War in the West

Latimer and Ridley Burned at the Stake

October 16th, 1555

A cross in the road in Oxford’s Broad St marks the site of the execution. Workmen had discovered part of a stake and some bits of charred bone there, in what had once been part of the town ditch. Whether, as the flames were kindled, Latimer really said, ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as shall never be put out’ is uncertain. The remark, if Latimer made it, came ultimately from the account of the martyrdom of Polycarp in the second century given by the historian Eusebius, an author he knew well. It was in the 1583 edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, but not in the earlier edition of 1563. John Foxe was unusual among intellectuals at the time in thinking that burning people to death for their opinions was not an altogether commendable idea.

Hugh Latimer was about seventy when he went to the stake. A former Bishop of Worcester, he was later an influential preacher and chaplain in London and at Edward VI’s court. Nicholas Ridley, in his early fifties, had been Bishop of London and an outspoken supporter of the attempt to make Lady Jane Grey queen instead of ‘Bloody’ Mary. After Mary’s accession he was arrested for treason. Latimer was warned that his arrest was imminent, and the new regime might have preferred him to flee abroad, but he stood his ground. From early in 1554 he and Ridley shared a cell in the Tower of London with Archbishop Cranmer and the well-known preacher John Bradford.

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