by Bishop J.C. Ryle

It is fashionable in some quarters to deny that there is any such thing as certainty about the religious truth, or any opinions for which it is worthwhile to be burned. Yet 450 years ago, there were men who were certain they had found out truth, and were content to die for their opinions. It is fashionable in other quarters to leave out all the unpleasant things in history, and to paint everything with a rose-coloured hue. A very popular history of our English Queens hardly mentions the martydoms of Queen Mary's days! Yet Mary was not called "Bloody Mary" without reason, and scores of Protestants were burned in her reign. Last , but not least, it is thought very bad taste in many quarters to say anything which throws discredit on the Church of Rome. Yet it is as certain that the Romish Church burned our English Reformers as it is that William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings.

The broad facts of the martydom of our Reformers are a story that used to be well known and is soon told. But it may be useful to give a brief outline of these facts, in order to supply a framework to our subject.

Edward VI, "that incomparable young prince", as Bishop Burnet justly called him, died on the 6th July 1553. Never, perhaps, did any royal personage in this land die more fully lamented, or leave behind him a fairer reputation. Never, perhaps, to man's poor fallible judgment, did the cause of God's truth in England receive a heavier blow. His last prayer before death ought not to be forgotten  -"O Lord God, defend this realm from Papistry, and maintain Thy true religion". It was a prayer, I believe, not offered in vain.

After a foolish and deplorable effort to obtain the crown for Lady Jane Grey, Edward was succeeded by his eldest sister, Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and his first Queen, Catherine of Aragon, and best known in English History by the ill-omened name of "Bloody Mary". Mary had been brought up from infancy as a rigid adherent of the Romish Church. She was in fact, conscientious, zealous, bigoted and narrow-minded in the extreme.

She began at once to pull down her brother's work in every possible way, in its worst and most offensive forms. Step by step she and her councilors marched back to Rome, trampling down one by one every obstacle, going straight forward to their mark. the Mass was restored; the English service was taken away; the works of Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, Tyndale, Bucer, Latimer, Hooper and Cranmer were proscribed. Cardinal Pole was invited to England, The foreign Protestants resident in England wee Banished. 


The leading divines of the Protestant Church of England were deprived of their offices, and, while some escaped to the Continent, many were put in prison. The old statutes against heresy were once more brought forward primed and loaded. And thus by the beginning of 1555 the stage was cleared and that bloody tragedy, in which Bishops Bonner and Gardiner played too prominent at part, was ready to begin.

For, unhappily for the credit of human nature, Mary's advisers were not content with depriving and imprisoning the leading English reformers. It was resolved to make them forsake their principles, or to put them to death. One by one they were called before special commissions, examined about their religious opinions, and called upon to recant, on pain of death if they refused. No third course or alternative was left to them.

They were either to give up Protestantism and receive Popery, or else they were to be burned alive. Refusing to recant, they were one by one handed over to the secular power, publicly surrounded with faggots , and publicly sent out of the world by the most cruel and painful of deaths - death by fire. All there are broad facts which all the apologists of Rome can never gainsay or deny.

It is a broad fact that during the four last years of Queen Mary's reign no less that 288 person were burnt at the stake for their adhesion to the Protestant faith. Indeed the faggots never ceased to blaze whilst Mary was alive, and five martyrs were burnt in Canterbury only a week before her death. Out of these 288 sufferers, be it remembered, one was an archbishop, four were bishops, twenty-one were clergymen, fifty-five were women and four were children.

It is a broad fact that these 288 sufferers were not put to death for any offence against property or person. They were not rebels against the Queen's authority, caught red-handed in arms,. They were not thieves, or murderers, or drunkards, or unbelievers, or men and women of immoral lives. On the contrary, they were some of the holiest, purest, and the best Christians in England, and several of them the most learned men of their day