And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
~II Corinthians 12:9a
England, 1555. It is the second year of Mary I, half-sister of King Edward IV.
Edward, who had overseen the last years of the English Reformation, the dissolution of the Roman Catholic Church in England, and the institution of the Church of England, appointed his cousin, the Lady Jane Grey, as successor to the throne before he died at the age of 15.
Edward’s half-sister and Lady Grey’s Privy Council conspired to depose the Queen and in nine days, Mary I was named Queen of England. Mary quickly began work to dismantle the Protestant faith and to return England to the fold of the Roman Catholic Church. At the end of January 1555, it became law that heretics against Catholicism were to be burned at the stake.
People knew that high-level clergymen would be the targets of these public burnings; but tradesmen and even entire families would fall victim to charges of heresy. The final tally of executions under Mary I was to reach 287, with another thirty or so to die in prison.
It was in June of 1555 that Thomas Hauker faced his execution. Having previously arranged with friends that, if the pain were not too great to quench his faith in Christ, he should give a sign from the fire, Hauker went to the stake cheerfully, and prayed as the wood was lit. After a great while, Hauker—flesh burned to crackling blackness, face destroyed, fingers charred to bare bone—appeared to have succumbed to the flames.
The crowd let out a collective gasp before falling into hushed silence as Hauker, flames swirling about his destroyed body, the heat of the fire twisting the air about him, raised his face and hands towards Heaven. A cry escaped his mangled throat and he clapped his hands once; twice; again. Arms spread, Thomas Hauker slumped against the stake, dead in the body, present with the Lord. His friends had their sign.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
This story was excerpted and expanded on from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which gives a great deal of detail about the persecutions of various clergy and laity during the five year reign of Mary I, or, “Bloody Mary,” as she came to be known.
While Foxe maintains that over 300 martyrs were burned at the stake, no complete list of these names has ever been found or compiled. “Official” counts place the number at around 287 dead by burning, with another 30 to have died in prison. It is reasonable to suppose that others were executed or lynched by various other methods, although I have yet to find an account of such incidents.
Lady Jane Grey was Queen for only nine days before her betrayal and overthrow by her own Privy Council and Mary I. Convicted of high treason in 1553, she was beheaded on February 12, 1554. Lady Jane Grey was a Protestant by faith and many have maintained that her death was the first martyrdom of the Marian Persecutions.
This story is an unfortunate reminder that even amongst “Christians,” cruelty and intolerance will often be instigated and encouraged by those who seek to gain or retain power. In the end, it is the laity that suffers for these excesses; in the larger scope of things, this violent history is used by the Enemy to distort the vision of unbelievers, making the teachings of Christ to be words of hatred. As Christians, we not only have a responsibility to others, but a responsibility to Christ to protect and defend the Word of God and the Gospel against all challenges to its Truth, even against the powerful, even to the death.
My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.
For indeed we have had the good news preached to us, just as they did also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.