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John UnderwoodThomas Pelles
 
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John Underwood

(d. 1541) [Emden; VCH: Norfolk, vol. 2 (1906) pp. 359-68]

Franciscan friar; BTh Cambridge 1500; DTh; bishop of Chalcedon (1505 - 41); prior of Bromholm, Norfolk (1509 - 30); suffragan to the bishop of Norwich 1527

Thomas Bilney was degraded by John Underwood in 1531. 1570, p. 1150; 1576, p. 984; 1583, p. 1012.

 
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Thomas Pelles

Doctor of law and chancellor of Norwich diocese [ODNB sub Thos Bilney]

Thomas Bilney was examined and condemned before Thomas Pelles. 1570, p. 1150; 1576, p. 984; 1583, p. 1012.

1036 [1012]

K. Hen. 8. The storye of Tho. Bilney Martyr, burned for the profeßion of the truth.

to meddle with Gods Arkematters, wherein he had little cunning and while he thinketh to helpe religion, destroieth religion, and is an vtter enemy to Christ, and to his spirituall doctrine, and his poore afflicted Church, to the intent therefore that he being taken for a speciall ringleader, and a chiefe stay in the Popes Church, might the better be knowen what he is, and that the ignorant and simple may see what little credite is to be geuen vnto him, as well in his other false facing out of matters, as namely in this present history of Bilneys recantation: I haue dilligently searched out and procured the true certificate of M. Bilneys burning, with all the circumstaunces, and poyntes thereto belonging, testified not by somesayes & by heareseyes (as M. More vseth) but truely witnessed, and faythfully recordeth by one, MarginaliaDoct. Parker Archb. of Canterbury, present witnesse at the burning of Bilney. who as in a place and degree surmounteth the estate of M. More (though he were Lord Chauncellour) so beyng also both a spirituall person, and there present the same time, comming for the same purpose the day before, to see his burning, was a present beholder of things there done, xxx of Martyrdom, whose credite I am sure will counterpease with the credite of M. More. The order of which martyrdome was this, as followeth.

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Thomas Bilney, after his examination and condemnation before Doct. Pelles Doctour of law and Chaūcel-lour, 

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Thomas Pelles is identified by Professor Guy as a 'hard-core' conservative member of lower convocation who supported Catherine (in the divorce matter) as part of an Aragonese faction. As chancellor of Norwich diocese he had examined Bilney's opinions. He claimed after Bilney's execution that he had handed the martyr a draft revocation which Bilney read out. Pelles was arrested in 1531 for praemunire violations. See J A Guy, The Public Career of Sir Thomas More (New Haven, 1980), pp. 142, 167 and 176].

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first was degarded by Suffragan Vnderwoode, according to the custome of ther popishe maner, by the assistaunce of all the Fryers and Doctours of the same sute. Whiche done, he was immediately committed to the laye power, and to the two Sheriffes of the Cittie, of whome 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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MarginaliaTho. Nectō Sheriffe of Norwich.This Tho. Necton was Bilneys speciall good frend, and sory to accept hym to such execution as followed. But such was the tyrannye of þt tyme and dread of the Chauncellour and Fryers, that he coulde no otherwise doe, but needes must receiue him. Who notwithstanding, as he could not beare in his conscience himselfe to be present at hys death: so, for the time that he was in hys custody, hee caused hym to be more friendly looked vnto, and more holesomely kept, concerning his dyet, then he was before.

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MarginaliaAnno. 1531.After this, the Friday following at night, whiche was before the day of his execution, being 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 said Bilney had diuers of his frendes resorting vnto hym in the Guildhall, where he was kept. MarginaliaThe good courage of Bilney before hys death.Amongst whome one of the sayd frendes finding hym eating of an Albrew 
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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 suche a cheerefull hart and quyet minde as he did, sayd that he was glad to see hym at that time, so shortly before hys heauy and paynfull departure, so hartily to refresh himselfe. Wherunto he answered: Oh sayd he, MarginaliaTho. Bilney being in prison, diuers tymes proued the fire with his finger.

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A description of the godly constancy of Thomas Bilney, who being in prison, oftentimes prooued the fire with his finger.
woodcut [View a larger version]
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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.

I followe the example of the husbandmen of the countrey who hauing a ruinous house to dwell in, yet bestowe cost as long as they may, to hold it vp, and so do I now wyth this ruinous house of my body, and with Gods creatures in thankes to hym, refresh the same as ye see. Then sitting with his sayde friendes in godly talke, to theyr edification some put him in minde that though the fire, which he shuld suffer the next day should be of great heate vnto hys body, yet the comfort of Gods spirite should coole it to hys euerlasting refreshing. At this word the said Tho. Bilney putting his hand toward the flame of the candle burning before them (as also he did diuers tymes besides) and feelyng the heate thereof, MarginaliaBilney tasted the fire with his finger. O (sayd he) I feele by experience, & haue known it long by Philosophy, that fire by Gods ordināce is naturally hoot, but yet I am perswaded by Gods holye worde, and by the experience of some spokē of in the same, that in the flame they felt no heate, and in the fire they felte no consumption: and I constantly beleue, that how soeuer þe stouble of this my body shalbe wasted by it, yet my soule and spirite shalbe purged thereby: a payne for the tyme, whereon notwithstanding followeth ioy vnspeakeable. And here he much entreated of this place of scripture: MarginaliaEsay 43.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 Israell, saluator tuus. That is: Feare not, for I redeemed thee, and called thee by the name thou art myne owne. When thou goest through the water, I wyllbe with thee, and the strong flouds shall not ouerfloow thee. Whē thou walkest in the fire, it shall not burne thee, and the flame shall not kindle vpon thee, for I am the Lord the God, the holy one of Israell. 

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Isaiah 43.1-3.

Which he did most comfortably entreate of, as well in respect of hymselfe, as applying it to the particular vse of his frendes there present, of whome, some tooke suche sweete fruite therein, that they caused the whole sayd sentence to be fayre written in Tables, & some in theyr bookes The comfort 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) with 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 him to the place of execution without the Citty 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. Leonards hyl 
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This refers to St Leonard's priory.

enuironed about with great hylles (whiche place was chosen for the peoples quiet sitting to see the executiō) at the comming forth of the sayd Thomas Bilney out of the prison doore, MarginaliaConstant Bilney exhorted to constancye. one of hys frendes came to hym with few wordes, as he durst, spake to hym & prayed him & in Gods behalfe, to be constant and to take his death as paciently as he could. Whereunto the sayd Bilney aunswered with a quyet and milde countenance: Ye see when the Mariner is entred hys shyp to sayle on the troublous Sea, how he for a while is tossed in the byllowes of þe same but yet in hope that he shall once come to the quyet hauen, he beareth in better comforte, the perils whiche he feeleth: So am I now toward this sayling, & whatsoeuer storms

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I shall