John Rogers, the vicar of the church of St Sepulchre without Newgate, was burned at the stake in Smithfield on this day in 1555. He was the first of many “Marian martyrs”, put to death for their perceived heretical Protestantism during the reign – and counter-Reformation – of the Catholic Queen Mary.
According to the account in John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”:
“Now when the time came that he, being delivered to the sheriffs, should be brought out of Newgate to Smithfield, the place of his execution, first came to him master Woodroofe, one of the aforesaid sheriffs, and calling master Rogers unto him, asked him if he would revoke his abominable doctrine, and his evil opinion of the sacrament of the altar. Master Rogers answered and said, “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.” “Then,” quoth master Woodroofe, “thou art a heretic.” “That shall be known,” quoth Rogers, “at the day of judgment.” “Well,” quoth master Woodroofe, “I will never pray for thee.” “But I will pray for you,” quoth master Rogers; and so was brought the same day, which was Monday the 4th of February, by the sheriffs toward Smithfield, saying the psalm “Miserere” by the way, all the people wonderfully rejoicing at his constancy, with great praises and thanks to God for the same. And there, in the presence of master Rochester, comptroller of the queen’s household, sir Richard Southwell, both the sheriffs, and a wonderful number of people, the fire was put unto him; and when it had taken hold both upon his legs and shoulders, he, as one feeling no smart, washed his hands in the flame, as though it had been in cold water. And, after lifting up his hands unto heaven, not removing the same until such time as the devouring fire had consumed them – most mildly this happy martyr yielded up his spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father. A little before his burning at the stake, his pardon was brought, if he would have recanted, but he utterly refused. He was the first proto-martyr of all the blessed company that suffered in queen Mary’s time, that gave the first adventure upon the fire. His wife and children, being eleven in number, and ten able to go, and one sucking on her breast, met him by the way as he went towards Smithfield. This sorrowful sight of his own flesh and blood could nothing move him; but that he constantly and cheerfully took his death, with wonderful patience, in the defence and quarrel of Christ’s gospel.”
The site is visited on our “Historic Smithfield … ” standard walk, and on our “Post-Medieval [Tudor and Stuart] London” and “Rebellious London” themed specials.
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