Ex-Classics Home Page

Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 200. JOHN PORTER, THOMAS SOMMERS, AND OTHERS



The story of John Porter, cruelly martyred for reading the Bible in Paul's.

            In the number of these before-named cometh the remembrance of John Porter, who, in the same year, (A.D. 1541,) for reading the Bible in Paul's church, was cruelly handled, and that unto death, as you shall hear. It was declared in this history above, how Edmund Bonner, bishop of London, in the days of the Lord Cromwell, being then ambassador at Paris, was a great doer in setting forward the printing of the Bible in the great volume; promising moreover, that he would, for his part, have six of those Bibles set up in the church of St. Paul in London; which, also, at his coming home, he no less performed, according to the king's proclamation set forth for the same, whereof read before.

he Bibles thus standing in Paul's by the commandment of the king, and the appointment of Bonner the bishop, many well-disposed people used much to resort to the hearing thereof, especially when they could get any that had an audible voice to read unto them, misdoubting therein no danger toward them; and no more there was, so long as the days of Cromwell lasted. After he was gone, it happened amongst divers and sundry godly-disposed persons, who frequented there the reading of the aforesaid Bible, that one John Porter used sometimes to be occupied in that godly exercise, to the edifying as well of himself, as of others. This Porter was a fresh young man, and of a big stature; who, by diligent reading of the Scripture, and by hearing of such sermons as then were preached by them that were the setters-forth of God's truth, became very expert. The Bible then being set up, by Bonner's commandment, upon divers pillars in Paul's church, fixed unto the same with chains for all men to read in them that would, great multitudes would resort thither to hear this Porter, because he could read well, and had an audible voice. Bonner and his chaplains, being grieved withal, (and the world beginning then to frown upon the gospellers,) sent for the said Porter, and rebuked him very sharply for his reading. But Porter answered him that he trusted he had done nothing contrary to the law, neither contrary to his advertisements, which he had fixed in print over every Bible.

            Bonner then laid unto his charge that he had made expositions upon the text, and gathered great multitudes about him to make tumults. He answered, be trusted that should not be proved by him. But, in fine, Bonner sent him to Newgate, where he was miserably fettered in irons, both legs and arms, with a collar of iron about his neck fastened to the wall in the dungeon; being there so cruelly handled, that he was compelled to send for a kinsman of his, whose name is also Porter, a man yet alive, and can testify that it is true, and dwelleth yet without Newgate. He, seeing his kinsman in this miserable case, entreated Jewet, then keeper of Newgate, that he might be released out of those cruel irons; and so, through friendship and money, had him up among other prisoners, which lay there for felony and murder; where Porter, being amongst them, hearing and seeing their wickedness and blasphemy, exhorted them to amendment of life, and gave unto them such instructions as he had learned of the Scriptures; for which his so doing he was complained on, and so carried down, and laid in the lower dungeon of all, oppressed with bolts and irons, where, within six or eight days after, he was found dead.

            It is signified to us, by credible information, that the same night before he was found dead, they that dwelt near to the same place of the prison where Porter lay, did hear him piteously to groan, and make a lamentable noise, where some suppose that he was put in certain strait irons which be there in the house, called, "the devil on the neck;" being after a horrible sort devised; straining and wrenching the neck of a man with his legs together, in such sort as the more he stirreth in it, the straiter it presseth him; so that within three or four hours it breaketh and crusheth a man's back and body in pieces: in which devilish torment, whether John Porter was slain or no, it is not certain. But howsoever it was, this is known, that he was found dead (as is aforesaid) in the dungeon, with such groaning and piteous noise heard the night before the said dungeon, as is declared.


A note of one Thomas Sommers, imprisoned for the gospel.

            Amongst these Londoners thus troubled by the clergy, we will add also, (though a little out of place,) another note of a merchant, called Thomas Sommers, who died in the Tower of London, for confessing of the gospel; which Thomas, being a very honest merchant and wealthy, was sent for by the lord cardinal, and committed to the Tower, for that he had Luther's books (as they termed them); and after great suit made for him to the said cardinal, his judgment was, that he should ride from the Tower into Cheapside, carrying a new book in his hand, and with books hanging round about him, with three or four other merchants after the same order; which was done. And when Master Sommers should be set on a collier's nag, as the rest of his fellow prisoners were, a friend of his, called Master Copland, brought him a very good gelding, fair dressed with bridle and saddle; and when the bishop's officers came to dress him with books, as they had trimmed the others, and would have made holes in his garment, to have thrust the strings ofthe books therein; "Nay," said Sommers, "I have always loved to go handsomely in my apparel: "and taking the books and opening them, he bound them together by the strings, and cast them about his neck (the leaves being all open) like a collar; and being on horseback, rode foremost through the streets, till they came about the Standard in Cheap-side, where a great fire was made to burn their books in, and a pillory set up there for four persons, in token that they had deserved it.

