A Tale of Two Martyrs

DR. RIDLEY, entering the place [of execution] first, earnestly holding up both his hands, looked towards heaven; then shortly after, seeing Mr. Latimer, with a cheerful look, he ran to him and embraced him, saying, “Be of good heart, brother, for God will either assuage the fury of the flame, or else strengthen us to abide it.”

He then went to the stake, and, kneeling down, prayed with great fervor, while Mr. Latimer following, kneeled also, and prayed with like earnestness. After this, they arose and conversed together, and, while thus employed, Dr. Smith began his sermon to them.

Dr. Ridley, then, with Mr. Latimer, kneeled to my Lord Williams, the vice chancellor of Oxford, and the other commissioners, who sat upon a form, and said, “I beseech you, my lord, even for Christ’s sake, that I may speak but two or three words.”

And whilst my lord bent his head to the mayor and vice-chancellor, to know whether he might have leave to speak, the bailiffs and Dr. Marshal, the vice-chancellor, ran hastily unto him, and, with their hands stopping his mouth, said, “Mr. Ridley, if you will revoke your erroneous opinions, you shall not only have liberty so to do, but also your life.”

“Not otherwise?” said Dr. Ridley.

“No,” answered Dr. Marshal. “Therefore, if you will not do so, there is no remedy: you must suffer for your deserts.”

“Well,” said the martyr, “so long as the breath is in my body, I will never deny my Lord Christ and his known truth. God’s will be done in me.”

They were then commanded to prepare immediately for the stake. Then the smith took a chain of iron and placed it about both their waists; and as he was knocking in the staple, Dr. Ridley took the chain in his hand, and, looking aside to the smith, said, “Good fellow, knock it in hard, for the flesh will have its course.”

They then brought a lighted faggot, and laid it at Dr. Ridley’s feet, upon which Mr. Latimer said, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.”

When Dr. Ridley saw the fire flaming up towards him, he cried out, with an amazing loud voice, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit: Lord, receive my spirit!” and continued to repeat, “Lord, Lord, receive my spirit!”

Mr. Latimer cried as vehemently, “O Father of heaven, receive my soul!” after which he soon died, seemingly with little pain.

Owing to the bad arrangement of the fire [about Ridley], it burned all Ridley’s lower parts before it touched his upper and made him struggle under the faggots. Ridley, in his agony, often desired the spectators to let the fire come to him, saying, “I cannot burn.” Yet in all his torment, he did not forget always to call upon God, “Lord, have mercy upon me!”

As soon as the fire touched the gunpowder [hung around his neck], he was seen to stir no more, but burned on the other side, falling down at Mr. Latimer’s feet, his body being divided.

The dreadful sight filled almost every eye with tears, for some pitied their persons, who thought their souls had no need thereof.

By John Foxe

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #48 in 1995]

John Foxe, Acts and Monuments (1570) a condensed excerpt.
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