The Windsor Martyrs
Died for the Protestant Cause, 1544
It was in the year 1544 that Robert Testwood was added to the choir of the Royal Chapel at Windsor Castle. He was a man who, in addition to his musical talents, seems to have possessed no small share of vivacity and wit. His professional qualifications and his conversational powers appear to have recommended him to the high favour of the Dean and canons, at whose tables he was often entertained. But circumstances soon occurred which brought Testwood into no small trouble.
He had imbibed some of the principles of the Lutheran Reformation, at that time deemed by the heads of the church in England extremely heretical, and in the course of his conversation with the clergy, he ventured to express his views. Having declared his opinion in favour of the ecclesiastical supremacy of the King, just before it was established by Act of Parliament, and while the authority of Rome was still deemed paramount by the canons of Windsor, he exposed himself to the censure of the church, if not something worse. However, before they could complain of him to the Dean, who happened then to be absent, the Act of Supremacy was passed and, when they thought to bring Testwood into difficulty, to their no small surprise, the Dean announced to them the decision of Parliament. He then commanded that the Pope's pardons, which hung about the chapel, should be brought to him in chapter, when he threw them into the fire and burnt them before their dumbstruck faces. But Testwood did not again thus escape; nor were his offences in the eyes of the clergy always so trivial.
Windsor was, at that time, the resort of pilgrims. Multitudes, from the most distant parts of England, flocked to the shrine of the ‘Good King Henry [VI]’ to offer their gifts of candles and waxen images, and repeat their prayers to the saintly monarch. Along the southern aisle of the choir, they might be seen crowding together to enjoy the privilege of kissing his holy spur and having his sacred hat – a cure for headaches – placed upon their heads. Behind the High Altar, also, there stood an alabaster figure of the Virgin, which was another point of attraction, and was surrounded by large groups of worshippers, who devoutly touched and kissed the holy image. It happened one afternoon, as Testwood was walking through the church that, seeing the people round King Henry's shrine, his spirit was stirred within him and he could not refrain from expostulating with such misguided devotees. Some of those assembled were so convinced by his arguments and appeals that they promised they would return on these pilgrimages no more. Animated by his success with them, Testwood approached the party around the Virgin’s statue and, in the warmth of his zeal, lifted up his key and broke off the lady’s nose. This created no small excitement and a lawyer in the town, of the name of Simons, picked up the broken nose and put it in his pocket, saying, significantly, "That shall be a dear nose to Testwood some day."
Many now felt sourly offended by Testwood’s actions: the canons for his speaking against their profit; the wax-sellers, for hindering their market; and Simons, for the image's nose. More than that, however, some the canons even threatened to kill him! Still, Testwood was little intimidated. Soon afterwards, on a relic Sunday, when everyone associated with the Royal chapel appeared with a relic in their hand, this chorister had none. "Take this," said the sexton, giving him Becket's rochet, but the chorister refused to take it. Then came a verger with St. George's dagger, but again he declined to accept it. Testwood then went up to one of the canons, who was arrayed in a golden cope, and pointing to a certain Mr. Hake, waggishly remarked, "Now if he had his horse and St. Martin's cloak, and Mr. John Schorn's boots, with King Henry's spurs and his hat, he might ride where he would."
Nor did Testwood stop there. At that
time, a paper was put up at the door of the choir, extolling the merits of
the Virgin. Just before the commencement of service one day, as the dean
was going in, and crossing himself with holy water, this incorrigible
chorister passed by, and tore down the paper. "Testwood," said
the dean, calling him to his stall, "how dare you be so bold as to
pull down that paper?"
