John Oldcastle (d. 1417)

Mark Fackler

READ : Proverbs 24:19-20

Do not fret because of evildoers. (v. 19)

To be a friend of the king is a dangerous advantage. As long as friendship serves the king’s interest, life is good.

Oldcastle was destined for leadership. Strong, brave, and devoted, he served gallantly in the army of Henry IV. The old king loved him.

When Henry died, Oldcastle came under the influence of John Wycliffe and other reformers who emphasized the Bible and opposed veneration of saints and sacramental privilege. At the same time, the new king Henry V wanted to cleanse the English church of its malcontents.

In September of 1413, Oldcastle was summoned. Accused of heresy, Oldcastle’s doom seemed imminent. But Oldcastle was old Henry’s friend, his warrior, his loyal subject. The king granted him forty days to repent of his errors.

During that short imprisonment, Oldcastle escaped the sheriff’s deputies and joined a group conspiring against the Crown. A royal posse took three years to find him, but when they did, charges were added: Oldcastle would be hung as a traitor and burned as a heretic. The king so ordered.

At St. Gile’s Field, Oldcastle was lifted by chains between two gallows and a low fire set beneath him. Throughout his agony, he is said to have praised God and asked God to guide his soul to heaven.


When friendships fail and all the world turns upside down, keep me faithful to you, dear Lord.