An Account Of The Persecutions In Great Britain And Ireland Prior To The Reign Of Queen Mary I
Gildas, the most ancient British writer extant, who lived about the time
that the Saxons left the island of Great Britain, has drawn a most
shocking instance of the barbarity of those people.
The Saxons, on their arrival, being heathens like the Scots and Picts,
destroyed the churches and murdered the clergy wherever they came: but
they could not destroy christianity, for those who would not submit to
Saxon yoke, went and resided beyond the Severn. Neither have we the
names of those christian sufferers transmitted to us, especially those
of the clergy.
The most dreadful instance of barbarity under the Saxon government, was
the massacre of the monks of Bangor, A. D. 586. These monks were in all
respects different from those men who bear the same name at present.
In the eighth century, the Danes, a roving crew of barbarians, landed in
different parts of Britain, both in England and Scotland.
At first they were repulsed, but in A. D. 857, a party of them landed
somewhere near Southampton, and not only robbed the people, but burnt
down the churches, and murdered the clergy.
In A. D. 868, these barbarians penetrated into the centre of England,
and took up their quarters at Nottingham; but the English, under their
king Ethelfrid, drove them from their posts, and obliged them to retire
In 870, another body of these barbarians landed at Norfolk, and engaged
in battle with the English at Hertford. Victory declared in favour of
the pagans, who took Edmund, king of the East Angles, prisoner, and
after treating him with a thousand indignities, transfixed his body with
arrows, and then beheaded him.
In Fifeshire, in Scotland, they burnt many of the churches, and among
the rest that belonging to the Culdees, at St. Andrews. The piety of
these men made them objects of abhorrence to the Danes, who, wherever
they went singled out the christian priests for destruction, of whom no
less than 200 were massacred in Scotland.
It was much the same in that part of Ireland now called Leinster, there
the Danes murdered and burnt the priests alive in their own churches;
they carried destruction along with them wherever they went, sparing
neither age nor sex, but the clergy were the most obnoxious to them,
because they ridiculed their idolatry, and persuaded their people to
have nothing to do with them.
In the reign of Edward III. the church of England was extremely
corrupted with errors and superstition; and the light of the gospel of
Christ was greatly eclipsed and darkened with human inventions,
burthensome ceremonies, and gross idolatry.
The followers of Wickliffe, then called Lollards, were become extremely
numerous, and the clergy were so vexed to see them increase whatever
power or influence they might have to molest them in an underhand
manner, they had no authority by law to put them to death. However, the
clergy embraced the favourable opportunity, and prevailed upon the king
to suffer a bill to be brought into parliament, by which all Lollards
who remained obstinate, should be delivered over to the secular power,
and burnt as heretics. This act was the first in Britain for the burning
of people for their religious sentiments; it passed in the year 1401,
and was soon after put into execution.
The first person who suffered in consequence of this cruel act was
William Santree, or Sawtree, a priest, who was burnt to death in
Soon after this, lord Cobham, in consequence of his attachment to the
doctrines of Wickliffe, was accused of heresy, and being condemned to be
hanged and burnt, was accordingly executed in Loncoln's-Inn Fields, A.
The next man who suffered under this bloody statute was Thomas Bradley,
a tailor, and a layman; and a letter having been tendered him, which he
refused, he was declared an obstinate heretic, and tied to the stake in
Smithfield; where he was burnt alive, rejoicing in the Lord his God.
The next person we read of who was tried upon this abominable statute,
was William Thorpe, a man of some knowledge, who adhered to all the
doctrines taught by Wickliffe. He was brought many times before
archbishop Arundel, and at last committed a close prisoner, where he
died, but in what manner cannot now be ascertained.
About this time 36 persons, denominated Lollards, suffered death in St.
Giles', for no other reason than professing their attachment to the
doctrines of Wickliffe. They were hung on gibbets, and fagots being
placed under them, as soon as they were suspended, fire was set to them,
so that they were burnt while hanging. Only one of their names has been
transmitted to us, which is that of Sir Roger Archer whom they
distinguished from the rest by stripping him stark naked, and executing
him in that indecent manner.
