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At Stratford le Bow, June 27th 1556

June 27, 2012
by Kate Cole

This story contributed by Kate Cole inspired me to go to Stratford yesterday – amidst all the shopping malls and Olympic razzmatazz – to take a picture of the memorial to the thirteen martyrs burnt alive there for their beliefs on this day in 1556.

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Today is the anniversary of the burning of thirteen people at Stratford le Bow in 1556, executed in the most horrible manner because of their faith. It was the largest burning of a group of people in Tudor times and the grim spectacle was watched by a crowd of over twenty thousand.

The xxvij day of june rod ffrom nuwgatt vnto stretfford a bow in iij cares xiij xj mē & ij women & ther bornyd to iiij post(s) & ther wher a xx M peple who came to see the execution

The 27the day of June rode from Newgate (prison) unto Stratford le Bow in three carts thirteen – eleven men & two women & there burnt at four posts & there were twenty thousand people who came to see the execution
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Henry Machyn, A London Provisioner’s Chronicle (1550-1563)
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For ordinary citizens, the reign of the Tudor monarchs was one of the bloodiest and dangerous of times to live in English history. The country had been in religious turmoil since Henry VIII’s break with Rome in the 1530s, caused by his marriage to Anne Boleyn. And when Henry died on 28th January 1547,the boy-king, Edward VI, imposed even greater religious changes, designed to eradicate Catholicism and embrace Protestantism fully. But then, after Edward’s premature death in July 1553 and, after she had dispelled Lady Jane Grey’s Protestant henchmen’s attempts to seize the throne, Mary, the eldest child of Henry VIII, became queen. She was a devout woman who was determined to restore the English people to the Catholic faith led by the Pope in Rome.

This period of volatile religious policies was a troubled time for members of parishes across the country, in which disobedience to a monarch’s religious edict could quickly lead to a violent death. Burnings such as the 1555 execution of the bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, followed by the 1556 burning of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, are remembered to this day. However, many that burnt in the fires of Mary’s reign were ordinary people – artisans, craftsman, labourers, and their wives – who are largely forgotten.

Those that died on 27th June 1556 at Stratford le Bow were just such men and women. John Foxe, writing seven years later in 1563 during the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, listed those that died that day. From his book The Acts and Monuments (more commonly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs), we find they were -

Henry Wye - brewer of the parish of Stanford le Hope, Essex. Aged forty-two years.
William Halliwell – a smith of the parish of Waltham Holy Cross, Essex. Aged twenty-three years or thereabouts.
Ralphe Jackson – a serving man from Chipping Ongar, Essex. Aged thirty-four years.
Laurence Pernam – a smith of the parish of Amwell in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. Aged twenty-two years.
John Derifall - a labourer, of the parish of Rettington, Essex. Aged fifty years.
Edmund Hurst - a labourer, of the parish of Saint James in Colchester, Essex. Aged fifty years and above.
Thomas Bowyer –  a weaver, of Great Dunmow, Essex. Aged twenty-six years.
George Searle - a tailor, of the parish of White Notley, Essex. Aged between twenty and twenty-one years. He was taken and carried to Lord Rich who sent him to Colchester Castle, with a commandment that no friend should speak with him. There he lay for six weeks and was sent up to London where he was sometimes in the Bishop’s coalhouse, sometimes in Lollards tower, and last of all in Newgate. He was apprehended in White Notley during Lent, about a fortnight before Easter.
Lion Cauche – a broker, born in Flanders, and then resident (at his arrest) in the City of London, and aged twenty-eight years or thereabouts.
Henry Adlington – a sawyer, of Greensted, Sussex. Aged thirty years.
John Rothe – a labourer, of the parish of Wycke, Essex. aged twenty-six years.
Elizabeth Peper -  the wife of Thomas Peper, weaver, of the parish of Saint James, Colchester, Essex. Aged thirty years or thereabouts.
Agnes George - the wife of Richard George, husbandman of West Bardfield, Essex. Aged twenty-six years. Richard George had another wife burned in Mary’s fires.
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These thirteen were all working men and women with such strong religious convictions that, despite being given the opportunity to renounce their faith in return for their lives, they chose a painful death instead. After they were condemned, John Feckenham, the Dean of St Paul’s, preached against them at Paul’s Cross. He criticised them for all having different Protestant views and the group responded by producing a joint declaration of faith. Originally, the group comprised of sixteen but Feckenham continued to visit them whilst they were in gaol, and three recanted and were released but the rest did not and accepted their fate.

According to a woodcut in the 1570 edition of John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the eleven men were tied to wooden stakes but the two women were loose within the pyre. Although no other contemporary account of the burning survives, one can only hope that the authorities permitted  the families and friends’ requests to tie bags of gunpowder around the victims’ necks, in an attempt to dispatch them with the least amount of suffering possible.

Three hundred years later, in 1878, a memorial to these thirteen, and other victims of Mary’s burnings, was unveiled in St John’s churchyard, Stratford. There has been much debate amongst historians as to whether this particular appalling event took place in Stratford on Stratford Green or in Bow near Bow Church – and because of the number of spectators, it is more likely to be Bow. So this Victorian Gothic memorial might be in the wrong location. But wherever the burnings actually took place, the memorial rightly commemorates those thirteen unfortunate men and women from Essex, Hertfordshire, Sussex and London who died for their beliefs on 27th June 1556.

Memorial at Stratford of 1878 to those martyrs who died for their faith in the reign of Mary.

Read Kate Cole’s story of Thomas Bowyer, the martyr from Great Dunmow.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink
    June 27, 2012

    It makes my blood run cold to think of the dreadful things that have been done in the name of religion. It’s good that these people are remembered for the terrible death that was inflicted on them. May they rest in peace.

  2. allison permalink
    December 30, 2014

    wow all I have to say is this is terrible and queen Mary 1 shouldn’t have judged people of their faith who should judge people by their acts

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