387. PREST'S WIFE, A GODLY POOR WOMAN WHICH SUFFERED AT EXETER.
Although in such an innumerable company of godly martyrs, which in sundry quarters of this realm were put to forments of fire in Queen Mary's time, it be hard so exactly to recite every particular person that suffered, but that some escape us, either unknown or omitted; yet I cannot pass over a certain poor woman, and a silly creature, burnt under the said queen's reign, in the city of Exeter, (whose name I have not yet learned,) who dwelling sometime about Cornwall, having a husband and children there much addicted to the superstitious sect of popery, was many times rebuked of them, and driven to go to the church, to their idols and ceremonies, to shrift, to follow the cross in procession, to give thanks to God for restoring antichrist again in this realm, &c.: which when her spirit could not abide to do, she made her prayer unto God, calling for help and mercy; and so, at length, lying in her bed, about midnight she thought there came to her a certain motion and feeling of singular comfort. Whereupon, in short space, she began to grow in contempt of her husband and children; and so taking nothing from them, but even as she went, departed from them, seeking her living by labour and spinning as well as she could, here and there for a time. In which time, notwithstanding, she never ceased to utter her mind as well as she durst; howbeit she at that time was brought home to her husband again, where at last she was accused by her neighbours, and so brought to Exeter, to be presented to the bishop and his clergy. The name of the bishop which had her in examination, was Dr. Turberville: his chancellor (as I gather) was Blackstone. The chiefest matter whereupon she was charged and condemned, was for the sacrament, (which they call of the altar,) and for speaking against idols, as by the declaration of those which were present, I understand, which report the talk between her and the bishop on this wise.
"Thou foolish woman," quoth the bishop, "I hear say, that thou hast spoken certain words against the most blessed sacrament of the altar, the body of Christ. Fie for shame! Thou art an unlearned person, and a woman. Wilt thou meddle with such high matters, which all the doctors of the world cannot define? Wilt thou talk of so high mysteries? Keep thy work, and meddle with that thou hast to do. It is no woman's matter, at cards and tow to be spoken of. And if it be as I am informed, thou art worthy to be burned."
"My Lord," said she, "I trust your Lordship will hear me speak." "Yea, marry," quoth he; "therefore I sent for thee."
Woman.--"I am a poor woman, and do live by my hands, getting a penny truly; and of that I get, I give part to the poor."
Bishop.--"That is well done. Art thou not a man's wife?" And here the bishop entered into talk of her husband. To whom she answered again, declaring that she had a husband and children; and had them not. So long as she was at liberty, she refused neither husband nor children: "But now, standing here as I do," said she, "in the cause of Christ and his truth, where I must either forsake Christ or my husband, I am contented to stick only to Christ my heavenly spouse, and renounce the other."
And here she, making mention of the words of Christ, "He that leaveth not father or mother, sister or brother, husband," &c., the bishop inferred, that Christ spake that of the holy martyrs, which died because they would not do sacrifice to the false gods.
Woman.--"Surely, sir, and I will rather die than I will do any worship to that foul idol, which with your mass you make a god."
Bishop.--"Yea, you callet, will you say that the sacrament of the altar is a foul idol?"
"Yea truly," quoth she, "there was never such an idol as your sacrament is made of your priests, and commanded to be worshipped of all men, with many fond fantasies; whereas Christ did command it to be eaten and drunken in remembrance of his most blessed passion for our redemption."
Bishop.--"See this prattling woman. Dost thou not hear, that Christ did say over the bread, This is my body, and over the cup, This is my blood?"
Woman.--"Yes, forsooth, he said so; but he meant that it is his body and blood, not carnally, but sacramentally."
Bishop.--"Lo, she hath heard prattling among these new preachers, or heard some peevish book. Alas, poor woman! thou art deceived."
Woman.--"No, my Lord, that I have learned was of godly preachers, and of godly books which I have heard read. And if you will give me leave, I will declare a reason, why I will not worship the sacrament."
Bishop.--"Marry, say on, I am sure it will be goodly gear."
Woman.--"Truly such gear, as I will lose this poor life of mine for."
Bishop.--"Then you will be a martyr, good wife."
Woman.--"Indeed, if the denying to worship that bready god be my martyrdom, I will suffer it with all my heart."
Bishop.--"Say thy mind."
"You must bear with me, a poor woman," quoth she.
"So I will," quoth he.
