Roland Taylor

The Life And Martyrdom Of Roland Taylor

The Sower 1800:

The trial and martyrdom of Rowland Taylor, as narrated by John Foxe in his “Acts and Monuments,” is considered by some to be the finest portion of that valuable and wonderful work. To us this opinion does not seem extravagant, for, among the many sublime instances of Christian heroism recorded by the indefatigable martyrologist, it would be difficult to find one more sublime and more interesting than the case of the learned vicar of Hadleigh. His zealous care over his flock, his courageous determination not to leave the country, but face his enemies; his manly demeanour before Chancellor Gardiner, his dignified replies to the surrilous assertions of that prelate, his calm anticipation of a cruel death, and his heroic conduct at the stake, are but brilliant portions of one of the grandest pictures in the extensive galleries of martyrology, and we fear our brief sketch will give but a faint idea of the original, as portrayed in the pages of Foxe.

Rowland Taylor was vicar of Hadleigh, a small town in the county of Suffolk, which living was presented to him by his friend Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom he had previously resided for a short time. This parish had been previously aroused from its ignorance and lethargy by the preaching of Thomas Bilney, and now Dr. Taylor was sent amongst the people to declare the same everlasting truths of the Gospel that some of them had already heard. In this sphere of labour Dr. Taylor distinguished himself for his zeal and ability, and, by living a consistent life and being a liberal friend to the poor, he soon gained the affection of his flock. Many poor, deluded persons were brought to a knowledge of the truth through his ministry, and the inhabitants of Hadleigh, as a body, were devotedly attached to their pastor. But he had enemies near his door, who, on the death of King Edward, soon made their appearance, resolved to silence the worthy doctor and eject him from his parish.

One morning, as Dr. Taylor was quietly pursuing his studies in his vicarage house, he was suddenly interrupted by the ringing of the church bells at an unusual hour. He at once proceeded to the church. On arriving there he found the great doors locked, so he tried the chancel entrance, and, upon lifting the latch of the door, the doctor saw before him a priest, attired in gorgeous vestments and attended by a body of armed men, preparing to celebrate Mass! This daring intrusion, we learn from the pains-taking Foxe, had been done at the instigation of two of the parishioners of Hadleigh—Foster, an attorney, and Clark, a tradesman. Dr. Taylor, nothing daunted by the presence of armed men, asked the intruder how he dared to take part in such a proceeding without the vicar’s consent and knowledge, and also, how he dared to profane the temple of God with such abominable idolatries. Foster, the lawyer, instantly replied, “Thou traitor, how darest thou to intercept the execution of the queen’s orders?” The worthy doctor, however, boldly told the priest to leave the church, and this order would have been obeyed but for Clark, who, with the assistance of his comrades, forcibly ejected the rightful vicar out of his parish church, and then proceeded with their blasphemous service.

Here this matter did not end. An account of the proceeding was sent to the Bishop of Winchester, who seized upon this opportunity as a grand pretext for having Dr. Taylor apprehended and brought to London. A summons was accordingly sent to Hadleigh, ordering the vicar of that parish to appear before Gardiner and answer for his recent conduct. Notwithstanding the advice of many of his friends, desiring him to leave the country, the worthy doctor was determined to go to London and there defend his cause.

On his first appearance before Gardiner, that cruel prelate reviled and slandered him to an almost incredible extent, calling him “knave,” “traitor,” “heretic,” and other opprobrious names. For a time Dr. Taylor maintained a dignified silence, but eventually he nobly said to his malicious opponent, “My lord, I am neither traitor nor heretic, but a true subject and a faithful Christian, and am come according to your commandment, to know the cause of your lordship’s sending for me.”

GARDINER: “Art thou come, thou villain? How darest thou look me in the face for shame! Knowest thou not who I am?’’

“Yes,” stoutly replied Dr. Taylor, “I know who you are—Dr. Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor, and yet but a mortal man. But, if I should he afraid of your lordly looks, why fear you not God, the Lord of us all? How dare you for shame look any Christian in the face, seeing you have forsaken the truth, denied our Saviour Christ and His Word, and done contrary to your own oath and writing! With what countenance will you appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, and answer to your oath made first unto King Henry, and afterward unto Edward, his son?”

GARDINER: “That was Herod’s oath, unlawful, and therefore worthy to be broken. I have done well in breaking it; and I thank God I am come home again to our mother, the Catholic Church of Rome, and so I would thou shouldest do. Our Holy Father the Pope hath discharged us of it.”

