470. RICHARD ATKINS.
And here, I trust, we are now come to an end of all our English martyrs which hitherto have been burnt for the verity of the gospel, if we add besides to the same a godly countryman of ours, one named Richard Atkins, a Hertfordshire man, who of late, about two years past, in the reign of this our gracious queen, anno 1581, most miserably was tormented at Babylon, that is, in the city of Rome. The cause and manner of whose suffering and martyrdom here ensue, taken out of a certain late printed story, and testified by such as were present, witnesses and beholders of the same most tragical execution. The purport of which story in words, as it is put down by the said reporter, hereunder followeth.
"About the month of July, anno 1581, one Richard Atkins, born in Hertfordshire, an Englishman, came to Rome, and having found the English college, knocked at the door; to whom divers of the students there came out, to welcome him, understanding that he was an Englishman. Among other talk had with him they willed him to go to the hospital, and there to receive his meat and lodging, according as the order was appointed: whereunto he answered, 'I come not, my countrymen, to any such intent, as you judge; but I come lovingly to rebuke the great misorder of your lives, which I grieve to hear, and pity to behold. I come likewise to let your proud antichrist understand, that he doth offend the heavenly Majesty, rob God of his honour, and poisoneth the whole world with his abominable blasphemies; making them do homage to stocks and stones, and that filthy sacrament, which is nothing else but a foolish idol.' When they heard these words, one Hugh Griffin, a Welshman, and student in the college, caused him to be put in the inquisition; where, how they examined him, and how he answered them, I know not, but after certain days he was set at liberty again. And one day, going in the street, he met a priest carrying the sacrament, which offending his conscience, to see the people so crouch and bow down to it, he caught at it to have thrown it down; but missing of his purpose, and it being judged by the people, that he did catch at the holiness that (they say) cometh from the sacrament, upon mere devotion, he was let pass, and nothing said to him. A few days after he came to St. Peter's church, where divers gentlemen and others were hearing mass, and the priest at the elevation; he using no reverence, stepped among the people to the altar, and threw down the chalice with the wine, striving likewise to have pulled the cake out of the priest's hands; for which divers rose up and beat him with their fists, and one drew his rapier, and would have slain him: so that, in brief, he was carried to prison, where he was examined wherefore he had committed such a heinous offence: whereunto he answered, that he came purposely for that intent, to rebuke the pope's wickedness, and their idolatry. Upon this he was condemned to be burned; which sentence, he said, he was right willing to snffer, and the rather because the sum of his offence pertained to the glory of God.
"During the time he remained in prison, sundry Englishmen came unto him, willing him to be sorry for that he had done, and to recant from his damnable opinion; but all the means they used were in vain, he confuted their dealings by divers places of Scripture, and willed them to be sorry for their wickedness, while God did permit them time; else they were in danger of everlasting damnation. These words made the Englishmen depart; for they could not abide to hear them.
"Within a while after, he was set upon an ass without any saddle, he being from the middle upward naked, having some English priests with him to talk with him; but he regarded them not, but spake to the people in so good language as he could, and told them they were in a wrong way, and therefore willed them, for Christ's sake, to have regard to the saving of their souls. All the way as he went, there were four that did nothing else but thrust at his body with burning torches, whereat he never moved, nor shrunk one jot, but with a cheerful countenance laboured to persuade the people, often bending his body to meet the torches, as they were thrust at him; and would take them in his own hand, and hold them burning still upon his body, whereat the people not a little wondered. Thus he continued almost the space of half a mile, till he came before St. Peter's, where the place of execution was.
"When he was come to the place of execution, there they had made a device, not to make the fire about him, but to burn his legs first, which they did, he not dismayed any whit, but suffering all marvellously cheerfully; which moved the people to such a quandary as was not in Rome many a day. Then they offered him a cross, and willed him to embrace it, in token that he died a Christian; but he put it way with his hand, telling them that they were evil men, to trouble him with such paltry, when he was preparing himself to God, whom he beheld in majesty and mercy, ready to receive him into eternal rest. They seeing him in this mind, departed, saying, Let us go and leave him to the devil, whom be serves.' Thus ended this faithful soldier and martyr of Christ, who is, no doubt, in glory with his Master: whereunfo God grant us all to come, Amen."
This is faithfully avouched by John Young, who was at that time and a good while after in Rome, in service with Master Doctor Morton; who seeing the martyrdom of this man, when he came home to his house, in presence of Master Smith his son, Master Creed, and the said John Young, spake as followeth:
"Surely this fellow was marvellous obstinate, he nothing regarded the good counsel which was used to him, nor shrank all the way when the torches were thrust at his naked body. Beside, in the place of execution he did not faint nor cry one jot in the fire, albeit they tormented him very cruelly, and burnt him by degrees, as his legs first, to put him to the greater pain; yet all this he did but smile at. Doubtless, but that the word of God cannot bnt be true, else we might judge this fellow to be of God; for who could have suffered so much pain as he did? but truly I believe the devil was in him."