The Newbury Martyrs
Died for the Protestant Cause, 1556
Berkshire has the honour of having received the doctrines of the Reformation as early as any part of England, and Fuller says, "Let other places give the honour to the town of Newbury, because it started first in the race of the reformed religion." Whether it be literally true that Newbury was the first in that race may be doubtful, but it certainly was amongst the first, for in 1518 Christopher Shoemaker was burnt here for reading the Gospels to a disciple, one John Say. Fuller also mentions that in the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII. there was a society of "secret favourers of God's Gospel" at Newbury to the number of near two hundred, and had continued there for a space of fifteen years, when they were betrayed, and many of them "to the number of six or seven score" were arraigned, and three or four of them were burnt.
In all the histories of English martyrs there is, perhaps, none more touching than that of Julins or Joscelyn Palmer, usually written "Julius." He had been a Romanist at Oxford, and full of the zeal which urged St. Paul to hold the garments of those who stoned Stephen, had been present at the burning of the Bishops at Oxford. The spectacle of their heroic deaths led him to enquire for himself. He was soon suspected of heresy, resigned his fellowship, and became Master of Reading Grammar School. The suspicions soon followed him ; he had to fly from Reading, and went to Ensham to see his mother. Here he found no rest; his mother cursed him for not believing as his father and she and all his forefathers had done, instead of "what was taught by the new law in King Edward's days, which is damnable heresy." "Faggots I have to burn thee," ended the old woman; "more thou gettest not from me." He departed blessing her, the tears trickling down his cheeks, whereat "she hurled an old angel* after him and said, "Take it to keep thee a true man." He then visited his friend Cope at Magdalen; went to Reading to get his arrears of salary; was there arrested, and sent with a bill of instructions to Dr. Jeffrey, who was holding a visitation for the Bishop of Salisbury at Newbury.
He was arraigned with two other brethren, Thomas Askew and John Gwin by name, in Newbury Church on the 15th July, 1556, before William Jeffrey or Geffrey, D.C.L., Chancellor of Salisbury ; Sir Richard Bridges, Knight, of Great Shefford, Sheriff; Sir William Rainsford, John Winchcombe, son of Jack of Newbury, and Clement Burdett, rector of Englefield and Official Principal to the Bishop of Salisbury.
The indictment was for denying the Pope's supremacy, maintaining that the priest showeth up an idol at Mass, and other charges. At first, Palmer answered guardedly, offering to recant whatever in his teaching "will not stand with God's word," but it soon became clear to Palmer that recantation was required which he could never make. The Chancellor told Palmer that "he would wring peecavi out of his lying lips ere he had done with him," and the parson of Englefield called him "as forward an heretic as he had ever talked with." Rainsford appears to have taken no part in the trial, and Winchcombe acted very kindly. Sir Richard Bridges the Sheriff, who had throughout the examination been trying to.get fair play for Palmer, honours the youngster's courage, and for his part does not like the work he is about, and would gladly get out of it altogether. So after the first day's 'trial, the old Knight sends for Palmer to his lodgings, and in a friendly way exhorts him in the presence of divers persons to revoke his opinions, and spare his young years, wit, and learning:
"If thou wilt be conformable, and show thyself corrigible and repentant, in good faith I promise thee before this company I will give thee meat and drink, and books, and ten pounds yearly, so long as thou shalt dwell with me, and if thou shall set thy mind to marriage, I will procure thee a wife and a farm, and help to stuff and fit thy farm for thee. How sayest thou?"
"Books! meat and drink, and £10 a year! a wife and a farm ! these are good things," says the author of Tom Brown, "but there is one thing better, Sir Richard, even the truth of Almighty God." So Sir Richard, perceiving he would not retract:
Palmer," saith he, "then I perceive one of us twain shall be
damned, for we be of two faiths, and certain I am that there is but one
faith that leadeth to life and salvation."
At the termination of the second day's examination, Dr. Jeffrey proceeded to deliver sentence of condemnation, and Palmer with his two fellow martyrs, were delivered to the secular authorities. About five o'clock in the evening, Sir Richard Bridges and the Bailiffs. of the town "with a great company of harnessed and weaponed men," conducted Palmer and his brethren to the fire.
"They put off their raiment and went to the stake, and kissed it; and when they were bound to the post, Palmer said, 'Good people, pray for us that we may persevere unto the end, and for Christ his sake beware of Popish teachers, for they deceive you.' As he spake this, a servant of one of the Bailiffs threw a faggot at his face, that the blood gushed out in divers places. For the which fact the Sheriff broke his head, that the blood likewise ran about his ears. When, the fire was kindled and began to take hold of their bodies, they lift their hands towards heaven, and quietly and cheerfully, as though they felt no smart, they cried, ' Lord Jesu, strengthen us ; Lord Jesu, assist us; Lord Jesu, receive our souls.' And so they continued, without any struggling, holding up their hands and knocking their hearts, and calling upon Jesu until they had ended their mortal lives."
The place where the martyrs were burnt was called the "Sandpits" in the Enbourn Road, but the exact spot is not known. It is, however, generally supposed to have been near the site of the pond near the Lamb Inn.
Walter Money's "History of Newbury" (1905)
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