SUSSEX MARTYRS OF THE REFORMATION
A booklet with this title has recently been reprinted, for the fourth time since 1935, by the Sussex Martyrs Commemoration Council. This account of the .Sussex Martyrs is brief but comprehensive and has served to keep alive the
memory of these gracious men and women of true Christian conviction. Now reprinted and beautifully illustrated it is available from the Council at 97, London Road, Burgess Hill, West Sussex, RH158NE. With kind permission we reprint a section from this book expanding details given regarding Richard Woodman in Gospel Tidings Vol 5 p.120.
Of Richard Woodman more details are available than of any other of the Sussex martyrs. A full account of his arrest and the circumstances attached thereto are recorded by himself in the quaint expressions of the sixteenth century. The following is the substance of this, somewhat abbreviated and rendered into modern phraseology, but as far as possible in his own words.
Richard Woodman’s Own Story
Gentle reader, in my experience you will perceive how in me the Scriptures were partly fulfilled.
After my first apprehension I was a year and a half in prison on the King’s Bench. I had been arrested for reproving the Vicar of Warbleton, where I dwelt, for a sermon he preached. I appeared at two sessions before I was sent to prison and also at two whilst in prison, as well as other appearances before the
Bishop of Chichester, and five times before the commissioners.
On the day that Master Philpot was burned (December 18th) it pleased God to deliver me out of the butchers’ hands, although two days before we had been told we should be condemned. Of this deliverance some of the Papists said I had consented to their religion. To answer them I went from parish to parish, and talked with them to the number of thirteen or fourteen, some of them being prominent people in the country.
They were so angry that they made complaints to Sir John Gage, Sheriff, alleging that I had baptized children and married folk, as well as other false statements. Four or five warrants were issued against me, but I was warned, and that time at least they missed their prey.
Three days later three men were again sent to arrest me. Their names were Deane, Jeffery, and Frances. I was at my plough, and, not distrusting them, went to them and asked them how they were. They arrested me, and ordered me to go with them to their master the Lord Chamberlain. This unexpected arrest came as such a shock that I began to tremble and quake. I answered them I would go, but desired that I could return to my house that I might break my fast and
put on some other clothes, to which they consented. With that I pulled myself together, and said in my heart “Why am I afraid? They can lay no evil to my charge. If they kill me for well doing I may think myself happy.” So soon as I was so persuaded, I lost aII fear and was so happy I praise God as even I was. This battle with self lasted only a quarter of an hour, but for the time it was sharper than death itself.
When I had had breakfast, I demanded of the men their warrant, but they admitted they had none with them. This seemed to me to be God’s way of setting me at liberty again. One of them said the warrant was at his house, and it only meant I could make them fetch it. I told them that if they had a warrant I would go with them, if not they must go, for I refused to go without the authority of the law. Already I had been too simple over such matters, having been arrested, brought before justices, and kept in prison a year and nine months without any right or equity.
Whilst they went to fetch the warrant I shut my door, but went out by another. They set a watch on the house, and eventually seven men and a constable searched it, but to their bitter anger they found I had escaped them.
I expected they would search the countryside, and to fail them I made a lodging in a wood “set past a flight shot” from my house where I lay for six or seven weeks. My wife brought me daily what I needed, and I had my Bible, and writing materials, rejoicing that I was counted worthy thus to lie in the woods for Christ’s sake. Then I heard it was rumoured that I was seen in Flanders and that the coast had been watched for me from Dover to Portsmouth. Eventually when things had quieted I did get away and for three weeks was in Flanders and France. I could not however rest, every day away seemed like seven years, so I was back again as soon as possible. The fact was soon known to Baal’s priests, and fresh warrants were issued, my house being searched sometimes twice in a week.
This went on from St. John’s Day to Lent. Sometimes I went about quite openly, but they could not lay hands on me “until the hour was full come”.
My arrest was at last brought about by the wicked betrayal of my own brother.
I had during this time of stress handed to my father and brother goods to the value of Â£56 and money to pay my debts, any balance to be used for my wife and children.
Although the amount was Â£200 more than the debts, they said it had not been sufficient. I was so grieved that I got some of my friends to speak to them and arrange a reckoning with
me that the matter might be settled. An agreement was made with my father for this to be done. My brother, who at that time was in occupation of property that was all mine, feared that the result would be that I should have him put out of the house he was in.
On the day appointed for a settlement he betrayed my presence to a neighbour. He in turn told the Sheriff’s men or the Sheriff himself. A body of twelve men came towards evening and hid in the bushes near my house to watch for me, I being at home. One of my men and one of my children who came near them they detained, but my little girl suddenly saw them and ran indoors shouting “Mother, mother, yonder cometh twenty men.” I was sitting on my bed and made to get out before they came, but my wife saw they were too near, and quickly closed the door, and barred it,
Now in my house was a hiding-place where I had lain time after time, even whilst the house was being searched, and this had happened I dare say twenty times. As soon as I had hid, my wife opened the door, and in answer to the men’s questions declared I was not at home. “Why did you shut the door then?” She replied that she had been made afraid by the constant searching of the house, and feared injury to herself and the children.
