'Gallows were set up upon the top of the tower of the parish church and all things being ready the vicar was brought to the place and by a rope about his middle drawn up to the top of the tower and there in chains hanged in his popish apparel and having a water bucket, a sprinkler, a sacring bell, a rosary, and other such popish trash hanged about him; and there, with the same about him, remained a long time; he very patiently took his death'.
Here in Oxford much has been made of those who suffered for the Protestant religion under Queen Mary; and the Roman Catholics have very properly celebrated their own martyrs, including Bl George Napier, who bore witness at the Castle which is within our parish of S Thomas. Largely forgotten are those members of the Church of England who were executed - without trial - in 1549 because they would not accept the newly state-imposed protestant worship. On July 9 Lord Gray (an impoverished nobleman, known for his ferocity, who harnessed his diminished fortunes to the new religion) ordered the execution four Oxfordshire clergy: Fr Richard Tompson, Vicar of Dunstew; Fr Henry Matthew, Vicar of Deddington; Fr Henry Joyes, Vicar of Chipping Norton; and Fr John Wade, Vicar of Bloxham. It was specified that the last two should be hanged from their steeples. Laymen also suffered: John White; John Brookyns; William Boolar; Richard Whittington; (?)Bowldry. Executions were to be spread around Oxford, Banbury, Deddington, Islip, Wattlington, Thame, and Bicester 'for the more terror of the said evil people'. What has not always been noticed is that the 'order' describes this as 'further execution to be done'; in other words, this list is only the tip of an iceberg.
Lord Gray then hurried down to Devon and Cornwall to join Lord Russell (whose fortune, still enjoyed by his descendants the Dukes of Bedford, was based on murder and the spoliation of the Church) in suppressing the better-known 'Western Rebellion', spectacularly recalled in Eamon Duffy's Voices of Morebath. The scale of the slaughters there have elicited the word 'genocide'. The description which starts this piece decribes the execution of the Vicar of S Thomas the Martyr, Exeter.
These were our Catholic Anglican martyrs; two of them had accepted institution from the schismatic first bishop of Oxford, occupant of a see erected by Henry VIII. Like us, they undoubtedly resented the schism in which their 'betters' had involved them; their fellow-rebels in Devon significantly included in their demands the appointment of the exiled Cardinal Pole to be First in the Privy Council. But like us, they struggled for Catholic worship and for unity with the See of Peter from within the church of their birth and baptism.
I think they should not go uncommemorated. Would anybody like to suggest how we might liturgically commemorate them here in S Thomas's?