In the summer of 1536 several officials and other residents of the Devonshire town of Axminster brought suit in the Court of Star Chamber against a shoemaker named Philip Gammon. They alleged in their Bill of Complaint that Gammon was infected with diverse points and articles of heresy. Chief among these was that Gammon, on a number of occasions, had rejected the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar, saying that “It is not the very body of Christ, but it is a sign and in itself a very piece of bread.”
The case is unique in its time. It is the only action for heresy taken up by the Henrician Court of Star Chamber, a tribunal which normally heard matters touching the enforcement of statute law or breaches of the peace. Familiar with the legal terrain, the plaintiffs also accused Gammon of resisting arrest, threatening a crown officer with a knife, and disobeying royal warrants and commands. Lastly, they asserted that the defendant had been maintained in his illegal activities by the politically potent Carew family, thereby raising before members of the court the specter of the overmighty subject, a haunting prospect to loyal Henrician councillors.