Ex-Classics Home Page

Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 277. RAWLINS WHITE


The history of one Rawlins White, burned at Cardiff' in Wales about the month of March, for the testimony of Christ's gospel, reported by John Dane, being yet alive, who was almost continually with him during his trouble, unto his death.

ORASMUCH as we have here passed the history of Master Ferrar, burned at the town of Caermarthen in Wales,I thought to adjoin and accompany with the same the history also of one Rawlins White, a fisherman, who, both in the like cause, and in the same country of Wales, and also about the same month of March and year aforesaid, gave his life, like a valiant soldier of Jesus Christ, to martyrdom, and was burned at Cardiff; the process of whose story here followeth expressed more at large.

            This Rawlins was by his calling or occupation a fisherman, living and continuing in the said trade by the space of twenty years at the least, in the town of Cardiff, being (as a man of his vocation might be) one of a very good name, and well accounted amongst his neighbours, As touching his religion at the first, it cannot otherwise be known, but that he was a great partaker of the superstition and idolatry that then was used; I mean in the reign of King Henry the Eighth. But after that God of his mercy had raised up the light of his gospel, through the blessed government of King Edward the Sixth, here in this realm of England, this Rawlins began partly to mislike that which before he had embraced, and to have some good opinion of that which before, by the iniquity of the time, had been concealed from him: and the rather to bring this good purpose and intent of his to pass, he began to be a diligent hearer, and a great searcher-out of the truth.

            But because the good man was altogether unlearned, and withal very simple, he knew no ready way how he might satisfy his great desire. At length it came in his mind to take a special remedy to supply his necessity, which was this: he had a little boy which was his own son; which child he set to school to learn to read English. Now after the little boy could read indifferently well, his father, every night after supper, summer and winter, would have the boy to read a piece of the Holy Scripture, and now and then of some other good book; in which kind of virtuous exercise the old man had such a delight and pleasure, that, as it seemed, he rather practised himself in the study of the Scripture, than in the trade or science which beforetime he had used: so that Rawlins, within few years, in the said time of King Edward, through the help of his little son, (a special minister appointed by God, no doubt, for that purpose,) and through much conference beside, profited and went forward in such sort, that he was able not only to resolve himself touching his own former blindness and ignorance, but was also able to admonish and instruct others: and therefore, when occasion served, he would go from one place to another, visiting such as he had best hope in. By which his doing, he became, in that country, both a notable and open professor of the truth, being at all times and in all such places, not without the company of his little boy, whom (as I have said) he used as an assistance to this his good purpose. And to this his great industry and endeavour in the Holy Scripture, God did also add in him a singular gift of memory; so that by the benefit thereof he would and could do that, in vouching and rehearsing of the text, which men of riper and more profound knowledge, by their notes and other helps of memory, could very hardly accomplish; insomuch that he, upon the alleging of Scripture, very often would cite the book, the leaf, yea, and the very sentence: such was the wonderful working of God in this simple and unlearned father.

            Now when he had thus continued in his profession the space of five years, King Edward died, upon whose decease Queen Mary succeeded, and, with her, all kind of superstition and papistry crept in. Which thing being once perceived, Rawlins did not altogether use open instruction and admonition, as before he was wont; and therefore oftentimes, in some private place or other, he would call his trusty friends together, and with earnest prayer and great lamentation pass away the time, so that by his virtuous instructions, being without any blemish of error, he converted a great number; which number, no doubt, had greatly increased, had not the cruel storm of persecution been. The extremity and force whereof, at the last, so pursued this good father Rawlins, that he looked every hour to go to prison: whereupon many of those which had received comfort by his instructions, did resort unto him, and by all means possible began to persuade him to shift for himself, and to dispose his goods by some reasonable order to the use of his wife and children; and by that means he should escape that danger which was imminent over his head.

            But Rawlins, nothing abashed for his own part through the iniquity of the time, and nothing at all moved with these their fleshly persuasions, thanked them most heartily for their good will, and told them plainly, that he had learned one good lesson touching the confessing and denial of Christ; advertising them, that if he, upon their persuasions, should presume to deny his Master Christ, Christ, in the last day, would deny and utterly condemn him: "and therefore," quoth he, "I will, by his favourable grace, confess and bear witness of him before men, that I may find him in everlasting life."

