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The Tudor Society

1 August – A young blind woman is burnt for heresy

On this day in Tudor history, 1st August 1556, a blind woman named Joan Waste was burnt in Derby for heresy after she refused to recant her Protestant faith.

Joan was just twenty-two when she died and had learnt the New Testament by having people read it to her.

Find out more about Protestant martyr, Joan Waste, her short life and her sad end, in today's talk.

Also on this day in history, 1st August 1555, Sir Edward Kelley, apothecary, alchemist and medium, was born in Worcester. Kelley was a fascinating man. He worked with Dr John Dee and the men believed that they communicated with angels. Kelley also claimed that he was an alchemist and he wrote a treatise on the Philosopher's Stone. You can find out more about him in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history, 1st August:

  • 1534 – Germain Gardiner wrote a tract against reformer and martyr John Frith entitled “A letter of a yonge gentylman named mayster German Gardynare, wherein men may se the demeanour and heresy of John Fryth late burned”.
  • 1545 – Birth of Andrew Melville, Scottish theologian and Principal of St Mary's College, St Andrews University, at Baldovy, Angus.
  • 1596 – Death of John Astley (Ashley), courtier, probably at Maidstone in Kent. He was buried there at All Saints' Church. Astley served Elizabeth I as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, Master of the Jewel House and Treasurer of the Queen's Jewels and Plate. He was also married to Katherine Astley (née Champernowne), Elizabeth I's former governess and Chief Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber.
  • 1605 – Death of Sir Edmund Anderson, Judge and Chief Justice in Elizabeth I's reign, in London. He was buried in the parish church at Eyworth.

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, 1st August 1556, a blind woman named Joan Waste was burnt in Derby for heresy after she refused to recant her Protestant faith.

Let me tell you a bit more about this Protestant martyr...

Martyrologist John Foxe writes of Joan, who he describes as a “poor honest godly woman”, being about 22 years of age at her burning, so she was born in about 1534, and was the daughter of barber, William Waste, who was also a ropemaker. Joan and her twin brother Roger were born in the parish of All Hallows in Derby and Joan was blind from birth. Foxe recorded that from the age of 12-14, Joan had learnt to knit hosen and sleeves, and was also able to help her father make ropes. Following her parents’ death, she lived with her brother, and in the Protestant reign of King Edward VI, worshipped daily and became devout in her reformed faith. She saved up for a New Testament and got a man named John Hurt, who was in the Common Hall prison in Derby for debt, to read it to her, which he did, one chapter daily. If he was unable to read it one day, she would ask another man, a clerk of the local parish church, to read to her, or she’d pay someone. The result of this, John Foxe writes, was that “she was able not only to recite many chapters of the New Testament without book, but also could aptly impugn, by divers places of Scriptures, as well sin, as such abuses in religion, as then were too much in use in divers and sundry persons.”

But then the Catholic Mary I came to the throne. Joan continued in her biblical education and refused “to communicate in religion with those which taught contrary doctrine”. Her religious zeal led to her being called before Ralph Banes, Bishop of Derby, and his chancellor, Dr Draicot. The main charge laid against her was that she viewed the bread and wine of the sacrament as just a representation of Christ’s body and blood, and did not believe that it was converted into his actual body and blood.

Joan defended herself by stating that she believed what the Holy Scriptures taught her and what diverse learned men had preached, and that they believed in all conscience that what they taught was true. She also stated that she was willing to give up her life for her faith. The bishop, chancellor and their men argued with her, stating their beliefs on the sacrament, but Joan stood firm in her faith, and refused to recant. They then sentenced her as a heretic and delivered her to the bailiffs of All Hallows.

After about five weeks, she was sentenced to be burnt for heresy and taken to the parish of All Saints.

On 1st August 1556, Joan was taken to the Church of All Saints and placed before the pulpit to hear Dr Draicot preach against Joan and her beliefs, explaining to the congregation that she was condemned for denying the blessing of the sacrament and that not only was she blind in the eyes, “but also blind in the eyes of her soul”. He finished his sermon by saying that her body would shortly be burnt by fire and that her soul would be burnt by everlasting fire.

Here is how Foxe concludes his section of Joan:
“And so with many terrible threats he made an end of his sermon, and commanded the bailiffs and those gentlemen to see her executed. And the sermon thus ended, eftsoons the blessed servant of God was carried away from the said church, to a place called the Windmill pit, near unto the said town, and holding the foresaid Roger Waste her brother by the hand she prepared herself, and desired the people to pray with her, and said such prayers as she before had learned, and cried upon Christ to have mercy upon her, as long as life served. In this mean season, the said Dr. Draicot went to his inn, for great sorrow of her death, and there laid him down, and slept, during all the time of her execution! And thus much of Joan Waste.”
What a sad end to a courageous and faithful young woman!

There are 2 comments Go To Comment

  1. R /

    There was a beautiful novel published in 1934 about Joan, which was very moving. Her neighbours tried to help her and her brother to escape in the novel but she was caught. It was very sad hearing her simple but real faith speak from the pages of that beautiful novel, which has colour illustrations. It was called I think A Tudor Tale, but I will dig it out and check. I brought it at a book fair a good few years ago. There is a short book on Kindle Unlimited about her. I just downloaded it. Its called Blind Faith Joan Waste Derby’s Martyr. by Pat Cunningham, a local historian. I understand how people felt 500 years ago, but we must remember these were individual people, all with moving stories and they suffered terrible things. It’s the individual stories which really get to you. A beautiful and moving story of living faith.

    1. < / Post Author

      Oh, thanks, RTL, I didn’t know there was a novel about her! I’ll have a look for it.

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1 August – A young blind woman is burnt for heresy