John Philpot in Newgate Prison
John Philpot came of a good
family of Hampshire, England. His father had the honor of being knighted, and as he
possessed a fait estate he was able to give his son the advantages of an excellent
education. He sent his to Oxford university, where he studied civil law and other branches
of learning; acquiring at the same time a good knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew
After finishing his college course, young John Philpot traveled abroad. while in Italy, going from Venice to Padua, he fell into a discussion with a Franciscan friar travelling in the same coach, and narrowly escaped arrest for heresy. Returning to England during the reign of Edward VI, Philpot was appointed archdeacon of Winchester, under Dr. Poinet, who then succeeded Gardiner in that bishopric. He held this office during the reign of king Edward, to the entire satisfaction of those who came under his care. When the king died, and Mary, his sister, succeeded to the throne, she called a convocation of the church officers. Philpot was present, and with a few others of the clergy boldly upheld the cause of the Reformation against all the threats and persuasions of the queen's minister.
For having taken this bold stand, Philpot was called to account, and during the next three months was compelled to appear no less than seven times before bishop Bonner, and other commissioners, for examination. Bonner at last becoming weary of a conflict with so able and adversary, determined after the seventh examination to end the matter. Accordingly, on the 13th of December, 1555, he summoned Philpot to appear before him at St. Paul's, for the last time. Fixing his stern gaze upon the prisoner, the persecuting bishop addressed him thus: "You are accused, Philpot, of mortal offences, but it is not even yet too late to save your life; for if you will return you shall be mercifully and gladly received, charitable used, and shall enjoy all the favor I can show you. But I tell you truly, if you continue obstinate I have the authority to condemn you. I therefore now demand of you whether you can show any cause why I should not sentence you to the fire?"
In answer to this harsh question Philpot replied, "I can say that these twenty years I have been in the faith of the true church, but that is not your church, into which you would force me to come. Truly, I have many times sworn, both in the reign of king Henry VIII, and of Edward his son, to hold out against the usurped power of the pope of Rome, and this oath I think I am bound by God's word to come into your church, I will gladly yield unto you, otherwise not." Upon hearing this firm reply, bishop Bonner cried out tot take the prisoner back to his dungeon, and vowed he would pronounce sentence of death upon him within three days.
Accordingly, on Monday, December 16th Philpot was again brought before Bonner, there being also present the bishops of Bath, Worchester, and Litchfield. Finding the accused still of the same mind, Bonner began to read the sentence. When he was about half way through, and had given no sign of stopping, the bishop of Bath plucked him by the sleeve, and said, "My lord, my lord, give him one more chance for his life; ask him again if he refuses to recant." Bonner replied, "Oh, let him alone for that!" and read on, without a break until he had finished the sentence of death.
Philpot was then taken by the sheriff's men, and led through the bishop's house into Paternoster-row. His faithful serving-man was waiting for him, and when he saw his kind employer dragged along by the men, he cried: "O master, master, where are they taking thee?" "Quiet thyself," said Philpot; "come with me, if thou wild."
When they had come to Newgate prison the sheriff's officers delivered their prisoner to the keeper. His man, who had followed after, tried to go in also. Then on of the officers said to him, "Hence, fellow! what wouldst thou have?" "I would speak with my master," said the man. Philpot then turned about, and said to the man, "come to-morrow and thou shalt speak with me." But when the under keeper understood he was his servant, he gave him leave to go in. So Philpot and his man were put into a little chamber on the right hand, and remained there a shout time. Alexander, the chief keeper, then come in, and said tauntingly, "Ah, hast thou not done well to bring thyself hither?" "I am content," said Philpot, "for it is God's will. I hope you will show me some favor, for you and I have been long acquainted." "If you will recant," said the keeper, "I will show you all the favors I can." "Nay," said Philpot, "I will never recant that which I have spoken, whilst I have my life, for it is most certain truth, and in witness thereof I will shed my blood." Then Alexander said, "That is the way with the whole pack of you heretics." He at once ordered him to be put upon the block, and as many irons fastened to his legs as he could carry.
While they were fastening the irons on Philpot's leg, the clerk of the prison whispered in the keeper's ear that the prisoner had been seen giving some money to his servant for safe keeping; so Alexander called the man, and said, "What money hath they master given thee?" He answered, "My master hath given me none." "None?" said Alexander, "hath he given thee none? That I will soon know, for I will search thee." "Do with me as you like, and search me all you can," said the servant; "he hath given me only a token or two to send to his friends, and to his brothers and sisters."
"So," said Alexander to Philpot, "thou art then a supporter of heretics; thy man hath money to carry to some of thy friends, but he shall be known well enough." "Nay," said Philpot, "I send but a few trifles; there he is, let him make answer to it. But, good Alexander, be so much my friend, that these irons may be taken off." "Well," said Alexander, "give me my fees, and I will take them off; if not, thou shalt wear them still."
Then Philpot asked the keeper, "And what is your fee?" He said, "Four pounds." "Ah," said Philpot, "I have not that much; I am but a poor man, and I have been long in prison." "What wilt thou give me, then?" said Alexander. "Sir," said he, "I will give thee twenty shillings, and that I shall have to send for my man for. If that will not satisfy you I will give thee my gown in pledge; I shall have little need of it, for the time I shall be with you will be short, for the bishop told me I should soon be dispatched." "What is that to me?" said Alexander. "You shall wear your irons while you are here."
With that he left him, ordering him to be put in a dungeon. Then one of the keepers took hem on his back, and carried him down. Philpot said to his servant, "Go to the sheriff, and tell hem how I am being abused, and ask him to be good to me." So his servant went, and took another person with him. When they came to the sheriff, and told him how Philpot was being treated in Newgate, he took his ring from off his finger, and gave it to the person that came with Philpot's man, and bade him go to Alexander the keeper, and command him to handle the prisoner more gently, and to take off his irons; also to give back to his man what they had taken from him.
When the men returned tot he prison they went to Alexander, and delivered their message. The keeper took the ring, and said, "Ah, I see Master Sheriff is a favorer of Philpot, and all such heretics as he is; therefore to-morrow I will tell of this to his betters." Nevertheless he went to Philpot where he lay, and took off his irons, and gave back to him the things he had taken from his servant.
A few days after, while Philpot was at supper, there came a messenger from the sheriffs, to tell him to make ready, for the next day he was to be burned at the stake. Philpot answered, "I am ready; god grant me strength, and a joyful resurrection." So in the morning the sheriffs came about eight o'clock, and calling for him, he cheerfully came down to them. His faithful man was also there to greet him, and said, "O dear master, farewell!" His master answered, "Farewell, my faithful friend!" And so he went with the sheriffs to the place of execution; and when he came near Smithfield, the way was muddy, and two officers took him up to bear him to the stake. Then he laughed, and said, "What, will you make me a prince? I am content to go to my journey's end on foot." When they had come to the place, and had sent him on his feet again, he kneeled down and said, "I will now keep my vows in thee, O Smithfield!"
On coming to the stake, Philpot looked upon it, and then repeated a psalm, and prayed. And when he had made an end of his prayers, they bound him to the stake, and lighted the fire, amid the flames of which the martyr soon resigned his soul unto Him who gave it.
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