            Notwithstanding which answer, his friends were very importunate with him. Howbeit father Rawlins continued still in his good purpose so long, till at the last he was taken by the officers of the town, as a man suspected of heresy; upon which apprehension he was convented before the bishop of Llandaff that then was, the said bishop lying then at his house beside Chepstow; by whom, after divers combats and conflicts with him and his chaplains, this good father Rawlins was committed to prison in Chepstow, But this his keeping, whether it were by the bishop's means, because he would rid his hands of him, or through the favour of his keeper, was not so severe and extreme, but that, if he had so listed, he might have escaped oftentimes.

            But that notwithstanding, he continued still, insomuch that at the last he, by the aforenamed bishop, was removed from Chepstow to the castle of Cardiff, where he continued by the space of one whole year; during which time, this reporter resorted to him very often, with money and other relief from this reporter's mother, who was a great favourer of those that were in affliction in those days,) and other of his friends; which he received not without great thanks and praises given to the name of God. And albeit that he was thus troubled and imprisoned, as ye have heard, to his own undoing in this world, and to the utter decay of his poor wife and children; yet was his heart so set to the instruction and furtherance of others in the way of salvation, that he was never in quiet, but when he was persuading or exhorting such of his familiar friends, as commonly came unto him: insomuch that on the Sundays and other times of leisure, when his friends came to visit him, he would pass away the time in prayer and exhortations, admonishing them always to beware of false prophets which come in sheep's clothing.

            Now when he had continued in Cardiff castle by the space of one whole year, (as I have said,) the time of his further trial was at hand. Whereupon the forenamed bishop of Llandaff caused him to be brought again from the castle of Cardiff unto his own house beside Chepstow; and whilst he continued there, the bishop assayed many ways how to reduce him to some conformity. But when all means, either by their threatening words, or flattering promises, were to no purpose, the bishop willed him to advise, and be at a full point with himself, either to recant his opinions, or else to abide the rigour of the law: and thereupon gave him a day of determination; which day being come, the bishop with his chaplains went into his chapel, not without a great number of other by-dwellers, that came to behold the manner of their doings.

            When the bishop with his retinue were placed in order, poor Rawlins was brought before them. The bishop, after a great deliberation in addressing himself, as it seemed, and silence forewarned to the rest that were there present, used a long kind of talk to him, declaring the cause of his sending-for, which was for that he was a man well known to hold heretical opinions, and that through his instruction many were led into blind error. In the end he exhorted him to consider his own estate wherein he stood "for," said the bishop, "Rawlins, you have oftentimes since your first trouble, both here in my house, and elsewhere, been travailed withal touching your opinions; and, that notwithstanding, ye seem altogether obstinate and wilful. Now hereupon we thought good to send for you, to see if there were any conformity in you: so that the matter is come to this point, that if you will show yourself repentant for that which you have done against God and the prince's law, we are ready to use favour towards you; but if by no means we can persuade with you touching your reformation, we are minded at this time to minister the law unto you -- and therefore advise yourself, what you will do."

            When the bishop had made an end of his long tale, this good father Rawlins spake boldly to him, and said, "My Lord, I thank God I am a Christian man; and I hold no opinions contrary to the word of God: and if I do, I desire to be reformed out of the word of God, as a Christian man ought to be." Many more words were in like sort between the bishop and Rawlins, which this reporter doth not well remember. But in the end, when Rawlins would in no wise recant his opinions, the bishop told him plainly, that he must proceed against him by the law, and condemn him as a heretic.

            "Proceed in your law a God's name," said Rawlins; "but for a heretic you shall never condemn me while the world standeth." "But," said the bishop to his company, "before we proceed any further with him, let us pray unto God that he would send some spark of grace upon him, [meaning Rawlins,] and it may so chance that God, through our prayer, will here turn and convert his heart." When Rawlins heard the bishop say so, "Ah, my Lord," quoth he, "now you deal well, and like a godly bishop; and I thank you most heartily for your great charity and gentleness. Christ saith, Where two or three be gathered together in my name, I will be in the midst of them: and there be more than two or three of you. Now, if it be so that your request be godly and lawful, and that ye pray as ye should pray, without doubt God will hear you, And therefore, my Lord, go to; do you pray to your God, and I will pray to my God, I know that my God will both hear my prayer, and perform my desire."

            By and by the bishop with his company fell to prayer; and Rawlins, turning himself to a pew that stood somewhat near him, fell down upon his knees, covering his face with his hands, And when they had prayed a while, the bishop with his company arose from prayer; and then also arose Rawlins, and came before the bishop.

