W. Coker, W. Hopper, H. Laurence, R. Colliar, R. Wright and W. Stere
These persons all of Kent, were examined at the same time with Mr. Bland and Shetterden, by Thornton, bishop of Dover, Dr. Harpsfield, and others. These six martyrs and witnesses of the truth were consigned to the flames in Canterbury, at the end of August, 1555.
In November 1556, fifteen martyrs were imprisoned in Canterbury castle, of whom all were either burnt or famished. Among the latter were J. Clark, D. Chittenden, W. Foster of Stonc, Alice Potkins, and J. Archer, of Cranbrooke, weaver. The two first of these had not received condemnation, but the others were sentenced to the fire. Foster, at his examination, observed upon the utility of carrying lighted candles about on Candlemas-day, that he might as well carry a pitchfork; and that a gibbet would have as good an effect as the cross.
In the month of February 1557, the following persons were committed to prison: R. Coleman, of Waldon, laborer; Joan Winseley, of Horsley Magna, spinster; S. Glover, of Rayley; R. Clerk, of Much Holland, mariner; W. Munt, of Much Bentley, sawyer; Marg. Field, of Ramsey, spinster; R. Bongeor, currier; R. Jolley, mariner; Allen Simpson, Helen Ewire, C. Pepper, widow; Alice Walley (who recanted), W. Bongeor, glazier, all of Colchester; R. Atkin, of Halstead, weaver; R. Barcock, of Wilton, carpenter; R. George, of Westbarhonlt, laborer; R. Debnam of Debenham, weaver; C. Warren, of Cocksall, spinster; Agnes Whitlock, of Dover-court, spinster; Rose Allen, spinster; and T. Feresannes, minor; both of Colchester. These persons were brought before Bonner, who would have immediately sent them to execution, but Cardinal Pole was for more merciful measures, and Bonner, in a letter of his to the cardinal, seems to be sensible that he had displeased him, for he has this expression: "I thought to have them all hither to Fulham, and to have given sentence against them; nevertheless, perceiving by my last doing that your grace was offended, I thought it my duty, before I proceeded further, to inform your grace." This circumstance verifies the account that the cardinal was a humane man; and though a zealous Catholic, we, as Protestants, are willing to render him that honor which his merciful character deserves. Some of the bitter persecutors denounced him to the pope as a favorer of heretics, and he was summoned to Rome, but Queen Mary, by particular entreaty, procured his stay. However, before his latter end, and a little before his last journey from Rome to England, he was strongly suspected of favoring the doctrine of Luther. As in the last sacrifice four women did honor to the truth, so in the following auto da fe we have the like number of females and males, who suffered June 30, 1557, at Canterbury, and were J. Fishcock, F. White, N. Pardue, Barbary Final, widow, Bardbridge's widow, Wilson's wife, and Benden's wife.
Of this group we shall more particularly notice Alice Benden, wife of Edward Bender, of Staplehurst, Kent. She had been taken up in October, 1556, for non-attendance, and released upon a strong injunction to mind her conduct. Her husband was a bigoted Catholic, and publicly speaking of his wife's contumacy, she was conveyed to Canterbury Castle, where knowing, when she should be removed to the bishop's prison, she should be almost starved upon three farthings a day, she endeavored to prepare herself for this suffering by living upon twopence halfpenny per day.
On January 22, 1557, her husband wrote to the bishop that if his wife's brother, Roger Hall, were to be kept from consoling and relieving her, she might turn; on this account, she was moved to a prison called Monday's Hole. Her brother sought diligently for her, and at the end of five weeks providentially heard her voice in the dungeon, but could not otherwise relieve her, than by putting soe money in a loaf, and sticking it on a long pole. Dreadful must have been the situation of this poor victim, lying on straw, between stone walls, without a change of apparel, or the meanest requisites of cleanliness, during a period of nine weeks!
On March 25 she was summoned before the bishop, who, with rewards, offered her liberty if she would go home and be comfortable; but Mrs. Benden had been inured to suffering, and, showing him her contracted limbs and emaciated appearance, refused to swerve from the truth. She was however removed from this black hole to the West Gate, whence, about the end of April, she was taken out to be condemned, and then committed to the castle prison until the nineteenth of June, the day of her burning. At the stake, she gave her handkerchief to one John Banks, as a memorial; and from her waist she drew a white lace, desiring him to give it to her brother, and tell him that it was the last band that had bound her, except the chain; and to her father she returned a shilling he had sent her.
The whole of these seven martyrs undressed themselves with alacrity, and, being prepared, knelt down, and prayed with an earnestness and Christian spirit that even the enemies of the cross were affected. After invocation made together, they were secured to the stake, and, being encompassed with the unsparing flames, they yielded their souls into the hands of the living Lord.
J. Corneford, of Wortham; C. Browne, of Maidstone; J. Herst, of Ashford; Alice Snoth, and Catharine Knight, an Aged Woman
With pleasure we have to record that these five martyrs were the last who suffered in the reign of Mary for the sake of the Protestant cause; but the malice of the papists was conspicuous in hastening their martyrdom, which might have been delayed until the event of the queen's illness was decided. It is reported that the archdeacon of Canterbury, judging that the sudden death of the queen would suspend the execution, travelled post from London, to have the satisfaction of adding another page to the black list of papistical sacrifices.
The articles against them were, as usual, the Sacramental elements and the idolatry of bending to images. They quoted St. John's words, "Beware of images!" and respecting the real presence, they urged according to St. Paul, "the things which are seen are temporal." When sentence was about to be read against them, and excommunication to take place in the regular form, John Corneford, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, awfully turned the latter proceeding against themselves, and in a solemn impressive manner, recriminated their excommunication in the following words: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the most mighty God, and by the power of His Holy Spirit, and the authority of His holy Catholic and apostolic Church, we do here give into the hands of Satan to be destroyed, the bodies of all those blasphemers and heretics that maintain any error against His most holy Word, or do condemn His most holy truth for heresy, to the maintenance of any false church or foreign religion, so that by this Thy just judgment, O most mighty God, against Thy adversaries, Thy true religion may be known to Thy great glory and our comfort and to the edifying of all our nation. Good Lord, so be it. Amen."
This sentence was openly pronounced and registered, and, as if Providence had awarded that it should not be delivered in vain, within six days after, Queen Mary died, detested by all good men and accursed of God!
Though acquainted with these circumstances, the archdeacon's implacability exceeded that of his great exemplary, Bonner, who, though he had several persons at that time under his fiery grasp, did not urge their deaths hastily, by which delay he certainly afforded them an opportunity of escape. At the queen's decease, many were in bonds: some just taken, some examined, and others condemned. The writs indeed were issued for several burnings, but by the death of the three instigators of Protestant murder-the chancellor, the bishop, and the queen, who fell nearly together, the condemned sheep were liberated, and lived many years to praise God for their happy deliverance.
These five martyrs, when at the stake, earnestly prayed that their blood might be the last shed, nor did they pray in vain. They died gloriously, and perfected the number God had selected to bear witness of the truth in this dreadful reign, whose names are recorded in the Book of Life; though last, not least among the saints made meet for immortality through the redeeming blood of the Lamb!
Catharine Finlay, alias Knight, was first converted by her son's expounding the Scriptures to her, which wrought in her a perfect work that terminated in martyrdom. Alice Snoth at the stake sent for her grandmother and godfather, and rehearsed to them the articles of her faith, and the Commandments of God, thereby convincing the world that she knew her duty. She died calling upon the spectators to bear witness that she was a Christian woman, and suffered joyfully for the testimony of Christ's Gospel.