363. GEORGE EAGLES
The story and death of George Eagles, other termed Trudgeover, a most painful traveller in Christ's gospel, who, for the same gospel, most cruelly was martyred by the cruel papists.
Among other martyrs of singular virtue and constancy, one George Eagles deserveth not the least admiration, but is so much the more to be commended, for that he, having little learning or none, most manfully served and fought under the banner of Christ's church. For oftentimes the will and pleasure of God is, to beautify and adorn his kingdom with the weak and simple instruments of this world; such as, in the Old Testament, Amos was, who, with many others of obscure and unknown names, were called from the herds and folds to the honour of prophets; as likewise we read of the apostles, that were called from fishermen's craft, and put into churches. Wherefore this George Eagles is not to be neglected for his base occupation, whom Christ called thence to set forth and declare abroad his gospel. Rather we ought to glorify God the more thereby in his holiness, which in so blind a time inspired him with the gift of preaching, and constancy of suffering; who, after a certain time he had used the occupation of a tailor, being eloquent and of good utterance, gave and applied himself to the profit of Christ's church.
Which man, as before, in those most bright and clear days of King Edward the Sixth, he had not unfruitfully showed and preached the power and force of the Lord, so afterward, in the tempestuous time and fall of the church, (at what time the confessors of Christ and his gospel were turmoiled, divers of them murdered, part banished, and others constrained for fear not to show their heads,) he expressed and uttered his manly stomach. For he, wandering abroad into divers and far countries where he could find any of his brethren, did there most earnestly encourage and comfort them, now tarrying in this town, and sometime abiding in that, certain months together, as occasion served, lodging sometimes in the country, and sometimes, for fear, living in fields and woods, who, for his immoderate and unreasonable going abroad, was called Trudgeover. Oftentimes he did lie abroad in the night without covert, spending the most part thereof in devout and earnest prayer.
His diet was so above measure spare and slender, that for the space of three years, he used for the most part to drink nothing but very water, whereunto he was compelled through necessity of the time of persecution: and after, when he perceived that his body, by God's providence, proved well enough with this diet, he thought best to inure himself therewithal against all necessities.
Now when he had profited Christ's church in this sort, by going about and preaching the gospel a year or two, and especially in Colchester and the quarters thereabout, that privy enemy which envieth always the salvation and blessed estate of the good, lurked and laid wait by all means possible for him, so that there were divers spies sent out, who had in commandment, wheresoever they found him, to bring him either quick or dead.
But when this their attempt could not prevail, but all was in vain, (the said Eagles with his brethren keeping in close, and hiding themselves in out and dark places, as in barns, thickets, holes, and privy closets,) his adversaries went about another way to compass this their enterprise of taking him.
For in the queen's name a grievous edict was proclaimed throughout four shires, Essex, Suffolk, Kent, and Norfolk, promising the party that took him, twenty pounds for his pains; doubtless a worthy hire to entice any Jew to treachery. For being inflamed with greedy desire of the money, they devised and invented all ways and reasons they could possibly to be enriched with the hurt and destruction of this silly man.
At length it came to pass, that this George, being seen by chance at Colchester upon Mary Magdalene's day, at which time they kept a fair in the town, should have forthwith been delivered to his adversaries, if he, perceiving the same, (as God would have it,) had not conveyed himself away as fast as he could, a great multitude pursuing after, and seeking diligently for him: who first hid himself in a grove, and then from thence he stole into a corn-field there by, and so lay secretly couched from the violence of his enemies, insomuch as they were all, saving one, past hope of taking him, and therefore ready to depart their way. This one, having more subtlety and wicked craft in his head than the rest, would not depart thence with his fellows, but climbed up into a high tree, there to view and espy if he might see Eagles any where stir or move.
The poor man, thinking all sure enough by reason that he heard no noise abroad, rose up on his knees, and lifting up his hands, prayed unto God. And whether it were for that his head was above the corn, or because his voice was heard, the lurker, perceiving his desired prey that he hunted after, forthwith came down, and suddenly laying hands on him, brought him as prisoner to Colchester. Notwithstanding, the greedy and Judas knave, which had so much promised him, was fain to be contented with a very small reward, and glad to take that too, lest he should have had nothing at all.
