Ridely and Latimer are Burned at Oxford
An Account of the Lives, Trials, and Executions of Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worchester, and Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London
Hugh Latimer was born at Thirkeston, in Leichestersire, England, about the year 1475. His parents provided him with a good education, sending him to Cambridge university, where he became acquainted with the most influential and distinguished men among the reformers. Becoming convinced of the truth of their doctrine, he threw himself into the cause with all the enthusiasm of his nature, and soon proved his sincerity, as well as his courage, by writing a letter to king Henry VIII protesting against a law that had been passed, forbidding the free use of the Bible in England.
When Cromwell came into power he appointed Latimer to a church in Wilshire; at which place he took up his residence, and performed the duties of his pastorate satisfactorily to all except the Romanist. They continually sought an opportunity to annoy him, for his active support of the reformed doctrine, and at last they succeeded in having him summoned to appear before the bishops' court, at London, for examination.
Latimer set out for London in the depth of winter, and while suffering from an illness, which made it difficult for him to travel. On his arrival at London, he found a court of bishops ready to receive him. But instead of being examined about his sermons, as he had expected to be, a paper was put into his hands, which he was ordered to sign, declaring his belief in all the forms of worship and all the practices of the church of Rome.
Latimer, after reading the paper refused to sign it, when the archbishop, with a frown, ordered him to consider what he did. "We intend not, Latimer," said he, "to be hard upon you; therefore we dismiss you for the present; take a copy of the articles; examine them carefully, and God grant that at our next meeting we may find you in better mind."
At the next, and several succeeding meetings, the same scene was acted over again. Latimer remained firm, and the bishops continued to persuade him. Three times every week they regularly sent for him, with a view either to draw something from him by questions, or to prevail upon him at length to sign the paper. At last, tired out with this usage, when Latimer was again summoned, he would not go, but sent a letter to the archbishop, in which he told him, "That the treatment I have lately met with has thrown me into a fever which has made me too ill to attend this day." He also remonstrated with his grace for keeping him so long from his duty, and said that it seemed to him most unaccountable, that they, who never preached themselves, should thus hinder others from preaching.
The bishops, however, continued to call upon Latimer to appear before them, when their plans for disgracing him were suddenly put an end to by a very unexpected event. Latimer was made bishop of Worchester, by the favor of Anne Boleyn, then the privileged wife of Henry, to whom he had, most probably, been recommended by Thomas Cromwell.
Latimer had now a larger field than ever in which to spread the principles of the Reformation, and he labored earnestly to fulfil the duties of his high office. Historians of those times speak of him as being remarkable thorough and conscientious; and tell us that in controlling the affairs of his diocese he was uncommonly active and resolute. In visiting, he was frequent and observant; in ordaining, strict and wary; and in preaching, eloquent and persuasive. Attending the parliament and convocation gave him a further opportunity to promote the work of reformation, whereon his heart was so much set. Many alterations were made in the laws concerning religion, and the Bible was to be translated into English and recommended to general use. Latimer, well satisfied with the prospects, went to his diocese, having made no longer stay in London than was absolutely necessary. He had no talents, and pretended to have none, for state affairs.
Three years later, Latimer was again invited to attend parliament. Now Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, was his great enemy; and, choosing a time when the bishops were with the king, Gardiner kneeled down and solemnly accused Latimer of preaching against certain customs he had witnessed at court. Being asked by Henry, with some sternness, what he had to say to this charge, Latimer, far from denying the accusation, justified it; and turning to the king, with that courage which a good conscience inspires, said, "I never thought myself worthy, nor did I ever ask to be a preacher before your grace; but I was summoned to court against my will, and am ready, if you mislike my sermons, to give place to my betters; for I grant, there may be many better fitted for the place than I am. And if it be your grace's pleasure to have them for preachers, I shall be content to bear their books after them. But if your grace choose me for a preacher, I would desire you to give me leave to free my conscience, and to frame my doctrine according to my audience. I would be a very dolt, indeed, to preach the same sermons at court as I do in the country."
The frankness of Latimer's answer baffled his accuser; the severity of the king's countenance changed into a gracious smile, and the bishop was dismissed with that obliging freedom which Henry never showed but to those whom he liked.
