Gleanings from Foxe: Thomas Whittle

Edited out of Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563)

January Anno 1556
The Papists, being as yet not satisfied with this their one year's bloody and tyrannical murdering of the principal members of Christ' s Church (whereof there were now very few which either were not consumed by most cruel fire, or else for the avoiding of this Popish rage, compelled to fly their natural country), continued still this year also in no less cruelty towards the more simple and inferior sort of people (I mean in degree, though, God be praised, not in steadfastness!), having yet sometimes amongst them such as were both learned and of good estimation, as in continuance of this history shall appear.

Wherefore (as the firstfruits thereof) to begin this year withal, there were about the 27th day of January burned in Smithfield at London, these seven persons hereafter following: Thomas Whittle, priest; Barthelet Greene, gentleman; John Tudson, artificer; John Went, artificer; Thomas Browne; Isabelle Foster, wife; Joan Warner alias Latchford, maid. All these were burned together in one fire.

The history of Thomas Whittle, who first recanting, then returning again, stood to the defence of Christ 's doctrine against the Papists, to the fire.
Master Philpot made mention of a priest whom he found in the Coalhouse at his first coming thither, in heaviness of mind for recanting the doctrine which he had taught in King Edward's days, whose name was Thomas Whittle of Essex. The same Whittle, being in the tempestuous and violent time expelled and deprived of Kirby [Cross?] in Essex, where he strayed now here, now there, as occasion ministered, preached abroad and sowed the gospel of Christ. But being apprehended at length by Edmund Alabaster in hope of reward and promotion, which by adulation he miserably hunted and gaped after, he was brought first as prisoner before the Bishop of Winchester who then was but lately sick, dying of his disease most strangely. But the apprehender, for his proffered service, was highly checked and berated of the Bishop, saying: Is there no man unto whom thou mayest bring these rascals but me? Hence! Out of my sight, varlet! Why dost thou trouble me with such matters?

The greedy cormorant thus being defeated of his desired prey, but yet further seeking after reward, carried his prisoner to the Bishop of London, as here ye shall perceive:

Upon Thursday, which was the l0th of January , the Bishop of London sent for me, Thomas Whittle, minister, out of the porter's lodge, where I had been all night lying upon the earth on a pallet, where I had as painful a night of sickness as ever I had, God be thanked. And when I came before him, he talked with me many things of the sacrament so grossly as is not worthy to be rehearsed. And amongst other things he asked me if I would have come to Mass that morning if he had sent for me. Whereunto I answered that I would have come to him at his commandment. But to your Mass, said I, I have small affection!—at which answer he was displeased sore, and said I should be fed bread and water. And as I followed him through the great hall, he turned back and beat me with his fist, first on the one cheek and then on the other, as the sign of my beating did many days after appear. And then he led me into a little salthouse where I had no straw nor bed, but lay two nights on a table and slept soundly, I thank God.

Then upon the Friday next, I was brought to my lord, and he then gave me many fair words, and said he would be good to me. And so he, going to Fulham, committed me to Doctor Harpsfield, that he and I in that afternoon should commune together and draw out certain articles, whereunto if I would subscribe I would be dismissed. But Doctor Harpsfield sent not for me till night, and then persuaded me very sore to forsake my opinions. I answered [that] I held nothing but the truth, and therefore I could not so lightly turn therefrom. So I thought [that] I should at that time have had no more ado. But he had made a certain bill, which the Registrar pulled out of his bosom and read. The bill indeed was very easily made, and therefore more dangerous, for the effect thereof was to detest all errors and heresies against the sacrament of the altar and other sacraments, and to believe the faith of the Catholic Church and live accordingly.

The copy of this bill here mentioned, if it please the gentle reader to peruse, so as it came to our hands we have hereunto enjoined the same, "Tit ten and conceived in their own words as followeth to be seen:

The submission of Thomas Whittle
I, Thomas Whittle, priest, of the diocese of London, knowledge and confess with my mouth agreeing with my heart, before you Reverend Father in God, Edmund, Bishop of London, mine Ordinary, that I do detest and abhor all manner of heresies and errors against the sacrament of the altar or any of the sacraments of the Church, which heresies and errors have heretofore been condemned in any wise by the Catholic Church. And I do protest and declare by these presents, that I do both now hold, and also intend by God's grace always hereafter to hold, observe and keep in all points the Catholic faith and belief of Christ's Church, according as this Church of England being a member of the said Catholic Church doth now profess and keep, and in no wise to swerve, decline, or go from the said faith during my natural life, submitting myself fully and wholly to you Reverend Father, my said Ordinary, in all things concerning my reformation and amendment at all times. In witness whereof, I, the said Thomas Whittle, priest, have hereunto subscribed my name &c.

To this bill I did indeed set my hand, being much desired and counselled so to do. And the flesh being always desirous to have liberty, I considered not thoroughly the inconvenience that might come thereupon, and earnestly they desired me to subscribe. Now when I had so done, I had little joy thereof. For by and by my mind and conscience told me by God's word that I had done evil by such a sleighty means to shake off the cross of Christ. And yet it was not my seeking, as God He knoweth, but altogether came of them. Let every man that God shall deliver into their hands take heed and cleave fast to Christ! For they will leave no comer of his conscience unsought, but will attempt all guileful and subtle means to corrupt him and make him to fall, both from God and His truth. But yet let no man despair of God's help, for Peter did fall and rise again. And David saith: A righteous man, though he fall, he shall not be cast away, for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand!—I, for my part, have felt my infirmities, and yet have I found God's present help and comfort in time of need.

