Tag Archives: heresy

On this day in 1555 – Bishop Ridley and Bishop Latimer were burned at the stake

When Queen Mary I ascended the throne she instantly took to bringing England back in line with the Roman Catholic Church. One of the first acts she performed as she began to reconnect with Rome was to order the arrests of Bishop Hugh Latimer, Bishop Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. These three men were influential during the reign of her brother, King Edward VI, and were figureheads for the Protestant religion.

After spending time in the Tower of London the three were moved to the Oxford Bocardo Prison on charges of heresy in September 1555 where they would be examined by the Lord’s Commissioner in Oxford’s Divinity School. Ridley was questioned in particularly regarding his opinion on whether he believed the Pope was the heir to the authority of Peter as the foundation of the Church. Ridley replied that the Church was not built on one man and therefore Ridley could not honour the Pope as he was seeking glory for Rome and not God.

Ridley and Latimer also both confessed that they could not accept mass as a sacrifice of Christ with Latimer stating; “Christ made one oblation and sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and that a perfect sacrifice; neither needeth there to be, nor can there be, any other propitiatory sacrifice.”

Ridley and Latimer were both sentenced to be burned at the stake outside Balliol College, Oxford on 16th October 1555. Ridley openly prayed as he was being tied to the stake saying “Oh, heavenly Father, I give unto thee most hearty thanks that thou hast called me to be a professor of thee, even unto death. I beseech thee, Lord God, have mercy on this realm of England, and deliver it from all her enemies.”

In order to speed up their deaths Ridley’s brother gave the men gunpowder to wear around their necks, however the flames failed to come up higher than Ridley’s waist, it was reported that Ridley repeatedly said, “Lord have mercy upon me! I cannot burn…Let the fire come unto me, I cannot burn.”

Latimer would die a lot quicker than Ridley and tried to comfort Ridley as he approached his own death by saying, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.”

Ridley and Latimer were decreed martyrs and are commemorated by a Martyr’s statue in Oxford alongside Cranmer.

Martyr statueThe Martyr’s statue in Oxford

John Foxe described Ridley and Latimer’s burning in his Book of Martyrs, he wrote;

Dr. Ridley, the night before execution, was very facetious, had himself shaved, and called his supper a marriage feast; he remarked upon seeing Mrs. Irish (the keeper’s wife) weep, ‘though my breakfast will be somewhat sharp, my supper will be more pleasant and sweet.’

The place of death was on the north side of the town opposite Baliol College:- Dr. Ridley was dressed in a black gown furred, and Mr. Latimer had a long shroud on, hanging down to his feet. Dr. Ridley as he passed Bocardo, looked up to see Dr. Cranmer, but the latter was then engaged in disputation with a friar. When they came to the stake, Dr. Ridley embraced Latimer fervently, and bid him be of good heart. He then knelt by the stake, and after earnestly praying together, they had a short private conversation. Dr. Smith then preached a short sermon against the martyrs, who would have answered him, but were prevented by Dr. Marshal, the vice-chancellor. Dr. Ridley then took off his gown and tippet, and gave them to his brother-in-law, Mr. Shipside. He gave away also many trifles to his weeping friends, and the populace were anxious to get even a fragment of his garments. Mr. Latimer gave nothing, and from the poverty of his garb, was soon stripped to his shroud, and stood venerable and erect, fearless of death.

Dr. Ridley being unclothed to his shirt, the smith placed an iron chain about their waists, and Dr. Ridley bid him fasten it securely; his brother having tied a bag of gunpowder about his neck, gave some also to Mr. Latimer. Dr. Ridley then requested of Lord Williams, of Fame, to advocate with the queen the cause of some poor men to whom he had, when bishop, granted leases, but which the present bishop refused to confirm. A lighted fagot was now laid at Dr. Ridley’s feet, which caused Mr. Latimer to say, ‘Be of good cheer, Ridley; and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England, as, I trust, will never be put out.’ When Dr. Ridley saw the flame approaching him, he exclaimed, ‘Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!’ and repeated often, ‘Lord receive my spirit!’ Mr. Latimer, too, ceased not to say, ‘O Father of heaven receive my soul!’ Embracing the flame, he bathed his hands in it, and soon died, apparently with little pain; but Dr. Ridley, by the ill-adjustment of the fagots, which were green, and placed too high above the furze was burnt much downwards. At this time, piteously entreating for more fire to come to him, his brother-in-law imprudently heaped the fagots up over him, which caused the fire more fiercely to burn his limbs, whence he literally leaped up and down under the fagots, exclaiming that he could not burn; indeed, his dreadful extremity was but too plain, for after his legs were quite consumed, he showed his body and shirt unsinged by the flame. Crying upon God for mercy, a man with a bill pulled the fagots down, and when the flames arose, he bent himself towards that side; at length the gunpowder was ignited, and then he ceased to move, burning on the other side, and falling down at Mr. Latimer’s feet over the chain that had hitherto supported him.

