De heretico comburendo (2 Hen. IV c. 15), “the burning of a heretic”, was a law passed in 1401 during the reign of King Henry IV. Its target was the new sect of lollardism, which was regarded by the established Church as a form of heresy. Condemning the “falsehood of a certain new sect”, the statute re-affirmed the bishops’ duty, through their ecclestiastical courts, to convict heretics and to hand them over to local secular authorities to be “burned before the people in a prominent place”.
In 1555 the provisions of the statute also proved useful during the reign of Queen Mary I (1553–1558), permitting as it did the execution of Protestants by burning them alive. Mary’s father, Henry VIII, had transformed England into a Protestant nation, but she was a Catholic, and determined to restore the old religion.