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1009 [1008]

K. Henry. 8. The story of Thomas Bilneyes death.

all the Friers and Doctours of the same sute. Which done, he was immediatly committed to the lay power, and to the two Shriffes of the citie, of whom MarginaliaThomas Necton Shriffe of Norwich. Thomas Necton was one. 

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Norwich had been granted the privilege (1404) of electing a mayor, aldermen and two sheriffs. Thomas Necton's name can be found listed as an alderman (for which, see L&P, 10, 1257 (ii) and Professor Guy names him as the brother of the Protestant bookseller Robert, who had been captured by Wolsey and tried by Tunstal in 1528 For further details, see J A Guy, The Public Career of Sir Thomas More (New Haven, 1980), p. 168. For Necton as sheriff, there is a listing at the entrance to Suckling House, Norwich for 1530 (Necton owned the house for a time).

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This Tho. Necton was Bilneys speciall good frend, & sory to accept him to such execution as folowed. But such was the tyranny of that tyme, and dread of the Chauncellour and Friers, that he could no otherwise do, but needes must receiue him. Who notwithstandyng, as he could not beare in his conscience himselfe to be present at his death: so, for the tyme that he was in his custody, he caused him to be more frendly looked vnto, and more holesomly kept, con

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Preparing for, or being tested in advance for the ordeal of burning by a flame recurs in Foxe's book. See for instance Bonner's burning of Thomas Tomkins' hand, and the burning of Rose Allin's hand. Bilney's self-testing was of a different order, but it was the same proof -- the human ability to meet an ultimate ordeal; spiritual triumph over physical pain. The unnaturally radiant light of the candle (which may itself be read as a symbol of divine revelation) is a blazon of his success. James Truman has recently posited a very different interpretation of this picture, arguing that it depicts Bilney in a homosexual relationship. He maintains, we would argue erroneously, that this woodcut 'exposes the interplay between the suffering of martyrdom ... and the physical intimacy of early modern male friendship'. He cannot account for the total lack of comment to this effect by Foxe's contemporaries or by subsequent generations of theologians or scholars. This image has no heading in the first edition in which it is set awkwardly on the page, squashed into the bottom left corner of the opening -- its left edge reaching far into the margin -- and with the text butting right up to it on the top and right side. CUL copy: the flames in this image are a very bright orange, with their centres depicted in yellow, their tips in red. The book clasps are also depicted in red. Bilney is dressed in brown. WREN copy: this is a much paler image than that in CUL.

cernyng his diet, then he was before.

[Back to Top] MarginaliaAn. 1532.
The good courage of Bilney before hys death.

After this, the Friday folowyng at night, which was before the day of his execution, beyng S. Magnus day and Saterday, 

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The feast day of St Magnus of Avignon (19 August). Susan Wabuda has suggested that this date for Bilney's execution was deliberate. Bilney had preached at St Magnus, London, almost exclusively against prayers to saints. Two chaplains had been present at the sermon, and swore out depositions against Bilney at his first heresy trial. [See, John F Davis, 'The Trials of Thomas Bilney and the English Reformation', in The Historical Journal, 24 (1981), p. 780].

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the sayd Bilney had diuers of his frendes resortyng vnto him into the Guild hall, where he was kept. Amongest whom one of the sayd frendes findyng hym eatyng of an Alebrew 
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An 'alebrew' or 'aleberry' is a kind of gruel - a drink made from ale, boiled together with oats or some other wheat and toasted bread-sops.

with such a chearefull hart and quyet mynde as he did, sayd that he was glad to see him at that tyme, so shortly before his heauy and paynefull departure, so hartily to refresh hymselfe. Wherunto he aunswered: Oh sayd he, I follow the example of þe husbandmē of the countrey, who ha uyng a ruinous house to dwell in, yet bestowe cost as long as they may, to hold it vp, and so do I nowe with this ruinous house of my body, & with Gods creatures in thāks to hym, refresh þe same as ye see. Thē sittyng with his said frendes in godly talke, to their edification, some put hym in mynde that though the fire, whiche hee shuolde suffer þe nexte day shoulde bee of great heate vnto his body, yet the comforte of Gods spirite should coole it to his euerlasting refreshyng. MarginaliaBilney tasted the fire with his finger. At that word, the sayd Tho. Bilney puttyng his hand toward the flame of the candle burnyng before them (as also he did diuers tymes besides) and feelyng the heate thereof, O (sayd he) I feele by experience, and haue knowen it long by Philosophie, that fire by Gods ordinance is naturally heat, but yet I am perswaded by gods holy word, and by the experience of some spokē of in the same, that in the flame they felt no heate, and in the fire they felt no consumption: and I constantly beleue, that how soeuer the stouble of this my body shalbe wasted by it, yet my soule and spirite shalbe purged thereby: a payne for the tyme, wheron notwithstanding followeth ioye vnspeakeable. And here he much entreated of thys place of scripture: Noli timere quia redemi te & vocaui te nomine tuo, meus es tu. Cum transieris per aquas, tecum ero, & flumina non operient te. Cum ambulaueris in igne, non combureris & flamma non ardebit te, quia ego Dominus Deus tuus sanctus Israel, saluator tuus. MarginaliaEsay. 43. That is: Feare not, for I haue redemed thee, and called thee by thy name, thou art myne owne. When thou goest through the water, I wyll be wyth thee, and the stronge floudes shall not ouerflow thee. When thou walkest in the fire, it shall not burne thee, and the flame shall not kindle vpon thee, for I am the Lord thy God, the holy one of Israell. 
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Isaiah 43.1-3.

