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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 280. WILLIAM FLOWER



The life and story of William Flower, who striking of a priest, was apprehended, first having his hand cut off, and after martyred for his constant standing to the truth.


illiam Flower otherwise named Branch -- First, concerning his trade of life and bringing up -- he was born at Snailwell, in the county of Cambridge, where he went to school certain years, and then came to the abbey of Ely; where, after he had remained awhile. he was a professed monk according to the order and rule of the same house wherein he remained. using and bearing the habit of a monk, and observing the rules and order of the same house. until he came to twenty-one years of age, or thereabout: and before he came to that age, and being a professed monk, he was made a priest also in the same house; and there did celebrate and sing mass a good space together. After that, by reason of a visitation, and certain injunctions given in the same time by the authority of King Henry the Eighth, he forsook the same house, and casting from him the said monk's habit and religion aforesaid, took upon him and used the habit of a secular priest, and returned to Snailwell, where he was born; and there he did celebrate and sing mass, and taught children their primer and accidence about half a year together.

            Then he went from thence to Lidgate in Suffolk, and there served as a secular priest about a quarter of a year; and from thence he then went to Stony-land, where he tarried and served as a secular priest also, until the coming out of the Six Articles; and then he departed from thence, and went into Gloucestershire, where, after he had made his abode in the country awhile, at length in Tewkesbury, according to God's holy ordinance, he married a wife, with whom he ever after faithfully and honestly continued: and after his marriage, he tarried in Tewkesbury about two years together, and then from thence he went unto Bursley, where he tarried three-quarters of a year, and practised physic and chirurgery; and from thence he removed to Northamptonshire, where, under a gentleman, he taught children their primers and to write and read, a good space. And so, departing from those parts, he came to London; and there remained for a certain space. After that, being desirous to see his country, he returned to Snailwell where he was born: from thence to Braintree in Essex, then to Coggeshall, where he taught children a space, and so came to Lambeth beside London, where he hired a house, and placed his wife; where he and his wife did ever since dwell together till this time: howbeit, for the most part, he was always abroad; and very seldom at home, except once or twice in a month, to visit and see his wife; where he, being at home upon Easter day about ten or eleven o'clock in the forenoon of the same day, came over the water from Lambeth into St. Margaret's church at Westminster; where he, finding and seeing a priest called John Cheltham ministering and giving the sacrament of the altar to the people, and therewith, being greatly offended in his conscience with the priest for the same his doing, (for that he judged him not to be a catholic minister, neither his act to be catholic and laudable according to God's word,) did strike and wound him upon the head, and also upon the arm and hand, with his wood-knife; the priest having the same time in his hand a chalice, with certain consecrated hosts therein, which were sprinkled with the blood of the said priest. In the which so doing as indeed he did not well nor evangelically, so afterward, being examined before Bishop Bonner, did he no less confess his not well doing in the same; submitting therefore himself willingly to punishment, when it should come. Howbeit touching his belief in the sacrament, and the popish ministration, he neither would nor did submit himself.

            Whereupon the foresaid William Flower first apprehended and laid in the Gatehouse at Westminster (where he had given two groats the same day a little before to the prisoners, saying, he would shortly after come to them) with as many irons as he could bear; afterward was convented before Bonner his ordinary, April the nineteenth, A. D. 1555, where the bishop, after he had sworn him upon a book, (according to his ordinary manner,) ministered articles and interrogatories to him. But before I speak of the articles, first we have here to set forth what communication passed betwixt him and Robert Smith (being then also there prisoner with him in Newgate) concerning his fact done at Westminster; the tenor and effect of which communication here followeth.

            Robert Smith.--"Friend, forasmuch as I do understand that you do profess the gospel. and also have so done a long season, I am bold to come unto you, and in the way of communication to demand and learn a truth at your own mouth, of certain things by you committed, to the astonishing not only of me, but of divers others, that also profess the verity."

            Flower.--"I praise God for his great goodness, in showing me the light of his holy word; and I give you hearty thanks for your visitation, intending, by God's grace, to declare all the truth that ye shall demand lawfully of me, in all things."