Woman.-- "I will demand of you, whether you can deny your creed, which doth say, that Christ perpetually doth sit at the right hand of his Father, both body and soul, until he come again; or whether he be there in heaven our advocate, and do make prayer for us unto God his Father? If it be so, he is not here in the earth, in a piece of bread. If he be not here, and if he do not dwell in temples made with hands, but in heaven, what, shall we seek him here? If he did offer his body once for all, why make you a new offering? If with once offering he made all perfect, why do you, with a false offering, make all unperfect? If he be to be worshipped in spirit and truth, why do you worship a piece of bread? If he be eaten and drunken in faith and truth; if his flesh be not profitable to be among us, why do you say, you make his body and flesh, and say it is profitable for body and soul? Alas! I am a poor woman, but rather than I would do as you do, I would live no longer. I have said, sir."
Bishop.--"I promise you, you are a jolly protestant! I pray you, in what schools have you been brought up?"
Woman.--"I have upon the Sundays visited the sermons; and there have I learned such things as are so fixed in my breast, that death shall not separate them."
Bishop.--"O foolish woman! who will waste his breath upon thee, or such as thou art? But how chanceth it that thou wentest away from thy husband? If thou wert an honest woman, thou wouldest not have left thy husband and children, and run about the country like a fugitive."
Woman.--"Sir, I laboured for my living; and, as my Master Christ counselleth me, when I was persecuted in one city, I fled into another."
Bishop.--"Who persecuted thee?"
Woman.--"My husband and my children. For when I would have them to leave idolatry, and to worship God in heaven, he would not hear me; but he with his children rebuked me, and troubled me. I fled not for whoredom, nor for theft; but because I would be no partaker with him and his of that foul idol the mass. And wheresoever I was, as oft as I could, upon Sundays and holy days, I made excuses not to go to the popish church."
Bishop.--"Belike then you are a good housewife, to fly from your husband, and also from the church."
Woman.--"My housewifery is but small; but God give me grace to go to the true church."
Bishop.--"The true church! what dost thou mean?"
Woman.--"Not your popish church, full of idols and abominations, but where two or three are gathered together in the name of God, to that church will I go, as long as I live."
Bishop.--"Belike then you have a church of your own. Well, let this mad woman be put down to prison, until we send for her husband."
Woman.--"No, I have but one husband, which is here already in this city and in prison with me, from whom I will never depart." And so their communication for that day brake off.
Blackstone and others persuaded the bishop that she was a mazed creature, and not in her perfect wit (which is no new thing, for the wisdom of God to appear foolishness to carnal men of this world); and therefore they consulted together, that she should have liberty, and go at large. So the keeper of the bishop's prison had her home to his house, where she fell to spinning and carding, and did all other work as a servant in the said keeper's house, and went about the city, when and whither she would, and divers had delight to talk with her. And ever she continued talking of the sacrament of the altar, which of all things they could least abide. Then was her husband sent for, but she refused to go home with him, with the blemish of the cause and religion, in defence whereof she there stood before the bishop and the priests.
Then divers of the priests had her in handling, persuading her to leave her wicked opinion about the sacrament of the altar, the natural body and blood of our Saviour Christ. But she made them answer, that it was nothing but very bread and wine, and that they might be ashamed to say, that a piece of bread should be turned by a man into the natural body of Christ, which bread doth waste, and mice oftentimes do eat it, and it doth mould, and is burned: "And," said she, "God's own body will not be so handled, nor kept in prison, or boxes. Let it be your god, it shall not be mine; for my Saviour sitteth on the right hand of God, and doth pray for me. And to make that sacramental or significative bread instituted for a remembrance, the very body of Christ, and to worship it, it is very foolishness and devilish deceit."
"Now truly," said they, "the devil hath deceived thee."
"No," said she, "I trust the living God hath opened mine eyes, and caused me to understand the right use of the blessed sacrament, which the true church doth use, but the false church doth abuse."
Then stept forth an old friar, and asked her what she said of the holy pope.
"I," said she, "say, that he is antichrist and the devil." Then they all laughed. "Nay," said she, "you have more need to weep than to laugh, and to be sorry that ever you were born, to be the chaplains of that whore of Babylon: I defy him and all his falsehood. And get you away from me: you do but trouble my conscience. You would have me follow your doings: I will first lose my life. I pray you depart."
