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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 272. THOMAS TOMKINS.



The history of Thomas Tomkins, martyr, who, having first his hand burned, after was burned himself by Bishop Bonner, for the constant testimony of Christ's true profession.


ENTION was made before of six prisoners, brought and examined before Bishop Bonner the eighth of February, whose names were Tomkins, Pygot, Knight, Hawkes, Laurence, and Hunter: all which, though they received their condemnation together the next day after, yet, because the time of their execution was then driven off from February till the next month of March, I did therefore refer the story of them to this present month of March aforesaid, wherein: now remaineth severally to entreat of the martyrdom of these six persons, as the order and time of their sufferings severally do require. Of the which six aforenamed martyrs, the first was Thomas Tomkins, burned in Smithfield, the sixteenth day of March, A. D. 1555.

            This Thomas Tomkins, a weaver by his occupation, dwelling in Shoreditch, and of the diocese of London, was of such conversation, and disposition so godly, that if any woman had come to him with her web, as sometimes they did, three or four in a day, he would always begin with prayer; or if any other had come to talk of any matter, he would likewise first begin with prayer. And if any had sought unto him to borrow money, he would show him such money as he had in his purse, and bid him take it.

            And when they came to repay it again, so far off was he from seeking any usury at their hand, or from strait exaction of his due, that he would bid them keep it longer, while they were better able. And these were the conditions of Thomas Tomkins, testified yet to this present day by the most part of all his neighbours, and almost of all his parish which knew him, as Master Skinner, Master Leeke, and others. Of whom more than half a dozen at once came to me, discreet and substantial men, reporting the same unto me; recording moreover as followeth: That Dr. Bonner, bishop of London, kept the said Tomkins with him in prison half a year; during which time the said bishop was so rigorous unto him, that he beat him bitterly about the face, whereby his face was swelled. Whereupon the bishop caused his beard to be shaven, and gave the barber twelve pence.

            Touching which shaving of Thomas Tomkins's beard, this is more to be added: Bishop Bonner, having Tomkins with him prisoner at Fulham, in the month of July, did set him with his other work-folks to make hay; and seeing him to labour so well, the bishop, setting him down, said, "Well, I like thee well; for thou labourest well: I trust thou wilt be a good catholic." "My Lord," said he, "St. Paul saith, He that doth not labour is not worthy to eat." Bonner said, "Ah, St. Paul is a great man with thee." And so, after such other talk, the bishop inferring moreover, wished his beard off, saying, that so he would look like a catholic. "My Lord," said Tomkins, "before my beard grew I was, I trust, a good Christian, and so I trust to be, my beard being on." But Bonner, in fine, sent for the barber, and caused his beard to be shaven off. The very cause was, for that Bonner had plucked off a piece of his beard before.

            The rage of this bishop was not so great against him, but the constancy of the party was much greater with patience to bear it; who, although he had not the learning as others have, yet he was so endued with God's mighty Spirit, and so constantly planted in the perfect knowledge of God's truth, that by no means he could be removed from the confession of truth, to impiety and error. Whereupon Bonner the bishop, being greatly vexed against the poor man, when he saw that by no persuasions he could prevail with him, devised another practice, not so strange as cruel, further to try his constancy; to the intent, that seeing he could not otherwise convince him by doctrine of Scriptures, yet he might overthrow him by some forefeeling and terror of death. So, having with him Master Harpsfield, Master Pembleton, Dr. Chedsey, Master Willerton, and others standing by, he called for Thomas Tomkins, who, coming before the bishop, and standing as he was wont in defence of his faith, the bishop fell from beating to burning: who, having there a taper or wax candle of three or four wicks standing upon the table, thought there to represent unto us, as it were, the old image of King Porsenna. For as he burned the hand of Scævola so this catholic bishop took Tomkins by the fingers, and held his hand directly over the flame, supposing that by the smart and pain of the fire being terrified, he would leave off the defence of his doctrine which he had received.

