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Foxe's Book of Martyrs

The Life and Martyrdom of Dr. Rowland Taylord, Who Suffered For The Truth of God's Word, Under the Tyranny of the Roman Bishops, the 9th Day of February, 1555.

The town of Hadley was one of the first that received the word of God in all England, at the preaching of Thomas Bilney; by whose industry the gospel of Christ had such gracious success, and took such root there, that a great number became exceedingly learned in the holy Scriptures, as well women as men. Of this parish Dr. Rowland Taylor was vicar, being doctor both in the civil and canon laws, and a right perfect divine. In addition to eminent learning, his known attachment to the pure principles of christianity recommended him to the favour and friendship of Cranmer, with whom he lived, till through his interest he obtained the vicarage of Hadley. This charge he attended with the utmost diligence, recommending and enforcing the doctrines of the gospel, not only by his judicious discourses from the pulpit, but also by the whole tenor of his life and conversation.

Dr. Taylor continued promoting the interest of the great Redeemer, and the souls of mankind, both by his preaching and example during the reign of king Edward; but on his demise, and on the succession of Mary to the throne, he could not escape the cloud that burst on the protestant community. Two of his parishioners, Foster an attorney, and Clark a tradesman, out of blind zeal, resolved that mass should be celebrated in all its superstitious forms, in the parish church at Hadley, on the Monday before Easter. They had even caused an altar to be built in the chancel for that purpose, which being pulled down by the protestant inhabitants, they erected another, and prevailed with the minister of an adjacent parish to celebrate mass in the passion-week. Taylor being employed in his study, was alarmed by the ringing of bells at an unusual time, and went to the church to inquire the cause. He found the great doors fast, but lifting up the latch of the chancel door, he entered, and was surprised to see a priest in his habit prepared to celebrate mass, and guarded by a party of men under arms, to prevent interruption.

Being vicar of the parish, he demanded of the priest the cause of such proceeding without his knowledge or consent; and how he dared profane the temple of God with abominable idolatries. Foster, the lawyer, insolently replied--"Thou traitor, how darest thou to intercept the execution of the queen's orders?" but the doctor undauntedly denied the charge of traitor, and asserted his mission as a minister of Christ, and delegation to that part of his flock, commanding the priest as a wolf in sheep's clothing to depart, nor infect the pure church of God with popish idolatry. A violent altercation then ensued, between Foster and Dr. Taylor, the former asserting the queen's prerogative, and the other the authority of the canon-law, which commanded that no mass be said but at a consecrated altar. Meanwhile the priest, intimidated by the intrepid behaviour of the protestant minister, would have departed without saying mass but Clark said to him, "Fear not, you have a super altare," which is a consecrated stone, commonly about a foot square, which the popish priests carry instead of an altar, when they say mass in gentlemen's houses. Clark then ordered him to proceed in his present duty. They then forced the doctor out of the church, celebrated mass, and immediately informed the bishop of Winchester of his behaviour, who summoned him to appear and answer the complaints alleged against him.

Dr. Taylor upon receipt of the summons cheerfully prepared to obey the same: and on some of his friends advising him to fly beyond sea, in order to avoid the cruelty of his inveterate enemies, he told them that he was determined to go to the bishop, and he accordingly repaired to London and waited on him. As soon as Gardiner saw him, according to his common custom he reviled him calling him knave, traitor heretic, with many other villanous reproaches, which Taylor, having patiently heard for some time, at last answered thus without fear or impropriety--"My lord, I am neither traitor nor heretic, but a true subject, and a faithful christian, and am according to your commandment, to know the cause of your lordship's sending for me."

"Art thou come, thou villain?" said the violent Gardiner; "how darest thou look me in the face for shame? Knowest thou not who I am?" "Yes," said Dr. Taylor, "I know who you are, Dr. Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, and lord chancellor, and yet but a mortal man. But if I should be afraid of your lordly looks, why fear you not God, the Lord of us all? How dare you for shame look any christian in the face, seeing you have forsaken the truth, denied our Saviour Christ and his word, and done contrary to your own oath and writing? With what countenance will you appear before the judgement seat of Christ, and answer to your oath made first unto king Henry, and afterwards unto Edward, his son?"

