Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 140. WILLIAM SMEETING AND JOHN BREWSTER.


In searching and perusing of the Register, for the collection of the names and articles before recited, I find that within the compass of the same years there were also some others, who after they had once showed themselves as frail and inconstant as the rest, (being either therewith pricked in conscience, or otherwise zealously overcome with the manifest truth of God's most sacred word,) became yet again as earnest professors of Christ as ever they were before, and for the same profession were the second time apprehended, examined, condemned, and in the end were most cruelly burned. Of the which number were William Sweeting and John Brewster, who were both burned together in Smithfield, the eighteenth day of October, A.D. 1511. The chiefest case of religion alleged against them in their articles, was their faith concerning the sacrament of Christ's body and blood. Which, because it differed from the absurd, gross, and Capernaitical opinion of the new schoolmen, was counted as most heinous heresy. There were other things besides objected against them; as the reading of certain forbidden books, and accompanying with such persons as were suspected of heresy. But one great and heinous offence counted amongst the rest, was their putting and leaving off the painted faggots, which they were at the first abjuring enjoined to wear as badges during their lives, or so long as it should please their ordinary to appoint, and not to leave them off, upon pain of relapse, until they were dispensed withal for the same. The breach of this injunction was esteemed to be of no small weight, and yet, the matter well and thoroughly considered, it seemeth by their confessions, they were both thereunto by necessity enforced. For the one, named Sweeting, being for fear of the bishop's cruelty constrained to wander the countries to get his poor living, came at length unto Colchester, where by the parson of the parish of Mary Magdalene, he was provoked to be the holy-water clerk, and in that consideration had that infamous badge first taken away from him. The other (which was Brewster) left off his at the commandment of the comptroller of the earl of Oxford's house; who hiring the poor man to labour in the earl's household business, would not suffer him, working there, to wear that counterfeit cognizance any longer: so that (as I said) necessity of living seemeth to compel both of them at the first to break that injunction; and therefore, if charity had borne as great sway in the hearts of the pope's clergy as did cruelty, this trifle would not have been so heinously taken, as to be brought against them for an article and cause of condemnation to death. But where tyranny once taketh place, as well all godly love, as also all human reason and duties, are quite forgotten. Well, to be short, what for the causes before recited, as also for that they had once already abjured, and yet (as they term it) fell again into relapse, they were both (as you have heard) in the end burned together in Smithfield; although the same parties (as the Register recordeth) did again before their death fearfully forsake their former revived constancy, and submitting themselves unto the discipline of the Romish Church, craved absolution from their excommunication. Howbeit, because many of the Register's notes and records in such cases may rightly be doubted of, and so called into question, I refer the certain knowledge hereof unto the Lord, (who is the trier of all truths,) and the external judgment unto the godly and discreet reader; not forgetting yet by the way, (if that the report should be true,) upon so just an occasion, to charge that catholic clergy and their wicked laws, with a more shameless tyranny and uncharitable cruelty than before. For if they nothing stay their bloody malice towards such as so willingly submit themselves unto their mercies, what favour may the faithful and constant professors of Christ look for at their hands? I might here also ask of them, how they follow the pitiful and loving admonition (or rather precept) of our Saviour Christ, (whose true and only church they so stoutly brag to be,) who in the 17th chapter of St. Luke saith, Though thy brother sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn to thee, saying, It repenteth me, thou shalt forgive him. But what go I about to allure them unto the following of the rule and counsel of him, unto whose word and gospel they seem most open and utter enemies? Wherefore, not purposing to stay any longer thereupon, but leaving them unto the righteous revengement of the Lord; let us now hereunto adjoin the story of one John Browne, a good martyr of the Lord, burnt at Ashford, about this fourth year of King Henry the Eighth, whose story hereunder followeth.

The occasion of the first trouble of this John Browne was by a priest, sitting in a Gravesend barge. John Browne being the same time in the barge, came and sat hard by him; whereupon after certain communication, the priest asked him, "Dost thou know," said he, "who I am; thou sittest too near me, thou sittest on my clothes?" "No, sir," said he, "I know not what you are." "I tell thee I am a priest." "What, sir, are ye a parson, or vicar, or a lady's chaplain?" "No," quoth he again, "I am a soul priest, I sing for a soul," saith he. "Do you so, sir," quoth the other, "that is well done. I pray you, sir," quoth he, "where find you the soul when you go to mass?" "I cannot tell thee," said the priest. "I pray you where do you leave it, sir, when the mass is done?" " I cannot tell thee," said the priest. "Neither can you tell where you find it when you go to mass, nor where you leave it when the mass is done, how can you then have the soul," said he. "Go thy ways," said the priest, "thou art a heretic, and I will be even with thee." So at the landing, the priest taking with him Walter More and William More, two gentlemen, brethren, rode straightways to the Archbishop Warham, whereupon the said John Browne within three days after, his wife being churched the same day, and he bringing in a mess of pottage to the board to his guests, was sent for, and his feet bound under his own horse, and so brought up to Canterbury, neither his wife nor he, nor any of his, knowing whither he went, nor whither he should. And there continuing from Low-Sunday till the Friday before Whitsunday, his wife not, knowing all this while where he was; he was set in the stocks over night, and on the morrow went to death, and was burned at Ashford, A.D. 1517. The same night as he was in the stocks at Ashford, where he and his wife dwelt, his wife then hearing of him, came and sat by him all the night before he should be burned; to whom he declaring the whole story how he was handled, showed and told, how that he could not set his feet to the ground, for they were burned to the bones, and told her how by the two bishops, Warham;and Fisher, his feet were heated upon the hot coals, and burnt to the bones, "to make me," said he, "to deny my Lord, which I will never do; for if I should deny my Lord in this world, he would hereafter deny me. I pray thee," said he, "therefore, good Elizabeth, continue as thou hast begun, and bring up thy children virtuously and in the fear of God:" and so the next day, on Whitsunday even, this godly martyr was burned. Standing at the stake, this prayer he made, holding up his hands,


"O Lord, I yield me to thy grace,
Grant me mercy for my trespass,
Let never the fiend my soul chase.
Lord, I will bow, and thou shalt beat,
Let never my soul come in hell heat.
Into thy hands I commend my spirit, thou hast redeemed
me, O Lord of truth." And so he ended.

At the fire, one Chilton, the baily arrant, bade cast in Browne's children also; for they would spring, said he, of his ashes.

This blessed martyr John Browne had borne a faggot seven years before in the days of King Henry the Seventh.


Previous Next