There is only a brief note on Flower in the Rerum (p. 431). This note merely states that William Flower, alias Branch, struck a priest at Westminster while he was celebrating mass. A month later on 24 April 1555, Flower had his hand cut and was then burned at the stake.
In the 1563 edition, Foxe had all of the materials on Flower's martyrdom which he would ever print. Most of this material came from Bishop Bonner's official records, but Foxe also printed an account of an interview the Marian martyr Robert Smith had with Flower. And in the appendix to the 1563 edition, Foxe printed an account of Flower's execution and a final prayer which he undoubtedlyobtained from an eyewitness while the first edition was being printed. Apart from moving the description of Flower's execution from the appendix into the main narrative of his martyrdom, Foxe made no substantial changes to his account of Flower in his second edition nor in any subsequent editions.[Back to Top]
Flower's mind does not seem to have been entirely balanced, and Foxe's notes seek to steer the reader away from this conclusion to the belief that he was a genuine, if somewhat confused martyr (with a penchant for physically attacking priests). Thus, the gloss which describes him leaving his monastic house says he 'turned his religion', but as the next gloss records that he went on to be a mass priest, one must doubt the assertion; the gloss plants the suggestion that Flower underwent a conversion to the truth when no solid evidence exists for when that occurred: the gloss supplies a generic necessity in a case where empirical proof is lacking. Several of the glosses show that Foxe was keen to play down the violent aspects of the story: Flower's regret at the violence is highlighted and distinguished from regret about his religious principles ('W. Flower repenteth his acte in striking'; 'W. Flower constant in his fayth'), while another gloss asks the reader to bear in mind that Flower later revised his opinion about the violence (with the implication that his regret increased) ('Note that the sayd W. Flower afterward in his next appearaunce, corrected & reformed this aunswere'). Foxe's difficulties with Flower can perhaps be seen most clearly at the gloss 'Extraordinary zeales are no generall rules to be followed': the text it is next to is Flower's slightly confused assertion that God sometimes acts through individuals (which would seem to be a justification for his violent actions) followed by the assertion that he had been willing to suffer before striking the priest; Foxe's gloss notes that extraordinary zeals should not be followed as general rules, which would seem to be a warning to his readers not to do likewise. As such, this gloss marks the limits of the imitation of the martyrs which Foxe makes so much of elsewhere. Indeed, it would seem that Flower's status as a martyr is all that stops the reader seeing him as an unbalanced ruffian with an iconoclastic bent. As often happens, Foxe greets a popish text with some adversarial glosses ('In the latter dayes certayne shall depart frō the fayth, forbidding mariage and eating of meates'; '1. Tim. 4'). Despite his somewhat unconventional route to the stake, the marginal glosses accord Flower the usual honour of emphasising his constancy ('W. Flower refuseth to reuoke his fayth and doctrine'; 'W. Flower standeth to his doctrine'; 'W. Flowers constancie'; 'Cōstancy' ).[Back to Top]
MarginaliaW. Flower a Masse Priest.Then he wēt from thence to Ludgate in Suffolke, and there serued as a secular Priest about a quarter of a yeare: and from thence he then went to Stonyland, where he taried and serued as a secular Priest also, vntill the comming out of the vj. Articles: and then he departed from thence, & went into Glocestershire, where after he had made his abode in the countrey a while, at lēgth in Tewkesbery according to gods holy ordināce, MarginaliaW. Flower marieth a wife.he maried a wife, with whom he euer after faythfully and honestly continued: and after this his Mariage, he taried in Tewkesbury about ij. yeares together: and then from thence he went vnto Borsley, where he taried iij. quarters of a yeare, and practised Phisicke and Surgery, and from thence remoued to Northamptonshyre, where vnder a gentleman he taught children their Primers, and to write and read a good space. And so departyng from those parties, hee came to London, and there remayned for a certaine space. After that being desirous to see his countrey, hee returned to Snowhil where he was borne: from thence to Brāckstrey in Essex, then to Coxal, where he taught children a space: MarginaliaW. Flower commeth to Lambeth.and so came to Lambeth beside Londō, where he hired a house, and placed his wife, where he and his wife dyd euer since dwell together till this tyme: howbeit for þe most part he was alwayes abroad, and very seldome at home, except once or twise in a moneth to visite and see his wife: where he beyng at home vppon Easter day about x. and xj. a clocke in the forenoone of the same day came ouer the water from Lambeth into S. Margaretes Church at Westminster, MarginaliaW. Flower striketh a popishe Priest at the aultar, in Westminster.where he findyng and seyng a Priest called Iohn Cheltam ministryng and geuyng the Sacramēt of the aultar to the people, and therewith beyng greatly offēded in his conscience with the Priest for the same hys doyng (for that he iudged hym not to be a Catholicke Minister) neither his Act to be Catholicke & laudable, accordyng to Gods word, did strike and wound hym vpon the head and also vppon the arme and hand with his woodknife, the Priest hauyng the same tyme in hys hand a chalice, with certaine consecrated hostes therin, which were sprinkled with the bloud of the said Priest.[Back to Top]
MarginaliaW. Flower repenteth hys act in striking.In the whiche so doyng as in deede he did not well, or euangelically,
Foxe is quite concerned to register his disapproval of Flower's assault on Cheltham.