Every eye shed tears at the afflicting sight of these sufferers, who were among the most the most distinguished persons of their time in dignity, piety, and public estimation. They suffered October 16, 1555.”

ridley-latimer-stakeBishop Ridley and Bishop Latimer at the stake

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On this day in 1533 – John Frith was burned at the stake for heresy

John Frith was born in 1503 in Westerham, Kent to Richard Frith, innkeeper of the White Horse Inn. Frith was educated at Sevenoaks Grammar School before transferring to Eton College and later Queen’s College, Cambridge, although Frith received his BA from King’s College.

Whilst at Cambridge he studied under Stephen Gardiner and read Latin, Greek and Mathematics. It was also here that he met Thomas Bilney and they began discussing the Reformation, it was during these meetings that Frith met William Tyndale for the first time. Upon graduation Frith became a junior canon at Thomas Wolsey’s Cardinal College, Oxford however, this did not last long Frith along with nine others were accused by the University of possessing heretical books and were imprisoned in a cellar for six months. Upon his release Frith left England to travel to Antwerp to join up with William Tyndale.

Frith spent many years in Europe and during this time he translated a number of works including, ‘A Pistle to the Christian Reader: The Revelation of the Anti-Christ’; ‘An Antithesis between Christ and Pope’. He also published his own works in response to Thomas More, Bishop Fisher and John Rastell entitled ‘A Disputacion of Purgatorye’. Unpon reading Frith’s work Rastell converted to the Protestant ways.

In ‘A Disputacion of Purgatorye’ Frith put forward the argument that there were two purgatories. He wrote “God hath left us two purgatories; one to purge the heart and cleanse it from the filth which we have partly received of Adam…and partly added thereto by consenting unto our natural infirmity. This purgatory is the word of God, as Christ saith.” Frith continued to say that the second purgatory was Christ’s cross and said; “I mean not his material cross that he himself died on, but a spiritual cross, which is adversity, tribulation, worldly depression etc.”

In 1532, Frith returned to England and was quickly arrested in Reading where he was mistaken for a vagabond with the help of Leonard Coxe, a local schoolmaster, he was released. Sir Thomas More, when he learnt that Frith had returned to England issued arrest warrants for Frith’s capture on the charges of heresy. Frith was eventually arrested when trying to board a ship back to Antwerp.

Frith was sent to the Tower of London where he continued to preach and write about the Lutheran ways and in particular the ritual of Communion, knowing that his work would be used against him as evidence. Whilst Frith was imprisoned Sir Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor after disagreeing with the King’s views on religion and a short time later following the death of William Warham, Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Also Cranmer himself leaned towards the Lutheran way he met with Frith at both Lambeth and Croydon for discussion in which Cranmer attempted to persuade Frith to change his stance regarding the Eucharist to be more in line with that of the King. Cranmer was trying to save Frith’s life but Frith was unwilling to change his belief.

Frith was eventually moved to Newgate Prison where he continued writing; he received letters from William Tyndale who attempted to keep Frith’s spirits up. However, Thomas Audley was given the office of Lord Chancellor and he sentenced Frith to stand trial.

Frith was placed before a jury of examiners and bishops and here he submitted his own writings as evidence of his personal views that were considered to be heresy. Frith was offered a pardon if he answered positively to two questions the first was ‘Do you believe in purgatory?’ the second was ‘Do you believe in transubstantiation?’ Frith replied that neither could be proven and with that he was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to death by burning on 4th July 1533.

Frith’s views would continue to live on and after the death of King Henry VIII, Cranmer subscribed to the same views as Frith regarding purgatory and the Eucharist and these were implemented into the Protestant reforms during King Edward VI’s reign.

John FrithJohn Frith being led to his death.

On this day in 1555 – George Marsh was burned at the stake

George Marsh was born in Deane in Cheshire in 1515. He had a quiet upbringing and was a farmer by trade.

Marsh was married at the age of 25 but his wife died and Marsh left his children in the care of his parents and Marsh entered into Cambridge University where he had a change of religion from Catholic to Protestant.

In 1552 Marsh was ordained a deacon by the Bishop of London, Nicholas Ridley and in the following year Marsh became the curate at Leicestershire’s Church Langton and London’s All Hallows Bread Street. The previous owner of this role was Lawrence Saunders who was a preacher who fell out of favour with Queen Mary I for his Protestant beliefs. When Saunders was arrested in 1554 Marsh headed north to spread the Protestant word.

An arrest warrant was issued for George Marsh for heresy by Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby. Justice Barton of Smithills Hall, Bolton sent servants to arrest Marsh at his mother’s home. However, Marsh gave himself up to the authorities and was taken for examination. It is rumoured that Marsh was reinforcing his Protestant faith so much that he stamp his foot so hard he left a footprint in the floor. Marsh refused to recant and was taken to Lancaster Gaol. He stayed here for almost a year where he read his bible and prayed with people from the town via his window.

There were many attempts to get Marsh to convert back to the Roman Catholic faith. He was taken to the gaol at Northgate, Chester where he stood trial in Chester Cathedral under the Bishop of Chester, George Cotes.

Marsh was sentenced to death by burning and whilst on the stake was again offered the chance to recant and return to the Catholic faith. Again refusing Marsh was burned on 24th April 1555 in Boughton. After his death his friends and followers collected his ashes and buried them in St Giles cemetery.

George Marsh