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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 287. THOMAS WATS.



The history of Thomas Wats, examined, tried, and burnt for the truth of the gospel.

            Thomas Wats of Billericay, within the county of Essex, of the diocese of London, was by his occupation a linen draper; who, before he was apprehended, had sold and made away his cloth in his shop, and disposed his things, being set in order, to his wife and children, and gave away much of his cloth unto the poor. For he looked always to be taken by God's adversaries and his, as shortly after came indeed to pass; so that, upon the twenty-sixth day of April, he was apprehended and brought before the Lord Riche and other commissioners at Chelmsford, and there, being accused for not coming to the church, was upon the same examined before the Lord Riche, Henry Tyrrel, Sir Anthony Brown, Edmund Tyrrel, Thomas Mildman, John Wiseman, Roger Appleton, Richard Weston, Justice Gaudy, &c.: the sum and principal effect of which examination hereunder followeth briefly expressed.

            When this Thomas Wats came before the Lord Riche and other the justices, whose names are specified in the letter following, (which they sent unto the bishop of London against him,) at the sessions at Chelmsford, the Lord Riche said these words or the like in effect unto him. "Wats, ye be brought hither, as I understand, because of disobedience to the king and the queen's laws. Ye will not come to the church, ye will not hear mass, &c., but have your conventicles a sort of you in corners, contrary to the king's and queen's proceedings." Unto which his words Wats answered and said "My Lord, if I have offended a law, I am subject here to the law." Then Anthony Brown, justice, said unto him, "Wats, I pray thee tell me who hath been thy schoolmaster to teach thee this gear, or where didst thou first learn this religion?" "Forsooth," quoth Wats, "even of you, sir: you taught it me, and none more than you. For in King Edward's days in open sessions you spake against this religion now used; no preacher more. You then said the mass was abominable, and all their trumpery besides, wishing and earnestly exhorting that none should believe therein, and that our belief should be only in Christ: and you said then, whosoever should bring in any strange nation to rule here, it were treason, and not to be suffered."

            Then said Brown to my Lord Riche, "He belies me, my Lord. What a knave is this! he will soon belie me behind my back, when he doth it before my face"-- and my Lord Riche said again, "I dare say he doth so."

            After these words, Wats took occasion to speak somewhat of King Philip and of his coming in; but what it was I could not justly learn. But thus much was heard, that after those words spoken, the bench among themselves stood up, and said one to another, "Treason!" saving one good man, called Justice Gaudy, who a little before was about to speak: but, when he heard them cry "treason," he held down his head as one grieved and troubled at their doings.

            In conclusion, the commissioners being weary of him, or else not willing to meddle further in such high matters, sent him up to the bishop of London, with their letter withal, importing the cause of his sending up, as the contents thereof hereunder follow to be seen.


A letter sent by certain justices in Essex to Bonner, bishop of London.

            "After our most hearty commendations to your good Lordship, these shall be to advertise you, that at our sessions of Oyer and Terminer holden at Chelmsford the twenty-sixth day of April last past, here came before us in open court one Thomas Wats of Billericay within your diocese, by ordinary process: and then and there being examined why he refused to come to his parish church, and there to receive the sacrament of the altar, and hear divine service, according to the institution of holy church, he openly there answered generally, that like as the service of the church set out in the days of the late King Edward the Sixth, was said by us now to be abominable, heretical, schismatical, and all naught; so he said, that all that is now used and done in that church, is abominable, heretical, schismatical, and all naught, with divers other erroneous and arrogant words: and therefore we have thought good to send him to your Lordship, to be further examined by you of his particular opinions, as to your pastoral office shall seem convenient; certifying you further, that in our opinion he is one of the most arrogant heretics that hath been heard speak, or ever came before you, and not meet to be kept here in any gaol, as well for fear of corrupting others, as for divers and sundry other special causes hereafter to be more declared. Thus leaving to molest your good Lordship, we commit you to the Holy Ghost.--Given at Chelmsford the twenty- seventh of April, Anno 1555.

            "Your good Lordship's most assured.
            R. Riche.
            Henry Tyrrel.
            Anthony Brown.
            Edmund Tyrrel.
            Thomas Mildmay.
            John Wiseman.
            Roger Appleton.
            Richard Weston."

            Now when the bishop had received him, how he used him it is easy (by his common practices with others) to judge. What his private conferences were I know not, but what was publicly done in the consistory at Paul's (the common stage for these tragedies) you shall here see.


The first appearance of Thomas Wats in the bishop's consistory.

            First upon Thursday, being the second day of May, Thomas Wats was brought thither before the bishop of London; and there, being examined upon his words had before the Lord Riche and others, (as is contained in their letters,) he did earnestly affirm the same to be true. Whereupon the bishop objected, and examined him upon these articles following, to the which he answered, as under may appear.

            "I. First, that the said Thomas Wats was of Billericay, and so of the jurisdiction of the bishop of London.