tion, he neither would nor did submit him selfe.
Wherupon the foresayd Williā Flower, beyng first apprehended and MarginaliaWilliam Flower layd in the Gatehouse at Westminster.layd in the Gate house at Westminster (where he had geuen ij. groates the same day a litle before to the prisoners saying, he would shortly after come to them) with as many yrons as he could beare: afterward MarginaliaWilliam Flower brought before B. Boner.was conuented before Boner his Ordinary, Aprill. 19. an. 1555. where the Byshop after he had sworne him vpon a booke (accordyng to his Ordinary maner) ministred Articles & Interrogatories to him. But before I speake of the Articles, first we haue here to set forth what cōmunication passed betwixt him and Robert Smith beyng thē also there prisoner with him in Newgate, concernyng his fact done at Westminster: the tenour and effect of which communicatiō here foloweth.[Back to Top]
Flower's assault posed problems for English protestants. Smith was clearly anxious to establish Flower's orthodoxy to his own satisfaction. Having done so, he then wrote an account of his interview with Flower presumably to reassure fellow protestants of Flower's orthodoxy (and perhaps sanity). Foxe printed the interview for the same reasons.[Back to Top]
MarginaliaThe talke betwene R. Smith and W. Flower.FRend, for as much as I do vnderstand that you do professe the Gospell, and also haue so done a long season, I am bold to come vnto you and in the way of communication, to demaund & learne a truth at your owne mouth, of certaine thynges by you committed, to the astonishing not onely of me but of diuers other that also professe the veritie.[Back to Top]
Flower. I prayse God for his great goodnes, in shewyng me the light of his holy word: and I geue you harty thankes for your visitation: intendyng by Gods grace to declare all the truth that ye shall demaund lawfully of me, in all thinges.
Smith. Then I desire you to shew me þe truth of your deede, committed on Iohn Cheltam Priest in the Church, as nere as ye can, that I may heare of your owne mouth how it was.
I.e., the Host elevated by the priest.
A dagger (OED).
Sm. Did ye not know the person that ye strake, or were ye not zelous vpon him for any euill will, or hatred betwene you at any tyme?
Flo. No verely: I neuer to my knowledge saw the person before that presēt, neither ought him or any mā alyue euill will, or malice: for if he had not had it, an other should, if I had any tyme come where the like occasion had bene ministred, if God had permitted me to do it.
Sm. Do ye thinke that thyng to be well done, & after the rule of the Gospell?
Flo. I do confesse all flesh to be subiect to the power of almighty God, whom he maketh his ministers to do his will, and pleasure: as in example Moses, Aaron, Phinees, Iosua, Zimrie, Ihehie, Iudith, Mathathiah
These are all examples from the Old Testament of divinely approved violence. See Exodus 2: 11-15; Numbers 25: 6-8; Joshua 6-12; 1 Kings 16: 8-12; 2 Kings 10: 18-28; Judith 13: 4-20 and 1 Maccabees 2: 23-28.
See Romans 11:33.
Sm. Thinke you it conuenient for me, or any other to do the lyke by your ensample?
Flo. No verely: neither do I know if it were to do agayn, whether I could do it agayne or no: MarginaliaWilliam Flower intending at Paules to haue done the like.for I was vp very early at Paules Church (so called) vpon Christes day in the mornyng, to haue done it in my ielousie: but when I came in place, I was no more able to do it, thē[Back to Top]