By Monday night quite a dozen more arrests had been made, and Anthony Dalaber was only taken from the commissary’s chamber to be thrown into prison in Oxford, with the grim threat of the Tower of London sounding in his ears.
Chapter XIII: In Prison
The wrath of the cardinal was greatly stirred. Thomas Garret had escaped once again. His own college had been proved to be, if not a hotbed of heresy, at least one of the centres whence dangerous doctrines had been disseminated; and amongst those who had been engaged in this unrighteous task were several of those very men whom he himself had introduced there, that they might, by their godly life and conversation, be shining lights amongst their companions.
It was natural, perhaps, that Wolsey’s wrath should burn somewhat fiercely, and be especially directed against the black sheep of his own college. He was too busy with public affairs to come himself to Oxford at this juncture; but he wrote many and lengthy epistles to the authorities there, and prayed them to use every means in their power of ridding the place of heresy, promising to give the matter his own earnest consideration. He had believed that heresy was for the present stamped out in London, owing to the prompt and decisive measures taken. He declared it would be far easier to tackle in the smaller town of Oxford; yet he and others who knew the two schools of thought had an inkling that the seed, once sown in the hearts of young and ardent and thinking men, would be found sprouting up and bearing fruit sometimes when least expected.
However, there was no lack of zeal in executing the cardinal’s commands; and Clarke, together with other canons of his college, Dalaber of Gloucester College, Udel, Diet, Radley, and even young Fitzjames, whose friendship with Dalaber was thought highly suspicious, were all cast into prison, and some of them into very close and rigorous captivity, with an unknown fate hanging over them, which could not but fill even the stoutest soul with dread and horror.
The prisons of the middle ages will scarce bear detailed description in these modern days; the condition of filth and squalor of the lower cells, often almost without air, and reeking with pestilential vapours, baffles words in which to describe it. To be sure, persons in daily life were used to conditions which would now be condemned as hopelessly insanitary, and were not so susceptible and squeamish as we have since become. The ordinary state of some of the poorer students’ halls in Oxford appears to us as simply disgusting; yet the thing was accepted then as a matter of course.
Nevertheless, the condition of those cast into the prisons of those days was a very forlorn and terrible one, and almost more calculated to break the spirit and the constancy of the captive than any more short and sharp ordeal might do. It is scarcely to be supposed that the prisons in Oxford were superior to those in other parts of the country, and indeed the sequel to the incarceration of Clarke and his companions seems to prove the contrary.