446. THOMAS HITTON, MARTYR
The trouble of Thomas Hitton, martyr, with his examinations, answers, condemnation, and martyrdom, anno 1529, the twentieth of February.
Illustration -- Hitton Taken in RochesterHOMAS HITTON of Martham in the diocese of Norwich, an honest poor man and religious, ever fearing God from his youth, and loving his word; when persecution for the same word in the days of King Henry the Eighth grew to be somewhat hot, took his journey toward Rochester in Kent, intending to have gone to Dover, and so to have crossed the seas into France and other countries for a time, where, reposing himself a while, he might be free from the heat of persecution. As he was going on his intended journey, one Thomas Swainesland, bailiff to William Warham archbishop of Canterbury, meeting him by the way, and suspecting him to be (as they called them) a heretic, caused him to be staid and brought before the said William archbishop of Canterbury, his master; who demanded of him from whence he came, and whither he intended to have gone, if he had not been intercepted? The same Thomas answered, that he came out of the diocese of Norwich, and purposed to have gone beyond the seas, if God had so permitted. Then the bishop asked him, if he had ever been beyond the seas before, and what books he had brought over. He answered, that he had been once beyond the seas before, and had brought certain books with him from thence, namely, two New Testaments, and one Primer in English. The bishop asked him to whom he gave the said books. He answered, he would not declare: "for," saith he, "such is your bloody cruelty, that you would never sleep quietly till you have sucked their blood, as you mean to do mine." The bishop, seeing he could extort no more out of him, and perceiving his constant spirit and fervent zeal to the truth, commanded him to prison till further opportunity might serve for the shedding of his blood.
The second appearance of Thomas Hitton, before Warham, archbishop of Canterbury.
Within a while after, the bishop commanded the said Thomas to be brought before him again, who demanded of him how he judged and believed of the religion then in force, and of the authority of the bishop of Rome. The said Thomas answered, that the religion then used, was most abominable idolatry, and contrary to the holy word of God: "And as for the pope," quoth he, "he is antichrist, the first-born of Satan, and hath no more power or authority than any other bishop hath in his own diocese, nor so much neither." The bishop hearing this, was in such a pelting chafe, that at that time he would talk no more with him, but returned him from whence he came, namely to Bocardo, with commandment to appear before him again upon the thirteenth day of the same month following, at his manor of Knoll, to answer to such articles and interrogatories as should be objected ex officio against him.
His third appearance, &c.
The said Thomas Hitton, at the day prefixed, made his personal appearance before the bishop at the place appointed; to whom the bishop ministered certain articles and interrogatories for him to answer unto, commanding him to swear to answer truly and unfeignedly unto them, and every part of them. The said Thomas Hitton refused to swear, saying, "It is against God's laws and good conscience, for any man to swear to shed his own blood, for so he should be a murderer of himself, and become guilty of his own death." But notwithstanding that he refused to swear to answer, yet he answered truly and directly to every particular article and interrogatory propounded unto him; but so as was smally to their contentation, yet no doubt to the great glory of God, and comfort of the godly.
This done, the bishop brake off his session for that time, and commanded him to prison again, and to appear before him in the place aforesaid upon the Friday next following, to answer further as should be demanded of him, granting him liberty withal to add to or subtract from his former answers, or else utterly to deny and revoke the same.
His fourth appearance, &c.
The day and time approaching, the said Thomas Hitton appeared again accordingly, and having heard his former answers and confessions distinctly by the notary read unto him, he reformed them in certain points; to some he added, from other some he subtracted, but none he denied. Then the bishop, perceiving his unmovable constancy in the truth, setting learning and reason apart, being not able to convince him by arguments and truth, nor yet to reprove the spirit which spake in him, fell to exhorting of him to have respect to his soul's health, and not so wilfully (as he termed it) to cast away himself for ever, but to repent, and abjure his errors, and in so doing, he would be good unto him, he said.
When the bishop with all his persuasions could do no good with him to withdraw him from the truth of God's word, then the doctors and other the assistants attempted the like: all which notwithstanding, the said Thomas Hitton would not desist nor shrink one jot from the truth, but both affirmed and confirmed his former articles and confessions to the end; inferring withal, that they sinned against the Holy Ghost, inasmuch as they knew that God's word was the truth, and that the mass and all popish religion is nothing but idolatry, lies, and open blasphemy against the majesty of God and his word, and contrary to God's word in every respect, and yet they would allow and maintain the same, contrary to their own consciences: whereat all the bench was greatly offended, and commanded him to prison again, assigning him a day to come before them again.
His fifth appearance, &c.
At the day appointed, the said Thomas Hitton appeared, to whom the bishop said, "Thomas, dost thou believe that any man, either spiritual or temporal, is of suffucient authority to set forth any law or sanction of himself, the breach whereof is mortal or venial sin?" To whom Thomas Hitton answered, that no man, either spiritual or temporal, might make any law or sanction, the breach whereof is mortal or venial sin, except the same law or sanction be drawn out of the word of God, or else grounded upon the same with a good conscience; and therefore the church cannot set forth any law, the breach whereof is mortal or venial sin, unless it be grounded upon the word of God also. But if any man, or the church of God itself, do set forth any law grounded upon the word of God and good conscience, the breach thereof to the violater is mortal and deadly sin. After all manner of ways and means attempted to draw this poor man from Christ and his truth, the bishop, seeing that he could not prevail, determined to send him to the bishop of Rochester, and so he did; who assayed by all means possible to remove him from his former professed truth. But seeing all his endeavours frustrate, and that he profited nothing, he signified the same to the archbishop, and withal both went himself unto him, and carried the poor prisoner with him thither also.
In the afternoon of the same day, the said archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Rochester, and divers other assistants, called the said poor man before them again, and caused all the former articles, interrogatories, and demands to be read unto him in English, to the end he should either have revoked the same, or else recanted them altogether, using both threats and fair promises, to the performance thereof, but all in vain: for his faith was built upon the rock Christ Jesus, and therefore unable to be removed with any storms of persecution whatsoever.
In fine, the archbishop, (with mature judgment you must believe,) consulting with the bishop of Rochester, and others, proceeded to his condemnation, reading the bloody sentence of death against him; and so was he, being condemned, delivered to the secular power, who carried him to the prison; and soon after he was burnt for the testimony of Jesus Christ, as you may see more at large in his story, for whose constancy in the truth, the everlasting God be praised, Amen.