            "II. Item, that he believed not in the sacraments of the holy and catholic church, as the catholic Church of Rome, and all other churches, members of the same, ever hitherto have believed, and is taught of all good and faithful people; nor hath allowed the sacraments, rites, usages, or ceremonies of the said church, but hath despised the same.

            "III. Item, that he believeth, and also hath taught others, that the substance of material bread and wine doth remain in the sacrament of the altar after the consecration: and that the said material bread and wine are the signs and tokens of Christ's body hanged upon the cross, and of his blood there shed: and that in the said sacrament there is only a memory or remembrance of Christ's body and blood, and nothing else.

            "IV. Item, that he believeth, and doth precisely affirm, that the very true presence of Christ's body and blood in substance, is not in the sacrament of the altar, but only in heaven, and no where else.

            "V. Item, that he believeth, affirmeth, and saith, that the mass now used in the Church of Rome, here in England, and other places, is full of idolatry, abomination, and wickedness; and that Christ did never institute it, nor ordain it, nor yet allow it as a good and laudable thing to be used in his church.

            "VI. Item, that he believeth and affirmeth, that auricular confession to be made unto the priest is not necessary, but superfluous: and that it is enough for a man to believe only, and to confess himself unto God, without any priest or minister at any time, though he may have the priest to confess him unto.

            "VII. Item, that he believeth that Luther, Wickliff, Dr. Barnes, and all others that have holden against the sacrament of the altar, and suffered death by fire, or otherwise, for the maintenance of the said opinion, were good men and faithful servants and martyrs of Christ in so believing and dying.

            "VIII. Item, that he hath and doth believe, that to fast, pray, or to do alms-deeds, is a thing utterly unprofitable: for if a man shall be saved, he shall be saved without doing of them; and if he shall be damned, they shall not help him, or do him any good at all.

            "IX. That the said Wats of late coming into open court at the sessions before the Lord Riche, Sir Henry Tyrrel, knight, Anthony Brown, esquire, and others, and being then and there examined, did openly confess, that he had refused to come to the church, and to hear there the divine service, and to receive the sacrament of the altar, according to the order of the church: because that like as the service of the church, set out in the days of the late King Edward the Sixth, was said and alleged to be abominable, heretical, schismatical, and all naught; so he (the said Thomas Wats) then and there said openly before the said commissioners, that all that is now used and done in the church, is abominable, heretical, schismatical, and altogether naught: and that he did also then utter before the said commissioners other erroneous and arrogant words, to the hurt of his soul, and to the evil example of the people there present.

            "X. Item, that he the said Thomas, by reason of the premises, was and is to be taken, had, reported, and judged as a manifest and open heretic; and for the same, by the order of ecclesiastical laws, is to be declared accursed; and being obstinate and incorrigible, is to be delivered to the secular power, there to be punished as a heretic.

            "XI. Item, that he, over and besides all these offences and trespasses aforesaid, had also added this trespass; that is to wit, that he had believed and deliberately spoken that the Church of Rome, in her rites, ceremonies, sacraments, constitutions, and traditions, is the synagogue of Satan; and therefore that he had consented and agreed in opinion and belief with one John Tooley, of late hanged at Charing Cross, who, at the time of his executing, desired the people to pray to be delivered from the tyranny of the bishop of Rome, with all his enormities; as who should say, that his authority and doings were tyranny, and had all enormities and iniquities in them.

            "XII. Item, that the premises and every part thereof be true, notorious, manifest, and openly spoken and talked of amongst the honest and credible persons in great multitude; and that of all and singular the same within Billericay aforesaid, and other places thereabout, being of the diocese of London, there is a common voice and fame thereof."


The answer of the said Thomas Wats to the aforesaid articles.

            "To the Ist he said and confessed the same to be true in every part thereof.

            "To the IInd article he answered, that he believeth in all the sacraments according to Christ's institution, and the catholic church; but not according to the bishop of Rome's church: and further said, that he doth not believe now, as he had done in times past -- for in time past he believed as the church then believed, but now he doth not so believe; for the Church of Rome hath deceived us -- and therefore, he said, he did not believe as the Church of Rome believeth, but as Christ hath taught him. And further said, that he was so taught to believe by preaching of one Master Alvey, and others whose names he remembered not; which Alvey, he said, did preach the word of God truly and sincerely.

            "To the IIIrd he answered, that he hath and doth believe, that Christ's body is in heaven, and no where else; and further, that he will never believe that Christ's body is in the sacrament.

            "To the IVth he answered, confessing and firmly believing the same to be true.

            "To the Vth, that he did believe that the mass is abominable, and that he will not go one jot from that his belief.

            "To the VIth, that he neither did, nor yet doth believe that the priest can absolve him of his sins: howbeit he denieth not but it is good to ask counsel at the priest's mouth.