            Then said the bishop, "Now, Rawlins, how is it with thee? Wilt thou revoke thy opinions, or no?" "Surely," said Rawlins, "my Lord, Rawlins you left me, and Rawlins you find me; and, by God's grace, Rawlins I will continue. Certainly if your petitions had been just and lawful, God would have heard them; but you honour a false god, and pray not as ye should pray; and therefore hath not God granted your desire. But I am only one poor simple man, as you see, and God hath heard my complaint, and I trust he will strengthen me in his own cause."

            The bishop, when he perceived that this hypocrisy of theirs took none effect, then with hot words he reproved him, and forthwith was ready to read the sentence. Howbeit, upon some advice given to him by his chaplains that were there present, he thought best, first, to have a mass, thinking that indeed, by so doing, some wonderful work should be wrought in Rawlins; and thereupon a priest began a mass.

            In the mean time poor Rawlins betook himself to prayer in a secret place there by, until such time as the priest came to the sacring, as they term it, which is a principal point of their idolatry, When Rawlins heard the sacring-bell ring (as the use was) he rose out of his place, and came to the choir-door, and, there standing a while, turned himself to the people, speaking these words "Good people! if there be any brethren amongst you, or, at the least, if there he but one brother amongst you, the same one bear witness at the day of judgment, that I bow not to this idol"-- meaning the host that the priest held over his head.

            The mass being ended, Rawlins eftsoons was called for again; to whom the bishop used many persuasions; but the blessed man continued so stedfast in his former profession, that the bishop's talk was altogether in vain, and to no purpose: whereupon the bishop caused the definitive sentence to be read. Which being ended, Rawlins was dismissed; and from thence he was, by the bishop's commandment, carried again to Cardiff, there to be put into the prison of the town, called Cockmarel; a very dark, loathsome, and most vile prison. Rawlins in the mean time passed away the time in prayer, and chiefly in singing of psalms: which kind of godly exercise he always used, both at Cardiff castle, and in all other places.

            Now, after he had thus continued a prisoner in Cockmarel prison at Cardiff, (as is aforesaid,) a good space, about three weeks before the day wherein he suffered, the head officers of the town, that had the charge of his execution, were determined to burn him, because they would be sooner rid of him; having not indeed a writ of execution awarded, as by the law they should have. Whereupon one Henry Lewis, the recorder of the town that then was, seeing that they went about to burn him without any warrant by writ, came to them and told them, that if they did burn him before they had the writ, De hæreticis comburendis, the wife of the said Rawlins would, upon just cause, by law, call their doings into question, Immediately upon this advertisement, they sent to London for the writ above-named; upon the receipt whereof they made some speed to the execution of the said Rawlins, Now, when the day was come wherein the good father should perform and accomplish the last act of this his worthy conflict, he was the night before willed to prepare himself.

            Now when he perceived his time was no less near than it was reported unto him, he sent forthwith to his wife, and willed her by the messenger, that in any wise she should make ready and send unto him his wedding garment, meaning a shirt, which afterward he was burned in: which request, or rather commandment of his, his wife, with great sorrow and grief of heart, did perform, and early in the morning did send it to him, which he received most gladly and joyfully, Now when the hour of his execution was come, this good and constant father Rawlins was brought out of prison, having on his body the long shirt, which (as you heard before) he called his wedding garment, and an old russet coat which he was wont to wear. Besides this, he had upon his legs an old pair of leather buskins, which he had used long afore, And thus being brought out of prison, (as I have said,) he was accompanied, or rather guarded, with a great company of bills and glaves; which sight when he beheld, "Alas!" quoth he, "what meaneth all this? All this needed not. By God's grace I will not start away: but I, with all my heart and mind, give unto God most hearty thanks, that he hath made me worthy to abide all this, for his holy name's sake."

            So he came to a place in his way, where his poor wife and children stood weeping and making great lamentation; the sudden sight of whom so pierced his heart that the very tears trickled down his face. But he soon after, as though he had misliked this infirmity of his flesh, began to be as it were altogether angry with himself; insomuch that in striking his breast with his hand he used these words "Ah flesh! stayest thou me so? wouldst thou fain prevail? Well, I tell thee, do what thou canst, thou shalt not, by God's grace, have the victory." By this time this poor innocent came to the very altar of his sacrifice, (I mean the place appointed for his death,) and there found a stake ready set up, with some wood toward the making of the fire; which when he beheld, he set forward himself very boldly; but, in going toward the stake, he fell down upon his knees, and kissed the ground: and in rising again, the earth a little sticking on his nose, he said these words, "Earth unto earth, and dust unto dust: thou art my mother, and unto thee I shall return." Then went he cheerfully and very joyfully, and set his back close unto the stake; and when he had stood there awhile, he cast his eye upon this reporter, and called him unto him, and said, "I feel a great fighting between the flesh and the spirit, and the flesh would very fain have his swinge; and therefore I pray you, when you see me any thing tempted, hold your finger up to me, and I trust I shall remember myself."

