Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 April 2015
The Bishop's Palace at Ely was used as a prison for Catholics between 1577 and 1597, and between 1588 and 1597 was exclusively a prison for lay recusants. Its inmates included Abbot John Feckenham between 1577 and 1580 and Thomas Tresham, who was imprisoned in Ely four times. Unlike Wisbech Castle, however, the Palace at Ely's period as a prison for recusants has received little attention. This article draws on the documentary evidence for the Catholic prisoners in official records, as well as Tresham's extensive writings during his Ely imprisonment. It also draws on a newly discovered inventory of the Palace's contents in 1581, arguing that the prisoners, and Tresham in particular, were affected by their stay in Ely. It makes the case for the prisoners’ rich cultural life, as evidenced by the prison writings of Tresham and a fellow inmate, George Cotton, who used his time to translate Jesuit letters from Japan. The prisoners in the Bishop's Palace at Ely may have made less public noise than their fellow prisoners at Wisbech Castle, but like Wisbech, Ely was a focus of Catholic culture and resistance during the late Elizabethan period that deserves to be better understood.
1 Gonville and Caius College MS 53/30, fols 57r–59r.
2 The painting hangs in the Bishop's house in Ely and is reproduced in Young, F., A History of the Bishop's Palace at Ely: Prelates and Prisoners, The Ely Society, Ely, 2012, pp. 6–7 Google Scholar; Speed's survey map can be found in Bendall, S., The Earliest Known Map of Ely: John Speed's Survey Map of 1607, The Ely Society, Ely, 2009, pp. 6–7.Google Scholar
3 Gonville and Caius College MS 53/30, fol. 57r.
4 I have argued elsewhere (young (2012), n. p. 23) that a blocked-up round-headed arch on the east side of the Palace, now partly concealed by a plant room, represents the east window of Bishop Patrick's chapel. Two blocked-up perpendicular arches that survive in the perimeter wall of the Palace garden, facing the east end of Bishop Patrick's chapel, could be remains of an earlier chapel or other buildings.
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14 CSPD 1578–79, p. 628.
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40 BL Add. MSS 39828, fols 139r–142v.
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46 LPL MS 2008, fols 41, 55.
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72 BL Add. MS 39831, fol. 6r.
73 BL Add. MS 39831, fol. 7r.
74 Salisbury MSS, p. 90: Uxor et virgo, regina et sancta, beata Etheldreda, ora pro me misserrimo peccatori, Thoma Tresam (‘Wife and virgin, queen and saint, blessed Etheldreda, pray for me a most miserable sinner, Thomas Tresham’).
75 BL Add. MS 39831, fol. 24r.
76 BL Add. MS 39831, fol. 5r.
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87 Ibid. pp. 256–7.
88 Ibid. pp. 258, 262.
89 Seven prisoners (William Browne, John Gage of haling, Samuel Loame, Ferdinando Parris, Gervase Pierrepont, John Thimbleby and John Towneley) are recorded only in the Tabula Eliensis. Four prisoners mentioned in official records (Samuel and Sampson Erdeswicke, Edward Rookwood and William Tyrwhitt) receive no mention in the Tabula.
90 Marshall, P. and Scott, G., ‘Introduction: The Catholic Gentry in English Society’ in Marshall, and Scott, (eds), Catholic Gentry in English Society: The Throckmortons of Coughton from Reformation to Emancipation, Ashgate, Farnham, 2009, pp. 1–30 Google Scholar, at p. 12.
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