However, as Latimer could not give his vote for the act of the six articles, drawn up by the duke of Norfolk, he thought it wrong to hold any office in a church where they must be obeyed; so therefore he resigned his bishopric, and retired into the country, where he purposed to live a quiet life.
But Latimer had not long enjoyed this peaceful serenity when an unhappy accident carried him again into the stormy atmosphere of the court. It happened that, while walking in his grounds he was hurt by the fall of a tree, and the injury was so dangerous, that he was obliged to seek better advice than could be given by the country physicians. He therefore went to London, where he had the misfortune to see the ruin of his friend and patron Lord Thomas Cromwell; a loss which he was soon made sensible of. For Gardiner's spies quickly found him out in his concealment; and a trumped-up charge of having spoken against the six articles being brought against him, he was sent to the Tower, where, without any judicial examination he suffered, through on pretence and another, a close confinement for the remaining six years of Henry's reign.
At Henry's death the Protestant interest revived under his son Edward, and Latimer was set a liberty. An address was made to the protector, to restore him to his bishopric. The protector was very willing to gratify the parliament, and offered Latimer his bishopric again. He refused it, however, and chose rather to accept an invitation from his friend, archbishop Cranmer, to take up his residence with him at Lambeth. Here his chief employment was to here the complaints and redress the wrongs of poor people; and his character, for services of this kind, was so universally known, that unfortunate persons from every part of England appealed to him. In these employments he spent more than two years, during which time he assisted the archbishop in preparing the homilies for the use of preachers, which were authorized in the reign of king Edward. Latimer was also appointed to preach the Lent sermons before the young king.
Latimer was thus employed during the remainder of Edward's reign, and continued the same course, for a shout time, in the beginning of the next; but when queen Mary was settled on the throne all preaching was forbidden except by licensed priests, known to belong to the church party. The bishop of Winchester, who was now prime minister, having sought to arrest Latimer from the first, sent a message to bring him before the council. He had notice of this some hours before the messenger's arrival, but he did not try to escape. The messenger found him ready for his journey, at which he expressed surprise. Latimer told him, that he was as ready to go with him to London, and answer for his faith, as he ever had been to take any journey in his life. He said he doubted not that God, who had permitted him to preach the word before two princes, would enable him to do the same before a third.
The messenger than told Latimer that he had no orders to seize his person, and giving him a letter, went away. Latimer opened the letter, and found it a summons from the council. He resolved to obey it, and set out immediately. As he passed through Smithfield, he said prophetically. "This place of burning hath long groaned for me." The next morning he waited upon the council, was bitterly reproached for the course he had taken in the past, and sent to the Tower, from which prison, after some little time, he was removed to Oxford.
Nicholas Ridley, bishop of London, was arrested and put in prison at about the same time as Latimer. As these two distinguished prisoners were afterward brought before the court, and tried together, a short history of Ridley will now be given, after which the story of both Latimer and Ridley will be taken up again.
Nicholas Redley, bishop of London, received the first part of his education at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. From there he was sent to the university of Cambridge, where his unusual abilities secured for him the place of master of Pembroke hall. After being a master for him the place of master of Pembroke hall. After being a master for some years, he left Cambridge, and traveled into various parts of Europe for the purpose of completing his education. Upon his return to England, he was made chaplain to Henry VIII and bishop of Rochester; later, he was made bishop of London by Edward VI.
Ridley had been brought up a member of the church of Rome, but was converted to the reformed faith, and became an active worker in the ranks of the reformers.
In an account of Ridley's life, written about this time, the following personal description is given of him: "In person he was comely and well proportioned. It was his disposition to take all things in good part, bearing no malice nor rancor from his heart, but soon forgetting all injuries and offences done against him. He was very kind to his relatives, and yet not indulging them any more than right would require. He was much given to prayer and contemplation; for duty every morning, as soon as he was dressed, he went to his bed-chamber, and there upon his knees prayed for half an hour. This being done, immediately he went to his study (if no other business came to interrupt him) where he continued till ten o'clock. At dinner he talked little, unless occasion demanded. The dinner done, which was not very long, he used to sit an hour or thereabouts talking, or playing at chess. He then returned to his study, where he would stay, except visitors or business abroad prevented him, until five o'clock at night, when he would come to prayers as in the forenoon. These being finished, he went to supper; and after supper he would sometimes play again at chess, or return to his study, where he would remain until about eleven o'clock at night, which was his usual hour for going to bed. In his life he was godly and virtuous, and in his house peace and contentment reigned."
