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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 23 — Protestantism in England From the Times of Henry VIII

Chapter 14 — The burnings under mary

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English Protestantism Purified in the Fire—Glory from Suffering— Spies—The First Victims—Transubstantiation the Burning Article— Martyrdom of Rogers—Distribution of Stakes over England—Saunders Burned at Coventry—Hooper at Gloucester—His Protracted Sufferings—Burning of Taylor at Hadleigh—Burning of Ferrar at Carmarthen—England begins to be Roused—Alarm of Gardiner— "Bloody" BonnerŠExtent of the Burnings—Martyrdom of Ridley and Latimer at Oxford—A Candle Lighted in England—Cranmer—His RecantationŠRevokes his Recantation—His Martyrdom—Number of Victims under Mary—Death of the Queen

Mournful and melancholy, not without shame, is England's recantation of her Protestantism. Escaped from her bondage, and fairly on her march to liberty, she suddenly faints on the way, and returns into her old fetters. The Pope's authority again flourishes in the realm, and the sword has been replaced in the hands of the bishops, to compel all to fall down and do obeisance to the Roman divinity. How sad a relapse, and how greatly to be deplored! And yet it was the tyranny of this cruel time that helped above most things to purify English Protestantism, and to insure its triumph in the end. This fierce tempest drove away from it a cloud of adherents who had weakened it by their flatteries, and disgraced it by their immoral lives. Relieved of this crushing weight, the tree instantly shot up and flourished amid the tempest's rage. The steadfast faith of a single martyr brings more real strength to a cause like Protestantism than any number of lukewarm adherents. And what a galaxy of glorious names did this era gather round the English Reformation! If the skies were darkened, one bright star came forth after, another, till the night seemed fairer than the day, and men blessed that darkness that revealed so many glories to them. Would the names of Cranmer, of Ridley, of Latimer, and of Hooper have been what they are but for their stakes? Would they have stilted the hearts of all the generations of their countrymen since, had they died in their palaces? Blot these names from the annals of English Protestantism, and how prosaic would its history be!

With the year 1555 came the reign of the stake. Instructions were sent from court to the justices in all the counties of England, to appoint in each district a certain number of secret informers to watch the population, and report such as did not go to mass, or who failed otherwise to conduct themselves as became good Catholics. The diligence of the spies soon bore fruit in the crowded prisons of the kingdom. Protestant preachers, absentees from church, condemners of the mass, were speedily tracked out and transferred to gaol. The triumvirate which governed England— Gardiner, Bonner, and Poles, might select from the crowd what victims they pleased. Among the first to suffer were Rogers, Vicar of St. Sepulchre's; Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester; Rowland Taylor, Vicar of Hadleigh in Suffolk; Saunders, Vicar of All Hallows, Bread Street; and Bradford, one of the Prebendaries of St. Paul's. They were brought before Gardiner on the 28th of January, 1555. Their indictment bore reference mainly to transubstantiation and the Pope's supremacy. These two articles had suddenly become, in the eyes of the queen and her bishops, the sum of Christianity, and if one doubted either of them he was not fit to live on English soil The pretext of treason was not needed now. The men who perished in the fire under Mary were burned simply because they did not, and could not, believe in the corporeal presence in the Lord's Supper.

Their examination was short: their judges had neither humanity nor ability to reason with them. "What sayest thou?" was the question put to all of them. "Is it Christ's flesh and blood that is in the Sacrament, or what?" And according to the answer was the sentence; if the accused said "flesh," he was acquitted; if he answered "bread," he was blamed. The five theologians at the bar of Gardiner denied both the mass and the Pope's supremacy; and, as a matter of course, they were condemned to be burned.

Rogers, who had been the associate of Tyndale and Coverdale in the translation of the Scriptures, was suddenly awakened on Monday morning, the 4th of February, and bidden to prepare for the fire. As he was being led to Smithfield he saw his wife in the crowd, waiting for him, with one infant at the breast and ten at her feet. By a look only could he bid her farewell. His persecutors thought, perhaps, to vanquish the father if they had failed to subdue the disciple; but they found themselves mistaken.

Leaving his wife and children to Him who is the husband of the widow and the father of the orphan, he went on heroically to the stake. The fagots were ready to be lighted, when a pardon was offered him if he would recant. "That which I have preached," said Rogers, "will I seal with my blood." "Thou art a heretic," said the sheriff. "That shall be known at the last day," responded the confessor. The pardon was removed, and in its room the torch was brought. Soon the flames rose around him. He bore the torment with invincible courage, bathing his hands as it were in the fire while he was burning, and then raising them towards heaven, and keeping them in that posture till they dropped into the fire. So died John Rogers, the proto-martyr of the Marian persecution.

