Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 365. JOYCE LEWES.

365. JOYCE LEWES.

 

The apprehension and death of Mistress Joyce Lewes, the wife of Thomas Lewes, of Mancetter, most constantly suffering for God's word at Lichfield.

Illustration -- The sumner forced to eat his citation of Mary Lewes

 

            Mistress Joyce Lewes, a gentlewoman born, was delicately brought up in the pleasures of the world, having delight in gay apparel, and such-like foolishness, with the which follies the most part of the gentlefolks of England were then, and are yet, infected; who was married first to one called Appleby, and afterward to one Thomas Lewes of Mancetter. In the beginning of Queen Mary's time she went to the church and heard mass as others did, but when she heard of the burning of that most godly and learned martyr, Laurence Saunders, who suffered in Coventry, she began to take more heed to the matter, and inquired earnestly, of such as she knew feared God, the cause of his death. And when she perceived it was because he refused to receive the mass, she began to be troubled in conscience, and waxed very unquiet. And because her house was even hard by Master John Glover's house, of whom mention was made before, (a man of blessed memory, and a singular example, for his unfeigned godliness and manifold troubles which he suffered for the gospel,) she did oftentimes resort to him, and desired him to tell her the faults that were in the mass, and other things that at that time were urged as necessary to salvation.

            Now he, perceiving both her unquiet mind, and also the desire she had to know the truth, did most diligently instruct her in the ways of the Lord, approving unto her, out of God's holy word, that the mass, with all other papistical inventions, was odious in God's sight; and besides this, reproved her, for that she delighted in the vanities of this world so much. By the which godly counsel given by him, it happened that she began to wax weary of the world, thoroughly sorrowful for her sins, being inflamed with the love of God, desirous to serve him according to his word, purposing also to flee from those things the which did displease the Lord her God. And because she had learned the mass to be evil and abominable, she began to hate it. And when at a time she was compelled by the furiousness of her husband to come to the church, at the same time when the holy water was cast, she turned her back towards it, and showed herself to be displeased with their blasphemous holy water, injurious to the blood of Christ. Whereupon she was accused before the bishop for the despising of their sacramentals.

            Immediately a citation was sent for her to her husband's house, to appear before the bishop incontinently. The sumner that brought the citation, delivered it to her husband, who, looking upon it, and perceiving what it was, was moved with anger, willing the sumner to take the citation with him again, or else he would make him to eat it. The sumner refused to take it again, for he thought no man durst have been so bold to trouble him: but in the end Lewes compelled the said sumner to eat the citation indeed, by setting a dagger to his heart; and when he had eaten it, he caused him to drink to it, and so sent him away. But immediately after, the said Lewes with his wife were commanded to appear before the bishop, where the said Lewes by and by submitted himself, and, desiring the bishop to be good to him, excused himself after the best fashion he could. Whereupon the bishop was content to receive his submission, with condition that his wife should submit herself also. But she stoutly told the bishop, that by refusing of the holy water, she had neither offended God, nor any part of his laws. At the which words the bishop being grievously offended, yet because she was a gentlewoman, and he would not take her at the worst, (as he said,) he gave her one month's respite, binding her husband in a hundred pounds, to bring her again unto him at the month's end: and so they were both let go.

            When they came to their own house, the said Mistress Joyce Lewes gave herself to most diligent prayer, and invocating of the name of God, resorting continually to the abovenamed man of God, Master John Glover, who did most diligently instruct her with God's word, willing her in any case not to meddle with that matter in respect of vainglory, or to get herself a name, showing her the great dangers she was like to cast herself in, if she should meddle in God's matters otherwise than Christ doth teach.

            When the month was now almost expired, and the time at hand that she should be brought before the said bishop, her husband being advertised by the said Master John Glover and others not to carry her to the bishop, but to seek some ways to save her, or, if the worst should come, to be content to forfeit so much money, rather than to cast his own wife into the fire; he answered, he would not lose or forfeit any thing for her sake. And so, like a murderer of his own wife, he carried her to the bloody bishop, where she was examined, and found more stout than she was before death was threatened. And to begin withal, she was sent to such a stinking prison, that a certain maid which was appointed to keep her company, did swoon in the same prison.

            Being thus kept in prison, and oftentimes examined, and ever found stout, at the length she was brought in judgment, and pronounced a heretic worthy to be burnt. When the bishop reasoned with her, why she could not come to the mass, and receive the sacraments and sacramentals of the holy church: she answered, "Because I find not these things in God's word, which you so urge and magnify as things most needful for men's salvation. If these things were in the same word of God commanded, I would with all my heart receive, esteem, and believe them." The bishop answered, "If thou wilt believe no more than is in the Scripture, concerning matters of religion, thou art in a damnable case." At which words she was wonderfully amazed, and being moved by the Spirit of God, told the bishop that his words were ungodly and wicked.