The bishop answered, "That was Herod's oath, unlawful; and therefore worthy to be broken, I have done well in breaking it; and I thank God I am come home again to our mother, the catholic church of Rome and so I would thou shouldest do. Our holy father the pope hath discharged me of it." Then said Dr. Taylor, "But you shall not be so discharged before Christ, who doubtless will require it at your hands, as a lawful oath made to our liege and sovereign lord the king, from whose obedience no man can quit you, neither the pope nor any of his." "I see," quoth the bishop, "thou art an arrogant knave and a very fool." "My lord," saith Dr. Taylor, "I am a Christian man; and you know that 'he that saith to this brother, Raca, is in danger of a council: and he that saith, Thou fool, is in danger of hell fire.'" The bishop answered, "Ye are false and lairs, all the sort of you." "Nay," quoth Dr. Taylor, "we are true men, and know that it is written, 'The mouth that lieth, slayeth the soul.' And therefore we abide by God's word, which ye deny and forsake."

"Thou has resisted the queen's proceedings," Said Gardiner, "and would not suffer the parson of Aldham, (a very virtuous and devout priest,) to say mass in Hadley." Dr. Taylor answered, "My lord, I am parson of Hadley; and it is against all right, conscience, and laws, that any man should come into my charge, and presume to infect the flock committed unto me with the venom of the popish idolatrous mass." With that the bishop waxed very angry, and said, "Thou art a blasphemous heretic indeed, that blasphemest the blessed sacrament, (And put off his cap,) and speakest against the holy mass, which is made a sacrifice for the quick and the dead." Dr. Taylor answered, "Nay, I blaspheme not the blessed sacrament which Christ instituted, but I reverence it as a Christian man ought to do; and confess that Christ ordained the holy communion in the remembrance of his death and passion.--Christ gave himself to die for our redemption upon the cross, whose body there offered was the propitiatory sacrifice, full, perfect, and sufficient unto salvation for all them that believe in him. And this sacrifice did our Saviour Christ offer in his own person himself once for all, neither can any priest any more offer him, nor we need any more sacrifice."

Then the bishop called his men, and said, "Have this fellow to the King's Bench, and charge that he be straitly kept." Then Taylor knelt, and held up both his hands and said, "Good Lord, I thank thee! and from the tyranny of the bishop of Rome, and all his detestable errors, idolatries, and abominations, good Lord deliver us! and God be praised for good king Edward." They carried him to prison to the King's Bench, where he was confined almost two years. Of course Gardiner's command for strict confinement was obeyed. These several particulars are mentioned in a letter that Dr. Taylor wrote to a friend of his, thanking God for his grace, at the same time that he had confessed his truth, and was found worthy for truth to suffer prison and bonds, beseeching his friends to pray for him, that he might persevere constant unto the end.

In January, 1555, Dr. Taylor, Mr. Bradford, and Mr. Saunders, were again called to appear before the bishops of Winchester, Norwich, London, Salisbury, and Durham, and being again charged with heresy and schism, a determinate answer was required, whether they would submit themselves to the Roman bishop, and abjure their errors, or hear their condemnation. Dr. Taylor and his fellows answered stoutly and boldly, that they would not depart from the truth which they had preached in king Edward's days, neither would they submit to the Romish Antichrist; but they thanked God for so great mercy, that he would call them to be worthy to suffer for his word. When the bishops saw them so boldly, constantly, and unmovably fixed in the truth, they read the sentence of death upon them, which when they heard they most joyfully gave God thanks, and stoutly said unto the bishops, "We doubt not, but God the righteous judge will require our blood at your hands; and the proudest of you all shall repent this receiving again of Antichrist, and your tyranny that ye now show against the flock of Christ."

