Hares and heretics in Bloody Mary’s reign

This day in London’s history: on the 12th of November 1555, the English Parliament, under Queen Mary I, re-established Catholicism. They had already restored the old heresy laws, and high-profile Protestants were executed by being burnt at the stake. The body count of Protestants executed in the reign of ‘Bloody Mary’  was around 280.

Among those who were burnt at the stake were the bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, known as the Oxford Martyrs. (And, according to some, the inspiration for the nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’.)

A key figure in Mary’s government was Sir Nicholas Hare, described by the 19th-century writer Walter Thornbury in Volume I of the wonderful six-volume work Old and New London (Thornbury wrote volumes I and II; Edward Walford the last four), as “Privy Councillor to Henry VIII, the despotic, and Master of Rolls to Queen Mary, the cruel”.

Thornbury’s remarks were in the context of explaining the reason behind the name Hare Court, part of London’s Inner Temple; Sir Nicholas paid for the building of the court, which was mentioned in the poem ‘Dispensary’ by Sir Samuel Garth.

Hare was involved in getting the Treason Act of 1551-2 passed and presided over the trial of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, who committed the grave sin of imagining the queen’s death. Despite Hare’s best efforts (he refused to examine one of Throckmorton’s witnesses), Sir Nicholas the defendant was acquitted.

The restoration of Catholicism lasted only a short time; in 1558, on Mary’s death her half-sister Elizabeth I reversed it.

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