            After her condemnation, she continued a whole twelvemonth in prison, because she was committed to the sheriff that was of late chosen, who could not be compelled to put her to death in his time, as he affirmed: for the which thing, after her death, he was sore troubled, and in danger of his life. All that time she was in prison, her behaviour was such both in words and deeds, that all they that had any spark of godliness or civil honesty, did greatly lament her case, that she should be put to death.

            Now when the time did draw near the which God had appointed for her deliverance, the writ de comburendo (as they term it) being brought down from London, she desired certain of her friends to came to her, with whom, when they came, she consulted how she might behave herself, that her death might be more glorious to the name of God, comfortable to his people, and also most discomfortable unto the enemies of God. "As for death," said she, "I do not greatly pass. When I behold the amiable countenance of Christ, my dear Saviour, the uglisome face of death doth not greatly trouble me." In the which time also she reasoned most comfortably out of God's word, of God's election and reprobation.

            In the evening, before the day of her suffering, two of the priests of the close of Lichfield came to the under-sheriff's house where she lay, and sent word to her by the sheriff, that they were come to hear her confession: for they would be sorry she should die without. She sent them word again, she had made her confession to Christ her Saviour, at whose hands she was sure to have forgiveness of her sins. As concerning the cause for the which she should die, she had no cause to confess that, but rather to give unto God most humble praise, that he did make her worthy to suffer death for his word: and as concerning that absolution that they were able to give unto her, being authorized by the pope, she did defy the same, even from the bottom of her heart. The which thing when the priests heard, they said to the sheriff,  "Well, to-morrow her stoutness will be proved and tried: for although perhaps she hath now some friends that whisper her in her ears, to-morrow we will see who dare be so hardy as to come near her." And so they went their ways with anger, that their confession and absolution was nought set by.

            All that night she was wonderfully cheerful and merry, with a certain gravity, insomuch that the majesty of the Spirit of God did manifestly appear in her, who did expel the fear of death out of her heart; spending the time in prayer, reading, and talking with them that were purposely come unto her, to comfort her with the word of God.

            About three of the clock in the morning, Satan (who never sleepeth, especially when death is at hand) began to stir himself busily, shooting at her that fiery dart, the which he is wont to do against all that are at defiance with him, questioning with her, how she could tell that she was chosen to eternal life, and that Christ died for her: "I grant that he died: but that he died for thee how canst thou tell?" With this suggestion when she was troubled, they that were about her did counsel her to follow the example of Paul, where he saith, which hath loved me, and given himself for me. Also that her vocation and calling to the knowledge of God's word was a manifest token of God's love towards her, especially that same Holy Spirit of God working in her heart that love and desire towards God to please him, and to be justified by him through Christ, &c. By these and like persuasions, and especially by the comfortable promises of Christ, brought out of the Scripture, Satan was put to flight, and she comforted in Christ.

            About eight of the clock, Master Sheriff came to her into her chamber, saying these words, "Mistress Lewes, I am come to bring you tidings of the queen's pleasure, the which is, that you shall live no longer but one hour in this world: therefore prepare yourself thereunto, it standeth you in hand." At which words, being so grossly uttered, and so suddenly by such an officer as he was, she was somewhat abashed. Wherefore one of her friends and acquaintance standing by, said these words, "Mistress Lewes, you have great cause to praise God, who will vouchsafe so speedily to take you out of this world, and make you worthy to be a witness of his truth, and to bear record unto Christ, that he is the only Saviour."

            After the which words spoken thus, she said, "Master Sheriff, your message is welcome to me, and I thank my God, that he will make me worthy to adventure my life in his quarrel." And thus Master Sheriff departed. And within the space of one hour he came again, cum gladiis et fustibus; and when he came up into the chamber, one of her friends desired him to give him leave to go with her to the stake, and to comfort her, the which the sheriff granted at that time; but afterwards he was sore troubled for the same, when she was dead.

            Now when she was brought through the town with a number of bill-men, a great multitude of people being present, she, being led by two of her friends, (which were Master Michael Reniger, and Master Augustine Bernher, [see note 1 below]) she was brought to the place of execution. And because the place was far off, and the throng of the people great, and she not acquainted with the fresh air, (being so long in prison,) one of her friends sent a messenger to the sheriff's house for some drink; and after she had prayed three several times, in the which prayer she desired God most instantly to abolish the idolatrous mass, and to deliver this realm from papistry; (at the end of which prayers the most part of the people cried, Amen; yea, even the sheriff that stood hard by her, ready to cast her in the fire for not allowing the mass, at this her prayer said with the rest of the people, Amen;) when, she had thus prayed, she took the cup into her hands, saying, "I drink to all them that unfeignedly love the gospel of Jesus Christ, and wish for the abolishment of papistry." When she had drunk, they that were her friends drank also. After that a great number, specially the women of that town, did drink with her; which afterward were put to open penance in the church by the cruel papists, for drinking with her.

