The murder of  Richard Hun.
[ Foxes Acts and Monuments vol iv, p 183-205 etc ]

Richard Hun was a freeman and merchant tailor in London who habitually spent time each day reading his Bible. To all intents and purposes he was a good man and a conforming Christian who carried his beads (rosary) with him at all times. However, at the death of one of his children, a five week old boy named Stephen, Thomas Dryfield, the parson of St Mary Matfilon in Middlesex demanded an exorbitant mortuary fee ( being a bearing sheet or mort-cloth). Hun refused to pay since the dead son had no ownership of the cloth. Hun was summoned to appear before a church court. Aggrieved at their grasping nature and indignant at a summons before a foreign tribunal, he issued writs of praemunire against Dryfield and his counsel. This prompted great concern  among the clerics as it struck at the heart of their control of the people and  set an unwanted precedent ; up went their plaintive cry

 "If these proud citizens are allowed to have their way every layman  will dare to resist a priest."

Hun became a marked man, against whom there had to be retribution. The obvious path chosen for revenge was to make a charge of heresy against Hun to Richard Fitzjames, Bishop of London [a noted pursuer of heretics ].  Hun was promptly  thrown into the Lollard`s Tower at St Paul`s  where he was chained in a heavy iron collar and weighed down with more chains, to await appearance before the bishop at Fulham on 2 December. The charges made by Dr Horsey, the bishop`s chancellor  were the usual open ended allegations that he taught, preached, and published heretical statements; refused to pay tithes claiming they were covetousness by the priests (the mort cloth incident ); accused the priests of being Scribes and Pharisees responsible for the death of Christ; he had defended another persecuted person - Joan Baker; and that he had in his possession works in English including those of Wickcliffe.

John Foxe records in his Acts and Monuments that he had access to the register of Richard Fitzjames and says that there there is no record of Hun`s responses, But in the writing of another person there was what purports to be a recantation. Testimony was given that the notation was made on the hearsay evidence of others and is highly discredited. That aside, after his appearance before the bishop, Hun was returned to the Lollard`s tower in the custody of Charles Joseph the sumner, and thence into the custody of John Spalding, the bellringer - a reputedly dim witted individual. The relevance here is that Spalding would probably do whatever he was told.

On or after midnight on 2 December 1514  Joseph and Spalding, perhaps accompanied by Horsey, went to the tower and murdered Hun. Having committed the deed Spalding went into town leaving the keys to Hun`s cell with others to give to Joseph`s  son in the morning. The reasoning being that the boy, who took food to the prisoner, would find Hun`s body and Spalding would have an alibi. In the event the boy and others went to the cell at about 10 am as usual and found Hun hanged and facing the wall. They immediately informed the chancellor Horsey, who in turn noised abroad that Hun had hung himself. However, the public, who knew Hun and his Godly reputation, suspected that he had been murdered and clamoured for a coroners inquest and for the body to be examined.

Panicking  the clerics now decided that, while the inquest went about its business, they would proceed with the heresy charges  `ex officio`. The reasoning being that if Hun was deemed a heretic  it would add credence to the claim of suicide, thus the inquest would  then find Hun responsible for his own death, not the priests.  In yet another bizarre turn, a Dr Hed collected information from Bibles and other documents to produce another list of thirteen articles  alleging heresy - this after Hun was dead. These were read out in church and defended by the Bishop,

To compound their murder the clerics now proceeded with what at best can be described as a pantomime. A formal list of procedures was drawn up for declaring the issues, for the bishop to make a decision, and for the action to be taken subsequently. Accordingly Bishop Fitzjames and Dr John Young, Bishop of Callipolis sat in judgement on 16 December, heard the `evidence` read - with no accused or witnesses concerning the charges present, and pronounced the definitive sentence on the carcase of Richard Hun. On 20 December in Smithfield  " this ridiculous decree was as fondly accomplished " and the body of Hun was formally burnt as a heretic.

The matter was not over, however. The coroner`s court, which the king attended occasionally, found that Dr Horsey, Charles Joseph and John Spalding "had privily and maliciously committed this murder"; and therefore indicted all three for wilful murder. The evidence from the manner of the body was hanging, with cap set square upon the head and no signs of a footstall or other means of throwing oneself off to hang, was totally inconsistent with someone comitting suicide. The physical evidence indicated prior death by strangulation before the body was suspended. Other witnesses pointed directly to the accused as having colluded to the murder and its execution. By the intervention of  Fitzjames through Cardinal Wolsey, Horsey was released and went to Exeter, in effect banished from London. The other two are not recorded as suffering further imprisonment or execution for murder and presumably they too managed to escape the noose they deserved. But Parliament did pursue with the king the matter of Hun`s assets which would have been forfaulted to the Crown. His family were recompensed to the value of fifteen hundred pounds sterling , besides plate and other jewels.

Decision of the Coroner`s Court.

Some claim that John Foxe`s Martyrs or Acts and Monuments as properly entitled, are exaggerated and biased. Although colourful in his use of language - the practice of the age in which he lived, the story of Richard Hun is one of the most detailed records made by Foxe, and includes extracts from the Bishop of London`s own Register, the proceedings of the coroner`s court; Parliament and the kings correspondence. There is little room for denial that the events happened and that Richard Hun was wilfully murdered for his beliefs and daring to question the grasping practices of the priests.

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