When Dr. Taylor had lain in the Compter in the Poultry about a week, on Feb. 4, 1555, bishop Bonner, with others, came to degrade him, bringing with them such ornaments as do appertain to their massing-mummery. He called for Taylor to be brought unto him; the bishop being then in the chamber where the keeper of the Compter and his wife lay. Dr. Taylor was accordingly brought down from the chamber to Bonner. "I wish you would remember yourself, and turn to your holy mother church, so may you do well enough, and I will sue for your pardon," said Bonner. Dr. Taylor answered--"I wish that you and your fellows would turn to Christ. As for me, I will not turn to antichrist." Said the bishop, "I am come to degrade you: wherefore put on these vestures." Dr. Taylor said resolutely, "I will not." "Wilt thou not? I shall make thee, ere I go," replied Bonner. "You shall not, by the grace of God," said Taylor. Again Bonner charged him upon his obedience to do it, but he would not. Upon this he ordered another to put them upon his back; and being thoroughly furnished therewith, he set his hands to his side, walking up and down, and said--"How say you, my lord, am not I a goodly fool? How say you, my masters, if I were in Cheapside, should I not have boys to laugh at these apish toys and trumpery?" At this Bonner was so enraged, that he would have given Dr. Taylor a stroke on the breast with his crosier-staff, when his chaplain said--"My lord, strike him not, for he will certainly strike again." The bishop then laid his curse upon him, but struck him not. Dr. Taylor said, "Though you curse me, yet God doth bless me."

The night after his degradation, his wife, his son, and his servant, came to him, and were, by the keepers, permitted to sup with him: at their coming, they kneeled down and prayed. After supper, walking up and down, he gave God thanks for his grace that had so called him, and given him strength to abide by his holy word; and turning to his son he said--"My dear son, Almighty God bless thee, and give thee his Holy Spirit, to be a true servant of Christ, to learn his word, and constantly to stand by his truth all thy life long: and see that thou fear God always. Flee from all sin and wicked living: be virtuous, serve God with daily prayer, and apply to the holy book. In any wise see that thou be obedient to thy mother, love her and serve her; be ruled by her now in thy youth, and follow her good counsel in all things. Beware of the lewd company of young men that fear not God, but who follow their lusts and vain appetites. Fly from whoredom, and hate all filthy living, remembering that I, thy father, die in the defence of holy marriage. Another day, when God shall bless thee, love and cherish the poor people, and count that thy chief riches is to be rich in alms; and when thy mother is waxed old, forsake her not; but provide for her to thy power, and see that she lack nothing: for so will God bless thee, and give thee long life upon earth and prosperity, which I pray God to grant thee." And then turning to his wife, he said--"My dear wife, continue stedfast in the fear and love of god: keep yourself undefiled from popish idolatires and superstition. I have been unto you a faithful yoke-fellow, and so have you to me, for which I pray God to reward you, and doubt not but he will reward it. Now the time is come that I shall be taken from you, and you discharged of the wedlock bond towards me; therefore I will give you the counsel which I think most expedient for you. You are yet a child-bearing woman, and therefore it will be most convenient for you to marry."

On the following morning the sheriff of London with his officers, came by two o'clock, and brought him forth, and without any light led him to the Woolpack, an inn without Aldgate. Mrs. Taylor, suspecting that her husband would that night be carried away, watched all night in St. Botholph's church porch, without Aldgate, having with her two children, the one named Elizabeth, an orphan, whom the doctor had adopted at three years old; the other named Mary, his own daughter. When the sheriff and his company came against St. Botolph's church, the grateful little Elizabeth cried--"O my dear father! mother, mother, here is my father led away!" "Rowland," said his wife, "where art thou?" for it was so dark a morning, that the one could not see the other. "Dear wife, I am here," said the doctor, and stopped. The sheriff's men would have forced him on; but the sheriff said--"Stay a little, I pray you, and let him speak to his wife."

