Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, 1370-1417


Knights of the Middle Ages I 1146-1492

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Known to the world as Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff (most particularly from Henry IV Parts I and II) it is believed Shakespeare originally named the character John Oldcastle, but that a descendant complained at the use of the name and Shakespeare changed it accordingly. The fact that a descendant might have complained is hardly surprising because Oldcastle’s reputation was not good. He was, according to John Bayle, writing in 1544: ‘. . .that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that grey iniquity . . .’ Whether in fact he was regarded as a baron is a matter of some doubt. Sir John was a Lollard, suspected when it was discovered that a chaplain in a church on his estate was preaching the tenets of Lollardy. Lollardy was a pre-Protestant religious movement from the mid-14th century to the English Reformation initially led by John Wycliffe, a Roman Catholic theologian dismissed from Oxford University in 1381 for criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. The Lollards’ demands were primarily for reform of Western Christianity. It became clear Oldcastle was a devotee and he was arrested in 1413, tried and found guilty of heresy for which he would have been executed but for the intervention of the King who put him in the tower for forty days so that he might consider his position. He somehow managed to escape, but was found 4 years later in Wales, brought before Parliament, condemned as an outlawed traitor and a convicted heretic and on the same day ‘hung and burnt hanging’ at St Giles’ Fields, London.

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Dimensions 37 × 54 cm