Which he did most comfortably entreate of, aswell in respect of himselfe, as applying it to the particular vse of hys frendes there present, of whom, some tooke such swete frut therein, that they caused the whole said sentence to be faire written in Tables, and some in their bookes: The comforte whereof (in diuers of them) was neuer taken from them to their dying day. 
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Many witnesses had taken notes of Bilney's last hours, including the mayor of Norwich, Edward Reed, and Professor Guy notes the many depositions taken by More in regard to the occasion. Foxe may have had access to some of these unofficial accounts. See J A Guy, The Public Career of Sir Thomas More (New Haven, 1980), p. 168).

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The Saterday next following, when the Officers of execution (as the maner is) wyth their gleaues and halbardes 

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These are both pole-arm (6'-7' long) based weapons. The glaive consists of a single edged blade mounted on a pole and may have a small hook on the other side of the blade to snag riders, while the halberd (or Swiss voulge) is a two-handed weapon with an axe blade and spike mounted in place of the glaive's blade.

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were ready to receaue hym, and to leade hym to the place of execution without the Citie gate, called Byshops gate, in a low valley commonly called the Lollards pit, 
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Although no longer extant, Lollard's pit was in Thorpe Wood, Norfolk, a chalk pit which had been excavated for the building of the Cathedral. See Oliver Rackham, Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape (London, 1976), p. 145.

vnder S. Leonardes hill 
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This refers to St Leonard's priory.

inuironed about with great hilles (which place was chosen for the peoples quiet sitting to see the execution) at the comming forth of the sayde Thomas Bilney out of the prison doore, MarginaliaConstant Bilney exhorted to constancie. one of hys frendes came to hym and with fewe wordes, as he durst, spake to hym and prayed hym in Gods behalfe, to be constant and to take hys death as paciently as he coulde. Whereunto the sayd Bil ney aunswered with a quiet and a mylde countenaunce: Ye see when the Mariner is entred hys shippe to sayle on the troublous Sea, how he for a while is tossed in þe byllowes of the same, but yet in hope that he shall once MarginaliaTho. Bilney being in prison, [illegible text] tymes proued the fire wyth hys finger. come to the quiet hauē, he beareth in better comfort, þe perils which he feeleth: So am I now toward this sayling, & what so euer stormes I shall feele, yet shortly after shall my ship be in the hauen: as I doubt not therof by the grace of God, desiring you to help me with your prayers to þe same effect. MarginaliaTho. Bilney going to hys death. And so he going foorth in the streetes, geuing much almes by the way, by the handes of one of his frends, and accompanyed with one D. Warner Doct. of Diuinitie and parson of Wintertō, whom he did chuse as hys old acquaintaunce, to be wyth him for hys ghostly comfort: came at the last, to the place of execution, and descended downe from the hil to the same, apparelled in a lay mans gowne wyth the sleues hanging downe, and his armes out, hys heare beyng pitiously mangled at hys degradatiō 
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Part of the ritual for degrading priests was the bloodying of the head.

(a litle single body in person, but alwayes of a good vpright countenaunce) and drew neare to the stake prepared, and somwhat tarying the preparation of the fire, he desired that he might speake some wordes to the people, and there standing, thus he sayd:

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MarginaliaThe wordes of Tho. Bilney at the stake. Good people, I am come hether to dye, and borne I was to lyue vnder that condition, naturally to dye agayne, and that ye might testifie that I depart out of this present lyfe as a true Christian man in a right belief towardes almightie God, I wil rehearse vnto you in a fast fayth, the Articles of my Creede, and then began to rehearse them in order as they bee in the common Creede, with oft eleuatyng his eyes and handes to almightie GOD, and at the Article of Christes incarnation hauynge a little meditation in hym selfe, and commyng to the worde Crucified, hee humbly bowed hym selfe and made great reuerence, and then proceedyng in the Articles and commyng to these wordes, I beleue the Catholicke Church, there hee paused and spake these wordes: MarginaliaTho. Bilney put to death preaching, beyng therunto desired. Good people I must here confesse to haue offended the Churche in preachyng once agaynst the prohibition of the same, at a poore Cure belongyng to Trinitie hall in Cambridge where I was felow, earnestly intreated thereunto by the Curate and other good people of the Parishe, 

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This refers to St Edward King and Martyr (the chapel of Trinity Hall).

shewyng that they had no Sermon there of a lōg tyme before: & so in my cōscience moued, I dyd

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