The Story of Roger Bernard of Framsden

As Easter comes upon us once again, we may remember that for some of our forebears it was not such a pleasant time. This is the story of Roger Bernard who was burned for his faith by Bishop Hopton of Norwich in 1556. It is taken from the first edition (1563) of Foxe’s Actes & Monuments, and it reveals a man who could display an astonishing sense of humour under the most fearful circumstances.


The first examination of Roger Bernard before Hopton, Bishop of Norwich
When Roger Bernard came before the Bishop, the Bishop asked him whether he had been with the priest at Easter to be shriven, and whether he had received the blessed sacrament of the altar or no. Unto whom Roger Bernard answered: ‘No. I have not been with the priest, nor confessed myself unto him. But I have confessed my sins unto Almighty God, and I trust He hath forgiven me. Wherefore I shall not need to go to the priest for such matters who cannot help himself.’

Bishop:       ‘Surely, Bernard, thou must needs go and confess thyself unto him?’
Bernard:      ‘That shall I not do by God’s grace, whilst I live.’
Bishop:       ‘What a stout-bellied heretic is this? How malapertly he answereth.’
Bernard:      ‘My lord, it grieveth me not one wit to be called heretic at your hands.
              For so your forefathers called the prophets and confessors of Christ long 
              before this time.’

At these words, the Bishop rose up in a great heat and bade Bernard follow him. Then the Bishop went and kneeled before that [which] they call the sacrament of the altar. And as he was in his prayers kneeling, he looked back and asked Bernard why he came not and did as he did.

Bernard answered: ‘I cannot tell why I should so do.’

‘Why,’ quoth the Bishop, ‘thou lewd fellow. Whom seest thou yonder?’ - pointing to the pyx over the altar.

Bernard:     ‘I see nobody there. Do you, my lord?’
Bishop:      ‘Naughty man. Dost thou not see thy Maker?’
Bernard:     ‘My Maker? No, I see but a few clouts hanging together on a heap.’

With that, the Bishop rose up sore displeased, and commanded the gaoler to take him away and to lay irons enough on him: ‘For,’ quoth he, ‘I will tame him or he go from me, I trow so.’ - and so he was carried away.


The second examination of Roger Bernard before the said Bishop
The next day Bernard was brought again before the Bishop, and the Bishop asked him if he did not remember himself since the day before that he was before him.

Bernard:     ‘Yes, my lord. I have remembered myself very well. For the same man I was
             yesterday, I am this day, and I hope shall be all the days of my life concerning
             the matter you talked with me of.’

Then one of the guards standing by, said: ‘My lord, I pray you trouble not yourself any more with him, but let me have the examining of him. I shall handle him after another sort, I trow, and make him a fair child or he go, you shall see.’

So he was committed to him, and brought by him to an inn where were a great many of priests assembled together. And there they fell all in flattering him and persuading him with gay enticing words what they could. But when therein they might not prevail, for that the Lord assisted the poor man, then began they to threaten him with whipping, stocking, burning, and such like, that it was wonderful the do they made with him.

Unto whom Bernard said: ‘Friends, I am not better than my master, Christ, which your fathers served after such sort. And I, for His name’s sake, am content to suffer the like at your hands, if God shall so permit, trusting that He will strengthen me in the same according to His promise, in spite of the devil and all his ministers.’

So when they could not make him to relent or yield, they said: ‘Behold, a right scholar of fortune.’ Then carried they him to the Bishop, who immediately condemned him as an heretic and delivered him to the secular power. This Roger Bernard was a single man and by vocation a labourer, dwelling in Framsden in Suffolk, who was taken in the night by Master Tamage’s men because he would not go to church to hear their unsavoury service, and so by them [was] carried to prison.

W.R. Cooper, February 2001


John Foxe, Actes & Monuments 1563, John Daye, London.

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