Much about the same time one Richard Turning was burnt alive in
Smithfield, and suffered with all that constancy, fortitude, and
resignation, which have so much distinguished the primitive christians.
In 1428, Abraham, a monk of Colchester, Milburn White, a priest and John
Wade, a priest, were all three apprehended on a charge of heresy.
Soon after, father Abraham suffered at Colchester, and with him John
Whaddon; both of whom died in a constant adherence to the truth of the
gospel. Milburn White and John Wade suffered also about the same time in
In the year 1431, Richard Ilvedon, a wool-comber, and a citizen of
London, was brought before the archbishop, and being declared an
obstinate heretic, was burnt alive on Tower-hill, for no other reason
than that he embraced and professed the doctrines of Wickliffe.
In the year 1431, Thomas Bagley, a priest, who had a living near Malden,
in Essex, was brought before the bishop of London, and being declared an
obstinate heretic, was condemned and burnt alive in Smithfield.
In the year 1430, Richard Wick, a priest, was burnt alive on Tower-hill,
for preaching the doctrines of Wickliffe.
In 1440, some of the greatest persons in the kingdom were condemned to
perpetual imprisonment for heresy, as being Lollards;--among whom was
the dutchess of Gloucester, who had long been a follower of Wickliffe.
It was otherwise, however, with Roger Only, a priest, who being
condemned as an obstinate heretic, was burnt alive in Smithfield.
In August, 1473, one Thomas Granter was apprehended to London; he was
accused of professing the doctrines of Wickliffe, for which he was
condemned as an obstinate heretic. This pious man being brought to the
sheriff's house, on the morning of the day appointed for his execution,
desired a little refreshment, and having ate some, he said to the people
present, "I eat now a very good meal, for I have a strange conflict to
engage with before I go to supper;" and having eaten, he returned thanks
to God for the bounties of his all-gracious providence, requesting that
he might be instantly led to the place of execution, to bear testimony
to the truth of those principles which he had professed. Accordingly he
was chained to a stake on Tower-hill, where he was burnt alive,
professing the truth with his last breath.
April 28th, 1494, Joan Boughton, a lady of considerable rank, was burnt
in Smithfield for professing the doctrines of Wickliffe. This lady was a
widow, and no less than 80 years of age.
In 1498, the king being then at Canterbury, a priest was brought before
him, accused of heresy, who was immediately ordered to be burnt alive.
In the year 1499, one Badram, a pious man, was brought before the bishop
of Norwich, having been accused by some of the priests, with holding the
doctrines of Wickliffe. He confessed he did believe every thing that was
objected against him. For this, he was condemned as an obstinate
heretic, and a warrant was granted for his execution; accordingly he was
brought to the stake at Norwich, where he suffered with great constancy.
In 1506, one William Tilfrey, a pious man, was burnt alive at Amersham,
in a close called Stoneyprat, and at the same time, his daughter, Joan
Clarke, a married woman, was obliged to light the fagots that were to
burn her father.
This year also one father Roberts, a priest, was convicted of being a
Lollard before the bishop of Lincoln, and burnt alive at Buckingham.
In 1507, one Thomas Norris was burnt alive for the testimony of the
truth of the gospel, at Norwich. This man was a poor, inoffensive,
harmless person, but his parish priest conversing with him one day
conjectured he was a Lollard. In consequence of this supposition he gave
information to the bishop, and Norris was apprehended.
In 1508, one Lawrence Guale, who had been kept in prison two years, was
burnt alive at Salisbury, for denying the real presence in the
sacrament. It appeared, that this man kept a shop in Salisbury and
entertained some Lollards in his house; for which he was informed
against to the bishop; but he abode by his first testimony, and was
condemned to suffer as a heretic.
A pious woman was burnt at Chippen Sudburne, by order of the chancellor,
Dr. Whittenham. After she had been consumed in the flames, and the
people were returning home, a bull broke loose from a butcher and
singling out the chancellor from all the rest of the company, he gored
him through the body, and on his horns carried his entrails. This was
seen by all the people, and it is remarkable, that the animal did not
meddle with any other person whatever.