            Tomkins, thinking no otherwise but there presently to die, began to commend himself unto the Lord, saying, "O Lord! into thy hands I commend my spirit," &c. In the time that his hand was in burning, the same Tomkins afterward reported to one James Hinse, that his spirit was so rapt, that he felt no pain. In the which burning he never shrank, till the veins shrank, and the sinews burst, and the water did spirt in Master Harpsfield's face: insomuch that the said Master Harpsfield, moved with pity, desired the bishop to stay, saying, that he had tried him enough. This burning was in the hall at Fulham.

            And whereas the bishop thought by that means to drive him from his opinions, it proved much otherwise: for this Christian Scævola so valiantly did despise, abide, and endure that burning, that we have less cause hereafter to marvel at the manfulness of that Roman Scævola: I would to God the other had as well followed the example of that Etruscan tyrant. For he, after the left hand of Scævola was half burned, either satisfied with his punishment, or overcome by his manhood, or driven away by fear, sent him home safe unto his people: whereas Bonner, hitherto not contented with the burning of his hand, rested not until he had consumed his whole body into ashes, at London in Smithfield.

            But before we come to his suffering, we will first entreat of some part of his examination and articles, with his answers and confession thereunto annexed, as it is credibly in register recorded.


The first examination of Thomas Tomkins, before Bonner.

            This faithful and valiant soldier of God, Thomas Tomkins, after he had remained the space (as is said) of half a year in prison, about the eighth day of February was brought with certain others before Bonner, sitting in his consistory, to be examined. To whom first was brought forth a certain bill or schedule, subscribed (as appeareth) with his own hand, the fifth day of the same month last before, containing these words following.


The confession of Tomkins subscribed with his own hand.

            "Thomas Tomkins of Shoreditch, and of the diocese of London, hath believed and doth believe, that in the sacrament of the altar, under the forms of bread and wine, there is not the very body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ in substance, but only a token and remembrance thereof, the very body and blood of Christ being only in heaven, and no where else.
            "By me, THOMAS TOMKINs."

            Whereupon he was asked, whether he did acknowledge the same subscription to be of his own hand. To the which he granted, confessing it so to be. This being done, the bishop went about to persuade him (with words, rather than with reasons) to relinquish his opinions, and to return again to the unity of the catholic church, promising if he would so do, to remit all that was past. But he constantly denied so to do. When the bishop saw he could not so convince him, he brought forth and read to him another writing, containing articles and interrogatories, whereunto he should come the next day and answer: in the mean time he should deliberate with himself what to do. And so the next day, being the ninth of March, at eight o'clock in the morning, to be present in the same place again, to give his determinate answer what he would do in the premises, and then either to revoke and reclaim himself, or else in the afternoon the same day to come again, and have justice (as he called it) ministered unto him. The copy of which articles here followeth.


Articles objected and ministered the eighth day of February against Thomas Tomkins, with his own hand subscribing to the same.

            "Thou dost believe, that in the sacrament of the altar, under the forms of bread and wine, there is not, by the omnipotent power of Almighty God, and his holy word, really, truly, and in very deed, the very true and natural body of our Saviour Jesus Christ, as touching the substance thereof; which was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and hanged upon the cross, suffering passion and death there for the life of the world.
            "I do so believe.

            "Thou dost believe, that after the consecration of, the bread and wine prepared for the use of the sacrament of the altar, there doth remain the substance of material bread and material wine, not changed or altered in substance by the power of Almighty God, but remaining as it did before.
            "I do so believe.

            "Thou dost believe, that it is an untrue doctrine, and a false belief, to think or say, that in the sacrament of the altar there is, after consecration of the eau bread and wine, the substance of Christ's natural body and blood, by the omnipotent power of Almighty God, and his holy word.
            "I do so believe.

            "Thou dost believe, that thy parents, kinsfolks, friends, and acquaintance, and also thy godfathers and godmother, and all people, did err, and were deceived, if they did believe, that in the sacrament of the altar there was, after the consecration, the body and blood of Christ, and that there did not remain the substance of material bread and wine.
            "I do so believe.

            "By me THOMAS TOMKINS."


The second examination of Thomas Tomkins.