She then came to him, when he took his daughter Mary in his arms, while he, his wife, and Elizabeth, kneeled down and said the Lord's prayer. At which sight the sheriff wept much, as did several others of the company. The prayer finished, Taylor rose up and kissed his wife, and pressing her hand, he said--"Farewell, my dear wife, be of good comfort, for I am quiet in my conscience. God shall stir up a father for my children." And then he kissed his daughter Mary, and said, "God bless thee, and make thee his servant:" and kissing Elizabeth, he said, "God bless thee. I pray you all, stand strong and stedfast unto Christ and his word, and beware of idolatry." Then said his wife unto him, "God be with thee, my dear Rowland: I will, with God's grace, meet thee at Hadley."

He was then led on, while his wife followed him. As soon as he came to the Woolpack, he was put into a chamber, wherein he was kept with four yeoman of the guard, and the sheriff's men. As soon he entered the chamber, he fell on his knees, and gave himself wholly to prayer. The sheriff then seeing Mrs. Taylor there, would in no case grant her to speak any more with her husband, but gently desired her to go to his house, and use it as her own, promising her, that she should lack for nothing, and sending two officers to conduct her thither. Notwithstanding this, she desired to go to her mother's, whither the officers led her, and charged her mother to keep her there till they came again. Meanwhile the journey to Hadley was delayed. Dr. Taylor was confined at the Woolpack by the sheriff and his company, till eleven o'clock, by which time the sheriff of Essex was ready to receive him; when they sat him on horseback within the inn, the gates being shut.

On coming out of the gates his servant John Hull stood at the rails with young Taylor. When the doctor saw them,. he called them saying--"Come hither, my son Thomas." John Hull lifted the child up, and set him on the horse before his father; who then put off his hat, and said to the people--"Good people, this is mine own son, begotten in lawful matrimony: and God be blessed for lawful matrimony." Then he lifted up his eyes towards heaven and prayed for his child, placing his hat upon his head. After blessing him, he delivered him to his faithful servant, whom he took by the hand and said--"Farewell, John Hull, the most faithful servant ever man had." After this they rode forth, the sheriff of Essex, and four yeomen of the guard, and the sheriff's men leading them.

When they were come almost to Brentwood, one Arthur Faysie, a man of Hadley, who formerly had been Dr. Taylord's servant, met with them, and he, supposing him to have been at liberty, said--"Master, I am glad to see you again at liberty," and took him by the hand. "Sir," returned the sheriff, "he is a prisoner; what hast thou to do with him?" "I cry your mercy," said Arthur, "I knew not so much, and I thought it no offence to talk to a true man." The sheriff was very angry with this, and threatened to carry Arthur with him to prison; notwithstanding he bid him get quickly away. And so they rode forth to Brentwood, where they caused to be made for Dr. Taylor a close hood. This they did, that no man should know him, nor he to speak to any man; which practice they used also with others.

All the way, Dr. Taylor was joyful and merry, as one that accounted himself going to a most pleasant banquet or bridal. He spake many notable things to the sheriff and yeomen of the guard that conducted him, and often moved them to weep through his much earnest calling upon them to repent, and turn to the true religion. Of these yeomen of the guard three used him very tenderly, but the fourth, named Holmes, treated him most unkindly. The party supped and slept at Chelmsford. At supper the sheriff earnestly besought him to return to the popish religion, thinking with fair words to persuade him, and said--"Good Doctor, we are sorry for you, considering the loss of such a man as you. You would do much better to revoke your opinions, and return to the catholic church of Rome, acknowledge the pope's holiness to be the supreme head of the church, and reconcile yourselves to him. You may do well yet if you will: doubt not but you shall find favour at the queen's hands. I and all these your friends will be suitors for your pardon; this council I give you, Doctor, of a good heart and will towards you: and therefore I drink to you." In this joined all the rest.

