The Life Of William Gardiner
William Gardiner was born at Bristol, received a tolerable education,
and was, at a proper age, placed under the care of a merchant, named
At the age of twenty-six years, he was, by his master, sent to Lisbon,
to act as factor. Here he applied himself to the study of the Portuguese
language, executed his business with assiduity and despatch, and behaved
with the most engaging affability to all persons with whom he had the
least concern. He conversed privately with a few, whom he knew to be
zealous protestants; and, at the same time cautiously avoided giving the
least offence to any who were Roman catholics; he had not, however,
hitherto gone into any of the popish churches.
A marriage being concluded between the king of Portugal's son, and the
Infanta of Spain, upon the wedding-day the bride-groom, bride, and the
whole court went to the cathedral church, attended by multitudes of all
ranks of people, and among the rest William Gardiner who stayed during
the whole ceremony, and was greatly shocked at the superstitions he saw.
The erroneous worship which he had seen ran strongly in his mind, he was
miserable to see a whole country sunk into such idolatry, when the truth
of the gospel might be so easily obtained. He, therefore, took the
inconsiderate, though laudable design, into his head, of making a reform
in Portugal, or perishing in the attempt; and determined to sacrifice
his prudence to his zeal, though he became a martyr upon the occasion.
To this end, he settled all his worldly affairs, paid his debts, closed
his books, and consigned over his merchandize. On the ensuing Sunday he
went again to the cathedral church, with a New Testament in his hand,
and placed himself near the altar.
The king and the court soon appeared, and a cardinal began mass at that
part of the ceremony in which the people adore the wafer, Gardiner could
hold out no longer, but springing towards the cardinal, he snatched the
host from him, and trampled it under his feet.
This action amazed the whole congregation, and one person drawing a
dagger, wounded Gardiner in the shoulder, and would, by repeating the
blow, have finished him, had not the king called to him to desist.
Gardiner, being carried before the king, the monarch asked him what
countryman he was: to which he replied, I am an Englishman by birth, a
protestant by religion, and a merchant by occupation. What I have done
is not out of contempt to your royal person, God forbid it should, but
out of an honest indignation, to see the ridiculous superstitions and
gross idolatries practised here.
The king, thinking that he had been stimulated by some other person to
act as he had done, demanded who was his abetter, to which he replied,
My own conscience alone. I would not hazard what I have done for any man
living, but I owe that and all other services to God.
Gardiner was sent to prison, and a general order issued to apprehend all
Englishmen in Lisbon. This order was in a great measure put into
execution, (some few escaping) and many innocent persons were tortured
to make them confess if they knew any thing of the matter; in
particular, a person who resided in the same house with Gardiner, was
treated with unparallelled barbarity to make him confess something which
might throw a light upon the affair.
Gardiner himself was then tormented in the most excruciating manner; but
in the midst of all his torments he gloried in the deed. Being ordered
for death, a large fire was kindled near a gibbet, Gardiner was drawn up
to the gibbet by pulleys, and then let down near the fire, but not so
close as to touch it; for they burnt or rather roasted him by slow
degrees. Yet he bore his sufferings patiently and resigned his soul to
the Lord cheerfully.
It is observable that some of the sparks were blown from the fire,
(which consumed Gardiner) towards the haven, burnt one of the king's
ships of war, and did other considerable damage. The Englishmen who were
taken up on this occasion were, soon after Gardiner's death, all
discharged, except the person who resided in the same house with him,
who was detained two years before he could procure his liberty.
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