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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 314. WILLIAM WOLSEY AND ROBERT PYGOT.


            After the suffering, of Master Robert Glover and Cornelius Bungey, at Coventry, followeth next the condemnation of other two blessed martyrs, which were judged and condemned at Ely, by John Fuller, the bishop's chancellor of Ely, Dr. Shaxton, his suffragan, Robert Steward, dean of Ely, John Christopherson, dean of Norwich, October the ninth, A. D. 1555; the names of which martyrs were William Wolsey and Robert Pygot, dwelling both in the town of Wisbeach, which William Wolsey being a constable, dwelling and inhabiting in the town of Wells, was there brought to death by the means and procurement of one Richard Everard, gentleman, a justice appointed for those days, who extremely handled the same William Wolsey, and bound him to the good abearing, causing him to put in sureties upon his good behaviour, until the next general sessions holden within the isle of Ely: and so the said Wolsey, being despatched of his office, and brought in trouble, removed his house and dwelling-place, coming to dwell in the town of Wisbeach. Then being called again at the next sessions, he was still constrained to put in new sureties, which at the length he refused to do, and so was commanded to the jail at the assizes holden at Ely in Lent.

            In the Easter week following, there repaired to confer with him, Dr. Fuller the chancellor, with Christopherson, and one Dr. Young, who laid earnestly to his charge that he was out of the catholic faith, willing him to meddle no further with the Scriptures, than it did become such a layman as he was to do. The said William Wolsey standing still a great while, suffering them to say their pleasures, at the last answered in this wise "Good Master Doctor, what did our Saviour Christ mean, when he spake these words, written in the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, Woe be unto you, scribes and Pharisees, ye hypocrites, for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven before men: ye yourselves go not in, neither suffer ye them that come to enter in."

            "Yea," saith Dr. Fuller, "you must understand, that Christ spake to the scribes and Pharisees."

            "Nay, Master Doctor," saith Wolsey, "Christ spake even to you, and your fellows here present, and to all other such like as you be."

            "Away, Master Doctor," said Christopherson, "for you can do no good with this man." "Yet," saith Dr. Fuller, "I will leave thee a book to read, I promise thee, of a learned man's doing;" that is to say, of Dr. Watson's doing, who was then bishop of Lincoln.

            Wolsey, receiving the same book, did diligently read it over, which in many places did manifestly appear contrary to the known truth of God's word. At the length, a fortnight or three weeks following, the said Dr. Fuller, resorting again to the prison-house to confer with the said Wolsey, did ask him how he did like the said book (thinking that he had won him by the reading of the same): who answered him and said, "Sir, I like the book no otherwise than I thought before I should find it." Whereupon the chancellor taking his book, departed home.

            At night, when Dr. Fuller came to his chamber to look on it, he did find in many places, contrary to his mind, the book rased with a pen by the said Wolsey. The which he seeing, and being vexed therewith, said, "Oh! this is an obstinate heretic, and hath quite marred my book."

            Then the assizes holden at Wisbeach drawing nigh, Dr. Fuller cometh again to the said Wolsey, and speaketh unto him on this manner "Thou dost much trouble my conscience; wherefore I pray thee depart, and rule thy tongue, so that I hear no more complaint of thee; and come to the church when thou wilt, and if thou be complained upon, so far as I may, I promise thee I will not hear of it."

            "Master Doctor," quoth Wolsey, "I was brought hither by a law; and by a law I will be delivered."

            Then, being brought to the sessions before named, Wolsey was laid in the castle at Wisbeach, thinking to him and all his friends, that he should have suffered there at that present time; but it proved nothing so.

            Then Robert Pygot the painter, being at liberty, was there presented by some evil-disposed persons (sworn men, as they called them) for not coming to the church.

            The said Pygot being called in the sessions, would not absent himself, but there did plainly appear before Sir Clement Higham, being judge, who said unto him; "Ah! are you the holy father the painter? How chance ye came not to the church?" "Sir," quoth the painter, "I am not out of the church, I trust in God."

            "No, sir," said the judge "this is no church; this is a hall." "Yea, sir," said Pygot, "I know very well it is a hall: but he that is in the true faith of Jesus Christ, is never absent, but present in the church of God."

            "Ah, sirrah! "said the judge, "you are too high learned for me to talk withal; wherefore I will send you to them that be better learned than I;" straightways commanding him to the jail where Wolsey lay. So the sessions being broken up and ended, the said Wolsey and Pygot were carried again to Ely into prison, where they both did remain till the day of their death.

            In the mean time certain of their neighbours of Wisbeach aforesaid, being at Ely, came to see how they did. There came thither also a chaplain of Bishop Goodrike's, a Frenchman born, one Peter Valentius, who said unto the said Wolsey and Pygot, "My brethren, according to mine office, I am come to talk with you, for I have been almoner here these twenty years and above. Wherefore I must desire you, my brethren, to take it in good part that I am come to talk with you. I promise you, not to pull you from your faith; but I both require and desire in the name of Jesus Christ, that you stand to the truth of the gospel and word; and I beseech the Almighty God, for his Son Jesus Christ's sake, to preserve both you and me in the same unto the end. For I know not myself, my brethren, how soon I shall be at the same point that you now are." Thus, with many other like words, he made an end, causing all that were there present to water their cheeks, contrary to the hope they all had in him; God be praised therefore.

            Then within short time after, Pygot and Wolsey were called to judgment about the ninth day of October, before Dr. Fuller, then chancellor, with old Dr. Shaxton, Christopherson, and others in commission, who laid earnestly to their charge for their belief in divers articles, but especially of the sacrament of the altar. Whereunto their answer was, that the sacrament of the altar was an idol, and that the natural body and blood of Christ were not present really in the said sacrament; and to this opinion they said they would stick, believing perfectly the same to be no heresy that they had affirmed, but the very truth, whereupon they would stand. Then said the doctors, that they were out of the catholic faith.