TAYLOR: “But you shall not be so discharged before Christ, who doubtless will require it at your hands, as a lawful oath made to our liege and sovereign lord the king, from whose obedience no man can quit you, neither the Pope nor any of his.”

GARDINER: “I see thou art an arrogant knave and a very fool.”

TAYLOR: “My lord, I am a Christian man; and you know that ‘he that saith to his brother, Raca, is in danger of the council,’ and he that saith, ‘Thou fool,’ is in danger of hell fire.”

At this answer the bishop was greatly infuriated, and he angrily exclaimed, “Ye are false and liars, all the sort of you.”

“Nay,” replied the worthy doctor, “we are true men, and know that it is written, ‘The mouth that lieth slayeth the soul;’ and therefore we abide by God’s Word, which ye deny and forsake.”

Gardiner’s next question was concerning the worthy doctor’s resistance of the priest when celebrating Mass, to which Dr. Taylor made the following reply: “My lord, I am parson of Hadleigh, and it is against all right, conscience, and laws that any man should come into my charge, and presume to infect the flock committed unto me with the venom of the Popish idolatrous Mass.” Still more infuriated was the cruel prelate at this out-spoken reply of his prisoner, so he ordered his officers immediately to conduct him to prison, whereupon Dr. Taylor knelt down, and, lifting up both his hands, feelingly exclaimed, “Good Lord, I thank Thee! and from the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable errors, idolatries, and abominations, good Lord, deliver us! and God be praised for good King Edward.” He was then taken to the King’s Bench prison, where he was confined for nearly two years.

In January, 1555, Rowland Taylor, John Bradford, and Laurence Saunders—a brilliant trio of Christian heroes—were brought before the Bishops of Winchester, Norwich, London, Salisbury, and Durham, to answer to the charges of heresy and schism preferred against them. These three prisoners for Christ’s sake were sternly ordered to give their judges a decided answer and declare their choice—whether they would abandon their scruples and have life, or stubbornly uphold their opinions and suffer death. Dr. Taylor and his intrepid comrades answered that they would not forsake the truth they had preached in King Edward’s days, neither would they submit to the Romish Anti- christ; but they thanked God for His great mercy in accounting them worthy to suffer for the advancement of His glorious truth. Their courage had won for them a martyr’s crown. Sentence of death was now passed upon them, and these three heroes heard the words of condemnation with unspeakable joy.

After the lapse of a week the Suffolk vicar was visited by Bishop Bonner, whose errand was to degrade him. Upon Dr. Taylor’s appearance before the bishop, he was thus accosted: “I wish you would remember yourself, and turn to your holy mother Church; so may you do well enough, and I will sue for your pardon.” The doctor replied, “I wish you and your fellows would turn to Christ. As for me, I will not turn to Antichrist.” The bishop then informed him of the nature of his errand, whereupon Dr. Taylor refused to submit to the foolish ceremony. Finding the doctor firm in his refusal, the bishop ordered one of his officers to place the priestly garments upon the prisoner’s back; and, when he had finished, Dr. Taylor jeeringly said to Bonner, “How say you, my lord, am not I a goodly fool? How say you, my masters, if I were in Cheapside, should I not have boys to laugh at these apish toys and trumpery?” At this Bonner was so enraged that he would have struck Taylor with his crozier but for the intervention of one of his servants. Bonner then cursed him, to which Dr. Taylor simply replied, “Though you curse me, yet God doth bless me.”

On the same night after his degradation, his wife, his son, and his servant were permitted to sup with him. For each of his guests he had a word of warning and advice. For his son Dr. Taylor said, “My dear son, Almighty God bless thee, and give thee His Holy Spirit, to be a true servant of Christ, to learn His Word, and constantly to stand by His truth all thy life long; and see that thou fear God always. Flee from all sin and wicked living; be virtuous, serve God with daily prayer, and apply to the holy Book. In any wise see that thou be obedient to thy mother. Love her and serve her; be ruled by her now in thy youth, and follow her good counsel in all things. Beware of the lewd company of young men that fear not God, but who follow their lusts and vain appetites. Fly from whoredom and hate all filthy living, remembering that I, thy father, die in the defence of holy marriage. Another day, when God shall bless thee, love and cherish the poor people, and count that thy chief riches is to be rich in alms; and when thy mother is waxed old, forsake her not, but provide for her to thy power, and see that she lack nothing; for so will God bless thee, and give thee long life upon earth and prosperity, which I pray God to grant thee.” And then, turning to his wife, he said, “My dear wife, continue steadfast in the fear and love of God. Keep yourself undefiled from Popish idolatries and superstitions. I have been unto you a faithful yoke-fellow, and so have you to me, for which I pray God to reward you, and doubt not but He will reward it. Now the time is come that I shall be taken from you, and you discharged of the wedlock bond towards me; therefore I will give you the counsel which I think most expedient for you. You are yet a child-bearing woman, and therefore it will be most convenient for you to marry.”