            As he was thus standing with his back close unto the stake, a smith came with a great chain of iron; whom when he saw, he cast up his hand with a loud voice, and gave God great thanks. Then the smith cast a chain about him; and as he was making it fast on the other side, Rawlins said unto him, "I pray you, good friend, knock in the chain fast; for it may be that the flesh would strive mightily; but God of thy great mercy give me strength and patience to abide the extremity!"

            Now when the smith had made him sure to the stake, the officers began to lay on more wood, with a little straw and reed: wherein the good old man was no less occupied than the best; for as far as he could reach his hands, he would pluck the straw and reed, and lay it about him in places most convenient for his speedy despatch: which thing he did with such a cheerful countenance and familiar gesture, that all men there present were in a manner astonished.

            Thus, when all things were ready, so that there lacked nothing but the putting-to of the fire, directly over against the stake, in the face of Rawlins, there was a standing erected, whereon stepped up a priest, addressing himself to speak to the people, which were many in number, because it was market-day, When Rawlins perceived him, and considered the cause of his coming, he reached a little straw unto him, and made two little stays, and set them under his elbows. Then went the priest forward in his sermon, wherein he spake of many things touching the authority of the Church of Rome. In the mean time Rawlins gave such good ear and attention, that he seemed nothing at all moved or disquieted, At the last, the priest came to the sacrament of the altar, and there he began to inveigh against Rawlins's opinions: in which his invection he cited the common place of Scripture, and thereupon made a clerkly interpretation.

            Now when Rawlins perceived that he went about not only to teach and preach the people false doctrine, but also to confirm it by Scripture, he suddenly started up, and beckoned with his hands to the people, saying twice, "Come hither, good people; and hear not a false prophet preaching:" and then said unto the preacher, "Ah, thou naughty hypocrite! dost thou presume to prove thy false doctrine by Scripture? Look in the text what followeth; did not Christ say, Do this in remembrance of me! "After which words the priest, being rather amazed than interrupted, forthwith held his peace.

            Then some that stood by cried out, "Put fire, set to fire;" which being set to, the straw and reed, by and by, cast up both a great and sudden flame. In the which flame this good and blessed man bathed his hands so long, until such time as the sinews shrunk, and the fat dropped away; saving that once he did, as it were, wipe his face with one of them. All this while, which was somewhat long, he cried with a loud voice, "O Lord, receive my soul! O Lord, receive my spirit!" until he could not open his mouth. At the last the extremity of the fire was so vehement against his legs, that they were consumed almost before the rest of his body was burned, which made the whole body fall over the chain into the fire sooner than it would have done. During which time of his burning, it cannot be said that he suffered or felt any great pain, considering that not without his perfect memory he abode both quietly and patiently, even unto the departing of his life, Thus died this godly and old man Rawlins, for the testimony of God's truth, being now rewarded, no doubt, with the crown of everlasting life.

            It is recorded, furthermore, of the said good father Rawlins, by this reporter, that as he was going to his death, and standing at the stake, he seemed in a manner to be altered in nature. For as before he was wont to go stooping, or rather crooked, through the infirmity of age, having a sad countenance and a very feeble complexion, and withal very soft in speech and gesture, now he went and stretched up himself not only bolt upright, but also bore withal a most pleasant and comfortable countenance, not without great courage and audacity both in speech and behaviour, He had -- of which thing I should have spoken before -- about his head a kerchief; the hairs of his head, (somewhat appearing beneath his kerchief,) and also of his beard, were more inclining to white than to grey, which gave such a show and countenance to his whole person, that he seemed to be altogether angelical.

            It is also said by this reporter, that a little before the fire flashed up to his body (as ye have heard) many of his friends came to him, and took him by the hand; amongst whom the reporter of this story held him so long by the hand, till the flame of the fire rose and forced them to sunder, In the mean time the priest, of whom I spake afore, cried out and said, that it was not lawful for any man to take him by the hand, because he was a heretic, and condemned by the church,-- The chief cause of his trouble, was his opinion touching the sacrament of the altar. He was, at the time of his death, of the age of threescore years, or thereabouts.


Previous Next