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Anniversaries The Burning Time

14 February 1551: Stephen Gardiner deprived of his see

Gardiner by unknown artistOn this day in 1551, 11 years after he had preached against the new Protestant doctrines at Paul’s Cross, Stephen Gardiner was officially stripped of his position as Bishop of Winchester.

Gardiner had been summoned to appear before the Privy Council early in the reign of Edward VI, the young Protestant King, and had been incarcerated in the Fleet prison. He was held there until January 1548, not being released until after the closure of Edward’s first Parliament (it was Gardiner’s belief that he was kept locked up expressly to prevent him attending Parliament and being anywhere near the centre of power), and he was then asked to subscribe to a statement on the doctrine of justification. This he refused to do and was subsequently placed under house arrest in his Southwark palace. He then returned to his diocese where he continued in his stubbornness.

When Bishop Gardiner was made to preach in the summer of 1548, as a test of his orthodoxy, he was instructed to comply with the recent ruling that no one was to preach on the theology of the Eucharist until it had been properly determined. As with most other instructions emanating from the Edwardian hierarchy, Gardiner refused to obey. In his sermon, preached on the feast of St Peter and St Paul, 29 June, he spoke of the sacrifice of the Mass and, though he admitted that communion could be received in both kinds and he attacked papal authority, he went on to defend religious ceremonies on the basis that they helped to move men towards God. His insistence on speaking in this way afforded his opponents a pretext for his immediate rearrest and exclusion from the second session of Parliament under Edward, that second Parliament convening in November 1548. A year later, in November 1549, when the third session was convening at Westminster, Gardiner again wrote to the Privy Council, urging them to release him so that he could sit in the Upper House, which he claimed to be his right. But by the time the next session convened, he had been tried on 19 charges in front of royal commissioners, headed by Thomas Cranmer, the trial beginning at Lambeth on 15 December 1550. Though he strongly defended himself, many witnesses spoke against him. The eighth session of the court appointed to try him was held at Lord Rich’s house at St Bartholomew’s in Smithfield on 20 January 1551. He was deprived of his bishopric on 14 February, and spent the rest of Edward’s reign in the Tower.

More about Stephen Gardiner’s fluctuating fortunes under the Tudors can be found in my book, The Burning Time.

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Anniversaries The Burning Time

6 February 1554 – John Bradford imprisoned with Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley

Bradford 'portrait' from FoxeOn this day in 1554, John Bradford, a Protestant preacher who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London after being involved in a ‘disturbance’ at Paul’s Cross, was moved into another room in the Tower, which he shared with Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, until these three were taken to Oxford in early March. During the month or so they were together, the four men spent their time reading the Bible, praying and discussing theology together, and were each bolstered by this mutual support and encouragement. The authorities under Mary I had not yet learnt the value to the ‘heretics’ of such fellowship, and seemed to have no clear strategy of how to deal with their prisoners; the arrangements appear haphazard, it being a matter of accident who ended up sharing a cell with whom.

On Easter Eve, 24 March, Bradford was transferred to the King’s Bench prison in Southwark. Here his companions included Robert Ferrar (the former Bishop of St David’s),  Dr Rowland Taylor (Rector of Hadleigh in Suffolk) and John Philpot. In prison Bradford continued his ministry of preaching (twice a day) and administering communion (according to the second Book of Common Prayer, now outlawed), the keepers (who liked him) admitting many visitors so that they could listen to him and take part in the services he conducted. Like that favourite saint of the Protestant preachers, the Apostle Paul, he also wrote many letters from prison, both to individuals and to congregations throughout the country. He was abstemious in his habits, sleeping for no more than four hours a night, eating only one meal a day, and spending much time in reading and contemplation. Lean-faced, with a neatly trimmed beard, he seems to have been a natural ascetic, unconcerned with such mundane matters as food and drink. But he also showed signs of inner distress: ‘In the middle of dinner he used often to muse with himself, having his hat over his eyes, from whence came commonly plenty of tears dropping on his trencher.’ He was known for his generosity and his gentleness (even the Jesuit Robert Parsons, no sympathiser with Protestants, admitted that Bradford was ‘of a more soft and mild nature than many of his fellows’), and was often in demand for visiting the sick and dying, even being allowed out of the prison by its governor, the knight marshal Sir William Fitzwilliam, a Protestant sympathiser, to make such visits. He never attempted to escape, or even to delay his return. And once a week he would visit the common criminals being kept in the same prison as himself, distributing not only advice but also funds that had been received as donations. He did the same among the prisoners of religion, having been elected by the majority of them as their pastor. These distributions led to some argument, in particular with a splinter group of Protestants called the ‘free willers’, a large number of whom were imprisoned in the King’s Bench, and who accused Bradford of discriminating against them in his sharing-out of alms, a charge which Bradford strenuously denied. The ‘free willers’ were fiercely opposed to the idea of predestination, espoused by Calvin in Geneva, and a version of which was beginning to be adopted by mainstream Protestantism in England, of which Bradford was a leading exponent. Much of his prison correspondence had to do with this issue, as he was frequently called upon to reassure believers who were fearful that they were not among the ‘elect’. The prisons themselves became hothouses of debate over these differing interpretations of their faith, to the distress of many evangelicals and the satisfaction of their opponents. Certainly the fact that even in prison, and faced with the possibility of death, rival groups of Protestants vigorously kept up their doctrinal and other differences can have done little to recommend them to the authorities, despite the acknowledged holiness and sympathetic character of a man like Bradford.

More about the life and death of John Bradford can be found in my book The Burning Time.