Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London,
and Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester,
Reformation Martyrs, 1555:
When Henry VIII of England died, he left three heirs: his son
Edward and his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Edward succeeded
to the throne and was a staunch Protestant (or at least his advisors
were). Under his rule, the church services, previously in Latin,
were translated into English, and other changes were made. When
Edward died, the throne passed to his sister Mary, who was firmly
Roman Catholic in her beliefs. She determined to return England to
union with the Pope. With more diplomacy, she might have succeeded.
But she was headstrong and would take no advice. Her mother had been
Spanish, and she determined to marry the heir to the throne of
Spain, not realizing how much her people (of all religious
persuasions) feared that this would make England a province of the
Spanish Empire. She insisted that the best way to deal with heresy
was to burn as many heretics as possible. (It is worth noting that
her husband was opposed to this.) In the course of a five-year
reign, she lost all the English holdings on the continent of Europe,
she lost the affection of her people, and she lost any chance of a
peaceful religious settlement in England. Of the two-hundred-plus
persons burned by her orders, the most famous are the Oxford
Martyrs, commemorated today.
Hugh Latimer was famous as a preacher. He was Bishop of Worcester
in the time of King Henry, but resigned in
protest against the King's refusal to allow the Protestant reforms
that Latimer desired. Latimer's sermons speak little of doctrine; he
preferred to urge men to upright living and devoutness in prayer.
But when Mary came to the throne, he was arrested, tried for heresy,
and burned together with his friend Nicholas Ridley. His last words
at the stake are well known: "Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and
play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England
as I trust by God's grace shall never be put out."
Nicholas Ridley became an adherent of the Protestant cause while a
student at Cambridge. He was a friend of Archbishop Cranmer and
became private chaplain first to Cranmer and then to King Henry.
Under the reign of Edward, he became bishop of Rochester, and was
part of the commitee that drew up the first English Book of Common
Prayer. When Mary came to the throne, he was arrested, tried, and
burned with Latimer at Oxford on 16 October 1555.
Latimer and Ridley, together with Thomas Cranmer (also burned at the
stake in Oxford), are commemorated in the Martyrs' Memorial outside
Balliol College, Oxford, designed by Gilbert Scott after the style of
the Eleanor Crosses. Around the corner a small cross in the middle of
Broad Street marks the site of their execution.
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