"Why, thou foolish woman," said they, "we come to thee for thy profit and soul's health."
"O Lord God," said she, "what profit riseth by you that teach nothing but lies for truth? How save you souls, when you preach nothing but damnable lies, and destroy souls?"
"How provest thou that?" said they.
"Do you not damn souls," said she, "when you teach the people to worship idols, stocks and stones, the works of men's hands? and to worship a false god of your own making, of a piece of bread? and teach that the pope is God's vicar, and hath power to forgive sins? and that there is a purgatory, when God's Son hath by his passion purged all? and say, you make God, and sacrifice him, when Christ's body was a sacrifice once for all? Do you not teach the people to number their sins in your ears, and say, they be damned if they confess not all; when God's word saith, Who can number his sins? Do you not promise them trentals and diriges, and masses for souls, and sell your prayers for money, and make them buy pardons, and trust to such foolish inventions of your own imaginations? Do you not altogether against God? Do ye not teach us to pray upon beads, and to pray unto saints, and say they can pray for us? Do you not make holy water and holy bread to fray devils? Do you not a thousand more abominations? and yet you say, you come for my profit and to save my soul! No, no; one hath saved me. Farewell you with your salvation!"
Much other talk there was between her and them, which here were too tedious to be expressed.
In the mean time, during this her month's liberty granted to her by the bishop, which we spake of before, it happened that she, entering into St. Peter's church, beheld there a cunning Dutchman, how he made new noses to certain fine images which were disfigured in King Edward's time: "What a mad-man art thou," said she, "to make them new noses, which within a few days shall all lose their heads!" The Dutchman accused her, and laid it hard to her charge. And she said unto him, "Thou art accursed, and so are thy images." He called her "whore." "Nay," said she, "thy images are whores, and thou art a whore-hunter; for doth not God say, You go a whoring after strange gods, figures of your own making? And thou art one of them." Then was she sent for, and clapped fast; and from that time she had no more liberty.
During the time of her imprisonment, divers resorted to her to visit her, some sent of the bishop, some of their own voluntary will; amongst whom was one Daniel, a great doer and preacher sometime of the gospel, in the days of King Edward, in those parts of Cornwall and Devonshire: whom after that she perceived by his own confession to have revolted from that which he preached before, through the grievous imprisonments, as he said, and fear of persecution, which he had partly sustained by the cruel justices in those parts, earnestly she exhorted him to repent with Peter, and to be more constant in his profession.
Moreover, there resorted to her a certain worthy gentlewoman, the wife of one Walter Ralegh, a woman of noble wit, and of a good and godly opinion; who coming to the prison, and talking with her, she said her creed to the gentlewoman; and when she came to the article, "He ascended," there she stayed, and bade the gentlewoman to seek his blessed body in heaven, and not in earth; and told her plainly that God dwelleth not in temples made with hands; and that sacrament to be nothing else but a remembrance of his blessed passion; "and yet," said she, "as they now use it, it is but an idol, and far wide from any remembrance of Christ's body; which," said she, "will not long continue; and so take it, good mistress." So that as soon as she came home to her husband, she declared to him, that in her life she never heard a woman (of such simplicity to see to) talk so godly, so perfectly, so sincerely, and so earnestly; insomuch, that if God were not with her, she could not speak such things, "to the which I am not able to answer her," said she, "who can read, and she cannot."
Also there came to her one William Kede, and John his brother, not only brethren in the flesh, but also in the truth, and men in that country of great credit, whose father, R. Kede, all his life suffered nothing but trouble for the gospel. These two good and faithful brethren were present with her, both in the hall, and also at the prison, and (as they reported) they never heard the like woman, of so godly talk, so faithful or so constant; and such godly exhortations as she gave them.
Thus this good matron, the very servant and handmaid of Christ, was by many ways tried, both by hard imprisonment, threatenings, taunts, and scorns; called an Anabaptist, a mad woman, a drunkard, a whore, a runagate. She was proved by liberty to go whither she would; she was tried by flattery, with many fair promises; she was tried with her husband, her goods and children; but nothing could prevail, her heart was fixed; she had cast her anchor, utterly contemning this wicked world; a rare ensample of constancy to all professors of Christ's gospel.
