Historic ‘Causa Anglica’ petition comes to Winchester from Italy for exhibition

When Treasures of Hyde Abbey opens in Winchester Discovery Centre on 6 March, the first exhibit to greet visitors will take them back to the final episode in the abbey’s history before its demolition. What’s more, the story of the exhibit highlights a difficult point in England’s relationship with continental Europe, the repercussions of which are still being felt today.


In 1530, Henry VIII was in the midst of seeking an annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. To aid the cause, his principal adviser, Cardinal Wolsey (who was also Bishop of Winchester at the time), organised a grand Petition, signed and sealed by the top nobles and clerics of England, which appealed to Pope Clement VII to approve Henry’s request.


The Petition (referred to as the ‘Causa Anglica’) failed and, with it, the last chance for the King and country to remain within the Roman Catholic Church.


The actual document, complete with its splendid seals, was kept in the Vatican archives and did not surface again in public interest until - in a much publicised initiative - an exact replica, correct in every minute detail, was presented to the Queen in the Autumn of last year.


So what is the link with Hyde Abbey? Edward Fennell, a member of the Hyde900 organising committee, explained: “I was curious about the Petition and wondered whether one of the signatories might have been John Salcot, the Abbot of Hyde in the 1530s, so I wrote to Scrinium, the Venice-based facsimile producer, to investigate.”


Events then started to move very fast. Stefano Della Zana, Head of Scrinium’s International Department, wrote back immediately to confirm that John Salcot had indeed signed the Petition and that his signature, albeit faint, along with his seal as Abbot of Hyde was there to be seen on the document. Moreover, intrigued by the Treasures of Hyde Abbey Exhibition, he was interested in seeing how he might help.


The upshot was that, after various negotiations, it was agreed that a facsimile of the Petition would be lent to the exhibition, where it will be taking pride of place at the top of the stairs to greet visitors.


 According to historian David Starkey, who has been closely involved with Scrinium, the Petition is: “a fascinating document which marks the most important event in English history, the moment at which England ceases to be a normal European country and goes off on this strange path that leads it to the Atlantic, to the New World, to Protestantism and to Euroscepticism.”


Stefano della Zana will be in Winchester in the week before the exhibition to supervise the Petition’s installation. The hope is that it might remain in the country after the exhibition as a permanent legacy of Hyde900.