            Smith.--"Then I desire you to show me the truth of your deed, committed on John Cheltham, priest in the church, as near as you can, that I may hear from your own mouth how it was."

            Flower.--"I came from my house at Lambeth over the water, and entering into St. Margaret's church, (so called,) and there, seeing the people falling down before a most shameful and detestable idol, being moved with extreme zeal for my God, whom I saw before my face dishonoured, I drew forth my hanger, and strake the priest which ministered the same unto them: whereupon I was immediately apprehended. And this is most true, as the act is manifest."

            Smith.--"Did ye not know the parson that ye strake, or were ye not zealous upon him for any evil will or hatred between you at any time?"

            Flower.--"No, verily; I never to my knowledge saw the parson before that present, neither owed him, or any man alive, evil will or malice; for if he had not had it, another should, if I had any time come where the like occasion had been ministered, if God had permitted me to do it."

            Smith.--"Do ye think that thing to be well done, and after the rule of the gospel?

            Flower.--"I do confess all flesh to be subject to the power of Almighty God, whom he maketh his ministers, to do his will and pleasure; as in example, Moses, Aaron, Phinehas, Joshua, Zimri, Jehu, Judith, Mattathias, with many others, not only changing degrees, but also planting zeals to his honour, against all order and respect of flesh and blood. For, as saith St. Paul, His works are past finding out: by whose Spirit I have also given my flesh at this present unto such order as it shall please the good will of God to appoint in death, which, before the act committed, I looked for."

            Smith.--"Think you it convenient for me, or any other, to do the like by your example?"

            Flower.--"No, verily; neither do I know, if it were to do again, whether I could do it again, or no: for I was up very early at Paul's church (so called) upon Christ's day in the morning, to have done it in my jealousy: but when I came in place I was no more able to do it, than now to undo that is done; and yet now, being compelled by the Spirit, not only to come over the water, and to enter the church, but being in mind fully content to die for the Lord, gave over my flesh willingly, without all fear, I praise God. Wherefore I cannot learn you to do the like: first, because I know not what is in you; secondly, because the rules of the gospel command us to suffer with patience all wrongs and injuries. Yet, nevertheless, if he make you worthy, that hath made me zealous, ye shall not be letted, judged, nor condemned; for he doth in his people his unspeakable works in all ages, which no man can comprehend. I humbly beseech you to judge the best of the Spirit, and condemn not God's doings: for I cannot express with my mouth the great mercies that God hath showed on me in this thing, which I repent not."

            Smith.--"Are ye not assured to have death ministered unto you for the same act committed, and even with extremity?"

            Flower.--"I did, before the deed committed, adjudge my body to die for the same: whereupon I carried about me in writing, mine opinion of God and the Holy Scriptures; that if it had pleased God to have given them leave to have killed my body in the church, they might in the said writing have seen my hope, which (I praise God) is laid up safe within my breast, notwithstanding any death that may be ministered unto my body in this world; being ascertained of everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord, and being most heartily sorry for all mine offences committed in this flesh, and trusting shortly, through his mercy, to cease from the same."

            Smith.--"It is no need to examine or commune with you of the hope that ye have any further; for I perceive (God be praised) ye are in good estate, and therefore I beseech God for his mercies spread his wings over you; that as, for his love, you have been zealous, even to the loss of this life, so he may give you his Holy Spirit to conduct you out of this death into a better life, which I think will be shortly."

            Flower.--"I hunger for the same, dear friend, being fully ascertained that they can kill but the body, which I am assured shall receive life again everlasting, and see no more death; entirely desiring you and all that fear the Lord, to pray with me to Almighty God, to perform the same in me shortly."

            And thus Robert Smith departed, leaving him in the dungeon, and went again to his ward. And this, gentle reader, is the truth, as near as the said Smith could report it. And thus much concerning the talk between him and Robert Smith in Newgate, concerning his fact in striking the priest. Now to return again to the matter of his examination, where we left: we showed before how this William Flower, after his striking the priest, first was laid in the Gatehouse; then, being examined before Bonner, had articles ministered against him, the copy whereof here followeth.

