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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion


Publication details for Dr Susan Royal

Freeman, Thomas S. & Royal, Susan (2015). Stranger than fiction in the archives: The controversial death of William Cowbridge in 1538. British Catholic History 32(4): 451-472.

Author(s) from Durham


This essay considers the life, death, and afterlife of William Cowbridge a religious eccentric executed for heresy in 1538. It explores the significance of his religious beliefs, which became the source of a heated controversy between the Protestant martyrologist John Foxe and the Catholic polemicist Nicholas Harpsfield. The case casts light on a range of issues, including the dynamic between Protestant and Catholic controversialists, the use of the label of ‘madness’ in argument, and the value of archival documentation alongside the use of oral sources in Reformation-era polemic. It also yields insight into Thomas Cromwell’s authority over the English Church during the late 1530s, and highlights his position among Henrician evangelicals as a source of influence and aid. Finally, it offers a critique about interpretations of early modern belief and the designation of the label ‘Lollard’.