On the following morning, at a very early hour, when the City was enshrouded in darkness, Dr. Taylor was brought out of his cell and conducted to the Woolpack Inn, Aldgate. His wife and children, who had been waiting for him several hours, met him, when the worthy man knelt down and prayed with them, after which he arose and kissed them, saying, “Farewell, my dear wife. Be of good comfort, for I am quiet in my conscience. God shall stir up a father for my children.”

After he had been delivered into the custody of the sheriff of Essex, the journey to Hadleigh commenced. On his journey, Dr. Taylor was joyful and merry, and one might have supposed from his conduct that he was on his way to a pleasant banquet. Many times did the sheriff and his officers assail the principles of the learned doctor, but without any result, as he was enabled by God’s grace to hold on his way to the end. On one occasion his enemies thought they had gained their object. They were lodging at Chelmsford, and the sheriff’s officers had been arguing with their prisoner, when, after a little hesitation, he gave them a reply. “Mr. Sheriff, and my masters all,” said he, “I heartily thank you for your good-will. I have attended to your words, and marked well your counsels; and, to be plain with you, I find that I have been deceived myself, and am likely to deceive a great many of Hadleigh of their expectation.” From these words they concluded that the learned doctor was about to abandon his principles, but their expectations were quickly disappointed. “I will tell you how I have been deceived,” he continued, “and, as I think, I shall deceive a great many. I am, as you see, a man of a very large body, which I thought should have been buried in Hadleigh churchyard, had I died as I hoped I should have done; but herein I was deceived; and there are a great number of worms in Hadlieigh churchyard, which would have had merry feeding upon me; but now I know we shall be deceived, both and they, for this carcase must be burnt to ashes, and they shall lose their feast.” This reply not only disappointed, but greatly astonished the sheriff and his subordinates, for they marvelled at his cool contemplation of the torments that awaited him, without any trace of tremulous fear.

As the procession drew near to the town of Hadleigh, the road became lined with a crowd of sympathetic spectators, the majority of whom had heard Dr. Taylor proclaim those glorious truths for which he was about to die. Shouts of joy rang through the air as the parishioners in their turns recognized their spiritual overseer, and tears of affection suffused the eyes of many, as they saw their worthy vicar pass on to Aldham Common. Here his stake was erected. Hundreds of people had assembled to witness the grand scene, and many were hoping to hear a few words from his lips before he died. Dr. Taylor asked permission of the sheriff to address the people, but he was refused. He then undressed and prepared himself for the stake, after which he said with a loud voice, “Good people, I have taught you nothing but God’s holy Word, and those lessons I have taken out of God’s blessed Book, the Holy Bible, and I am come hither this day to seal it with my blood.” At this saying the yeoman of the guard was greatly enraged, and struck the heroic martyr upon the head, exclaiming, “Is that keeping thy promise, thou heretic?” Seeing that it was perfectly useless to attempt to address the assembly, he knelt down and prayed, when a poor woman broke through the crowd, and, despite the efforts of the officers to keep her back, knelt down by the side of Dr. Taylor and prayed with him. Having concluded his devotions, the learned doctor arose and kissed the stake to which he was about to be chained. The faggots were now piled at his feet and the fire kindled, when the heroic martyr exclaimed, “Merciful Father of heaven, for Jesus Christ my Saviour’s sake, receive my soul into Thy hands.” He then remained motionless in the fire with folded hands, till he was struck with an halberd so forcibly that his brains fell out, and the dead corpse fell down into the fire; and so ended the illustrious career of one of England’s most valiant soldiers in its army of martyrs!

Rowland Taylor (1510-1555) was a Protestant Reformer whose opposition to the Church at Rome resulted in his martyrdom.