October 18, 1511, William Succling and John Bannister, who had formerly
recanted, returned again to the profession of the faith, and were burnt
alive in Smithfield.
In the year 1517, one John Brown, (who had recanted before in the reign
of Henry VII. and borne a fagot round St. Paul's,) was condemned by Dr.
Wonhaman, archbishop of Canterbury, and burnt alive at Ashford. Before
he was chained to the stake, the archbishop Wonhaman, and Yester, bishop
of Rochester, caused his feet to be burnt in a fire till all the flesh
came off, even to the bones. This was done in order to make him again
recant, but he persisted in his attachment to the truth to the last.
Much about this time one Richard Hunn, a merchant tailor of the city of
London, was apprehended, having refused to pay the priest his fees for
the funeral of a child; and being conveyed to the Lollards' Tower, in
the palace of Lambeth, was there privately murdered by some of the
servants of the archbishop.
September 24, 1518, John Stilincen, who had before recanted, was
apprehended, brought before Richard Fitz-James, bishop of London, and on
the 25th of October was condemned as a heretic. He was chained to the
stake in Smithfield amidst a vast crowd of spectators, and sealed his
testimony to the truth with his blood. He declared that he was a
Lollard, and that he had always believed the opinions of Wickliffe; and
although he had been weak enough to recant his opinions, yet he was now
willing to convince the world that he was ready to die for the truth.
In the year 1519, Thomas Mann was burnt in London, as was one Robert
Celin, a plain honest man for speaking against image worship and
Much about this time, was executed in Smithfield, in London, James
Brewster, a native of Colchester. His sentiments were the same as the
rest of the Lollards, or those who followed the doctrines of Wickliffe;
but notwithstanding the innocence of his life, and the regularity of his
manners, he was obliged to submit to papal revenge.
During this year, one Christopher, a shoemaker, was burnt alive at
Newbury, in Berkshire, for denying those popish articles which we have
already mentioned. This man had got some books in English, which were
sufficient to render him obnoxious to the Romish clergy.
In 1521, Thomas Bernard was burnt alive at Norwich, for denying the real
About the beginning of the year 1522, Mr. Wrigsham, a glover; Mr
Langdale, a hosier; Thomas Bond, Robert Harchets, and William Archer,
shoemaker, with Mrs. Smith, a widow, were apprehended on Ash Wednesday
and committed to prison. After examination, the bishop of Litchfield
declared them to be heretics, and they were all condemned and burnt
alive at Coventry.
Robert Silks, who had been condemned in the bishop's court as a heretic,
made his escape out of prison, but was taken two years afterward, and
brought back to Coventry, where he was burnt alive.--The sheriffs always
seized the goods of the martyrs for their own use, so that their wives
and children were left to starve.
In 1532, Thomas Harding, who with his wife, had been accused of heresy,
was brought before the bishop of Lincoln, and condemned for denying the
real presence in the sacrament. He was then chained to a stake, erected
for the purpose, at Chesham in the Pell, near Botely; and when they had
set fire to the fagots, one of the spectators dashed out his brains with
a billet. The priests told the people, that whoever brought fagots to
burn heretics would have an indulgence to commit sins for forty days.
During the latter end of this year, Worham, archbishop of Canterbury,
apprehended one Hitten, a priest at Maidstone; and after he had been
long tortured in prison, and several times examined by the archbishop,
and Fisher, bishop of Rochester, he was condemned as a heretic, and
burnt alive before the door of his own parish church.
Thomas Bilney, professor of civil law at Cambridge, was brought before
the bishop of London, and several other bishops, in the Chapter house,
Westminster, and being several times threatened with the stake and
flames, he was weak enough to recant; but he repented severely
For this he was brought before the bishop a second time, and condemned
to death. Before he went to the stake he confessed his adherence to
those opinions which Luther held; and, when at it, he smiled, and said,
"I have had many storms in this world, but now my vessel will soon be on
shore in heaven." He stood unmoved in the flames, crying out, "Jesus, I
believe;" and these were the last words he was heard to utter.
