The Tudor Society

John Rogers, the first Protestant martyr of Mary I’s reign

John Rogers

John Rogers

On this day in history, 4th February 1555, John Rogers, clergyman and Biblical editor, was burned at the stake at Smithfield. Rogers was the first English Protestant burned in Mary I's reign after being condemned as a heretic. he refused the chance of a last minute pardon if he recanted, and died bravely. His wife and eleven children, one being newborn and at the breast, attended his burning. Martyrologist John Foxe recorded that Rogers "constantly and cheerfully took his death with wonderful patience, in the defence and quarrel of the Gospel of Christ."

John Rogers was born in around 1500 in Deritend, now part of the city of Birmingham, in the Midlands. He was the son of lorimer John Rogers and his wife Margaret Wyatt. After attending the Guild School of St John the Baptist, Deritend, he studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating with a BA in 1526. In 1532, he became rector of Holy Trinity-the-Less in London. In 1534, he left England for Antwerp to become a chaplain at the English House, the community of English merchants and others in Antwerp. It was in Antwerp that Rogers met William Tyndale, Bible translator and author of The Obedience of a Christian Man, who was arrested just outside the English House in 1535 and executed in 1536. David Daniell, author of John Rogers' biography for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, writes of how Rogers was able to rescue Tyndale's work: "By a means unknown, however, the manuscript of Tyndale's translation of the second quarter of the Old Testament, the historical books from Joshua to 2 Chronicles, was kept in the hands of Rogers [...]", and that Rogers "immediately began to assemble a complete Bible, printing half the Old Testament in Tyndale's translation, and the rest from Coverdale's of 1535. The New Testament he took verbatim from Tyndale's translation in his 1534 revision." This Bible was printed in Antwerp in 1537 as the "Thomas Matthew's Bible", being named after two of Christ's disciples. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer said of this Bible in August 1537: "I like it better than any other translation heretofore made".

In 1539, Miles Coverdale revised the Thomas Matthew's Bible and with further revisions it became the Great Bible, the Bible which Henry VIII ordered in 1541 to be placed in every parish church.

In 1536/7 Rogers married Adriana de Weyden and in November 1540 he matriculated from the University of Wittenberg. Following this, he became a superintendent of the Lutheran church in Meldorf, Dithmarschen, and then in 1543 he became the pastor at Meldorf.

In the spring of 1548, Rogers returned to England where he worked, in London, on translating works by reformer Philipp Melancthon. Later that year, he became rector of St Matthew's, Friday Street, and then, in 1550, of St Margaret Moyses, also in Friday Street. Just a few days later, he was appointed vicar of St Sepulchre. In August 1551 he was appointed prebendary of St Pancras in St Paul's Cathedral and also lecturer in divinity there. Daniell writes of how, at St Paul's, Rogers "preached powerfully and boldly against the misuse of the abbey lands by Northumberland and his party."

Unfortunately for Rogers, in July 1553 the Catholic Mary I came to the throne. Following her accession, Rogers was ordered by Mary's privy council to keep within his own house. This was followed by Rogers being deprived of his prebend. Although he did not leave his house, Rogers was sent to Newgate Prison on 27th January 1554. By November/December 1554 he was still in prison and Daniell writes of how at this point he and his fellow prisoners wrote to Mary I "protesting against the illegality of their imprisonment and begging to be brought to trial." Following the re-enactment of anti-Lollard legislation in December 1554, Rogers was examined in January 1555 before Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor, and the Queen's council at Gardiner's house in Southwark. On 28th and 29th January he was tried by a special commission and condemned as a heretic. On 4th February, Rogers was degraded by Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, and taken to Smithfield where he was burned at the stake.

Martyrologist John Foxe recorded John Rogers' death:

"Now when the time came that he, being delivered to the sheriffs, should be brought out of Newgate to Smithfield, the place of his execution, first came to him master Woodroofe, one of the aforesaid sheriffs, and calling master Rogers unto him, asked him if he would revoke his abominable doctrine, and his evil opinion of the sacrament of the altar. Master Rogers answered and said, "That which I have preached I will seal with my blood." "Then," quoth master Woodroofe, "thou art a heretic." "That shall be known," quoth Rogers, "at the day of judgment." "Well," quoth master Woodroofe, "I will never pray for thee." "But I will pray for you," quoth master Rogers; and so was brought the same day, which was Monday the 4th of February, by the sheriffs toward Smithfield, saying the psalm "Miserere" by the way, all the people wonderfully rejoicing at his constancy, with great praises and thanks to God for the same. And there, in the presence of master Rochester, comptroller of the queen's household, sir Richard Southwell, both the sheriffs, and a wonderful number of people, the fire was put unto him; and when it had taken hold both upon his legs and shoulders, he, as one feeling no smart, washed his hands in the flame, as though it had been in cold water. And, after lifting up his hands unto heaven, not removing the same until such time as the devouring fire had consumed them - most mildly this happy martyr yielded up his spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father. A little before his burning at the stake, his pardon was brought, if he would have recanted, but he utterly refused. He was the first proto-martyr of all the blessed company that suffered in queen Mary's time, that gave the first adventure upon the fire. His wife and children, being eleven in number, and ten able to go, and one sucking on her breast, met him by the way as he went towards Smithfield. This sorrowful sight of his own flesh and blood could nothing move him; but that he constantly and cheerfully took his death, with wonderful patience, in the defence and quarrel pf Christ's gospel."

Notes and Sources

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