Fox's Book of Martyrs by John Foxe

A history of the lives, sufferings and triumphant deaths of many early Christian martyrs.

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Chapter XIV



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

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 the 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

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 burned down the churches, and murdered the clergy.

In A.D. 868, these barbarians penetrated into the center of
England, and took up their quarters at Nottingham; but the
English, under their king, Ethelred, drove them from their posts,
and obligted them to retire to Northumberland.

In 870, another body of these barbarians landed at Norfolk,
and engaged in battle with the English at Hertford. Victory
declared in favor 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

In Fifeshire, in Scotland, they burned 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 two hundred were massacred
in Scotland.

It was much the same in that part of Ireland now called
Leinster, there the Danes murdered and burned 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

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 favorable
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 Smithfield.

Soon after this, Sir John Oldcastle, 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 Lincoln's Inn Fields, A.D. 1419. In
his written defense Lord Cobham said:

"As for images, I understand that they be not of belief, but
that they were ordained since the belief of Christ was given by
sufferance of the Church, to represent and bring to mind the
passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and martyrdom and good living
of other saints: and that whoso it be, that doth the worship to
dead images that is due to God, or putteth such hope or trust in
help of them, as he should do to God, or hath affection in one
more than in another, he doth in that, the greatest sin of idol

"Also I suppose this fully, that every man in this earth is a
pilgrim toward bliss, or toward pain; and that he that knoweth
not, we will not know, we keep the holy commandments of God in
his living here (albeit that he go on pilgrimages to all the
world, and he die so), he shall be damned: he that knoweth the
holy commandments of God, and keepeth them to his end, he shall
be saved, though he never in his life go on pilgrimage, as men
now use, to Canterbury, or to Rome, or to any other place."

Upon the day appointed, Lord Cobham was brought out of the
Tower with his arms bound behind him, having a very cheerful
countenance. Then was he laid upon a hurdle, as though he had
been a most heinous traitor to the crown, and so drawn forth into
St. Giles's field. As he was come to the place of execution, and
was taken from the hurdle, he fell down devoutly upon his knees,
desiring Almighty God to forgive his enemies. Then stood he up
and beheld the multitude, exhorting them in most godly manner to
follow the laws of God written in the Scriptures, and to beware
of such teachers as they see contrary to Christ in their
conversation and living. Then was he hanged up by the middle in
chains of iron, and so consumed alive in the fire, praising the
name of God, so long as his life lasted; the people, there
present, showing great dolor. And this was done A.D. 1418.

How the priests that time fared, blasphemed, and accursed,
requiring the people not to pray for him, but to judge him damned
in hell, for that he departed not in the obedience of their pope,
it were too long to write.

Thus resteth this valiant Christian knight, Sir John
Oldcastle, under the altar of God, which is Jesus Christ, among
that godly company, who, in the kingdom of patience, suffered
great tribulation with the death of their bodies, for His
faithful word and testimony.

In August, 1473, one Thomas Granter was apprehended in 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

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 everything 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 women, 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

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

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 until 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 twenty-fifth 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 pilgrimages.

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 gotten some books
in English, which were sufficient to render him obnoxious to the
Romish clergy.

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

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 afterward.

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 Surrey, but was converted by reading
Tyndale'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 stagnant water. At other times he was tied up by the
arms, until almost all his joints were dislocated. He was whipped
at the post several times, until scarcely 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 Tyndale's translation of the New Testament. At first he
was weak enough to adjure, but afterward 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.

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

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.

In the year 1538, one Collins, a madman, suffered death with
his dog in Smithfield. The circumstances were as follows: 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

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

Sometime 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 want 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 anything in religion, yet had it
not been for his zeal to demolish popery, he might have to the
last retained the king's favor. 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

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 thirteenth 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 diocese. 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
ion English, were both condemned and burnt alive.

Anthony Parsons, a priest, together with two others, was 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, lifteed 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 armor, 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 Savior, 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.

Thus were Christ's people betrayed every way, and their lives
bought and sold. For, in the said parliament, the king made this
most blasphemous and cruel act, to be a law forever: that
whatsoever they were that should read the Scriptures in the
mother-tongue (which was then called "Wickliffe's learning"),
they should forfeit land, cattle, body, life, and goods, from
their heirs for ever, and so be condemned for heretics to God,
enemies to the crown, and most arrant traitors to the land.

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 Luke 1:22 (KJV)
And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
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