            "First, that thou, being of a lawful age and discretion, at the least of seventeen years of old, was professed a monk in the late abbey of Ely, wherein, after thy profession, thou remainedst until the age of twenty-one years, using, all the mean time, the habit and religion of the same house, and wast reputed and taken notoriously for such a person.

            "Item, that after the premises, thou wast ordered and made priest, according to the laudable custom of the catholic church; and afterward thou didst execute and minister as a priest; and wast commonly reputed, named, and taken for a priest.

            "Item, that after the premises thou, forgetting God, thy conscience, honesty, and the laudable order of the catholic church, didst, contrary to thy profession and vow, take as unto thy wife, one woman, commonly called Alice Pulton, in the parish church of Tewkesbury, in the diocese of Gloucester, with whom thou hadst mutual cohabitation as man and wife, and begattest of her two children.

            "Item, that thou, being a religious man and a priest, didst, contrary to the order of the ecclesiastical laws, take upon thee to practise in divers places within the diocese of London, physic and chirurgery, when thou wast not admitted, expert, nor learned.

            "Item, that upon Easter day last past, that is to wit, the fourteenth day of this present month of April, within the parish church of St. Margaret's at Westminster, within the county of Middlesex and diocese of London, thou didst maliciously, outrageously, and violently pull out thy weapon; that is to wit, thy wood-knife or hanger. And whereas the priest and minister there, called Sir John Cheltham, was executing his cure and charge, especially in doing his service, and ministering the sacrament of the altar to communicants, then didst thou wickedly and abominably smite with thy said weapon the said priest, first upon the head very sore; and afterwards, upon his hands or other parts of his body, drawing blood abundantly upon him: the said priest then holding the said sacrament in his hand, and giving no occasion why thou shouldest so hurt him; the people being grievously offended therewith, and the said church polluted thereby, so that the inhabitants were compelled to repair to another church to communicate, and to receive the said sacrament.

            "Item, that by reason of the premises, thou wast and art, by the ecclesiastical laws of the church, amongst other penalties, excommunicate and accursed, ipso facto; and not to be companied withal, neither in the church, nor otherwhere, but in special cases.

            "Item, that thou, concerning the verity of Christ's natural body and blood in the sacrament of the altar, hast been by the space of these twenty, nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, sixteen, fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one years, or any one of them, and yet art at this present, of this opinion; that is to say, that in the said sacrament of the altar, after the words of consecration, there is not really, truly, and in very deed contained (under the forms of bread) the very true and natural body of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

            "Item, that thou, for the hatred and disdain that thou hadst and didst bear against the said sacrament, and the virtue thereof, and against the said priest ministering the same, (as before,) didst smite, wound, and hurt him in manner and form as before is declared.

            "Item, that thou, over and besides the pains due unto thee for the doing of the cruel fact, art also, by the order of the ecclesiastical laws of the church, and the laudable custom and ordinance of the same, to be reputed, taken, and adjudged (as thou art indeed) a very heretic, and to be punished by and with the pains due for heresy, by reason of thy said heresy and damnable opinion.

            "Item, that all the premises be true and manifest, notorious and famous; and that upon the same, and every part thereof, there was and is, within the said parish of St. Margaret's and other places thereabout, a public voice and fame."


The answer of William Flower, made to the articles aforesaid.

            "To the first article he answereth and confesseth the same to be true in every part thereof; except that he saith and confesseth, that he never consented and agreed in his heart to be a monk.

            "To the second article he answereth and confesseth the same to be true in every part thereof: howbeit, he saith, that he never did, nor yet doth, esteem the said order of priesthood, according to the said order of the catholic church; because he was offended therewith in his conscience.

            "To the third article he answereth and confesseth, that he, intending to live in godly matrimony, and not forgetting God, did marry with the said Alice Pulton named in this article; wherein he believed that he did well, and according to God's laws. Further, confessing and believing, that all the time when he was professed monk, and made priest, he did thereby utterly forget God: but when he did so marry the said Alice Pulton, and in continuing with her did beget three children, he did remember God, as he saith, and believeth that he did then lawfully.