There were others in Windsor, however, who sympathized with Testwood in his anti-papal notions and feelings. The churchwarden of the parish was of this class and he loudly complained of idle tales about the Virgin which the vicar told in his sermons. A preaching priest, named Anthony Pearson, was another of these early Protestants; and so was Marbeck, the organist of the Royal Chapel, and the composer of the solemn and venerable notes for responses, still in use in our cathedrals. The Book of Common Prayer noted by him still exists, printed in 1550, by Richard Grafton, the King's printer. He was also the first man who made a Concordance of the English Bible. Of the latter undertaking he gave an account to the Bishop of Salisbury, by whom he was examined on the charge of heresy. Foxe thus records it in his ‘Acts and Monuments’:
"When Thomas Matthew's Bible came first out in print, I was much desirous to have one of them; and being a poor man, not able to buy one of them, determined with myself to borrow one amongst my friends, and to write it forth. And when I had written out the five books of Moses, in fair great paper, and was entered on the book of Joshua, my friend, Master Turner, chanced to steal upon me unawares, and seeing me writing out the Bible, asked me what I meant thereby ; and when I told him the cause, 'Tush,' said he, 'thou goest about a vain and tedious labour; but this were a profitable work for thee, to set out a Concordance in English.' 'A Concordance,' said I, 'what is that ?' Then he told me it was a book to find out any word in the whole Bible by the letter; and that there was such an one in Latin already. Then I told him I had no learning to go about such a thing. ' Enough,' said he, 'for that matter, for it requireth not so much learning as diligence; and seeing thou art so painful a man, and one that cannot be unoccupied, it were a good exercise for thee.' And this, my lord, is all the instruction that ever I had, before or after, of any man."
Poor John Marbeck may be regarded as the first to lead the way in a humble but useful walk of English Biblical literature; and his diligence in the study of the sacred volume presents a beautiful instance of the avidity with which the common people, at the time of the Reformation, availed themselves of the means of scriptural instruction.
The above mentioned persons, and some others named by Foxe in his ‘Book of Martyrs’, were the fathers of Protestantism in the town of Windsor; and Testwood, Pearson, Filmer, and Marbeck were, in the year 1544, all committed to the town gaol to take their trial under the Act of Six Articles, or "whip with six strings," as it was called, and bloody strings they were. St. Anne's Day was fixed for their trial and, because a sufficient number of Papists could not be found, in the town, who were willing to fill up the jury, the farmers occupying the Dean and canons' property were summoned to attend. The accused were all found guilty on the Thursday and condemned to the stake; although Marbeck was afterwards pardoned. All night long, they called on God for his aid and strength, and prayed for the forgiveness of their persecutors, until sleep finally overtook them. Their guards, and even the sheriff, were quite moved by their words. On the following Saturday, they were conducted from their prison, through the town, to a field just by where the Riverside Station now stands, and having expressed, at the stake, sentiments of the utmost confidence and hope - though in that quaint language which was the fashion of the day - they meekly yielded to their fate, and so in a chariot of fire ascended to the skies. "Many who saw their patient suffering," says Foxe, "confessed that they could have found it in their hearts to suffer with them."
Their enemies, it appears, encouraged by their death, prepared to give information respecting some other suspected heretics, but, in this, they overshot the mark and brought down retribution on themselves. For, as the King was one day hunting in Guildford Park, he met with the sheriff and Sir Humphrey Forster, and inquired how the laws were executed at Windsor. They told him the tale of the execution of these poor men and said that it went much against their consciences to condemn them. Then King Henry exclaimed, "Alas! Poor innocents!" and on his return, caused Simons and one Dr. London, who were extremely active in searching out heretics, to be apprehended. In consequence of this, they were convicted of perjury and sentenced to ride round Windsor, Reading and Newbury, with papers on their heads, and their faces towards the horses' tails. The circumstance of Henry's causing these Papists to be punished for their zeal against Protestantism, after he had approved of the Act of Six Articles, is strikingly illustrative of his capricious temper. In truth, this was a two-edged sword, inflicting wounds on both parties and glutting itself in the blood of friends as well as foes.
Edited from John
Stoughton's "Windsor Castle & Town" (1862)
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