George Marsh of Chester

A declaration of the examination and burning of George Marsh at Westchester the 24th day of April [1555]

George Marsh was born in the parish of Deane in the county of Lancaster, and was well brought up in learning and honest trade of living by his parents. Who afterwards, about the twenty-fifth year of his age, took to wife an honest maiden, having children between them lawfully begotten. And then God taking his wife out of this world, he being most desirous of godly studies (leaving his household and children in good order) went unto the university of Cambridge, where he studied and much increased in learning and was a minister of God's word. In which estate he used himself accordingly, earnestly setting forth God's true religion in the parish of Deane and elsewhere in Lancashire. And in the time of Queen Mary he most faithfully acknowledged the same. Whereupon he was apprehended and kept in close prison by George Cotes, then Bishop of Chester, within his straight prison in Chester within the precinct of the Bishop's house about the space of four months, not permitting him to have relief and comfort of his friends but giving charge unto the porter to mark who they were that asked for him, and to signify, their names unto him the said Bishop.

Within a few days of his coming to Chester, the Bishop sent for him into his hall, nobody being present but they twain. And then he asked him certain questions concerning the sacrament, who made such answers as wherewith the Bishop seemed to be content, saving that he utterly denied transubstantiation, neither yet allowed the abuse of the Mass, nor that the lay people should receive under one kind only contrary to Christ's institution. Which points the Bishop went about to persuade him, howbeit all in vain. Much other talk he had with him to submit himself to the universal church of Rome, and when he saw he could not prevail he sent him to prison again.

And after being there, there came to him into the prison diverse times one Massey a fatherly old man, one Wrench the schoolmaster, one Henham the Bishop's Chaplain, and the Archdeacon with many more, who with all probability of words and philosophy, but not after Christ, went about to persuade him to submit himself to the church of Rome, to acknowledge the Pope to be head thereof, and to interpret the scriptures none other wise than the church did, with many such like arguments and persuasions. To whom the said George Marsh answered that he did acknowledge and believe one church and shall confess and believe in one God and in one Messiah, and in Him only trust for salvation, and not upon the Romish laws and decrees [or] the Bishop of Rome being the supreme head. And where they said the church did stand and so had continued by the space of fifteen hundred years and more, he made answer that the church, which is the body of Christ, was before any Romish decrees, neither had any supremacy over empires and kingdoms, but was a little, poor, silly flock, dispersed and scattered abroad as sheep without a shepherd in the midst of wolves, or as orphans or fatherless children. And that this church was led and ruled by Christ, He being the Supreme Head of this Church, defending her from all assaults, errors, troubles and persecutions wherewith she is ever compassed about!

He shewed and proved unto them also by the Flood of Noah, the destruction of Sodom, the Israelites departing out of Egypt, by the parables of the Sower, of the king's son's marriage, of the great supper and by other plain sentences of scripture that this church was of none estimation and little in comparison of the church of hypocrites and wicked worldlings.

He was thrust at with all violence of craft and subtlety, but yet the Lord upheld him and delivered him, which suffereth us not to be tempted above our might, but in the midst of our troubles strengtheneth us and giveth us a mouth and wisdom how and what to speak.

Now after that the said Bishop, had taken his pleasure in punishing this his prisoner, and often reviling him, giving taunts and odious names of heretic, he caused him to be brought forth into a chapel in the Cathedral Church of Chester, called Our Lady Chapel. Before him [was] the said Bishop (at two of the clock in the afternoon), who was there placed in a chair for that purpose. And Dutton, Mayor of the said city, and other priests assisting him sat directly over against the said Bishop. And then they caused the said George Marsh to take an oath upon a book to answer truly unto such articles as should be objected against him. Upon which oath taken, the Chancellor laid unto his charge that he had preached and openly published most blasphemously within the parishes of Deane, Eccles, Bolton, Bury and many other parishes within the Bishop's diocese, directly against the Pope's authority, the blessed Mass, the sacrament of the altar and many other articles. Unto all which he answered that he neither heretically nor blasphemously preached or spake against any of the said articles, but simply and truly as occasion served maintained the truth as touching the said articles. And as, said he, all you now present did acknowledge in the time of the late King Edward the Sixth!

Then they examined him severely of every article, and had him answer directly yea or nay, without circumstance. For they were come to examine and not to dispute at that present. Then he answered them unto every article most modestly, according to the doctrine by public authority taught in this realm at the death of the said King Edward. Whose answers were every one noted and written by the Registrar to the uttermost that could work against him (which cannot at this present be forgotten). After this, the company for that time brake up, and he was returned to his prison again.