            When she was tied to the stake with a chain, she showed such a cheerfulness that it passed man's reason, being so well coloured in her face, and being so patient, that the most part of them that had honest hearts did lament, and even with tears bewail the tyranny of the papists. When the fire was set upon her, she neither struggled nor stirred, but only lifted up her hands towards heaven, being dead very speedily: for the under-sheriff at the request of her friends had provided such stuff, by the which she was suddenly despatched out of this miserable world.

            This amongst other things may not be forgotten, that the papists had appointed some to rail upon her openly, and to revile her, both as she went to the place of execution, and also when she was at the stake. Amongst others there was an old priest, which had a pair of writing-tables, to note both the names of the women that drank of her cup, (as before you heard,) and also described her friends by their apparel, for presently he could not learn their names, and afterwards inquired for their names. And so, immediately after, process was sent out for them, both to Coventry and other places. But God, whose providence sleeps not, did defend them from the hands of these cruel tyrants. Unto the which God, with the Son and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory forever. Amen. [see note 2]

 

Note 1: "Augustine Bernher -- that faithful friend was to both our martyrs 'their companion in tribulation;' and had the boldness to be present when they suffered.

            "Of such a man, it is to be regretted that we know so little. He was a Swiss; and, from being an attendant on his venerable and aged master, Bishop. Latimer, became a minister of Christ, and was a preacher of the gospel in the reigns of Edward VI., Queen Mary, and Elizabeth. Between Bishop Latimer and his pious and faithful Swiss there subsisted an affectionate familiarity;-- a circumstance not unfrequent in those days of primitive simplicity. To Bishop Latimer, Augustine Bernher was 'above a servant -- a brother beloved;' and the more intimate and unreserved their intercourse, the greater was Bernher's veneration for one, whom he calls 'my most dear master.' How, indeed, could Bernher otherwise regard such a man, than with feelings of the deepest veneration and pious regard, whom he styles 'a holy man of God,' and 'a faithful servant of God?' These were the sacred characters in which he delighted to contemplate his 'most dear master,' and in which he himself desired to be like him. It is Augustine Bernher who has recorded his aged master's long continuance in prayer, when his outward man was so decayed that he had not power of himself to rise again from his bended knees. It is he who has told us, also, what was the grand subject-matter of his prayers, when, on the death of Edward and the accession of Mary, he saw popery rising again in all its subtlety and power. He tells us, his constant prayer was 'for the speedy re-establishment of the protestant religion;' for which, as he often wished he might, 'he shed his heart's blood.' How soon the prayers of this apostolic man were answered, both in the circumstances of his death and in the accession of Elizabeth, it is unnecessary to remind our readers.

            "During the Marian persecution, the principal refuge of Augustine Bernher was at Baxterley, an obscure village in this county, about four miles from Mancetter. He was, however, for a while, during the height of that fierce persecution, the minister of a congregation in London, which assembled privately, first in one secret place, and then another; and not unfrequently, for their greater security, on board some vessel on the Thames. Of this little flock, some were apprehended and burnt; and, among others, one of their ministers, John Rough. This eminent minister, as he once returned from the spectacle of a martyrdom, said to a friend, he had been to learn the way.' After he had entered heaven by that fiery way, every step of which he was so soon called to tread, Augustine Bernher became, in those perilous times, the minister of his congregation."

 

Note 2: Of  Mrs. Lewes and her martyrdom the writer had never heard, until, to his surprise, he met with an account of her sufferings in Fox's Martyrology; and was delighted to find that two of the noble army of martyrs' had been enrolled from his own village;-- an honour far surpassing that for which it is chiefly renowned, as the Manduessedum of the Romans.

 

'Their blood is shed
In confirmation of the noblest claim,--
Our claim to feed upon immortal truth;
To walk with God; to be divinely free;
To soar, and to anticipate the skies:
Yet few remember them!'

            "Mr. Thomas Lewes, her husband, and his family, from about the year 1547 to 1625, possessed the estate, and that portion of the manor, which is now the property of T. C. Hincks, Esq.; and there is no doubt that the house, in which Mrs. Lewes lived, was nearly in the same situation as that which is now in the occupation of Mr. Charles Weetman; for, besides some traces of it, which remain unto this day, the historian says, 'It was even hard by Mr. John Glover's;' which enabled her to hold frequent conversations with him on religious subjects." -- Rev. B. Richings, A. M., vicar of Mancetter.

 

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