Their search would have been once again unavailing but my brother, who knew of my secret place, asked if they had searched there. It was a little loft over a window. They asked my wife the way into it, and she directed them into a chamber, and whilst they were searching called to me, “Away, away”. Knowing that now there was no remedy I wrenched some of the boards from the roof over my head but the noise drew the attention of my enemies. I got out, however, and leaped down, but had no shoes on. I ran down a lane that was full of sharp winders, the men following me with swords drawn, shouting, “Strike him, strike him.” I was a good way ahead, but the words made me look back, and this in turn led to my capture, for I stepped upon a sharp cinder, and in endeavouring to save myself stumbled into a miry hole, and before I could rise a man known as Parker the Wild was on me, quickly followed by others. Had I had on my shoes I could have escaped, but it was not God’s will.
They led me back to the house for my shoes and other clothes, and on the way one of them, John Falconer, said to me, “Your master has deceived you. You said you were an angel, why did you not fly away?” Then said I, “That is not the first lie by a thousand they have said of me. If they said that I
trust I am a saint, they had not said amiss.” “What, do you think you are a saint?” “Yes,” I replied, “for he that is not a saint in God’s sight already is a devil.” By this time we were back to my door, where my father met me, and willed me to remember myself. To him I answered, “I praise God I am remembered wherever I go. This way was appointed of God for me to be delivered into the hands of my enemies, but woe unto him by whom I am betrayed; it would be good for that man that he had never been born, unless he speedily repents. The Scriptures are this day fulfilled, for the father shall be against the son, and the brother shall deliver the brother to death, as it is this day.” Then said one, “He accuses his father.” To which I replied, “I accuse him not, but say my mind, for there was no one knew my hiding-place except my father and brother, and one other, who I knew would never hurt me.”
During this conversation I stood outside my door, as they would not let me enter the house. Then they bound me, for which I rejoice that I was counted worthy to be bound in His name.
So I took leave of my wife and children, my father and friends, never expecting to see them again, for it had been reported that I should not live a week after my arrest.
Yet I realized that it was as God willed, for I knew what He could do, and that He works all things for the best for them that love and fear Him. So we drank and went away, and I was taken to Firle. Â—Â—Â—Â—Â—Â—Â—
Richard Woodman was a man of wealth and of some education. He was an ironmaster and also a farmer. The Former business seems to have been a considerable one. Young and strong, with a good wife and a family of children, life held much that was attractive. Yet it will be seen that he had learnt that there was something better even than these blessings, and to keep a good conscience he must be willing to give up all for the sake of his Lord.
The cause of Woodman’s first apprehension was as follows:
The Rector of Warbleton, Fairbanke by name, had been a married priest. During the reign of Edward VI he had taught his people not to credit any other doctrine but that which was set Forth in the Prayer Book. On the accession of Queen Mary he, as Foxe quaintly puts it, “turned head to tail and preached clear contrary” to what he had taught. For this Woodman publicly reproved him, and this brought about his first arrest and his committal to the King’s Bench by three Sussex justices.
It is stated that altogether he appeared before various examiners no less than thirty-two times between this and his final condemnation.
The edition of Foxe from which these details are culled devotes no less than thirty-four pages of small print to some of his examinations. It is therefore possible only to give a brief summary. Following his second arrest he appeared before the Bishop of Chichester, Dr. Story, Dr. Cooke, and others in April 1557. Four times after this he was on his trial, being finally condemned on July 16, 1557, by the Bishop of Winchester, in the Church of St. Mary’s, Southwark, and, to use Woodman’s own words, “Sitting with him the Bishop of Chichester, the Archdeacon of Canterbury, Dr. Langdale, Mr. Roper with a fat-headed priest, I cannot tell his name. All these consented to my blood.”
Throughout Woodman proved himself a real student of God’s Word. Again and again he confounded his accusers by his ready and powerful arguments from Scripture. His fearless manner and his charges of unfair treatment, of deliberate perjury, and of evil living on the part of some of those who examined him only made them the more determined to have his life.
Almost all the principal points which divide Evangelical truth from Romish error were discussed during the trials.