This George Eagles, not without great lamentation of divers good men, and great lack unto the church of God, (of which to his power he was a worthy instrument,) was committed to prison there, and from thence within four days after conveyed to Chelmsford, where he abode all that night in devout prayer, and would not sleep, neither would eat or drink but bread and water. The next day he was carried to London to the bishop or the council, and there remained a certain time; and then was brought down to Chelmsford to the sessions, and there was indicted and accused of treason, because he had assembled companies together, contrary to the laws and statutes of the realm in that case provided. For so it was ordained a little before, to avoid sedition, that if men should flock secretly together above the number of six, they should be attached of treason: which strait law was the casting away of the good duke of Somerset before mentioned.
And albeit it was well known, that poor Eagles did never any thing seditiously against the queen, yet to cloak an honest matter withal, and to cause him to be the more hated of the people, they turned religion into a civil offence and crime; and though he defended his cause stoutly and boldly, making a full declaration of his religion or faith, before the judges, yet could he not bring it to pass by any means, but that he must needs be indicted (as is said) of treason; whose indictment did run much after this fashion:
"George Eagles, thou art indicted by the names of George Eagles, otherwise Trudgeover-the-World, for that thou didst such a day make thy prayer, that God should turn Queen Mary's heart, or else take her away."
He denied that he prayed that God should take her away, but he confessed, he prayed that God would turn her heart, in his prayer. Well, notwithstanding, he was condemned for a traitor, although the meaning thereof was for religion.
This thing done, he was carried to the new inn, called the sign of the Crown, in Chelmsford, by the beastly bailiffs, which (some of them) were they that before did their best to take him. And being in the inn, one Richard Potto the elder, an inn-holder, dwelling at the sign of the Cock in the same town, did much trouble him, in persuading him to confess he had offended the queen in his prayer, (which he was condemned for,) and to ask her forgiveness. To whom he said, he had not offended her Grace in that behalf.
So in process of time, he was laid upon a sledge, with a hurdle on it, and drawn to the place of execution, being fast bound, having in his hand a Psalmbook, of the which he read very devoutly all the way with a loud voice, till he came there. And being on the ladder, this foresaid Potto did much trouble him with the matter aforesaid, when he would have uttered other things, till such time as the sheriff commanded Potto to hold his peace, and trouble him no more: so he made his confession, and stood very constant still; then he was turned off the ladder.
With him were cast certain thieves also [the day before]; and [now] the next day, when they were brought out to be executed with him, there happened a thing that did much set forth and declare the innocency and godliness of this man. For being led between two thieves to the place where he should suffer, when as he exhorted both them and all others to stand stedfastly to the truth, one of these turned the counsel he gave into a jesting matter, and made but a flout at it. "Why should we doubt to obtain heaven," saith he, "forasmuch as this holy man shall go before us, as captain and leader unto us in the way. We shall flee thither straight, as soon as he hath once made us the entry."
In this, George Eagles and that other did greatly reprove him; who, on the other side, gave good heed to George's exhortation, earnestly bewailing his own wickedness, and calling to Christ for mercy. But the more that the first was bid to be still, and to leave off his scoffing, the more perverse he did continue in his foolishness, and his wicked behaviour.
At length he came to the gallows where they should be hanged, but George was carried to another place there by, to suffer. Between the two it was the godlier's chance to go the foremost, who being upon the ladder, after he had exhorted the people to beware and to take heed to themselves, how they did transgress the commandments of God, and then had committed his soul into God's hands, he ended his life after a godly and quiet manner. The mocker's turn cometh next, which would have said likewise somewhat, but his tongue did fumble and falter in his head, that he was not able to speak a word. Fain would he have uttered his mind, but he could not bring it out. Then did the under sheriff bid him say the Lord's Prayer, which he could not say neither, but stutteringly, as a man would say, one word to-day, and another to-morrow. Then one did begin to say it, and so bade him say after. Such as were there, and saw it, were very much astonished, especially those that did behold the just punishment of God against him that had mocked so earnest a matter.
