The first Martyrs of anglican persecution tried and sentenced
August 30, 2021 • 4 min
The conflict which the Blessed John [Houghton] had long foreseen was now upon them. It is a consolation to have a testimony to their courage and constancy from an adversary.
“Divers were sent to them in prison by the King’s commandment,” writes Thomas Starkey, “to instruct them. They were so blinded and sturdy that they could neither see the truth in the cause nor ‘give convenient obedience due to [from?] such persons as of themself cannot see the truth,’ … affirming the same, by their blind, superstitious knowledge, to be to the salvation of man of necessity, and that this superiority of the Pope was a sure truth and manifest of the law of God, and instituted by Christ as necessary to the conservation of the spiritual unity of this mystical body of Christ. In this blindness their superstitious minds were stabled.”
After a week’s imprisonment the King’s Commissaries and with them Cromwell himself, came to demand of them the oath, by which they were to renounce and deny the authority and jurisdiction of the Holy See and acknowledge the King as the supreme head of the Church in England in spiritual as well as temporal things.
They offered to comply if they might add the saving clause “as far as the Divine law permits.”
If we are surprised to find men of God, men so soon to lay down their lives for His cause, ready to make a concession which seems to go so near compromising the faith and the unity of the Church, we must bear in mind the perplexities of an untried situation, the anxiety for others dependent on them, and especially that we have the very best proof that the reservation was, and was well understood to be, a solid reality; for Cromwell peremptorily refused to accept it.
“I will have no condition,” he said, “I care nothing what the Church has held or taught. Will you agree to the oath or not ?”
Then they firmly declared that the fear of God would not allow them to contradict or abandon the Catholic Church, of which St. Augustine had said that he would not believe the Gospel of Christ unless the Church so taught and instructed him.
This answer sealed their fate. On the 26th of April, they were brought to trial in Westminster Hall.
The indictment against them is still extant and accuses them of declaring, on the 26th of April, at the Tower of London, that “the King our Sovereign Lord is not supreme head in earth of the Church of England.”
The offence against the Statute law was of course evident, and moreover the holy confessors resolutely persevered in the offence.
But an unexpected difficulty arose. The jury refused to give a verdict against them, and put off their finding till the next day.
In vain did Cromwell send to demand the cause of their delay; in vain did he send again to threaten them with a like fate if they did not forthwith bring in a verdict of guilty; the whole of the next day was spent in discussion, these worthy men recoiling from the guilt of giving up the servants of God to a cruel death.
At length Cromwell in a rage came himself, and so terrified them that he succeeded in overbearing their resistance, upon which sentence of death was passed on them as in cases of high treason.
Their martyrdom, a memorable one, the first of a long series, as glorious as it is sorrowful, extending over a century and a half, was fixed for the fifth day from their condemnation, the 4th of May. Two other confessors of the Faith were to suffer with them, Richard Reynolds, a Bridgettine monk, and John Haile or Hall, the aged Vicar of Isleworth.
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