But when Mary came to the throne, Ridley shared the same fate as many others who preached the reformed doctrine. Being accused of heresy, he was first removed from his bishopric, then sent prisoner to the Tower of London, and afterwards to prison at Oxford; from there he was committed to the custody of Mr. Irish, mayor of that city, in whose house he remained till the day of his execution.
Trial of Ridley and Latimer
Ridley and Latimer were finally brought before the divinity school at Oxford for examination, on the 30th of September, 1555. Ridley was heard first, and at the beginning of his trial was severely censured by the bishop of Lincoln, because when he heard the words "the cardinal's grace," and "the pope's holiness" read out in the indictment, he kept on his cap. The bishop said: "Master Redley, if you will not be uncovered, out of respect to the pope, and the cardinal his legate, by whose authority this court is held, your cap shall be pulled off your head."
After the charges had been read, the bishop of Lincoln made a formal appeal, in which he begged Ridley to return to the holy mother church, and pointed out to him its antiquity, and universal authority, and the powers of the pope, the immediate successor of St. Peter. Adter he had finished Ridley answered him, and boldly contradicted all his statements. After some further argument it was decided by the court to ask the prisoner the usual set of questions prepared for those suspected of heresy. This was done, and his answers not being satisfactory to the court, Ridley was given into the custody of the mayor of Oxford and ordered to appear the next day in St. Mary's church, to give his final answers.
Latimer was now told to stand forward. The bishop of Lincoln then appealed to him, as he had done to Ridley, to return to the church of Rome, and the same questions were asked him as had been prepared for his fellow prisoner. Latimer's replies were no more satisfactory to the court than Ridley's had been, so he was also sent back to prison in the custody of the sheriff, and ordered to appear the next day in St. Mary's church.
On the following day the court met to continue the trial. Ridley was the first to be called. The bishop of Lincoln repeated to him his answers made the day before, and assured him that he had full liberty to make whatever alterations in them he pleased, and that he would be permitted to deliver the same to the court in writing. After some debate, Ridley took out a paper, and began to read; but the bishop interrupted him, and ordered an attendant to take the writing from him. Ridley asked permission to read on, declaring the contents were only his answers to the questions that had been asked him before; but the bishop and others, having privately examined the paper, would not permit him to read it in open court. When the list of questions was again used upon Ridley, he referred the court to his paper for his answers to them.
At last the bishop, finding Redley immovable in the stand he had taken addressed him thus: "Dr. Ridley, it is with the utmost concern that I see your stubbornness and obstinacy in persisting in your errors and heresies; but unless you recant, I must proceed to the last part of my duty, though very much against my will and desire." Ridley made no reply, so the sentence of condemnation was pronounced; after which he was taken back to his prison.
It was no Latimer's turn to be brought before the court for a final hearing. Standing in the place just quitted by his friend Ridley, he listened unmoved to the warning words of the bishop of Lincoln.
Latimer was told that although the court had already heard his replies to certain questions, yet it would, mercifully, give him time to think over the same, and to make what alterations he desired. The questions were then read to him a second time, but Latimer changed not a single word of his former answers. Being once again urged to recant, he refused, declaring, that he never would deny God's truth. Then sentence of condemnation was pronounced against him, and he was sent to rejoin his friend Ridley in prison.
Burning of Redley and Latimer
On the evening before these two martyrs were to mingle their ashes in the same fire, Redley sat at supper in the room of his keeper. It is told of him that "he was as cheerful as ever he had been, and invited the keeper and his wife, s well as all who were at the table with him, to his 'marriage' on the morrow, for thus he spoke of his burning." He said that he hoped his sister would be there, and asked his brother, who was sitting at the table, whether he thought she could find it in her heart to come. He answered, "Yes, I dare say, with all her heart." To which Ridley said, "I am glad of it."
