churches on his wife's estates in Kent were laid under interdict for unlicensed preaching. In the convocation which met in March 1413, shortly before the death of Henry IV., Oldcastle was at once accused of heresy. But his friendship with the new king prevented any decisive action till convincing evidence was found in a book belonging to Oldcastle, which was discovered in a shop in Paternoster Row. The matter was brought before the king, who desired that nothing should be done till he had tried his personal influence. Old-castle declared his readiness to submit to the king " all his fortune in this world," but was firm in his religious beliefs. When he fled from Windsor to his own castle at Cowling, Henry at last consented to a prosecution. Oldcastle refused to obey the archbishop's repeated citations, and it was only under a royal writ that he at last appeared before the ecclesiastical court on the 23rd of September. In a confession of his faith he declared his belief in the sacraments and the necessity of penance and true confession; but to put hope, faith or trust in images was the great sin of idolatry. But he would not assent to the orthodox doctrine of the sacrament as stated by the bishops, nor admit the necessity of confession to a priest. So on theā€¢25th of September he was convicted as a heretic. Henry was still anxious to find a way of escape for his old comrade, and granted a respite of forty days. Before that time had expired Oldcastle escaped from the Tower by the help of one William Fisher, a parchment-maker of Smithfield (Riley, Memorials of London, 641). Old-castle now put himself at the head of a wide-spread Lollard conspiracy, which assumed a definitely political character. The design was to seize the king and his brothers during a Twelfth-night mumming at Eltham, and perhaps, as was alleged, to establish some sort of commonwealth. Henry, forewarned of their intention, removed to London, and when the Lollards assembled in force in St Giles's Fields on the loth of January they were easily dispersed. Oldcastle himself escaped into Herefordshire, and for nearly four years avoided capture. Apparently he was privy to the Scrope and Cambridge plot in July 1415, when he stirred some movement in the Welsh Marches. On the failure of the scheme he went again into hiding. Oldcastle was no doubt the instigator of the abortive Lollard plots of 1416, and appears to have intrigued with the Scots. But at last his hiding-place was discovered and in November 1417 he was captured by the Lord Charlton of Powis. Oldcastle who was " sore wounded ere he would be taken," was brought to London in a horse-litter. On the 14th of December he was formally condemned, on the record of his previous conviction, and that same day was hung in St Giles's Fields, and burnt " gallows and all." It is not clear that he was burnt alive. Oldcastle died a martyr. He was no doubt a man of fine quality, but circumstances made him a traitor, and it is impossible altogether to condemn his execution. His unpopular opinions and early friendship with Henry V. created a traditional scandal which long continued. In the old play The,Famous Victories of Henry V., written before 1588, Oldcastle figures as the prince's boon companion. When Shakespeare adapted that play in Henry IV., Oldcastle still appeared; but when the play was printed in 1598 Falstaff's name was substituted, in deference, as it is said, to the then Lord Cobham. Though the fat knight still remains " my old lad of the Castle," the stage character has nothing to do with the Lollard leader. pelled him also to withhold his submission alike as " a Christian, a theologian, an historical student and a citizen." The publication of this letter was shortly followed by a sentence of ex-communication pronounced against Dollinger and Professor Johannes Friedrich (q.v.), and read to the different congregations from the pulpits of Munich. The professors of the university, on the other hand, had shortly before evinced their resolution of affording Dollinger all the moral support in their power by an address (April 3, 1871) in which they denounced the Vatican decrees with unsparing severity, declaring that, at the very time when the German people had " won for themselves the post of honour on the battlefield among the nations of the earth," the German bishops had stooped to the dishonouring task of " forcing consciences in the service of an unchristian tyranny, of reducing many pious and upright men to distress and want, and of persecuting those who had but stood steadfast in their allegiance to the ancient faith" (Friedberg, Aktenstiicke z. ersten Vaticanischen Concil, p. 187). An address to the king, drawn up a few days later, received the signatures of 12,000 Catholics. The refusal of the rites of the Church to one of the signatories, Dr Zenger, when on his deathbed, elicited strong expressions of disapproval;) and when, shortly after, it became necessary to fill up by election six vacancies in the council of the university, the feeling of the electors was indicated by the return of candidates distinguished by their dissent from the new decrees. In the following September the demand for another and a free council was responded to by the assembling of a congress at Munich. It was composed of nearly 500 delegates, convened from almost all parts of the world; but the Teutonic element was now as manifestly predominant as the Latin element had been at Rome. The proceedings were pre-sided over by Professor von Schulte, and lasted three days. Among those who took a prominent part in the deliberations were Landammann Keller, Windscheid, Dollinger, Reinkens, Maassen (professor of canon law at Vienna), Friedrich and Huber. The arrangements finally agreed upon were mainly provisional; but one of the resolutions plainly declared that it was desirable if possible to effect a reunion with the Oriental Greek and Russian Churches, and also to arrive at an " under-standing " with the Protestant and Episcopal communions. In the following year lectures were delivered at Munich by various supporters of the new movement, and the learning and eloquence of Reinkens were displayed with marked effect. In France the adhesion of the abbe Michaud to the cause attracted considerable interest, not only from his reputation as a preacher, but also from the notable step in advance made by his declaration that, inasmuch as the adoption of the standpoint of the Tridentine canons would render reunion with the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches impossible, the wisest course would be to insist on nothing more with respect to doctrinal belief than was embodied in the canons of the first seven oecumenical councils. In the same year the Old Catholics, as they now began to be termed, entered into relations with the historical little Jansenist Church of Utrecht. Dollinger, in delivering his inaugural address as rector of the university of Munich, expressed his conviction that theology had received a fresh impulse and that the religious history of Europe was entering upon a new phase. Other circumstances contributed to invest Old Catholicism with additional importance. It was evident that the relations between the Roman Curia and the Prussian government were becoming extremely strained. In February 1872 appeared the first measures of the Falk ministry, having for their object the control of the influence of the clergy in the schools, and in May the pope refused to accept Cardinal Hohenlohe, who during the council had opposed the definition of the dogma, as Prussian minister at the Vatican. In the same year two humble parish priests, Renftle of Mering in Bavaria and Tangermann of Unkel in the Rhineland, set an example of independence by refusing The rites were administered and the burial service conducted by Friedrich, who had refused to acknowledge his excommunication.
End of Article: SIR JOHN OLDCASTLE (d. 1417)
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