            The next day, being the ninth of February, at eight o'clock before noon, the said Thomas Tomkins (according to the former commandment) was brought again into the place aforenamed, before the bishop and other his assistants, where the aforesaid articles were propounded unto him: whereunto he answered as followeth

            "To the first he said, that he did so believe, as in the same is contained.

            "To the second he said, that it was only bread, and a participation of Christ's death and passion, and so do the Scriptures teach.

            "To the third he said and did believe, it was a false doctrine, to believe and think as is contained in this article.

            "To the fourth, he did also believe the same."

            After this answer he did also subscribe his name to the said articles. Whereupon the bishop, drawing out of his bosom another confession subscribed with Tomkins's own hand, and also that article that was the first day objected against him, caused the same to be openly read; and then willed him to revoke and deny his said opinions, the which he utterly refused to do; and therefore was commanded to appear before the bishop again in the same place at two o'clock in the afternoon.


The bishop repeateth again the confession of Thomas Tomkins; written before by the said bishop of London, and subscribed by the said Tomkins, the twenty-sixth of September, anno 1554, which is this.

            "I, Thomas Tomkins, of the parish of Shoreditch, in the diocese of London, having confessed and declared openly heretofore, to Edmund, bishop of London, mine ordinary, that my belief hath been many years past, and is at this present, that the body of our Saviour Jesus Christ is not truly and in very deed in the sacrament of the altar, but only in heaven; and so in heaven, that it cannot now indeed be really and truly in the sacrament of the altar: And moreover, having likewise confessed and declared to my said ordinary openly many times, that although the church, called the catholic church, hath allowed, and doth allow, the mass and sacrifice made and done therein, as a wholesome, profitable, and a godly thing; yet my belief hath been many years past, and is at this present, that the said mass is full of superstition, plain idolatry, and unprofitable for my soul; and so have I called it many times, and take it at this present: Having also likewise confessed and declared to my said ordinary, that the sacrament of baptism ought to be only in the vulgar tongue, and not otherwise ministered, and also without any such ceremonies, as accustomably are used in the Latin church, and otherwise not to be allowed:-- Finally, being many times and oft called openly before my said ordinary, and talked withal touching all my said confessions and declarations, both by the said mine ordinary and divers other learned men, as well his chaplains as others, and counselled by all of them to embrace the truth, and to recant mine error in the premises, which they told me was plain heresy and manifest error; do testify and declare hereby, that I do and will continually stand to my said confession, declaration, and belief, in all the premises; and every part thereof, and in no wise recant or go from any part of the same. In witness whereof I have subscribed and passed this writing the twenty-sixth day of September, the year aforesaid.
            "By me Tho. TOMKINS aforesaid."

            The names of them that sat upon Thomas Tomkins at this session, were these: Edmund Bonner; John Fecknam, dean of Paul's; John Harpsfield, archdeacon of London; John Morwen, Master of Arts; Thomas Morton, parson of Fulham; Tristram Swadell, Thomas More, Thomas Bekinsaw, James Cline, clerks.


The last appearance and condemnation of Thomas Tomkins before Bonner and the commissioners.

            The same day and place, at two o'clock in the afternoon, he was, the last time, brought before the bishops of London, Bath, and St. David's, with others; where he was earnestly exhorted by the said bishop of Bath, to revoke and leave off his opinions. Unto whom he answered, "My Lord, I was born and brought up in ignorance until now of late years; and now I know the truth, wherein I will continue unto the death."

            Then Bonner caused all his articles and confession to be again openly read, and so, in his accustomed manner, persuaded with him to recant. To whom he finally said, "My Lord, I cannot see but that you would have me forsake the truth, and to fall into error and heresy." The bishop seeing he would not recant, did proceed in his law, and so gave sentence of condemnation upon him.

            Then he delivered him to the sheriff of London, who carried him straight unto Newgate, where he remained most joyous and constant until the sixteenth of March next after: on which day, he was by the said sheriff conveyed into Smithfield, and there sealed up his faith in the flaming fire, to the glory of God's holy name, and confirmation of the weak.


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