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18 September 2014
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The Historian's Many Hats

By John Arnold
Image of flagellants of Toumai
Medieval religious procession - the flagellants of Tournai ©

The historian has to create a narrative that can stand the test of time - and to get it right has to see things from many points of view. Whether as detective, judge or political analyst, how many hats should a historian wear?

Heretical beliefs

On 14 November 1534 John Hogsflesh of Lewes was not having a good day. He had to walk through the streets of Chichester at market time, wearing only a shirt, shoes and a strip of linen around his waist, whilst carrying a faggot.

'The faggot - a bundle of sticks - symbolised his conviction for heresy'

Once he got to the marketplace, he was to climb onto a small platform and read out a statement declaring that he had been convicted for heretical beliefs (namely, that no-one need honour the Virgin Mary, that Christ's body was not present in the Eucharist, and that he could be saved without confession to a priest). These beliefs he now renounced. His speech - written for him by the church authorities - concluded thus:

I do this penance here this day, beseeching you all and every one of you to take no example of any of my misdoing or saying, but that this my punishment may be a warning unto you to abstain from all such and other heresies and prohibit opinions at all times.

Hogsflesh had to repeat this ritual on 19 November at Midhurst market, and on 21 November at Lewes market. Finally, on Sunday 22nd November, John Hogsflesh was to join in the religious procession at Chichester Cathedral, still carrying the faggot, to complete his penance.

The faggot - a bundle of sticks - symbolised his conviction for heresy. If he had refused or failed to carry out the penance, he would have been placed upon a stack of faggots and burnt to death.

Published: 2005-01-28

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