At this talk the keeper's wife wept, but Ridley comforted her, saying, "O my friend, quiet yourself, though my breakfast on the morrow shall be somewhat sharp and painful, yet I am sure my supper will be more pleasant and sweet." When they arose from the table, his brother offered to stay all night with him. But he said, "No, no, that you shall not. For I intend to go to bed, and to sleep as quietly tonight as ever I did." On this, his brother departed, telling him to be of good cheer, and to take his cross quietly, for the reward would surely be great.
The place of execution was on the north side of the town of Oxford, near the ditch over against Baliol college; the stake had been set up there the day before. For fear of an attempt to rescue the prisoners by the people, Lord Williams, and some of the principal citizens of Oxford, were commanded by the queen's letters to attend, sufficiently armed to resist any attack. When everything was in readiness, the martyrs were led out by the mayor and baliffs.
Ridley wore a furred black gown, such as he was accustomed to wear as a bishop, with a tippet of velvet, furred likewise, about his neck, and a velvet cap upon his head. He walked in a pair of slippers to the stake, between the mayor and an alderman.
After Ridley came Latimer in a shabby woolen coat, much frayed and worn, with a cap and a handkerchief on his head. He wore, also, a new long shroud down to his feet. This sight stirred men's hearts to mourn; as they thought on the one hand of the honor these two men had once had, and on the other, of the dreadful end to which they were now coming.
As they passed by the prison, Ridley looked up at the window of the cell in which Cranmer lay, hoping to see him at the window, and to speak to him. But at that time Cranmer was busy with friar Soto and his fellows, disputing together, so that he could not see him. Then Ridley looking back, saw Latimer coming after. To whom he called out and said, "Oh, are ye there?" "Yea," said Latimer, "I am coming as fast as I can." At length they came to the stake, the one after the other. Ridley first came near it, and earnestly holding up both his hands, looked toward heaven. Soon after, seeing Latimer coming with a wondrous cheerful look, he ran to him, and embraced him, and they that stood near heard him say, "Be of good cheer, brother Latimer, for God will either lessen the fury of the flames, or else strengthen us to bear them."
Ridley then went to the stake, and kneeling down prayed: and behind him kneeled Latimer. Afterward they arose, and talked together a little while, till they who were appointed to see the executions, found places where they were shaded from the sun. Then Dr. Smith began to preach a sermon to them upon this text of St. Paul, in the thirteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians: "Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." The preacher argued that the holiness of the cause, and not the manner of death, brings salvation to man. After speaking thus for some time, he ended his discourse with an appeal to the prisoners to repent, and come home again to the church and thus save their lives and souls.
Then said Ridley to Latimer, "Will you answer the sermon, or shall I?" Latimer said, "Begin you first, I pray you." "I will," said Ridley.
Then Ridley and Latimer kneeled down upon their knees facing lord Williams, the vice-chancellor of Oxford, and other commissioners appointed to attend the execution, who sat upon a bench near them. Ridley said, "I beseech you, my lord, that I may speak but two or three words."
Lord Williams bent his head to the mayor and vice-chancellor, to ask, as it appeared, whether he might grant Ridley permission to speak. Then the bailiffs and Dr. Marshall, the vice-chancellor, ran hastily toward Ridley, and with their hands stopped his mouth, and said, "Master Ridley, if you will change your erroneous opinions, and recant the same, you shall not only have liberty to speak, but your life as well." "Not otherwise?" said Ridley. "No," replied Dr. Marshall; "it is certain that if you will not do so,, there is not remedy but you must die."
"Well," said Ridley, " so long as the breath is in my body I will never deny the Lord and his known truth; God's will be done to me." And with that he rose up, and said with a loud voice, "I commit our cause to Almighty God, who shall impartially judge all." Latimer said, "Well, there is nothing his but that it shall be made manifest;" and added, that he could answer Smith well enough, if he might be allowed to speak. But no more time was allowed them. They were told to make ready for the fire, and without further words began to obey. Ridley took his gown and tippet, and gave it to his brother-in-law, Shipside, who, all the time of his imprisonment, although he was not allowed to enter the prison, remained at Oxford at his won expense, to provide Ridley with the things necessary to his comfort. Some articles of his apparel he gave to others; the bailiffs took some; besides which, he gave away a few trifles to gentlemen standing by, several of whom wept when they received them. To Sir Henry Lea he gave a new coin, and to some of Lord Williams' gentlemen such other small things as he had about him, which would serve as a token of remembrance.