A few weeks after Bilney had suffered, Richard Byfield was cast into
prison, and endured some whipping, for his adherence to the doctrines of
Luther: this Mr. Byfield had been some time a monk, at Barnes, in Surry,
but was converted by reading Tindal's version of the New Testament. The
sufferings this man underwent for the truth were so great, that it would
require a volume to contain them. Sometimes he was shut up in a dungeon,
where he was almost suffocated, by the offensive and horrid smell of
filth and stagnated water. At other times he was tied up by the arms,
till almost all his joints were dislocated. He was whipped at the post
several times, till scarce any flesh was left on his back; and all this
was done to make him recant. He was then taken to the Lollard's Tower in
Lambeth palace, where he was chained by the neck to the wall, and once
every day beaten in the most cruel manner by the archbishop's servants.
At last he was condemned, degraded, and burnt in Smithfield.
The next person that suffered was John Tewkesbury. This was a plain
simple man, who had been guilty of no other offence against what was
called the holy mother church, than that of reading Tindal's translation
of the New Testament. At first he was weak enough to abjure, but
afterwards repented, and acknowledged the truth. For this he was brought
before the bishop of London, who condemned him as an obstinate heretic.
He suffered greatly during the time of his imprisonment, so that when
they brought him out to execution he was almost dead. He was conducted
to the stake in Smithfield, where he was burned, declaring his utter
abhorrence of popery, and professing a firm belief that his cause was
just in the sight of God.
Much about this time Valentine Treest, and his wife, were apprehended in
Yorkshire, and having been examined by the archbishop, were deemed as
obstinate heretics, and burnt.
The next person that suffered in this reign, was James Baynham, a
reputable citizen in London, who had married the widow of a gentleman in
the Temple. When chained to the stake he embraced the fagots, and said
"Oh, ye papists, behold! ye look for miracles; here now may you see a
miracle; for in this fire I feel no more pain than if I were in bed; for
it is as sweet to me as a bed of roses." Thus he resigned his soul into
the hands of his Redeemer.
Soon after the death of this martyr, one Traxnal, an inoffensive
countryman, was burned alive at Bradford in Wiltshire, because he would
not acknowledge the real presence in the sacrament, nor own the papal
supremacy over the consciences of men.
In the year 1533, John Frith, a noted martyr, died for the truth. When
brought to the stake in Smithfield, he embraced the fagots, and exhorted
a young man named Andrew Hewit, who suffered with him, to trust his soul
to that God who had redeemed it. Both these sufferers endured much
torment, for the wind blew the flames away from them, so that they were
above two hours in agony before they expired.
At the latter end of this year, Mr. Thomas Bennet, a school-master, was
apprehended at Exeter, and being brought before the bishop, refused to
recant his opinions, for which he was delivered over to the secular
power, and burned alive near that city.
In the year 1538, one Collins, a madman, suffered death with his dog in
Smithfield. The circumstances were as follow: Collins happened to be in
church when the priest elevated the host; and Collins, in derision of
the sacrifice of the Mass, lifted up his dog above his head. For this
crime Collins, who ought to have been sent to a madhouse, or whipped at
the cart's tail, was brought before the bishop of London; and although
he was really mad, yet such was the force of popish power, such the
corruption in church and state, that the poor madman, and his dog, were
both carried to the stake in Smithfield, where they were burned to
ashes, amidst a vast crowd of spectators.
There were some other persons who suffered the same year, of whom we
shall take notice in the order they lie before us.
One Cowbridge suffered at Oxford; and although he was reputed to be a
madman, yet he showed great signs of piety when he was fastened to the
stake, and after the flames were kindled around him.
About the same time one Purderve was put to death, for saying privately
to a priest, after he had drunk the wine, "He blessed the hungry people
with the empty chalice."
At the same time was condemned William Letton, a monk of great age, in
the county of Suffolk, who was burned at Norwich for speaking against an
idol that was carried in procession; and for asserting, that the
sacrament should be administered in both kinds.