After this beginning there was no delay in the terrible work. In order to strike a wider terror into the nation, it was deemed expedient to distribute these stakes over all England. If the flocks in the provincial towns and rural parts saw their pastors chained to posts and blazing in the fires, they would be filled with horror of their heresy—so the persecutor thought. It did not occur to him that the people might be moved to pity their sufferings, to admire their heroism, and to detest the tyranny which had doomed them to

this awful death. To witness these dreadful spectacles was a different thing from merely hearing of them, and a thrill of horror ran through the nation—not at the heresy of the martyrs, but at the ferocious and blood-thirsty cruelty of the bigots who were putting them to death. On the 8th of February, Laurence Saunders was sent down to Coventry— where his labors had been discharged—to be burned. The stake was set up outside the town, in a park already consecrated by the sufferings of the Lollards. He walked to it bare-footed, attired in an old gown, and on his way he threw himself twice or thrice on the ground and prayed. Being come to the stake, he folded it in his arms, and kissing it, said, "Welcome the cross of Christ; welcome the life everlasting!" "The fire being put to him," says the martyrologist, "full sweetly he slept in the Lord." [1]

Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester, had been the companion of Rogers at the tribunal, and he expected to have been his companion at the stake; but when Rogers went his way to the fire, Hooper was remanded to his cell. On the evening of that day he was told that he was to undergo his sentence at Gloucester. His enemies had done unwittingly the greatest kindness. To die for Christ anywhere was sweet to him; but to give his blood in the presence of those to whom he had preached Him, and whose faith he would thereby confirm, made him leap for joy. Now would he crown his ministry by this the greatest of all the sermons he had ever preached. Next morning, attended by six of the queen's guards, he began his journey before it was light. On the third day he arrived at Gloucester, where he was met at the gates by a crowd of people bathed in tears. A day's respite being allowed him, he passed it in fasting and prayer, and in bidding adieu to friends. He retired early to rest, slept soundly for some time, and then rose to prepare for death. At eight o'clock on the 9th of February he was led out. The stake had been planted close to the end of the cathedral, in which he had so often preached to the very persons who were now gathered to see him die. It was market day, and a crowd of not less than 7,000 had assembled to witness the last moments of the martyr, many climbing up into the boughs of an elm that overshadowed the spot. Hooper did not address the assemblage, for his persecutors had extorted a promise of silence by the barbarous threat of cutting out his tongue, should he attempt to speak at the stake; but his meekness, the more than usual serenity of his countenance, and the courage with which he bore his prolonged and awful sufferings, bore nobler testimony to his cause than any words he could have uttered.

He kneeled down, and a few words of his prayer were heard by those of the crowd who were nearest to the stake. "Lord, thou art a gracious God, and a merciful Redeemer. Have mercy upon me, most miserable and wretched offender, after the multitude of thy mercies and the greatness of thy compassion. Thou art ascended into heaven: receive me to be partaker of thy joys, where thou sittest in equal glory with the Father." The prayers of Bishop Hooper were ended. A box was then brought and laid at his feet. He had but to stoop and lift it up and walk away from the stake, for it held his pardon. He bade them take it away. The hoop having been put round his middle, the torch was now brought, amid the sobbings and lamentations of the crowd. But the fagots were green, and burned slowly, and the wind being boisterous, the flame was blown away from him, and only the lower parts of his body were burned. "For God's sake, good people," said the martyr, "let me have more fire!" A few dry fagots were brought; still the pile did not kindle. Wiping his eyes with his hands, he ejaculated, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me, and receive my soul!" A third supply of fuel was brought, and after some time a stronger flame arose. He continued praying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" till his tone was swollen and his lips had shrunk from the gums. He smote upon his breast with both his hands, and when one of his arms dropped off, he kept beating on his breast with the other, "the fat, water, and blood oozing out at the finger-ends." The fire had now gathered strength; the struggle, which had lasted nearly three-quarters of an hour, was drawing to a close; "his hand did cleave fast to the iron upon his breast;" and now, bowing forwards, he yielded up the ghost. [2]

