In 1526 William Tyndale?s New Testament in English was brought over to England by Hanseatic merchants from Antwerp. The precious cargo was hidden, but as they approached the Steelyard, on the banks of the Thames they prepared to unload. The agents of William Tunstall, bishop of London, would normally have been expected to be on the lookout for these books, but he had been sent as ambassador to Spain. Also, the agents of Cardinal Wolsey would normally have been watching out as well, but Wolsey and the king were busy with international affairs. The Lord had prepared the way and the books were safely landed and hidden in their warehouses, but who would distribute them?
Thomas Garret was the curate of All Hallows church, Honey Lane (both church and lane were not rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666). He was a plain man of lively imagination, delicate conscience and timid disposition, but he was made bold by his faith. He preached that works could not justify a sinner, that every man had the right to preach the Word of God and attacked the bishops who persecuted Christians. His preaching was very popular. The merchants were looking for places to store the books (Tyndale's and others) and Garret made space in his home.
He studied the books day and night; he held gospel meetings, read the Word and explained its doctrines. He also sold the books to laymen, priests and monks in London and its surrounds. Some of the people took the books all over England. Garret decided to introduce the New Testament into Oxford University, where he had studied, the citadel of traditional Catholicism. Although occasionally in fear of the consequences, he sold the books with the help of Anthony Dalaber. Many students purchased the book and carefully noted them in his account book.
Wolsey and the bishops saw the English New Testament as the biggest threat to their power for a thousand years. It must be seized and destroyed and London, Oxford and Cambridge must be searched. First of all the inquisitors searched for Garret at his home in London, then they searched for him in Oxford. Garret was warned just in time and he hurried to Dalaber who held the stock of books. The word spread quickly and they knew what had happened in the past to the Lollards, so they were fearful. It was agreed that Garret should change his name, leave Oxford and try to escape to the continent. He left Oxford, but for a day and a half he wrestled between lying and deceiving while on the run and returning to face the music. He decided to return to Oxford. Within hours of his return he was arrested and locked up. Garret was again in a turmoil of uncertainty. He managed to break out of the room where he had been imprisoned and he went to Dalaber's room to ask for help to escape. They were seen together which marked Dalaber. Garret left Oxford again, trying to get to Wales. Later Dalaber was arrested and thrown into a dungeon. Garret was captured near Bristol and he was thrown into the same dungeon. They were convicted of being heretics and made to carry a faggot from St Mary?s Church to Christ Church. They were then imprisoned at Osney. At some point they were freed. Dalaber died in 1562. Later, when the political climate had changed and Thomas Cromwell was in power, Garret was able to preach again.
In 1540 Cromwell believed that the king was ready to hear the Gospels preached, and so he lined up Robert Barnes, Thomas Garret, curate of All Saints? Church in Honey Lane and William Jerome, vicar of Stepney and they were asked to preach at the Lent service at Paul's Cross. Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester preached a sermon antagonistic to the new teachings and he was followed by Barnes. Unfortunately, Barnes insulted Gardiner in his sermon and Gardiner took advantage by complaining to Henry. Barnes, Garret and Jerome were commanded to read a prepared retraction at a service the following Sunday. Barnes read out the statement and then apologised to the bishop of Winchester, asking for his forgiveness. He then preached powerfully the doctrine of salvation by grace, the very doctrine for which he was persecuted by Gardiner. Garret and Jerome preached similarly and Henry had them taken to the Tower of London.
The Catholic party was on the rise. Anne of Cleeves was divorced and Thomas Cromwell fell with her. Cromwell was executed and from that moment the three evangelists were doomed. They had unfortunately been prominent at a time when power was changing and they paid the price. On the 30th July they were taken to Smithfield and with no trial, no hearing, they were burned at the stake. Henry was keen to show that he favoured neither the Catholic or Protestant side and so he burned three Catholics at the same time. One Catholic and one Protestant were tied to a wooden hurdle and dragged to Smithfield. Not having any opportunity to be heard each evangelist took the opportunity to speak to the crowds. In the middle of Barnes' speech he said, "Have ye any articles against me for the which I am condemned" The sheriff answered: "No."
After they had each spoken they shook hands, embraced one another and were tied at the same stake. At the same hour and the same place the three Catholics were hanged.
This has been taken from 'The Reformation in England' by Merle d'Aubigne
The following comes from 'Foxe's Book of Martyrs.'
Soon after the execution of Cromwell, Dr Cuthbert Barnes, Thomas Garnet, and William Jerome, were brought before the ecclesiastical court of the bishop of London, and accused of heresy.
Being before the bishop of London, Dr Barnes was asked whether the saints prayed for us? To this he answered, that "he would leave that to God; but (said he) I will pray for you."
On the thirteenth of July, 1541, these men were brought from the Tower to Smithfield, where they were all chained to one stake; and there suffered death with a constancy that nothing less than a firm faith in Jesus Christ could inspire.