            "To the fourth article he answereth, and believeth the same to be true in every part thereof.

            "To the fifth article he answereth and confesseth, that his conscience being greatly offended with the said Sir John Cheltham, priest, for ministering of the sacrament of the altar to the people at the place and time specified in this article, he did smite and strike the same priest with his hanger or wood-knife, as well upon his head, as upon other parts and places of his body which he remembereth not, whereby the blood ran out, and was shed in the said church, as he believeth; having, as he saith, none other cause or matter so to do, but only that his conscience was offended and grieved; in that the same priest did so give and minister the said sacrament to the people: which people he believeth were greatly abashed and offended with his said fact and doing; and were enforced and compelled to go out of the church, and to repair to another to receive the said sacrament. And further, being then demanded and examined, whether he did then mind and intend to have killed the said priest, or not; he said he would not answer thereunto. And being further examined, whether he did well or evil in striking the said priest; he would make no answer thereunto, as he said.

            "To the sixth he answereth and saith, that whether he be so excommunicate or accursed, as is contained in this article, he referreth himself herein to the ecclesiastical laws.

            "To the seventh he answereth and saith, that by the space of six and twenty years now past, he hath always been, and yet is, of this opinion touching the said sacrament of the altar, as followeth: videlicet, that in the sacrament of the altar, after the words of consecration, there is not really, truly, and in very deed, contained under the form of bread, the very true and natural body of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

            "To the eighth he answereth, and believeth the same to be true in every part thereof.

            "To the ninth he answereth, and herein he referreth himself to the said laws, custom, and ordinance specified in this article; that is to say, the canonical laws.

            "To the last he answereth and believeth, that those things before by him confessed, be true, and those which he hath denied, be untrue; and that the said common voice and fame hath and doth only labour and go upon those things by him before confessed.
            "By me WILLIAM FLOWER, alias BRANCH."

            After this examination done, the bishop began after the best sort of his fine divinity to instruct him, and to exhort him to return again to the unity of his mother the catholic church, with such reasons as he is commonly wont to use to others, promising many fair things if he would so do, besides the remitting of what was past. To this William Flower, answering again, thanked him for his offer; and whereas it was in his power to kill or not to kill his body, he stood therewith contented, let him do therein what he thought; yet over his soul he had no such power, which being once separated from the body, is in the hands of no man, but only of God, either to save or spill. As concerning his opinion of the sacrament, he said he would never go from what he had spoken, do he with him what he would.

            Then the bishop assigned him again to appear in the same place at afternoon, betwixt three and four; in the mean time, to advise himself of his former answers, whether he would stand to the same his opinions or no: which if he so did, he would further proceed against him, &c.

            At afternoon the said William Flower appeared again before the said bishop, the hour and place appointed; to whom the bishop, sitting in his consistory, spake these words "Branch, ye were this forenoon here before me, and made answer to certain articles; and thereupon I respited you till now, to the intent you should consider and weigh with yourself your state; and to remember while you have time, both your abominable act, and also that evil opinion which ye have conceived, touching the verity of Christ's true natural body in the sacrament of the altar:" to whom the said Branch answered again, and said as followeth "That which I have said, I will stand to; and therefore I require that the law may proceed against me." Whereupon the bishop commanded his notary (Hayward by name) to read to him again his articles, as before: which being read, the said William Flower, persisting in his godly sentence, answered to all parts of the articles, as in the forenoon before; save only that he requested the bishop, concerning the fifth article, he might alter something his answer therein, after this tenor and manner of words; to wit.