In the same day on which Laurence Saunders was burned at Coventry, a similar tragedy was being enacted at Hadleigh in Suffolk. Dr. Rowland Taylor, one of Cranmer's chaplains, had discharged the duties of that cure with a zeal, an ability, and a kindliness of disposition which had endeared him to all his parishioners. One day, in the summer of 1554, he heard the bells of his church suddenly begin to ring. Hastily entering the edifice, he saw to his astonishment a man with shaven crown, dressed in canonicals, at the altar, preparing to say mass, while a number of armed men stood round him with drawn swords to defend him. Dr. Taylor, on remonstrating against this intrusion, was forcibly thrust out of the church. He was summoned before Gardiner, who railed on him, calling him a knave, a traitor, and a heretic, and ended by throwing him into prison. The old laws against heresy not having as yet been restored, Taylor, with many others, was kept in gaol until matters should be ripe

for setting up the stake.

Meanwhile the prisoners were allowed free intercourse among themselves. Emptied of their usual occupants, and filled with the god-fearing people of England, "the prisons," as Fox states, "were become Christian schools and churches;" so that if one wished to hear good, he crept stealthily to the grated window of the confessor's dungeon, and listened to his prayers and praises. At last, in the beginning of 1555, the stake was restored, and now Taylor and his companions, as we have already said, were brought before Gardiner. Sentence of death was passed upon the faithful pastor. On the way down to Suffolk, where that sentence was to be executed, his face was the brightest, and his conversation the most cheerful, of all in the company. A most touching parting had he with his wife and children by the way; but now the bitterness of death was past. When he arrived in his parish, he found a vast crowd, composed of the poor whom he had fed, the orphans to whom he had been a father, and the villagers whom he had instructed in the Scriptures, waiting for him on the common where he was to die. "When they saw his reverend and ancient face, with a long white beard, they burst out with weeping tears, and cried, `Jesus Christ strengthen thee and help thee, good Dr. Taylor; the Holy Ghost comfort thee!'" He essayed to speak to the people, but one of the guard thrust a tipstaff into his mouth. Having undressed for the fire, he mounted the pile, and kneeled down to pray. While so engaged, a poor woman stepped out from the crowd, and kneeling by his side, prayed with him. The horsemen threatened to ride her down, but nothing could drive her away. The martyr, standing unmoved, with hands folded and eyes raised to heaven, endured the fire. [3]

Ferrar, Bishop of St. David's, had been examined before Gardiner at the same time with those whose deaths we have just recorded, but his condemnation was deferred. He was sent down to Wales, and on the 26th of March he was brought before the Romish bishop who had been appointed to his see, and condemned. On the 30th he was burned on the south side of the cross at the market-place of Carmarthen. Fox records a touching proof of the steadfastness with which he suffered. A young man came to Ferrar to express his sympathy with him at the painful death he was about to undergo. Relying on the extraordinary support vouchsafed to those who are called to seal their testimony with their blood, Ferrar gave him this sign, that he would stand unmoved amidst the flames. "And as he said, so he right well performed," says Fox; "he never moved."

Men contrasted the leniency with which the Romanists had been treated under Edward VI, with the ferocious cruelty of Mary towards the adherents of the Reformed faith. When Protestantism was in the ascendant, not one Papist had been put to death for his religion. A few priests had been deprived of their benefices; the rest had saved their livings by conforming. But now the Popery had risen to power, no one could be a Protestant but at the peril of his life. The highest and most venerated dignitaries of the Church, the men of greatest learning and most exemplary virtue in the nation, were dragged to prison and burned at stakes. The nation at first was stupefied, but now amazement was giving place to indignation; and Gardiner, who had expected to see all men cowering in terror, and ready to fall in with his measures, began to be alarmed when he saw a tempest of wrath springing up, and about to sweep over the land. Did he therefore desist from his work of burning men or did he counsel his royal mistress to abandon a project which could be carried through only at the cost of the destruction of the best of her subjects? By no means. The device to which he had recourse was to put forward a colleague, a man yet more brutal than himself—Bonner, surnamed the Bloody—to do the chief part of the work, while he fell a little into the background. Edmund Bonner was the natural son of a richly beneficed priest in Cheshire, named Savage; and the son ought never to have borne another name than that which he inherited from his father. Educated at Oxford, he was appointed archdeacon at Leicester under Henry VIII, by whom he was employed in several embassies. In 1539 he was advanced to be Bishop of London by Cromwell and Cranmer, who believed him to be, as he pretended, a friend to the Reformation.