            "To the VIIth he said, that he knew not what the opinions of the said persons named in the said article were; and in case the said persons did believe, that the body and blood of Christ were really, and in very deed, in the sacrament of the altar, then that they were not good men. But in case they did believe that the body and blood of Christ was not in the sacrament of the altar really and truly, then he believed that they were good Christian men.

            "To the VIIIth, that he had not spoken as is contained in this article; but said, that he hath and doth believe, that fasting, prayers, and alms-deeds, be works of a lively faith.

            "To the IXth he confessed, that he did utter and speak, as in this article is contained; and, further, desireth God that he might die in that faith and belief, wherein he now is.

            "To the Xth he answered and said, that he will submit himself herein to the order of the law: and further said, that he trusteth that with God he shall be blessed, although with men he be accursed.

            "To the XIth he said, that he believed that the bishop of Rome is a mortal enemy to Christ and his church. And as for Tooley he said, he did never see nor know him; but in case the said Tooley did wish and pray as is contained in the article, then he did likewise wish and consent with him therein.

            "To the XIIth he answered, that all which before he confessed to be true, is also true; and all that he hath denied to be true, be denieth again to be true, and believeth the same to be according to such things as he hath confessed.
            "By me, THOMAS WATS."


Three other appearances of Thomas Wats in the consistory.

            These articles thus propounded and answered, the bishop commanded him to appear again in the same place at three of the clock in the afternoon, upon the same day; at which hour, being brought thither by his keeper, the bishop began with him in this wise; "Wats! you know what I said unto you to-day, and what I appointed unto you at this time. The time is now come: weigh and consider with yourself, that you are but a man, and albeit that ye will wilfully cast away your body, yet cast not so away your soul; but while ye have time, return and confess the truth." Whereunto Thomas Wats answered and said, "I am weary to live in such idolatry as ye would have me to live in;" upon which answer the bishop caused his articles again to be read. He thereto answered as before, and further, subscribed the same with his own hand.

            The bishop, after many persuasions to cause him to recant, willed him to depart as then, and to come again on Saturday at eight of the clock in the morning; where, the bishop being absent, Dr. Nicholas Harpsfield, as then being his deputy, did sit, and earnestly exhorted him to deny his opinions. To whom in the end he answered "Well, ye have a law to condemn me, and I submit myself to the law; but not to the laws of the church, as you call it: and further I do affirm, and will stand to mine answers that I have made."

            Whereupon Dr. Harpsfield willed him to appear there again upon Friday, being the tenth day of the same month of May. Upon which day the bishop privately sent the said Thomas Wats into his chamber, and there, with many fair promises tempted and tried him, whether he would revoke his errors, as he then termed them. But Wats answered him in this sort "I will not believe your church, neither the Romish church; and therefore you do but labour in vain thus to travail with me." He was hereupon again dismissed for that time until Friday the seventeenth day of May, and then commanded to appear in the consistory; which commandment he obeyed, and having the accustomed former articles ministered unto him, made then such answers as before.

            Thus being tossed to and fro from day to day, and hour to hour, he was at the last, the eighteenth day of the month of May, brought into the consistory, where first was made a brief recital of all the former process: and there the said Wats, being, by the bishop and others, willed to deny his profession, made this final answer "God keep me from the doctrine that ye would have me to come unto, which ye have now declared. And I beseech God that I may persevere in that that I have done; for I will stand to mine answers."

            The bishop, perceiving his fair flattering promises nothing to prevail, and having no great store of other reasons to persuade with, put forth his last and strongest argument of condemnation; which being ended, he was delivered to the sheriffs of London, and by them was sent to Newgate, where he remained until the ninth day of June, or (as some record) to the twenty-second of May: at which time he was carried unto Chelmsford, and there was brought to Scot's house, keeping then an inn in Chelmsford, where, as they were eating meat with Haukes and the rest that came down to their burning, they prayed together both before and after their meat.

Illustration -- Wats with his Wife and Children

            Then Wats went and prayed privately to himself, and afterward came to his wife and his six children being there, and said these words in effect:

            "Wife, and my good children! I must now depart from you. Therefore hence-forth know I          you no more; but, as the Lord hath given you unto me, so I give you again unto the Lord, whom, I charge you, see you do obey, and fear him: and beware ye turn not to this abominable papistry, against the which I shall, anon, by God's grace, give my blood. Let not the murdering of God's saints cause you to relent, but take occasion thereby to be the stronger in the Lord's quarrel, and I doubt not but he will be a merciful Father unto you." All these and such-like words spake he unto them, and they unto him; of whom two, as it is said, offered to be burnt with him. In the end he bade them farewell, and kissed them all, and was carried to the fire.

            At the stake, after he had kissed it, he spake to my Lord Riche these or the like words "My Lord," saith he, "beware, beware! for you do against your own conscience herein; and without you repent, the Lord will revenge it: for you are the cause of this my death."


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