Within three weeks after this, or thereabouts, in the said chapel and in like sort as before, the said Bishop and others there assembled, the said George Marsh was brought by his keeper and others with bills and diverse weapons before them. Where first the said Chancellor, by way of oration, declared unto the people present the said Bishop's charge and burning charity, who, even as a good shepherd doth see to his flock that none of his sheep have the scab or other disease for infecting other clean sheep, but will save and cure the said scabbed sheep, so his lordship had sent for the said George Marsh there present as a scabbed sheep, and had weeded him out for corrupting others, and had done what he could in shewing most charitably his charitable disposition towards the said Marsh, to bring him from his naughty heresies. But all that he could do would not help, so that he was now determined if the said Marsh would not relent and abjure, to pronounce and give sentence definitive against him. Wherefore he bade the said George Marsh be now well advised what he would do, for he stood upon his life. And if he would not at that present forsake his heretical opinions, it would be after the sentence given too late, though he would never so gladly desire it!

And then the said Chancellor asked him whether he were not one of the Bishop's diocese. To the which he answered that he knew not how large his diocese was, for his continuance was at Cambridge! But then they replied and asked whether he had not lately been at Deane parish in Lancashire, and there abode. And he answered yes. Then the Chancellor read all his former answers that he made in that place at his former examination. And at every one he asked him whether he would stick to the same or no. To the which he answered again: Yea!

How say you then to this (quoth the Chancellor)? In your last examination, amongst many other damnable and schismatical heresies, you said that the church and doctrine set forth in King Edward's time, was the true church, and that the Church of Rome is not the true and Catholic Church!

I said so indeed, quoth Marsh, and I believe it to be true.

Here also others took occasion to ask him (for that he denied the Bishop of Rome's authority in England) whether Linus, Anacietus and Clement, that were Bishops of Rome, were not good men. And he answered: Yea, and diverse others! But (said he) they claimed no more authority in England than the Bishop of Canterbury doth at Rome. And I strive not, quoth he, against the person of the Bishop, but against his doctrine which in most points is repugnant to the doctrine of Christ!

Thou art an arrogant fellow indeed then! said the Bishop. In what article is the Church of Rome repugnant to the doctrine of Christ?

To whom George Marsh answered and said: Oh my lords, I pray you judge not so of me. I stand now upon the point of my life and death. And a man in my case hath no cause to be arrogant. Neither am I. And as concerning the disagreement of the doctrine, among many other things the Church of Rome erreth in the sacrament. For where Christ in the institution thereof did as well deliver the cup as the bread, saying, Drink ye all of this, Mark reporteth that they did drink of it! In like manner Saint Paul delivered it unto the Corinthians. And in the same sort also was it used in the primitive church by the space of many hundred years. [But] now the Church of Rome doth take away one part of the sacrament from the laity. Wherefore, if I could be persuaded in my conscience by God's word that it were well done, I could gladly yield in this point!

Then said the Bishop: There is no disputing with an heretic! And therefore when all his answers were read, he asked him whether he would stand to the same, being as they were full of heresy, or else forsake them and come unto the Catholic Church. To whom he made this full answer and said that he held no heretical opinion, but utterly abhorred all kinds of heresy, although they most untruly so did slander him, And he desired all the people present to bear him witness that to all articles of religion he held none other opinion than was by law established and publicly taught in England at the death of King Edward the Sixth. And in the same pure religion and doctrine he would stand, live and die!

And here the Chancellor spake to one Leach which stood near unto Marsh, and bade [him] stand further from him, for his presence did him no good. This being done, the Bishop took out a writing out of his bosom and began to read the sentence of condemnation. But when the Bishop had read almost half thereof, the Chancellor called to him and said: Good my lord, stay! For if ye proceed any further it will be too late to call it again! — and so the Bishop stayed. Then his Popish priests and many other of the ignorant people called upon Marsh with many earnest words to recant. And amongst other, one Pullen a shoemaker said to him: For shame, man! Remember thyself and recant! — they bade him kneel down and pray, and they all would pray for him. So they kneeled down, and he desired them to pray for him, and he would pray for them!

The Bishop then asked him again whether he would not have the Queen's did love Her Grace as faithfully as any of them. But yet he durst not deny his mercy in time. And he answered [that] he did gladly desire the same, and Saviour Christ. Then the Bishop put his spectacles again upon his nose, and read forward his sentence about five or six lines. And there again the Chancellor, with a smiling countenance, called to the Bishop and said: Yet, good my lord, once again stay. For if that word be spoken, all is past. No relenting will then serve!

