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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 261. JOHN BOLTON



            A lamentable example of cruelty showed upon John Bolton, a man of Reading, imprisoned for the true testimony of a Christian conscience.

            The Lent following the coronation of Queen Mary, which Lent was in the year 1554, there was a writing set upon the church-door at Reading in . Berkshire, containing matter against the mass, but the author thereof then, and a long time after, was unknown; although now certainly known to be indeed one John Moyer, who afterwards confessed the fact, recanted, and is now made minister. Great inquisition was in every place thereabouts, but nothing, as I said, could be found certainly. Amongst many others one John Bolton was suspected, who, being asked his mind of the mass, answered, that he took it to be against the word of God, and contumelious to Christ: upon which words, he was by the mayor, (whose name was Boyer, and by science a tanner,) with other officers, committed to the gaol about three weeks before Easter; where being kept by the space of a week or a fortnight, in the under prison or dungeon, afterwards he was had up to a chamber of the gaoler's, (whose name was Welch,) having his bed and other necessaries to help himself withal, and so continued until Gardiner, the bishop of Winchester, came through the town with King Philip and Queen Mary, straight upon their marriage at Winchester.

            Then the said bishop, hearing of the said John Bolton, sent for him to talk with him, persuading him, what he could, to relent from the truth. But he stood stedfast, and most boldly reproved the said bishop to his face, and replied most earnestly against his persuasions; whereby the bishop, being greatly moved, commanded that he should be had to prison again, there to be kept with bread and water, and nothing else: charging, further, that whosoever came to him should, in anywise, immediately be set by him. Well, John Bolton was, thereupon, carried again to the gaol and put into the dungeon, or under prison, where he was before; which is under the ground about twelve feet deep, compassed about with most thick walls, without any light saving only that which cometh down at the entry; but (which is the best) both above the head and under foot, it is boarded. And alas! to no purpose, (poor John Bolton might say,) for he was not suffered to walk any part therein, but was most cruelly stocked and chained, as hereafter followeth. In the same dungeon is a marvellous evil scent or odour, and the whole proportion most terrible to see. In the midst thereof is a huge pair of stocks, of a great height, wherein they did put both his hands and his feet; on the other side of the stocks, his legs were tied with a great chain of iron, being surely fastened to a great and mighty block unmovable. And hanging on this sort by the hands and feet, sometimes for a day and a night together, (his body not touching any part of the ground,) the gaoler often would ease him and loose his hands sometimes at night, but his feet he would keep in the stocks still, three or four whole days together. And, being in this woeful and most miserable case, the gaoler and his family would wickedly, in the night season, to trouble the good poor man, oftentimes cast squibs of fire into the dungeon, whereby his empty and careful head might be troubled with vain and fond fantasies; which came to pass, as hereafter shall be showed.

            Now his honest good neighbours, hearing of his perplexity, were not a little careful for him, and sent their benevolence liberally to him; such as wholesome meats and drinks to comfort his weak body, which always were either eaten up by the gaoler and his household, or else brought to the grate of the prison, and there given to dogs before his face: so cruel and unmerciful was this wicked gaoler. Whereby the said poor John Bolton was enforced (alas! the pity) to eat what cannot be named for hunger; some think for the space of six days, some think more, some less; but although how long the time is uncertain, yet, that he did it, is most true.

            Thus was he in the lower prison just twelve months and ten weeks, having sometimes his hand and feet in the stocks; sometimes his feet only, sometimes neither; sometimes having checks, taunts, scornings, threatenings, and mockings; otherwhiles having meat; otherwhiles in loathsome extremity: until at last, with terrible torments, solitary sighings, lack of liberty, meat, drink, with such like, and also with eating that which nature most abhorreth, and what never was heard of before in any tyrant's days, he began, I say, at the last, to be full of ravings and strange fantasies, in such sort, that men took him as one without reason and distracted of mind. This being once known to Sir Francis Englefield, he, with his blood-thirsty brother the parson of Englefield, thought good to rid the prison of him; and so he was discharged.

            It is not to be forgotten, amongst so many troubles, that in prison was laid awhile, for fornication, a collar-maker by his science; who, being of nature very tender, and feeling not one quarter of John Bolton's troubles and miserable torments, fell mad. And, through friendship of them that were more mad than he, liberty was given him to sit at the grate of the dungeon, to work for his living and to have the benefit of the light; which is (as prisoners say) no small benefit. This madman having his tools, that is to say an awl and a stretcher, and his liberty therewith, used the same almost to the destruction of his own wife and the said John Bolton. For she, coming to visit him, being great with child and thinking of no danger (poor woman) towards her, the wretched madman, ungraciously, thrust his awl in her body, and slew the little babe within her. And vet, not content therewith, but to increase his mischief more and more, he also with the same instrument did, in divers places, hurt the said John Bolton sitting in the stocks, to the great peril of his life, and no less danger of the same continually, while the said collar-maker remained in prison; as it appeareth evidently at this present upon his body, for them that list to see.

            By such cruelty, and so greatly, was truth handled and whoredom maintained by this wicked gaoler, that the evil person could have liberty to do his mischief when he would, while the poor simple John Bolton (laid in for conscience' sake to God-ward) might not once have so much favour as to be free from the stocks, and to walk a little for his comfort. This is the truth of this story, approved by sufficient and credible testimonies, as well of the inhabitants of the said town of Reading, (whose letters, at this present, for the certification thereof we have to show, dated to us the twelfth day of May,) as also by the confirmation of the party himself on whom this cruelty was showed, being, although, through the same their extreme handling, weak and feeble, yet, God be praised! a man alive.


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