            In the mean time, by the way as they should come, it was appointed that one should go before them with a basin, at the noise whereof Master Sommer's horse, being a lofty gelding and fierce, was in such a rage, that he who rung the basin, being afraid of himself, was fain to go alone a great space before that any horseman followed after. At length, when they came to the fire, every of them having a book in his hand, they were commanded to cast their books into the fire. But when Master Sommers saw that his New Testament should be burned, he threw it over the fire, which was seen by some of God's enemies, and brought to him again, commanding him to cast it into the fire, which he would not do, but cast it through the fire; which thing was done three times; but at last a stander-by took it up, and saved it from burning. But not long after, the said Master Sommers was again cast into the Tower by the cardinal, through the cruelty of the bishops and their adherents, who, soon after, died in the said prison for the testimony of his faith.

Illustration -- An evil monk and a holy martyr

            What trouble and vexation happened amongst the godly brethren in London for the six articles, hitherto we have discoursed: albeit neither have I comprehended all which were molested through all the parishes of London, nor again did this rigorous inquisition so cease within the precincts of this city only, but also extended further to Salisbury, Norfolk, Lincoln, and through all other shires and quarters of the realm; so that where any popish prelate most bare stroke, there persecution most increased. The bishop of Lincoln, the same time, was John Longland, and Dr. Draycot, his chancellor; of whose rigorous doings ye have heard enough and too much before. His ready diligence in all popish quarrels, as it never lacked before, so now, in the execution of these six articles, it was not far behind: in whose diocese divers good men and women, especially about Buckingham and Amersham, and quarters thereabouts, were grievously disquieted, appearing yet in the register; as for instance:


Elenore Godfrey, of Great Marlow,

            For laughing and speaking certain words against one Thomas Collard, who, like a pope-holy hypocrite, in the church of Marlow, used at mass-time to crouch behind the children; and when the priest crossed his head with the saucer, (as she termed it,) he would cross his head likewise. And for these words she was convented before the bishop, and miserably vexed.


William Hart, of Great Brickhill,

            For saying these words: "Thinkest thou that God Almighty will abide over a knave priest's head?


Christopher Erles, of Risborough,

            Because he did no reverence unto the sacrament, coming to the church: and for looking upon his book at the time of elevation; and that he would not come to see the elevation, &c. Item, as he was working upon a piece of fustian on a holy-day, and being asked why he kept not the holy-day, he answered that that was no work, and that it was better to do that, than to sit at the alehouse drinking drunk.


William Fastendich, of Woburn,

            For speaking certain words against the sacrament of the altar, and because he believed not that it was the very body of Christ.


William Garland, of West Wycombe.

            William Garland, talking of extreme unction, said that those things were godly signs, but there were but two sacraments, &c.


William Web, of the same parish,

            Because he set the image of a headless bear in the tabernacle of St. Roke.

            About the same time John Longland, bishop of Lincoln, burned two upon one day, the one named Thomas Bernard, and the other James Morton; the one for teaching the Lord's Prayer in English, and the other for keeping the Epistle of St. James translated into English.

            In Oxford also the same time, or much thereabout, recanted one Master Barber, master of arts of that university, a man excellently learned; who, being called up to Lambeth before the archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, was in his examination so stout in the cause of the sacrament, and so learnedly defended himself therein, that (as it is credibly affirmed of them that yet be alive, and were present thereat) neither Cranmer himself nor all they could well answer to his allegations brought out of Augustine; wherein he was so prompt and ripe of himself, that the archbishop, with the residue of his company, were brought in great admiration of him. Notwithstanding, by compulsion of the time, and danger of the six articles, at last he relented, and, returning again to Oxford, was there caused to recant. After which the good man long prospered not, but wore away.


Previous Next