His love for his Lord is evidenced in his words as instanced in his first trial. He was replying to the Bishop of Chichester. The point of dispute was “the gift of the Spirit”. Quite emphatically Woodman said, “I verily believe I have the Spirit of God.” The Bishop of Chichester could only say in reply, “I hope and suppose I have the Spirit of God, but am not sure. Woodman.” To which Woodman’s answer was, “No man can believe that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost… He that hath not the Spirit of Christ is none of His … He that believeth in God dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
Dr. Story, interrupting, asked the Bishop not to hear him but to send him to his fellows in prison, and threatened him with death in a few days. When they saw this did not make him afraid the Bishop said, “Methinks he is not afraid of prison.”
WOODMAN: “No, I praise the Living God.”
STORY: “My Lord, I will tell you how you shall know a heretic by his words … they will say ‘the Lord’, ‘We praise God’, The living God’, by these words you shall know a heretic.”
How, unconsciously, did the Romish priest testify to the reality of Christ in the hearts of these persecuted ones!
Accused of setting himself up as a preacher. Woodman replied: “Whereas you say I have been a preacher, it is not so. I never took any such thing upon me, as it is well known. But as for teaching. I cannot deny; for it becometh every man to teach
and instruct his household in the fear of God, and all others as far as he can, that desire it of him. And whereas you have blamed me for reading the Scripture, and leaving my vocation (as you say), I left not my vocation in reading the Scriptures, for trust I followed it the better therefore.”
During his second trial the Bishop of Chichester said that the words of Woodman had so affected him that he had been worse in his body ever since. (Surely a troubled conscience.)
The discussion then turned upon the Sacraments as to whether there were two or seven. Woodman’s demand for Scripture proof of seven was met by swearing on the part of the Bishop, and being reproved by Woodman “he was in a great rage”. The subject of baptismal regeneration, the real presence, original sin, election, were also fully discussed between the prisoner and his accusers, to whom were added a Dr. Langdale.
There is reason to believe that the Bishop of Chichester would at first have tried to have found some way of releasing Woodman, but the sturdy faith so clearly expressed soon resulted in a change of this attitude.
Many times during the various trials Woodman had to protest against falsehoods with regard to his life and conduct, although he willingly admitted anything that was true. One statement was that he had gone to Bexhill, and whilst there went into the churchyard, “and would not go into the church, for you said it was the idol’s temple”. Woodman’s reply to this point was to admit it frankly, “That I said, I said… I am zealous for the truth, and speak out of the Spirit of God unto cheerfulness.”
The reference to Bexhill is of interest because it may have been that Woodman met others of a like mind there. There is mention of a martyr of Catsfield, near Bexhill, in Foxe, who died for his faith, but no other details.
The charge of baptizing children has already been referred to, and in answering this Woodman describes how in his absence from home his child, who had been baptized by the nurse soon after his birth, had been taken from his home without consent and again baptized in the church.
Woodman closes his own account of his last trial and condemnation thus:
“The Bishop of Winchester read forth the sentence in Latin, but what he said God knoweth, and not I. God be judge between them and me. When he had done, I would have talked my mind to them, but they cried, ‘Away, away with him.’ So I was carried to the Marshalsea again, where I am and shall be
as long as it shall please God. And I praise God most heartily, that ever He hath elected and predestinated me to come to so high dignity as to bear rebuke for His name’s sake. His name be praised therefore, for ever and ever. Amen.”
It will be fitting to quote in closing this account of Richard Woodman from a letter he addressed to a Christian lady, a Mrs. Roberts of Hawkhurst, Kent, and written from prison:
“Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father … be multiplied plenteously upon you, dear sister Roberts, that you may the more joyfully bear the cross of Christ that ye are under.
I commend me unto you that I and all my brethren are merry and joyful, we praise God, therefore, looking daily to be dissolved from these our mortal bodies … I have no mistrust by God’s help that all the world shall see, and know that my blood shall not be dear in my own sight, whensoever it shall please God to give my adversaries leave to shed it. I do earnestly believe that God which hath begun this good work in me will perform it to the end…
For when I have been in prison wearing onewhile belts, otherwhile shackles, otherwhile lying on the ground. sometime sitting in the stocks, sometimes bound with cords that all my body had been swollen, much like to be overcome for the pain, sometime to lie without in the woods and fields… brought before doctors, justices, sheriffs, lords, and bishops, sometime called dog, devil, heretic, whoremonger, traitor, chief, deceiver with divers other such like, yea and even they that did eat of my bread that should have been most my friends have betrayed me. Yet… all this that hath happened unto me hath been easy, light and most delectable and joyful of any treasure that ever I possessed. For I praise God they are not able to prove one jot or tittle of their sayings true …
Wherefore, dear sister, be of good comfort with all your brethren and sisters, and take no thought what ye shall say for it shall be given you the same hour, according to the promise.”
So we find this servant of God, in the deepest time of his sufferings, ready and anxious to be of service to others whom he felt might be called to witness as he had.”
True godliness is that which breeds the quarrel between God’s children and the wicked.