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Sr. Elizabeth Barton (known as The Nun of Kent, The Holy Maid of London, The Holy Maid of Kent and later The Mad Maid of Kent; 1506? – April 20 1534) was an English Catholic nun. She was executed as a result of her prophecies regarding the marriage of King Henry VIII of England to Anne Boleyn against the wishes of the Pope.

Little is known of Barton's early life although she appears to have come from a poor background, as she was working as a servant when her visions first began in 1525. During that year, she suffered from a severe unknown illness, and she claimed to have received revelations from God. Barton's revelations either predicted future events (such as the death of a child living in her household) or, more frequently, took the form of pleas for people to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. In particular she urged people to pray to The Virgin Mary and undertake pilgrimages.

Shortly after she had begun receiving visions, she entered a convent and became a nun. She rapidly became popular among both the masses and the elite leadership that controlled England. Barton held a private meeting in 1528 with Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, the most powerful man in England after the King, and shortly thereafter met with the King himself on two occasions. Barton was accepted by the government because her prophecies did not then challenge the existing order but rather supported it.

Unfortunately for Barton, the existing order changed when Henry VIII, in order to obtain an annulment from Catherine of Aragon, decided to break with Rome, and create the Church of England. Barton was strongly opposed to the Henrician Reformation, and around 1532 she began prophesying that if the King would remarry he would die shortly thereafter. (He would in fact live for 15 years.) Remarkably, Barton went unpunished for nearly a year, in large part because she appears to have been more popular than the King in many quarters. In fact, Barton was tried for treason only after supporters of the King had spread rumours that Barton was engaged in sexual relationships with her priests. Others asserted that Barton suffered from mental illness. With her reputation damaged, in 1533 the crown arrested her and forced Barton to make either a real confession or a fabricated one. According to the confession presented Barton admitted that she had fabricated her revelations. In 1534 she was executed for treason and hanged at the Tyburnmarker gallows in Westminster.


2. Diane Watt, 'Barton, Elizabeth (c.1506-1534)', 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography',

See also


  • John McKee: Dame Elizabeth Barton OSB, the Holy Maid of Kent: London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1925.
  • Alan Neame: The Holy Maid of Kent: The Life of Elizabeth Barton: 1506–1534: London: Hodder and Stoughton: 1971: ISBN 0-340-02574-3
  • Ethan H. Shagan, Popular Politics in the English Reformation, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003: chapter 2, "The Anatomy of opposition in early Reformation England: the case of Elizabeth Barton, the holy maid of Kent," p. 61–88.
  • Diane Watt, 'Secretaries of God', Cambridge UK: D S Brewer, 1997.

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