The following are excerpts from Foxe's Book of Martyrs (published Ambassador, complete), first published Basle 1559. John Foxe studied at Oxford and was ordained by Nicholas Ridley in 1550. He was buried in St Giles' Cripplegate.
Mr Hugh Latimer and Dr Ridley
Hugh Latimer was born in Leicester 1475, educated Cambridge, Bishop of Worcester 1533; Nicholas Ridley was born Newcastle-upon-Tyne, educated Cambridge, Bishop of London in Henry VIII's reign. On (Catholic) Mary's accession to the throne in 1554, both were sent to the Tower, and then to Oxford to be tried by the Queen's assessors in St Mary's church in Oxford. The Church, and outside it, Martyrs' Memorial, are in Oxford town centre today. The trial contains much that is inspirational reading. Here is a snippet..
"My Lord," said Dr Ridley, "you know my mind fully herein; and as for my doctrine, my conscience assureth me that it is sound, and according to God's word -- which doctrine, the Lord God being my helper, I will maintain so long as my tongue shall move and breath is within my body -- in confirmation thereof I am willing to seal the same with my blood."
Brooks: "It were best, Mr Ridley, not to do so. For you know well enough that whosoever is out of the catholic church cannot be saved...."
Dr Ridley said to Dr Brooks, "Have you done? If you have, then give me leave to talk a little concerning these matters." Brooks answered, "Mr Ridley, we must not talk with you; you are out of the church, and our law is that we must not talk with any out of the church."
The following is Foxe's word-for-word account of the execution.
On the north side of Oxford, in the ditch over against Baliol College, the place of execution was appointed; when everything was ready, the prisoners were brought forth by the mayor and bailiffs.
Dr Ridley had on a black gown furred, such as he used to wear when a bishop... After him come Mr Latimer, in a poor Bristol frock much worn, with his buttoned cap and kerchief on his head, all ready to the fire, a new long shroud hanging down to the feet: which sight excited sorrow in the spectators, beholding, on the one side, the honour they sometime had: and on the other, the calamity into which they had fallen...
Dr Ridley, on looking back, saw Mr Latimer coming after. Unto whom he said, "Oh, are you there?" "Yea," said Mr Latimer, "have come after as soon as I can." So, he following, at length they came to the stake. Dr Ridley first entered the place, and earnestly held up both his hands towards heaven; then seeing Mr Latimer, with a cheerful look he ran to him, and embraced him, saying, "Be of good heart, brother, for God will assuage the fury of the flame, or else strengthen us to abide it."
He then went to the stake, and kneeling down, prayed with great fervour; while Mr Latimer, following, kneeled also, and prayed as earnestly as he. After this, they arose and conversed together, and while thus employed, Dr Smith began his sermon to them upon this text of St. Paul, "If I yield my body to the fire to be burnt, and have not charity, I shall gain nothing thereby"... He then charged the people to beware of them, for they were heretics, and died out of the church. He ended with an exhortation to them to recant and come home again to the church. His sermon scarcely lasted a quarter of an hour.
At its conclusion, Dr Ridley said to Mr Latimer, "Will you begin to answer the sermon, or shall I?" Mr Latimer said, "Begin you first, I pray you." "I will," said Dr Ridley....
(getting undressed ready to be burnt, and giving their clothes to their family and to the poor roundabout)
Then Dr Ridley, standing as yet in his trouse, said to his brother, "It were best for me to go in my trouse still." "No," said Mr Latimer, "it will put you to more pain; and it will do a poor man good." Whereunto Dr Ridley said, "Be it in the name of God," and so unlaced himself. Then being in his shirt, he held up his hand and said, "O 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."
They were then bound with a chain of iron, and bags of gunpowder fastened round their necks, so as to hasten their death in the flames.
Then they brought a lighted fagot, and laid it at Dr Ridley's feet; upon which Mr Latimer said, "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."
...Mr Latimer cried out vehemently, "O Father of heaven, receive my soul," After which he soon died, seemingly with little pain.