            "And moreover confesseth and saith -- that whereas he strake the priest on Easter day last past, in St. Margaret's church in Westminster, he hath since that time and yet doth mislike himself in that doing; and doth now judge and believe that the same his act was evil and naught. Howbeit he saith and believeth, that as for the matter and cause wherefore he so struck the said priest, (which was for ministering of the sacrament of the altar, which he taketh and judgeth abominable,) he did not nor doth mislike himself at all therein. Moreover, he desireth of the said bishop licence to be granted him, to alter and take out somewhat of the ninth article; and in place thereof, these words to be placed; to wit, 'Herein he referreth himself to the laws, custom, and ordinance specified in this article,' &c."

            At this request, Bonner granted to the altering of both the articles according as he desired, and so put in the acts.

            After this, the bishop turning again to his old manner of exhorting, went about with words (and words only) to persuade him to submit himself to the catholic church, and to the faith thereof. All which his persuasions notwithstanding, William still remained in the constancy of his sentence; saying that he would not be removed from that he had spoken, to die there-for. Whereupon the bishop assigned him the next day (being the twentieth day of April) to appear in the same day and place, between the hours of eight and nine before noon; there and then to hear the sentence pronounced, in case he would not relent, &c.


            The last appearance of William Flower before Bishop Bonner.

            In the which day, hour, and place, the said William Flower, as he was appointed, was brought by his keeper belonging to the warden of the Fleet, before Bonner, who, after his wonted manner of persuasion going about to reduce him to his catholic church and the unity thereof; that is, from Christ to antichrist; sometimes with fair promises alluring, sometimes with menaces and terrors fearing him, &c.; to this William answering, said on this wise: "Do what ye will, I am at a point; for the heavens shall as soon fall, as I will forsake mine opinion." &c. Whereupon the bishop, after he had commanded these words to be registered, called for the depositions of certain witnesses, produced for the better information of this matter, the names of which witnesses were these: William Jennings, John Bray, Robert Graunt, Richard Dod, William Pampion, Robert Smalwood, the parish priest of St. Margaret's at Westminster. The sum and effect of whose depositions here ensueth.

            "Robert Graunt of Westminster, examined upon the said answers of William Flower, saith and deposeth, that he did hear and see the said Flower acknowledge and recognise the said answers, and subscribe to the same with his own hand; and also was present in the church of St. Margaret's in Westminster, when the said William Flower did smite and wound the priest, when (as he saith) he was ministering the sacrament; and how this examinate among others pressed towards him to take him, and was hurt thereby upon his chin; and after he was taken, this examinate holp to conduct him to the Gatehouse at Westminster.

            "Richard Dod of Westminster, examined upon the said answers, saith and deposeth, that he did hear and see the said Flower acknowledge and recognise the said answers, and subscribe to the same with his own hand; and also did see and was present, when the said Flower upon Easter day last past, drew his wood-knife, and strake the priest upon the head, hand, and arm; who, being wounded therewith, and having a chalice with consecrated hosts therein, in his hand, sprinkled with the said priest's blood, was holpen and rescued by this examinate, and the said Flower carried to the Gatehouse at Westminster, and his wood-knife taken away by this examinate.

            "William Pampion, one of the churchwardens of the said parish church of St. Margaret's in Westminster, examined upon the said answers of the said Flower, saith and deposeth, that the same answers be true, and in his sight were subscribed with the hand of the said Flower. And that upon Easter day last past, about eleven of the clock in the forenoon, in the parish church of St. Margaret's in Westminster, among a great number of the people ready to be houseled, the priest's back being turned toward the said Flower, he (the said Flower) suddenly drew forth his wood-knife, and strake Sir John Cheltham the priest both upon his head, hand, and arm, whereby he was wounded, and bled abundantly; and the chalice with consecrated hosts being in his hand, were sprinked with his blood, and the people in great fear cried out lamentably, and thought they should presently have been killed.

            "Robert Smalwood of Westminster, examined upon the said answers, saith and deposeth that he did hear and see the said Flower acknowledge and recognise the said answers, and subscribe the same with his own hand; and saith further, touching the striking and wounding the priest in St. Margaret's church in Westminster upon Easter day last, this examinate saith, he was not there when the fact was done, but, immediately after, he came to church, and found Sir John hurt, and wounded in the head, hand, and arm, by the said Flower, and the people in great heaviness by reason thereof. Also the people did report (as this examinate saith) that Flower did the deed as the priest had the chalice in his hand, ministering the sacrament to the people.