The night after I had subscribed, I was sore grieved, and for sorrow of conscience could not sleep. For in the deliverance of my body out of bonds, which I might have had, I could find no joy nor comfort, but still was in my conscience tormented more and more, being assured by God's Spirit and His word that I, through evil counsel and advice, had done amiss. And both with disquietness of mind and with mine other cruel handling, I was sickly, lying upon the ground when the keeper came. And so I desired him to pray Doctor Harpsfield to come to me, and so he did. And when he came and the Registrar with him, I told him that I was not well at ease. But specially I told him that I was grieved very much in my conscience and mind because I had subscribed. And I said that my conscience had so accused me, through the just judgment of God and His word, that I had felt hell in my conscience and satan ready to devour me. And therefore I pray you, Master Harpsfield, said I, let me have the bill again, for I will not stand to it!—so he gently commanded it to be fetched and gave it me, and suffered me to pullout my name, whereof I was right glad when I had so done, although death should follow. And hereby I had experience of God's providence and mercy towards me, Who trieth His people and suffereth them to fall, but not to be lost. For in the midst of this temptation and trouble, He gave me warning of my deed and also delivered me. His name be praised for evermore! Amen.

Neither devil nor cruel tyrant can pluck any of Christ's sheep out of His hand. Of the which flock of Christ's sheep I trust undoubtedly I am one by means of His death and bloodshedding, which shall at the last day stand at His right hand and receive with others His blessed benediction. And now, being condemned to die, my conscience and mind. I praise God, is quiet in Christ, and I by His grace am very willing and content to give over this body to death for the testimony of His truth and pure religion, against Antichrist and all his false religion and doctrine. They that report otherwise of me, speak not truly.

Thomas Whittle, minister

The condemnation, death and martyrdom of Thomas Whittle
Concerning the words and answers of the said Thomas Whittle at his last examination before the Bishop, upon the 14th day of January the year above expressed, Bonner, with his other fellow Bonnerlings sitting in his Consistory at afternoon, called forth Thomas Whittle, with whom he began . as followeth: Because ye are a priest, saith he, as I and the other bishops here be, and did receive the order of priesthood after the rite and form of the Catholic Church, ye shall not think but I will minister justice as well unto you as to others!—and then the said Bonner, in further communication, did charge him that when in times past he had said Mass according to the order then used, the same Whittle now of late hath railed and spoken against the same, saying that it was idolatry and [an] abomination. Whereunto Thomas Whittle answering again said that at such time as he so said Mass, he was then ignorant &c., adding moreover that the elevation of the sacrament at Mass giveth occasion of idolatry to them that be ignorant and unlearned. After this the Bishop, buckling to the articles (which in all his examinations ever he harped on!), and coming to this article: That thou wast in times past baptised in the faith of the Catholic Church!—to this the said Whittle inferred again: I was baptised in the faith of the Catholic Church, although I did forsake the Church of Rome. And ye, my lord, do call these heresies that be no heresies, and do charge me therewith as heresies, and [yet] ye ground yourself upon that religion which is not agreeable to God's word!—then the said victorious servant and soldier of our Saviour, constant in the verity received and professed, was again admonished and with persuasions entreated by the Bishop, who because he would not agree unto the same, the Bishop forthwith proceeded first to his actual degradation, that is to unpriest him of all his priestly trinkets and clerkly habit, the order and manner of which their popish and vain degradation hereafter followeth in the life and history of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thus, in the midst of the ceremonies, when Whittle saw them so busy in degrading him after their father the Pope's pontifical fashion, said unto them: Paul and Titus had not so much ado with their priests and bishops!— and further speaking to the Bishop, said unto him: My lord, your religion standeth most with the Church of Rome, and not with the Catholic Church of Christ!—the Bishop, after this [and] according to his accustomed and formal proceeding, assailed him yet again with words rather than with substantial arguments, to conform him to his religion. Who then denying so to do, said: As for your religion, I cannot be persuaded that it is according to God's word!—the Bishop then asked him what fault he found in the administration of the sacrament of the altar. Whittle answered and said [that] it is not used according to Christ's institution in that it is used privately and not openly. And also for that it is ministered but in one kind to the lay people, which is against Christ's ordinance. Further [that] Christ commanded it not to be elevated nor adored. For the adoration and elevation cannot be approved by scripture.

Well, quoth Bonner, my lords here, and other learned men, have shewed great learning for thy conversion. Wherefore if thou wilt yet return to the faith and religion of the Catholic Church, I will receive thee thereunto and not commit thee to the secular power!&8212;to make short, Whittle, strengthened with the grace of the Lord, stood strong and immoveable in that [which] he had affirmed. Wherefore, the sentence being read, he was committed to the secular power, and so in few days after [was] brought to the fire with the other six aforenamed. And the next day following, [being] condemned, did seal the same with his blood, which he willingly and cheerfully gave for the testimony of the truth.

© Bill Cooper

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