Latimer had nothing to give the bystanders, but quietly permitted his keeper to pull off his hose, and his other apparel, which was very simple. And now being stripped to his shroud, he seemed as comely a person as one could desire to see; for although in his clothing he had appeared a withered and crooked old man, he now stood quite upright. The Ridley, standing as yet in his belt, said to his brother, "It were best for me to wear my belt still." "No," said his brother, "it will but you to more pain; and the belt will do a poor man good." Ridley said, "So be it, then," and unlaced himself. Then, clad only in his shirt, he stood by the stake, and held up his hand, and said, "I beseech thee, Lord, take mercy upon this realm of England, and deliver the land from all her enemies."
Then the smith took a chain of iron, and fastened it about the waists of both Ridley and Latimer. As he was knocking in a staple, Ridley took the chain in his hand, and shook it, and looking aside to the smith, said, "Good fellow, knock it in hard, for the flesh suffers not without a struggle." Then his brother brought some gunpowder in a bag, and would have tied it about his neck, but Ridley asked what it was. His brother said, "gunpowder." Then said Ridley, "I will take it. And have you any," said he, "for my brother Latimer?" "Yea, indeed, that I have," said his brother. "Then give this to him," said Ridley, "lest the other come too late." So his brother went, and carried the gunpowder to Latimer.
Then Ridley spoke to lord Williams, saying, "My lord, I must be a suitor in the behalf of several worthy men, and especially in the cause of my poor sister. I have made application to the queen in their behalf. I beseech your lordship to be a mediator to her grace for them. There is nothing in all the world that troubles my conscience, I praise God, this only excepted. While I was bishop of London, I gave some poor men places under me. Now I here that the new bishop will not give the places to them, but, contrary to all law and conscience, has taken from them their livings, and will not suffer them to enjoy them. I beseech you my lord, be a mediator for them; you shall do a good deed, and God will reward you."
The only response to this appeal was a lighted torch, which had been made ready, and was now brought and laid down at Ridley's feet. Then said Latimer: "Be of good courage, brother Ridley, and play the man: FOR WE SHALL THIS DAY LIGHT SUCH A CANDLE BY GOD'S GRACE IN ENGLAND, AS I TRUST SHALL NEVER BE PUT OUT."
The torch was then placed among the fagots. When Ridley saw the fire flaming up towards him, he cried with a loud voice, "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit; Lord, receive my spirit!" Latimer prayed as earnestly on the other side, saying, "O Father of heaven, receive my soul!" The fire burned fieriest beside Latimer and he received the flame as if embracing it; and after he had stroked his face with his hands, he sank down, and soon died, as it appeared, with very little pain. His great age, for he was eighty years old, doubtless caused death to come quickly. But Ridley lingered longer because of the badness of the fire on his side, which only burned underneath, being kept down by the quantity of wood they had piled around him. When he saw this he begged them to let the fire come to him. His brother-in-law hearing him, and being anxious to shorten his sufferings, heaped more fagots upon him, but this only served to keep the fire under. He therefore lingered in great pain until one of the guard, with his pike-staff, pulled away some of the fagots. When Ridley saw the fire flame up, he leaned himself to that side; and when the flame touched the gunpowder, he was seen to stir no more, but fell down in the fire, on the other side, at Latimer's feet.
Hundreds who beheld the dreadful sight were moved to tears. In the words
of the historian, "There was none that had not clean banished all humanity and mercy,
who did not lament to behold the fury of the fire rage upon their bodies. There were signs
of sorrow on every side. Some took it grievously to witness their deaths, whose lives they
held full dear. Some pitied their persons, who thought their souls had no need of pity.
Ridley's brother moved the compassion of many by his great grief. But those, especially,
who remembered the places of honor they had held, the favor they had enjoyed with their
princes, and the learning they were masters of, could not refrain from sorrow and tears,
to see so great dignity, so many godly virtues, and the study of so many years, put into
the fire, and consumed in a moment."
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