George Eagles in the mean while, after he had hanged a small time, having a great check with the halter, immediately one of the bailiffs cut the halter asunder, and he fell to the ground being still alive, although much amazed with the check he had off the ladder. Then one William Swallow of Chelmsford, a bailiff, did draw him to the sled that he was drawn thither on, and laid his neck thereon, and with a cleaver (such as is occupied in many men's kitchens, and blunt) did hackle off his head, and sometimes hit his neck, and sometimes his chin, and did foully mangle him, and so opened him. Notwithstanding this blessed martyr of Christ abode constant in the very midst of his torments, till such time as this tormentor William Swallow did pluck the heart out of his body. The body being divided in four parts, and his bowels burnt, was brought to the foresaid Swallow's door, and there laid upon the fish-stalls before his door, till they had made ready a horse to carry his quarters, one to Colchester, and the rest to Harwich, Chelmsford, and St. Osyth's. His head was set up at Chelmsford on the market-cross, on a long pole, and there stood, till the wind did blow it down; and lying certain days in the street tumbled about, one caused it to be buried in the church-yard in the night.
Also a wonderful work of God was it that he showed on this wicked bailiff Swallow, who, within short space after this, was so punished, that all the hair went well near off his head; his eyes were as it were closed up, and could scantly see; the nails of his fingers and toes went clean off. He was in such case of his body, as though he had been a leper, and now in his last age almost a very beggar; and his wife, which he a little after married, God hath punished with the falling-sickness, or a disease like unto that: which may be a warning or glass for all men and women to look in, that be enemies to God's true servants.
No less token of his marvellous judgment did God show upon the foresaid Richard Potto, which did so much trouble this George Eagles in the inn, and at the place of execution, as is above specified. He lived till the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign, all which time he little joyed: and being on a time in a great chafe with two or three of his neighbours in his own house, feeling himself not well, he said to one of his servants, "Go with me into the chamber." And when he came there, he fell down on a low bed, as heavy as he had been lead, and lay there foaming at the mouth, and could never speak after, neither yet understand what was said to him, as by all means was tried by his neighbours with signs to him made, but lay as senseless as it had been a very dumb beast, and within three or four days died. God grant that this token, sent of God, with many more like, may be a warning to us ever hereafter while we shall live, unto the world's end!
Thus the godly and blessed man, more worthy of heaven than earth, suffered great extremity after a most unworthy manner, being counted but as an outcast of the world, yet, at the hands of Christ and his church, a most worthy martyr; whose remembrance shall shine so freshly among posterity, that it shall never decay while the world standeth. Besides that, God hath wonderfully declared his just judgment upon that man that did first betray him. His name was Rafe Lardin, dwelling in the town of Colchester; who, in the year of our Lord 1561, was attached of felony and brought to the sessions at Chelmsford, and there condemned to be hanged. Being at the bar, he said these words before the judges there, and a great multitude of people: "This is most justly fallen upon me," saith he, "for that I betrayed the innocent blood of a good and just man, George Eagles; who was here condemned in the time of Queen Mary's reign, through my procurement, who sold his blood for a little money." By this all persecutors may learn to beware how they seek the life of any simple man that professeth the truth, lest God show his displeasure against them likewise, and measure to them as they have measured to others before.
Besides this, God hath wonderfully showed his work: for at a time when they laid great wait for this George Eagles, so that it was thought that it was impossible but that he should be taken, being so beset, his friends did put him into apprentice-apparel, viz. watchet-hose, (as there manner is,) and an old cloak, and set him on a pack of wool, as though he had ridden to carry wool to the spinners. So he rode amongst the midst of his adversaries, and escaped them all for that time.
Another troubler of the said George Eagles was also Justice Brown, who enjoyed not his cruelty many years after, &c. Also when he was at the sessions at Chelmsford, there was a rumour raised, that he had accused divers honest men that did keep him in their houses, and was conversant with him; and all to discredit him: which rumour was very false and utterly untrue.-- Witness one Reynold, with divers others dwelling in Chelmsford.
One Frier, and a certain godly woman, burnt at Rochester, who was the sister of George Eagles.
About the same time and month, one named Frier, with a woman accompanying him, who was the sister of George Eagles, in the like cause of righteousness, suffered the like martyrdom by the unrighteous papists, whose tyranny the Lord of his mercy abate and cut short, turning that wicked generation, if it be his will, to a better mind.