In the bill of my information, it is so reported to me, that albeit she was of such simplicity, and without learning, yet you could declare no place of Scripture, but she would tell you the chapter; yea, she would recite you the names of all the books of the Bible. For which cause one Gregory Basset, a rank papist, said she was out of her wit, and talked of the Scripture, as a dog rangeth far off from his master when he walketh in the fields, or as a stolen sheep out of his master's hands, she wist not whereat, as all heretics do; with many other such taunts, which she utterly defied. Whereby as Almighty God is highly to be praised, working so mightily in such a weak vessel, so men of stronger and stouter nature have also to take example how to stand in like case, when as we see this poor woman, how manfully she went through with such constancy and patience.
At the last, when they perceived her to be past remedy, and had consumed all their threatenings, that neither by prisonment nor liberty, by menaces nor flattery, they could bring her to sing any other song, nor win her to their vanities and superstitious doings, then they cried out, "An Anabaptist, an Anabaptist! "Then, at a day, they brought her from the bishop's prison to the Guildhall; and after that delivered her to the temporal power, according to their custom, where she was by the gentlemen of the country exhorted yet to call for grace, and to leave her fond opinions: "and go home to thy husband," said they; "thou art an unlearned woman; thou art not able to answer to such high matters." "I am not," said she, "yet with my death I am content to be a witness of Christ's death: and I pray you make no longer delay with me. My heart is fixed; I will never otherwise say, nor turn to their superstitious doings."
Then the bishop said, the devil did lead her.
"No, my Lord," said she, "it is the Spirit of God which leadeth me, and which called me in my bed, and at midnight opened his truth to me." Then was there a great shout and laughing among the priests and others.
During the time that this good poor woman was thus under these priests' hands, amongst many other baitings and sore conflicts which she sustained by them, here is moreover not to be forgotten, how that Master Blackstone aforesaid, being the treasurer of the church, had a concubine, which sundry times resorted to him with other of his gossips; so that always when they came, this said good woman was called forth to his house, there to make his minion with the rest of the company some mirth, he examining her with such mocking and grinning, deriding the truth, that it would have vexed any Christian heart to have seen it. Then when he had long used his foolishness in this sort, and had sported himself enough in deriding this Christian martyr, in the end he sent her to prison again, and there kept her very miserably, saving that sometimes he would send for her, when his aforesaid guest came to him, to use with her his accustomed folly aforesaid. But in fine, these vile wretches, (after many combats and scoffing persuasions,) when they had played the part of the cat with the mouse, at length, condemned her, and delivered her over to the secular power.
Then the indictment being given and read, which was, that she should go to the place whence she came, and from thence be led to the place of execution, then and there to be burned with flames till she should be consumed; she lifted up her voice, and thanked God, saying, "I thank thee, my Lord, my God; this day have I found that which I have long sought." But such outcries as there were again, and such mockings, were never seen upon a poor silly woman; all which she most patiently took. And yet this favour they pretended after her judgment, that her life should be spared, if she would turn and recant. "Nay, that I will not," said she: "God forbid that I should lose the life eternal, for this carnal and short life. I will never turn from my heavenly Husband to my earthly husband; from the fellowship of angels, to mortal children. And if my husband and children be faithful, then am I theirs. God is my Father, God is my Mother; God is my Sister, my Brother, my Kinsman; God is my Friend most faithful."
Then was she delivered to the sheriff, and innumerable people beholding her, she was led by the officers to the place of execution, without the walls of Exeter, called Southernhay, where again these superstitious priests assaulted her; and she prayed them to have no more talk with her, but cried still, "God be merciful to me a sinner, God be merciful to me a sinner!" And so, while they were tying her to the stake, thus still she cried, and would give no answer to them, but with much patience took her cruel death, and was with the flames and fire consumed. And so ended this mortal life, as constant a woman in the faith of Christ, as ever was upon the earth. She was as simple a woman to see to, as any man might behold; of a very little and short stature, somewhat thick, about fifty-four years of age. She had a cheerful countenance, so lively, as though she had been prepared for that day of her marriage to meet the Lamb; most patient of her words and answers; sober in apparel, meat and drink, and would never be idle; a great comfort to as many as would talk with her; good to the poor; and in her trouble, money, she said, she would take none; "for," she said, "I am going to a city, where money beareth no mastery; while I am here God hath promised to feed me." Thus was her mortal life ended: for whose constancy God be everlastingly praised, Amen.
Touching the name of this woman, (as I have now learned,) she was the wife of one called Prest, dwelling in the diocese of Exeter, not far from Launceston.