Some time before the burning of these men, Nicholas Peke was executed at
Norwich; and when the fire was lighted, he was so scorched that he was
as black as pitch. Dr. Reading standing before him, with Dr. Hearne and
Dr. Spragwell, having a long white wand in his hand, struck him upon the
right shoulder, and said, "Peke, recant, and believe in the Sacrament."
To this he answered, "I despise thee and it also;" and with great
violence he spit blood, occasioned by the anguish of his sufferings. Dr.
Reading granted forty days indulgence for the sufferer, in order that he
might recant his opinions. But he persisted in his adherence to the
truth, without paying any regard to the malice of his enemies; and he
was burned alive, rejoicing that Christ had counted him worthy to
suffer for his name's sake.
On July 28, 1540, or 1541, (for the chronology differs) Thomas Cromwell,
earl of Essex, was brought to a scaffold on Tower-hill, where he was
executed with some striking instances of cruelty. He made a short speech
to the people, and then meekly resigned himself to the axe.
It is, we think, with great propriety, that this nobleman is ranked
among the martyrs; for although the accusations preferred against him
did not relate to any thing in religion, yet had it not been for his
zeal to demolish popery, he might have to the last retained the king's
favour. To this may be added, that the papists plotted his destruction,
for he did more towards promoting the reformation, than any man in that
age, except the good Dr. Cranmer.
Soon after the execution of Cromwell, Dr. Cuthbert Barnes, Thomas
Garnet, and William Jerome, were brought before the ecclesiastical court
of the bishop of London, and accused of heresy.
Being before the bishop of London, Dr. Barnes was asked whether the
saints prayed for us? To this he answered, that he would leave that to
God; but (said he) I will pray for you.
On the 13th of July, 1541, these men were brought from the Tower to
Smithfield, where they were all chained to one stake; and there suffered
death with a constancy that nothing less than a firm faith in Jesus
Christ could inspire.
One Thomas Sommers, an honest merchant, with three others, was thrown
into prison, for reading some of Luther's books; and they were condemned
to carry those books to a fire in Cheapside; there they were to throw
them in the flames; but Sommers threw his over, for which he was sent
back to the Tower, where he was stoned to death.
Dreadful persecutions were at this time carried on at Lincoln, under Dr.
Longland, the bishop of that diocess. At Buckingham, Thomas Bainard, and
James Moreton, the one for reading the Lord's prayer in English, and the
other for reading St. James' epistles in English, were both condemned
and burnt alive.
Anthony Parsons, a priest, together with two others, were sent to
Windsor, to be examined concerning heresy; and several articles were
tendered to them to subscribe, which they refused. This was carried on
by the bishop of Salisbury, who was the most violent persecutor of any
in that age, except Bonner. When they were brought to the stake, Parsons
asked for some drink, which being brought him, he drank to his
fellow-sufferers, saying, "Be merry, my brethren, and lift up your
hearts to God; for after this sharp breakfast I trust we shall have a
good dinner in the kingdom of Christ, our Lord and Redeemer." At these
words Eastwood, one of the sufferers, lifted up his eyes and hands to
heaven, desiring the Lord above to receive his spirit. Parsons pulled
the straw near to him, and then said to the spectators, This is God's
armour, and now I am a christian soldier prepared for battle: I look for
no mercy but through the merits of Christ; he is my only Saviour, in him
do I trust for salvation; and soon after the fires were lighted, which
burned their bodies, but could not hurt their precious and immortal
souls. Their constancy triumphed over cruelty, and their sufferings will
be held in everlasting remembrance.
In 1546, one Saitees, a priest, was, by order of bishop Gardiner, hanged
in Southwark, without a council process; and all that was alleged
against him was, that of reading Tindal's New Testament.
This year one Kirby was burned in Ipswich, for the testimony of the
truth, for denying the real presence in the sacrament. When this martyr
was brought to the stake, he said to one Mr. Wingfield, who attended
him, "Ah! Mr. Wingfield, be at my death, and you shall say, there
standeth a christian sufferer in the fire."