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1190 [1190]

K. Henry. 8. The storye of Thomas Bilneys death.

MarginaliaThe good courage of Bilney before hys death.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 cherefull harte and quyet mynde as he did, sayd that hee was glad to see him at that time, so shortly before hys heauy and paynefull departure, so hartly to refreshe hym selfe. Wherunto he aunswered: oh sayd he, I folowe the example of the husbandmen of the coūtrey, who hauyng a ruinous house to dwell in, yet bestowe cost as long as they may, to hold it vp, and so do I nowe wt this ruinous house of my body, & with Gods creatures in thankes to him, refresh the same as ye see. Then sittyng with his said frendes in godly talke, to their edification, some puttehim in minde that though the fire, whiche hee shoulde suffer the next day, should bee of great heate vnto his body, yet the comforte of Gods spirite should coole it to his euerlastyng refreshyng. MarginaliaBilney tasted the fire with his finger.At that worde, the sayd Thomas Bilney puttyng hys hand towarde the flame of the candell burnyng before them (as also he dyd diuers tymes besides) and feelyng the heate therof, O (sayd hee) I feele by experience, and haue knowen it long by Philosophie, þt fire by Gods ordinaūce is naturally hote, but yet I am persuaded by Gods holy word, & by the experience of some spoken of in the same, that in the flame they felte no heate, and in the fire they felt no consumptiō: & I constantly beleue, that how soeuer the stouble of this my body shalbe wasted by it, yet my soule & spirite shalbe purged therby: a paine for þe time, wheron notwithstāding 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 mine ovvne. VVhen thou goest through the vvater, I vvill be vvith thee, and the strong floudes shall not ouerflovve thee. VVhen thou vvalkest 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.

Whiche he did most comfortably intreate of, aswell in respect of hym selfe, as applying it to the particular vse of his frendes there present, of whom, some tooke such swete frute therin, that they caused the whole said sentence to be fayre written in tables, and some in their bookes: The comfort whereof (in diuers of them) was neuer taken frō 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 folowyng, 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 receiue him, & to lead hym to the place of execution without þe Citie gate called Bishops gate, in a low valley cōmonly called þe 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 wt great hilles (which place was chosē for þe peoples quiet sitting to see the execution) at þe cōming forth of þe said Tho. Bilney out of þe prison doore, MarginaliaConstant Bilney exhorted to of his frendes came to him & with fewe wordes, as he durst, spake to him and prayed him in Gods behalfe, to be constant & to take his death as paciently as he coulde. Wherunto the sayd Bilney aunswered with a quiet and a milde countenaūce: Ye see when the mariner is entred his shippe to saile on the troublous Sea, how he for a while, is tossed in the byllowes of the same, but yet in hope that he shall once MarginaliaTho. Bilney being in prison, ciuers tymes proued the fire with hys finger.

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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.

come to þe quiet hauen, he beareth in better cōfort, þe perilles which he feeleth: So am I now toward this saylyng, and what so euer stormes I shall feele, yet shortly after shall my shippe be in the hauen: as I doubt not therof by þe grace of God, desiring you to helpe me wt your prayers to the same effect. MarginaliaTho. Bilney going to hys death.And so he goyng foorth in the streetes, geuyng much almes by the waye, by the handes of one of his frendes, and accompanyed with one D. Warner Doct. of Diuinitie and person of Winterton, whom he did chuse as his old acquaintaunce, to be with him for his ghostly comfort: came at the last, to the place of execution, & descended downe from the hill to the same, apparelled in a laye mans gowne with the sleues hanging down and his armes out, his heare being pitiously mangled at his degradation 
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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 coūtinance) & drew neare to þe stake prepared, and somwhat tariyng the preparation of the fire, hee desired that hee might speake some wordes to the people, and there stādyng, 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 liue vnder that conditiō, naturally to die again, and that ye might testifie that I depart out of this present life as a true Christian man in a ryght belief towardes almightie God, I well rehearse vnto you in a fast fayth, the Articles of my Crede, and then began to rehearse them in order as they bee in the common Crede, with ofte eleuating his eyes & hands to almightie God, and at the Article of Christes incarnation hauyng a litle meditation in hym selfe, and commyng to the worde Crucified, hee humbly bowed hym selfe and made great reuerence, and then procedyng in the Articles and commyng to these wordes, I beleue the Catholicke Church, there he paused and spake these wordes: MarginaliaTho. Bilney put to death preaching, being 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 felowe, earnestly entreated therunto by þe Curate & other good people of þe 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 long time before: and so in my conscience moued, I did make a poore collation vnto them, and thereby ranne into the disobedience of certayne authoritie in the Church, by whom I was prohibited: 
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This may refer to Bilney's prohibition from preaching by Bishop West of Ely. On 23 July 1525 he had been licensed to preach in the diocese, but this was revoked by the bishop after Bilney was first charged and tried for heresy by Wolsey in 1527.

how be it I trust at the generall day, charitie that moued me to this acte, shall beare me out at the iudgement seate of God: MarginaliaM. More proued a lyer, by witnes present at Bilneys death.and so he proceded on, without any maner of wordes of recantation, or chargyng any man for procuryng hym to his death.

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