But Dr Ridley, from the ill-making of the fire, the fagots being green, and piled too high, so that the flames, which burned fiercely beneath, could not well get to him, was put to such exquisite pain that he desired them, for God's sake, to let the fire come unto him. His brother-in-law hearing him, but not very well understanding, to rid him of his pain, and not well knowing what he did, heaped fagots upon him, so that he quite covered him. This made the fire burn so vehement beneath that it burned all his nether parts before it touched the upper, and made him struggle under the fagots, and often desire them to let the fire come unto him, saying, "I cannot burn."... At last the fire touched the gunpowder, and he was seen to stir no more, but burned on the other side, falling down at Mr Latimer's feet, his body being divided.
The dreadful sight filled almost every eye with tears... But the sorrow of his brother, whose anxiety led him to attempt to put a speedy end to his sufferings, but who so unhappily prolonged them, surpassed that of all...
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury
Born Nottinghamshire 2nd July 1489, educated at Cambridge, consecrated Archbishop March 30, 1533 under Henry VIII. Henry was succeed by protestant Edward VI, then Lady Jane Grey for 6 days, then Catholic Mary.
Mary and her persecution then mounted the throne, and Cranmer could expect nothing less than attainder, deprivation, and death.
He was condemned for treason, and, with pretended clemency, pardoned; but ... to gratify her own hatred for him... Mary gave orders to proceed against him for heresy. The Tower [of London] was crowded with prisoners: Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer and Bradford were all put into one chamber. They blessed God for the opportunity of conversing and reading the Scriptures together, confirming one another in the faith, and exhorting to constancy in professing it, and patience in suffering for it....
In April 1554, the archbishop, with bishops Ridley and Latimer, was removed from the Tower to Oxford... On April 20th, Cranmer was brought to St Mary's [in Oxford] and refusing to subscribe to the popish articles, sentence of condemnation was passed upon him.
Cranmer watched the burning of Ridley and Latimer, and subsequently signed a "confession" of his pride in opposing the pope. But such was Mary's hatred, that she still determined that he should burn, and at the last this was Cranmer's prayer as he confessed his sins...
"And now I come to what troubleth my conscience more than anything that ever I did or said in my life, and that is, the setting abroad of a writing contrary to the truth, which now here I renounce and refuse, as written with my hand indeed, but contrary to what I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be -- all such papers which I have written or signed since my degradation I renounce as untrue. And forasmuch as my hand hath offended, it shall first be punished, for when I come to the fire it shall be first burned."
"And as for the pope, I refuse him, with all his false doctrine, as Christ's enemy and as anti-Christ."
"And as for the sacrament, I believe as I have taught in my book against the bishop of Winchester; the doctrine my book teacheth shall stand at the last day before the judgment of God where the papistical doctrine shall be ashamed to show her face."
The standers-by were amazed. ... It was strange to see the doctors beguiled of their hope...
Then was an iron chain tied about Cranmer and the fire set unto him. When the wood was kindled and the fire began to burn near him, he stretched forth his right hand, which had signed his recantation, into the flames, and there held it so that the people might see it burnt to a coal before his body was touched. In short, he was so patient and constant in the midst of his tortures, that he seemed to move no more than the stake to which he was bound; his eyes were lifted up to heaven, and often he said, so long as his voice would suffer him, "this unworthy right hand!" and often using the words of Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," till the fury of the flames putting him to silence, he gave up the ghost.
Nearly 400 fell a sacrifice during the reign of Mary. There were burnt 5 bishops...
Then Foxe concludes his book...
There are important lessons which it would be well for every one to learn. First, it behoves every British reader to be thankful...Fourthly, we shold be deeply impressed with the conviction that as our forefathers suffered so greatly for religious freedom, it is our duty to be prepared to suffer in the cause of him who gave up his life to redeem a guilty world....
I have selected these passages to help in the inspiration of the future Oxford mission team. Understanding (1) the key historical role of Oxford in the Battle of Britain, (2) the part in shaping religious ideas played by graduates of Oxford and Cambridge (3) the conviction shown by our countrymen for their beliefs less than 500 years ago will and must serve as a daily source of inspiration for the men and women who plant the Church of Christ in Oxford in 1997. Not to imitate their spirit of fearless conviction about the truth would be to say to Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, and ultimately Jesus, that they had died in vain.
* "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their tesimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death" (Rev 12:11).
* "I will not cease from mental fight, not shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land."
- James Greig, 12th Jan 1997