Upon the enactment of the law of the Six Articles, he immediately "erected his crest and displayed his fangs and talons." He had the thirst of a leech for blood. Fox, who is blamed for "persecuting persecutors with ugly pictures"—though certainly Fox is not to blame if ferocity and sensuality print their uncomely lineaments on their rotaries—describes him as the possessor of a great, overgrown, and bloated body. Both Gardiner and Bonner, the two most conspicuous agents in the awful tragedies of the time, had been supporters of the royal supremacy, which formed a chief count in the indictment of the men whom they were now ruthlessly destroying.

The devoted, painstaking, and scrupulously faithful Fox has recorded the names and deaths of the noble army of sufferers with a detail that renders any lengthy narrative superfluous; and next to the service rendered to England by the martyrs themselves, is that which has been rendered by their martyrologist. Over all England, from the eastern counties to Wales on the west, and from the midland shires to the shores of the English Channel, blazed these baleful fires. Both sexes, and all ages and conditions, the boy of eight and the man of eighty, the halt and the blind, were dragged

to the stake and burned, sometimes singly, at other times in dozens.

England till now had put but small price upon the Reformation—it knew not from what it had been delivered; but these fires gave it some juster idea of the value of what Edward VI and Cranmer had done for it. Popery was now revealing itself—writing its true character in eternal traces on the hearts of the English people.

Before dropping the curtain on what is at once the most melancholy and the most glorious page of our history, there are three martyrs before whose stakes we must pause. We have briefly noticed the disputation which Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer were compelled to hold with the commission at Oxford, in September, 1554. The commission pronounced all three obstinate heretics, and sentenced them to be burned, herein the commission was guilty of the almost unexampled atrocity of sentencing men to suffer under a law which had yet to be enacted; and till the old penal statutes should be restored, the condemned were remanded to prison. [4] October of the following year, an order was issued for the execution of Ridley and Cranmer. The night before his death Ridley supped with the family of the mayor. At table no shade of the stake darkened his face or saddened his talk. He invited the hostess to his marriage; her reply was a burst of tears, for which he chid her as if she were unwilling to be present on so joyous an occasion, saying at the same time, "My breakfast may be sharp, but I am sure my supper will be most sweet." When he rose from table his brother offered to watch with him all night. "No, no," replied he, "I shall go to bed and, God willing, shall sleep as quietly tonight as ever I did in my life."

The place of execution was a ditch by the north wall of the town, over against Baliol College. [5] Ridley came first, dressed in his black furred gown and velvet, cap, walking between the mayor and an alderman. As he passed Bocardo, where Cranmer was confined, he looked up, expecting to see the archbishop at the window, and exchange final adieus with him. Cranmer, as Fox informs us, was then engaged in debate with a Spanish friar, but learning soon after that his fellow prisoners had passed to the stake, the archbishop hurried to the roof of his prison, whence he beheld their martyrdom, and on his knees begged God to strengthen them in their agony, and to prepare him for his own. On his way to the stake, Ridley saw Latimer following him—the old man making what haste he could.

Ridley ran and, folding him in his arms, kissed him, saying, "Be of good health, brother; for God will either assuage the fury of the flames, or else strengthen us to abide it." They kneeled down and prayed, each by himself, afterwards they talked together a little while, "but what they said," says Fox, "I can learn of no man." After the sermon usual on such occasions, they both undressed for the fire. Latimer, stripped by his keeper, stood in a shroud. With his garments he seemed to have put off the burden of his many years. His bent figure instantly straightened; withered age was transformed into what seemed vigorous manhood; and standing bolt upright, he looked "as comely a father as one might lightly behold." [6]

All was now ready. An iron chain had been put round the martyrs, and a staple driven in to make it firm. The two were fastened to one stake. A lighted fagot was brought, and laid at Ridley's feet. Then Latimer addressed his companion in words still fresh—after three centuries—as on the day on which they were uttered: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man: we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

The flames blazed up rapidly and fiercely. Latimer bent towards them, as if eager to embrace those ministers, terrible only in appearance, which were to give him exit from a world of sorrow into the bliss eternal. Stroking his face with his hands, he speedily, and with little pain, departed. Not so Ridley. His sufferings were protracted and severe. The fagots, piled high and solidly around him, stifled the flames, and his lower extremities were burned, while the upper part of his body was untouched, and his garments on one side were hardly scorched. "I cannot burn," he said; "let the fire come to me." At last he was understood; the upper fagots were pulled away; the flames rose; Ridley leaned towards them; and crying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" his body turned over the iron chain, the leg being already consumed, and he fell at Latimer's feet.

