16 October 1555 – The Burnings of Ridley and Latimer

Oct16,2012 #Oxford Martyrs
Martyrs Memorial

On 16 October 1555, during the reign of Mary I, Protestants Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake in Oxford. Along with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, they have become known as the Oxford Martyrs and the site of their executions is marked by a stone monument: Martyr’s Memorial.

Both men were influential Protestants. Latimer, the former Bishop of Worcester, had served Queen Anne Boleyn as one of her chaplains and had been court preacher during the reign of Edward VI. Ridley had served as a chaplain to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and had been appointed Bishop of London during Edward VI’s reign. Ridley had made himself rather unpopular with Mary when he supported Lady Jane Grey’s claim to the throne and preached a sermon at St Paul’s Cross on 9th July 1553 proclaiming that Mary and Elizabeth were both bastards.

Martyrologist John Foxe described the burnings of Latimer and Ridley in his Book of Martyrs:

“Dr. Ridley, the night before execution, was very facetious, had himself shaved, and called his supper a marriage feast; he remarked upon seeing Mrs. Irish (the keeper’s wife) weep, “though my breakfast will be somewhat sharp, my supper will be more pleasant and sweet.”

The place of death was on the north side of the town opposite Baliol College:—Dr. Ridley was dressed in a black gown furred, and Mr. Latimer had a long shroud on, hanging down to his feet. Dr. Ridley, as he passed Bocardo, looked up to see Dr. Cranmer, but the latter was then engaged in disputation with a friar.—When they came to the stake, Dr. Ridley embraced Latimer fervently, and bid him be of good heart. He then knelt by the stake, and after earnestly praying together, they had a short private conversation. Dr. Smith then preached a short sermon against the martyrs, who would have answered him, but were prevented by Dr. Marshal, the vice-chancellor. Dr. Ridley then took off his gown and tippet, and gave them to his brother-in-law, Mr. Shipside. He gave away also many trifles to his weeping friends, and the populace were anxious to get even a fragment of his garments. Mr. Latimer gave nothing, and from the poverty of his garb, was soon stripped to his shroud, and stood venerable and erect, fearless of death.

Dr. Ridley being unclothed to his shirt, the smith placed an iron chain about their waists, and Dr. Ridley bid him fasten it securely; his brother having tied a bag of gunpowder about his neck, gave some also to Mr. Latimer. Dr. Ridley then requested of Lord Williams, of Fame, to advocate with the queen the cause of some poor men to whom he had, when bishop, granted leases, but which the present bishop refused to confirm. A lighted fagot was now laid at Dr. Ridley’s feet, which caused Mr. Latimer to say, “Be of good cheer, Ridley; and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England, as, I trust, will never be put out.” When Dr. Ridley saw the flame approaching him, he exclaimed, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!” and repeated often, “Lord receive my spirit!” Mr. Latimer, too, ceased not to say, “O Father of heaven receive my soul!” Embracing the flame, he bathed his hands in it, and soon died, apparently with little pain; but Dr. Ridley, by the ill-adjustment of the fagots, which were green, and placed too high above the furze was burnt much downwards. At this time, piteously entreating for more fire to come to him, his brother-in-law imprudently heaped the fagots up over him, which caused the fire more fiercely to burn his limbs, whence he literally leaped up and down under the fagots, exclaiming that he could not burn; indeed, his dreadful extremity was but too plain, for after his legs were quite consumed, he showed his body and shirt unsinged by the flame. Crying upon God for mercy, a man with a bill pulled the fagots down, and when the flames arose, he bent himself towards that side; at length the gunpowder was ignited, and then he ceased to move, burning on the other side, and falling down at Mr. Latimer’s feet over the chain that had hitherto supported him.

Every eye shed tears at the afflicting sight of these sufferers, who were among the most distinguished persons of their time in dignity, piety, and public estimation. They suffered October 16, 1555.”

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8 thoughts on “16 October 1555 – The Burnings of Ridley and Latimer”
  1. This is dreadful. Those poor men. I must admit to having tears in my eyes when I read this. What an awful way to die.

  2. I agree that burning is a horrible way to die, but so were the deaths for treason. can’t help wondering if Mary’s reputation would be different if, instead of burning peopel for heresy, she had these guys hung, drawn and quartered for treason (for backing Lady Jane Grey).

  3. also i might add ,that while all the executions were wrong ,whether it be axe or sword ,this is barbaric and sadistic ,as the type of people who sign the warrants.

  4. As Eric Ives argued so excellently in his book about Jane Grey, she WAS the legal heir and the rightful Queen. No matter how much Mary felt herself to be in the right, it was she who was the traitor. The men who died were not traitors. Mary hated them because they were heretics (from her point of view) and also because she blamed all Reformers (as accessories to Anne Boleyn) for her father’s decision to divorce her mother and break with Rome. I think the great deal of very real mental/emotional suffering Mary underwent unhinged her on the topic of the Great Matter, and she seldom acted rationally about anything connected to it. She inherited a great deal of her father’s “my will be done” attitude, as well as a penchant for making a politically imprudent marriage for emotional reasons.

  5. The ‘three Protestant Martyrs’ were not burnt on the site of the Martyrs’ Memorial monument but around the corner in Broad Street as you later mention. Latimer’s famous ‘be of good cheer’ exhortation was not included, but was in the 2nd edition. Foxe was, apparently, in the crowd but could not hear what was said, but it was told to him later by another witness.

    The Martyrs’ memorial dates from 1841 and was erected as a restatement of protestant beliefs by members, primarily, of the ‘Low Church’ in Oxford against the ‘Oxford Movement’ also known as the Tractarians, who sought to re-establish the essential catholic nature of Protestanism. Edward Pusey, Pusey House 1880s, John Keble and John Newman (later Cardinal Newman) were all leading lights in the movement which had a profound effect on Oxford and further afield. The Memorial was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and is modelled on 13thC ‘Gothic’ eccesiastical architecture

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