And the Bishop (pulling off his spectacles) said: I would stay if it would be! How sayest thou (quoth he)? Wilt thou recant?

Many of the priests and ignorant people bade him so do and call to God for grace. And one pulled him by the sleeve and bade him recant and save his life, to whom he answered: I would as fain live as you if in so I doing I should not deny my Master Christ!

So the Bishop read out his sentence unto the end, and straight after said unto him: Now will I no more pray for thee than I will for a dog!

And Marsh answered that notwithstanding he would pray for his lordship! After this the Bishop delivered him unto the Sheriffs of the city (then his late keeper bade him: Fare well, good George! — with weeping), which caused the officers to carry him to a prison at the Northgate where he was very straightly kept until the time he went to his death. During which time he had small comfort or relief of any worldly creature, for being in the dungeon none that willed him good could speak with him, or at least durst enterprise so to do for fear of accusation. And some of the citizens which loved him in God for the gospel's sake (whereof there were but a few), although they were never acquainted with him, would sometimes in the evening (at a hole upon the wall that went into the said prison) call to him and ask him how he did. He would answer them most cheerfully that he did well, and thanked God most highly that He would vouchsafe of His mercy to appoint him to be witness unto His truth and to suffer for the same. Once or twice he had money cast him in at the same hole, about ten pence at one time, and two shillings at another time, for which he gave God thanks and used the same to his necessity.

When the time and day appointed came that he should suffer, the Sheriffs of the city (whose names were Amery and Cooper), with their officers and a great number of poor simple barbers with rusty bills and poleaxes, went to the Northgate and there took out the said George Marsh, who came with them most humbly and meekly with a lock upon his feet. And as he came upon the way towards the place of execution, some folk proffered him some money and looked that he should have gone with a little purse in his hand, as the manner of felons was accustomed in the city in times past at their going to execution, to the end to gather money to give unto a priest to say Masses for them after their death, whereby they might (as they thought) be saved. But Marsh said he would not as then be troubled with meddling with money, but willed some good man to take the money if the people were disposed to give any, and to give it unto the prisoners or poor people. So he went all the way unto his death with his book in his hand, looking upon the same, and many of the people said [that] this man goeth not unto his death as a thief, or as one that deserved to die.

Now when he came to the place of execution without the city near unto Spittle Boughton, one Sawtrey, being the Deputy Chamberlain of Chester, shewed Marsh a writing under a great seal, saying that it was a pardon for him if he would recant. Whereat Marsh answered that he would gladly accept the same, and said further that he loved the Queen. But forasmuch as it tended to pluck him from God he could not receive it. After that, he began to speak to the people shewing the cause of his death, and would have exhorted them to stick unto Christ. Whereupon one of the Sheriffs said: George Marsh, we must have no sermoning now! — to whom he said: Master, I cry you mercy! — and so kneeling down made his prayers, and then put off his clothes unto his shirt, and then was chained unto the post having a number of faggots under him and a thing made like a firkin with pitch and tar in the same over his head. And by reason that the fire was unskillfully made, and that the wind did drive the flame to and fro, he suffered great extremity in his death, which notwithstanding he abode very patiently. Upon this, many of the people said he was a martyr and died godly. Which thing caused the Bishop shortly after to make a sermon in the Cathedral Church, and therein affirmed that Marsh was an heretic, burnt like an heretic, and was a firebrand in hell!

In recompense of this his good and charitable sermon, within short time after the just judgment of God appeared upon the said Bishop, who through his wicked and adulterous behaviour was (most shamefully it is to be spoken) burned with a harlot and died thereof, as credible report hath been made. For even they which did speak best of him in this case, confessed that he had a hole or sore in the secret and privy parts of his belly. And when some of the Bishop's secret friends (whereof two were aldermen of Chester that had seen the dead body) were gathered together and minding to deface or discredit the rumour that then was upon him, declared the manner of his disease and wound. Whereat one Brassey being then Coroner (and no heretic!) said with an oath that then surely the Bishop was burnt. For he before that time had taken the view of a mariner which died upon the like disease, and in every case had evident sores and tokens as the Bishop had. More particularly might be said touching the last tragedy of this Bishop and his whorehunting. But shamefastness calleth back.

Edited out of Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563) by Bill Cooper ©

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