When the cup was handed to him, he staid a little, as one studying what answer he might give. At last he said--"Mr. Sheriff, and my masters all, I heartily thank you for your good will; I have attended to your words, and marked well your counsels. And to be plain with you, I find that I have been deceived myself, and am like to deceive a great many of Hadley of their expectation." With that word they all rejoiced. "Yes, Doctor," said the sheriff, "God's blessing on your heart; hold you there still. It is the most comfortable word we have heard you speak yet." The cheerful man then explained himself, "I will tell you how I have been deceived, and, as I think, I shall deceive a great many. I am, as you see, a man of a very large body, which I thought should have been buried in Hadley church-yard, had I died as I hoped I should have done; but herein I was deceived; and there are a great number of worms in Hadley church yard, which would have had merry feeding upon me; but now I know we shall be deceived, both I and they; for this carcass must be burned to ashes, and they shall lose their feast." When the sheriff and his company heard him say so, they were amazed, and looking one on another, marvelled at his constant mind, that thus without fear he could speak of the torment and death now prepared for him.

At Chelmsford he was delivered to the sheriff of Suffolk, and by him conducted to Hadley. On their arrival at Lavenham, the sheriff staid there two days; and thither came to him a great number of gentlemen and justices, who were appointed to aid him. These endeavoured very much to reduce the Doctor to the Romish religion, promising him his pardon, which they said they had for him. They also promised him great promotions, even a bishopric if he would take it: but all their labour and flattery were in vain.

When they came to Hadley, and were passing the bridge, there waited a poor man with five children; who when they saw Dr. Taylor, fell down upon their knees, and holding up their hands, cried with a loud voice--"O dear father and good shepherd! God help and succour thee as thou hast many a time succoured us!" Such witness had the servant of God of his virtuous and charitable life. The streets of Hadley were crowded with men and women of the town and country, who waited to see him; and in beholding him led to death, with weeping eyes and lamenting voices they cried on to another--"Ah, good Lord! there goeth our good shepherd from us, who so faithfully hath taught us, so fatherly hath cared for us, and so godly hath governed us! Good Lord, strengthen and comfort him." Arriving over against the alms-houses, which he well knew, he cast money to the poor people, that remained out of what had been given him in the time of his imprisonment. His living of Hadley they took from him at his first going to prison, so that he was sustained by the charitable alms of good people that visited him.

At the last, coming to Aldham-common, and seeing a great multitude, he asked, "What place is this, and what meaneth it that so much people are gathered hither?" It was answered, "It is Aldham-common, the place where you must suffer; and the people are come to behold you." Then said he, "Thanked be God, I am even at home;" and so alighted from his horse, and with both his hands rent the hood from his head. When the people saw him, they cried, "God save thee, good Dr. Taylor! Jesus Christ strengthen thee and help thee; the Holy Ghost comfort thee:" with such other like godly wishes. Then desired Dr. Taylor license of the sheriff to speak; but he denied it him. Perceiving that he could not be suffered to speak, he sat down, and seeing one named Soyce, he called him, and said--"Soyce, I pray thee come and pull off my boots, and take them for thy labour: thou hast long looked for them, now take them." Then he rose up and put off his clothes unto his shirt, and gave them away. Which done, he said with a loud voice--"Good people, I have taught you nothing but God's holy word, and those lessons that I have taken out of God's blessed book, the Holy Bible: and I am come hither this day, to seal it with my blood."