            Then Dr. Shaxton said unto them, "Good brethren, remember yourselves, and become new men, for I myself was in this fond opinion that you are now in, but I am now become a new man."

            "Ah," said Wolsey, "are you become a new man? Woe be to thee, thou wicked new man, for God shall justly judge thee."

            Dr. Fuller then spake, saying, "This Wolsey is an obstinate fellow, and one that I could never do good upon. But as for the painter, he is a man quiet and indifferent, (as far as I perceive,) and is soon reformed, and may very well be delivered for any evil opinion I find in him."

            Then Christopherson called for pen and ink, and wrote these words following "I, Robert Pygot, do believe, that after the words of consecration spoken by the priest, there remaineth no more bread and wine, but the very body and blood of Christ really and substantially, the self-same that was born of the Virgin Mary;" and reading it to the painter he said thus, "Dost thou believe all this according as it is written?"

            "No, sir," said the painter, "that is your faith, and not mine."

            Christopherson.--"Lo, Master Dr. Fuller, you would have let this fellow go; he is as much a heretic as the other." And so immediately judgment was given upon them to die: which done, after the sentence read, they were sent again to the prison, where they did lie till the day of their death. At which day, one Peacock, bachelor of divinity, being appointed to preach, took his text out of the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, chapter v., of one that had lived inordinately, by abusing his father's wife; likening the said Pygot and Wolsey to the same man, oftentimes saying, that such members must be cut off from the congregation; most maliciously reporting the said Wolsey to be clean out of the faith, and in many places quite denying the Scripture.

            So, his sermon being ended, the forenamed Pygot and Wolsey being brought to the place of execution, and so bound to the stake with a chain, thither cometh one Sir Richard Collinson, a priest, at that time destitute of any biding-place or stay of benefice, who said unto Wolsey, "Brother Wolsey, the preacher hath openly reported in his sermon this day, that you are quite out of the catholic faith, and deny baptism, and that you do err in the Holy Scripture: wherefore I beseech you, for the certifying of my conscience, with others here present, that you declare in what place of the Scripture you do err or find fault."

            Wolsey.--"I take the eternal and everlasting God to witness that I do err in no part or point of God's book, the Holy Bible, but hold and believe in the same to be most firm and sound doctrine in all points most worthy for my salvation, and for all other Christians, to the end of the world. Whatsoever mine adversaries report by me, God forgive them there-for." With that cometh one to the fire with a great sheet knit full of books to burn, like as they had been New Testaments. "Oh," said Wolsey, "give me one of them;" and Pygot desired another; both of them clapping them close to their breasts, saying Psalm cvi., desiring all the people to say Amen; and so received the fire most thankfully. The witnesses and informers hereof, were, Robert Scortred, Robert Crane, Edward Story, Robert Kendall, Richard Best, &c.

            Concerning the story of William Wolsey, I received moreover, from the university of Cambridge, by a credible person and my faithful friend, William Fulke, this relation, which I thought in this place not unmeet to be notified unto the reader, in order and form as followeth.

            "There were burned at Ely two godly martyrs, the one called Wolsey, the other Pygot. In these two appeared divers opinions of one spirit. Pygot was mild, humble, and modest, promising that he would be conformable to his persecutors, if they could persuade him by the Scripture. The other (Wolsey) was stout, strong, and vehement, as one having πληροφοριαν [Greek: plerophorian] of the Spirit, and detested all their doings, as of whom he was sure to receive nothing but cruelty and tyranny. He was wonderful jealous over his companion, fearing lest his gentle nature would have been overcome by the flattering enticements of the world; and therefore the same day that they were burned, when they would have talked with him alone, he pulled him away from them almost by force. He was so desirous to glorify God with his suffering, that being wonderful sore tormented in the prison with the toothache, he feared nothing more than that he should depart before the day of execution (which he called his glad day) were come.

            "This Wolsey being in prison at Ely, was visited by Thomas Hodilo, beer-brewer in Ely. To him he delivered certain money to be distributed, as he appointed, part to his wife, and part to his kinsfolks and friends, and especially six shillings eight pence to be delivered to one Richard Denton, smith, dwelling at Wellney in Cambridgeshire, within the jurisdiction of the isle of Ely, with his commendation, that he marvelled that he tarried so long behind him, seeing that he was the first that delivered him [Wolsey] the book of Scripture into his hand, and told him that it was the truth; desiring him to make haste after, as fast as he could.

            "This Thomas Hodilo, both to avoid the danger of the time, and to have a witness of his doings herein, delivered the said sum of money to one Master Laurence, preacher in Essex, (which then resorted often to his house,) to be distributed as Wolsey had appointed; which thing he performed, riding from place to place. And when this six shillings eight pence was delivered to 'Richard Denton with the commendation aforesaid, his answer was this: I confess it is true, but alas I cannot burn.' This was almost one whole year after Wolsey was burned. But he that could not burn in the cause of Christ, was afterward burned against his will, when Christ had given peace to his church. For in the year of our Lord 1564, on Tuesday, being the eighteenth of April, his house was set on fire, and while he went in to save his goods, he lost his life; with two others that were in the same house.
            "Witnessed by
~          Thomas Hodilo and William Fulke."

            Not much unlike to this, was also the example of Master West, chaplain to Bishop Ridley, who, refusing to die in Christ's cause with his master, said mass against his conscience, and soon after died.


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