            "William Jennings of Westminster, being examined upon the answers of the said William Flower, saith and deposeth, by virtue of his oath, that he did hear and see the said Flower acknowledge and recognise the said answers, and subscribe to the same with his own hand in the consistory place: and further deposeth, that he (upon Easter day last past) was present in the church of St. Margaret's in Westminster, where Flower strake the said Sir John Cheltham, priest, first upon the head, and afterward upon his arm, two sore strokes, whereby the said priest is like to lose his hand. Also this jurate deposed, that the said Sir John Cheltham had a chalice with certain consecrated hosts therein, (in his hand,) which were sprinkled with the blood of the said priest; and after the said Flower was apprehended by this examinate and others, they carried him immediately to the Gatehouse in Westminster.

            "John Bray, one of the churchwardens of the parish church of St. Margaret's in Westminster, sworn and examined upon the said answers, saith and deposeth, that he did hear and see the said Flower acknowledge and recognise the said answers, and also subscribe unto the same. And further deposeth of Flower's striking the priest, in effect, as the rest of the examinates do, and that this said jurate was present there at the deed-doing."

            After the depositions of these foresaid witnesses being taken, published, and denounced, the said bishop, speaking to William Flower, asked him if he knew any matter or cause why his sentence should not be read, and he to he pronounced as a heretic. Whereunto the martyr of God answered again as followeth "I have nothing at all to say, for I have already said unto you all that I have to say; and that I have said, I will not go from; and therefore do what you will." &c. Which when he had spoken, the bishop proceeded to the sentence, condemning and excommunicating him for a heretic, and after pronounced him also to be degraded; and so committed him to the secular power. Upon the twenty-fourth day of the aforesaid month of April, which was St. Mark's even, he was brought to the place of martyrdom, which was in St. Margaret's churchyard at Westminster, where the fact was committed: and there, coming to the stake where he should be burned, first he maketh his prayer to Almighty God, with a confession of his Christian faith, in manner as followeth:

            "O eternal God, most mighty and merciful Father, who hast sent down thy Son upon the earth, to save me and all mankind, who ascended up into heaven again, and left his blood upon the earth behind him, for the redemption of our sins, have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me, for thy dear Son our Saviour Jesus Christ's sake, in whom I confess only to be all salvation and justification, and that there is none other mean, nor way, nor holiness, in which or by which any man can be saved in this world.-- This is my faith, which I beseech all men here to bear witness of."

            Then he said the Lord's prayer, and so made an end.

            Then Master Cholmley came to him, willing him to recant his heresy, whereby he might do good to the people; or else he would be damned. Flower answered as followeth: "Sir, I beseech you, for God's sake, be contented; for that I have said, I have said: and I have been of this faith from the beginning; and I trust to the living God he will give me his Holy Spirit, to continue to the end." Then he desired all the world to forgive him whom he had offended, as he forgave all the world. This done, first his right hand, being held up against the stake, was stricken off, his left hand being stayed behind him. At the which striking off his hand, certain that were present beholders of the matter, and purposely observing the same, credibly informed us, that he in no part of his body did once shrink at the striking thereof, but once a little he stirred his shoulders.

Illustration -- William Flower Burnt at the stake

            And thus fire was set unto him, who burning therein, cried with a loud voice, "O the Son of God, have mercy upon me! O the Son of God, receive my soul!" three times; and so his speech being taken from him, he spake no more, lifting up, notwithstanding, his stump with his other arm, as long as he could. And thus endured this constant witness and faithful servant of God the extremity of the fire, being therein cruelly handled, by reason that to his burning little wood was brought; so that for lack of faggots, there being not sufficient to burn him, they were fain to strike him down into the fire; where he lying along (which was doleful to behold) upon the ground, his nether part was consumed in the fire, whilst his upper part was clean without the fire, his tongue in all men's sight still moving in his mouth.


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