On hearing his voice, the yeoman of the guard who had used him cruelly all the way, gave him a great stroke upon the head and said--"Is that keeping thy promise, thou heretic?" Then seeing they would not permit him to speak, he kneeled down and prayed, and a poor woman who was among the people stepped in and prayed with him: they endeavoured to thrust her away, and threatened to tread her down with their horses: notwithstanding this she would not remove, but abode and prayed with him. When he had finished his devotions, he went to the stake and kissed it, and set himself into a pitch barrel, which they had brought for him to stand in, and thus stood with his back upright against the stake, with his hands folded together, and his eyes towards heaven, and continually prayed. Then they bound a chain around him, and the sheriff called Richard Donningham, a butcher, and commanded him to set up the fagots; but the man refused, and said--"I am lame, sir, and not able to lift a fagot." The sheriff on this threatened to send him to prison; still he would not do it. The sheriff then compelled several worthless fellows of the multitude to set up the fagots and make the fire, which they most diligently did: and one of them cruelly cast a fagot at the martyr, which struck him on the face, and the blood ran down. He meekly said--"O friend, I have suffering enough, what needed that?"

Sir John Shelton standing by, as Dr. Taylor was speaking, and saying the psalm Miserere in English, struck him on the lips--'You knave," he said, "speak Latin, or I will make thee." At last they kindled the fire; when the martyr, holding up his hands, called upon God, and said, "Merciful Father of heaven, for Jesus Christ my Saviour's sake, receive my soul into thy hands." He then remained still without either crying or moving, with his hands folded together, till Soyce with an halberd struck him on the head so violently, that his brains fell out, and the dead corpse fell down into the fire. Thus rendered he his soul into the hands of his merciful Father, and to his most dear and certain Saviour Jesus Christ, whom he most entirely loved, faithfully and earnestly preached, obediently followed in living, and constantly glorified in death.

These severities were very hateful to the nation. It was observed that in king Edward's time, those that opposed the laws were only turned out of their benefices, and some few of them were imprisoned; but now men were put in prison on trifling pretences, and kept there till laws were made, by which they were condemned merely for their opinions, when they had acted nothing contrary to law. One piece of cruelty was remarkable--when the council sent away those who were to be burnt in the country, they threatened to cut out their tongues if they would not promise to make no speeches to the people; to which they, to avoid that butchery, consented. Those who loved the reformation were now possessed with great aversion to the popish party, and the body of the nation now detested this cruelty, and began to hate king Philip for it. Gardiner and the other counsellors had openly said, that the queen set them on to it, so that the blame of it was laid on the king, the sourness of whose temper, together with his bigotry in matters of religion, made it seem reasonable. He finding that this was likely to raise such prejudices against him as might probably spoil his design of making himself master of England, took care to vindicate himself. Accordingly his confessor, Alphonsus, a Franciscan, preached a sermon at court against taking people's lives for opinions in religion; and inveighed against the bishops for doing it; thus the blame of it was turned back on them, and this made them stop for some weeks; but at last they resolved rather to bear it avowedly, than not advance in their favourite career of blood!

At this time a petition was printed beyond sea, by which the reformers addressed themselves to the queen: they set before her the danger of being carried by a blind zeal to destroy the members of Christ, as St. Paul had done before his conversion: they reminded her of Cranmer's interposing to preserve her life in her father's time: they cited many passages out of the books of Gardiner, Bonner, and Tonstal, by which she might see that they were not actuated by true principles of conscience, but were turned as their fears or interests led them. They shewed her how contrary persecution was to the spirit of the gospel; that Christians tolerated Jews; and that Turks, notwithstanding the barbarity of their tempers, and the cruelty of their religion, yet tolerated Christians. They reminded her, that the first law for burning in England was made by Henry the IV. as a reward to the bishops who had helped him to depose Richard the II. and so to mount the throne. They represented to her, that God had trusted her with the sword, which she ought to employ for the protection of her people, and not to abandon them to the cruelty of wolves. The petition also appealed to the nobility and the rest of the nation, on the dangers of a Spanish yoke, and a bloody inquisition set before them. Upon this the popish authors wrote several books in justification of those proceedings. They observed that the Jews were commanded to put blasphemers to death; and said, the heretics blasphemed the body of Christ, and called it only a piece of bread. Various other pleas were set up, and the nation had bitter experience in the coming years of the vigilance and industry with which they were acted upon.