Cranmer still lived, but he was a too conspicuous member of the Protestant host, and had acted a too prominent part under two monarchs, not to be marked out for the stake. But before receiving the crown of martyrdom, that lofty head was first to be bowed low in humiliation. His enemies had plotted to disgrace him before leading him to the stake, lest the glory of such a victim should exalt the cause for which he was about to be offered in sacrifice. The archbishop was removed from the prison to the house of the Dean of Christ Church. Crafty men came about him; they treated him with respect, professed great kindness, were desirous of prolonging his life for future service, hinted at a quiet retirement in the country. The Pope's supremacy was again the law of the land, they said, and it was no great matter to promise submission to the law in this respect, and "to take the Pope for chief head of this Church of England, so far as the laws of God, and the laws and customs of

this realm, will permit." He might himself dictate the words of this submission. The man who had stood erect amid the storms of Henry VIII's time, and had oftener than once ignored the wishes and threatenings of that wayward monarch and followed the path of duty, fell by the arts of these seducers. He signed the submission demanded of him. The queen and Cardinal Pole were overjoyed at the fall of the archbishop. His recantation would do more than all the stakes to suppress the Reformation in England. None the less did they adhere steadfastly to their purpose of burning him, though they carefully concealed their intentions from himself. On the morning of the 21st of March, 1556, they led him out of prison and preceded by the mayor and alderman, and a Spanish friar on either side of him, chanting penitential psalms, they conducted him to St. Mary's Church, there to make his recantation in public. The archbishop, having already felt the fires that consume the soul, dreaded the less those that consume the body, and suspecting what his enemies meditated, had made his resolve. He walked onward, the noblest of all the victims, his conductors thought, whom they had yet immolated. The procession entered the church, the friars hymning the prayer of Simeon. They placed Cranmer on a stage before the pulpit.

There, in the "garments and ornaments" of an archbishop, "only in mockery everything was of canvas and old clouts," [7] sat the man who had lately been the first subject of the realm, "an image of sorrow, the dolour of his heart bursting out at his eyes in tears." Dr. Cole preached the usual sermon, and when it was ended, he exhorted the archbishop to clear himself of all suspicion of heresy by making a public confession. "I will do it," said Cranmer, "and that with a good will." On this he rose up, and addressed the vast concourse, declaring his abhorrence of the Romish doctrines, and expressing his steadfast adherence to the Protestant faith. "And now," said he, "I come to the great thing that so much troubleth my conscience, more than anything that ever I did or said in my whole life."

He then solemnly revoked his recantation, adding, "Forasmuch as my hand offended, writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished therefore for may I come to the fire, it shall be first burned."

Hardly had he uttered the words when the Romanists, filled with fury, plucked him violently from the scaffold, and hurried him off to the stake. It was already set up on the spot where Ridley and Latimer had suffered. He quickly put off his garments, and stood in his shroud, his feet bare, his head bald, his beard long and thick for he had not shaved since the death of Edward VI—a spectacle to move the heart of friend and foe, "at once the martyr and the penitent." As soon as the fire approached him, he stretched out his right arm, and thrust his hand in the flames, saying, "That unworthy right hand!" He kept it in the fire, excepting that he once wiped with it the drops from his brow, till it was consumed, repeatedly exclaiming, "That unworthy right hand!" The fierce flame now surrounded him, but he stood as unmoved as the stake to which he was bound. Raising his eyes to heaven, and breathing out the prayer of Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" he expired. [8] No marble tomb contains his ashes, no cathedral tablet records his virtues, no epitaph preserves his memory, nor are such needed. As Strype has well said, "His martyrdom is his monument."

Between the 4th of February, 1555, when Rogers, Vicar of St. Sepulchre's, was burned at Smithfield, and the 15th of November, 1558, when five martyrs were burned in one fire at Canterbury, just two days before the death of the queen, not fewer than 288 persons, according to the estimate of Lord Burleigh, were burned alive at the stake. Besides these, numbers perished by imprisonment, by torture, and by famine. Mary did all this with the full approval and sanction of her conscience. Not a doubt had she that in burning her Protestant subjects she was doing God service. Her conscience did indeed reproach her before her death, but for what? Not for the blood she had shed, but because she had not done her work more thoroughly, and in particular for not having made full restitution of the abbey lands and other property of the Church which had been appropriated by the crown. Her morose temper, and the estrangement of her husband, were now hastening her to the grave; but the nearer she drew to it, she but the more hastened to multiply her victims, and her last days were cheered by watching the baleful fires that lit up her realm, and made her reign notorious in English history.

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Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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