The Burnings of Ridley and Latimer

The Burnings of Latimer and Ridley

On this day in history, the 16th October 1555, during the reign of Mary I, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burnt at the stake in Oxford. The two men, along with Thomas Cranmer, who was burnt at the stake on the 21st March 1556, are known as the Oxford Martyrs and their lives and deaths are commemorated in Oxford by Martyr’s Memorial, a stone monument just outside Balliol College and near to the execution site, which was completed in 1843.

Hugh Latimer was appointed Bishop of Worcester in 1535 but was forced to resign his bishopric in 1539 when he opposed Henry VIII’s Six Articles. He went on to become the Court Preacher during the reign of Edward VI and was chaplain to Catherine Brandon (née Willoughby), the Duchess of Suffolk. His Protestant beliefs led to him being tried and imprisoned during the Catholic Mary I’s reign and subsequently burnt at the stake.

Nicholas Ridley became one of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s chaplains in 1537 and became vicar of Herne, Kent, in 1538. He served as one of the King’s Chaplains in 1540-41 and was made Master of Pembroke College. He was accused of heresy in 1543 but managed to escape punishment and was made Bishop of Rochester in 1547 and then Bishop of London in 1550. He helped his good friend, Cranmer, with the Book of Common Prayer in 1548 and was also a member of the commission who tried Stephen Gardiner and Edmund Bonner in 1549. Ridley is known for his clashes with John Hooper, a reformer who had lived in Zurich in exile during Henry VIII’s reign. In July 1553, after the death of Edward VI, Ridley signed letters patent confirming that Lady Jane Grey was Queen and went on to preach a sermon at St Paul’s Cross on the 9th July 1553 proclaiming that Mary and Elizabeth were bastards. He was imprisoned when Mary I proclaimed herself Queen and was tried for heresy and burnt at the stake.

I will leave you with John Foxe’s description of the burning of Latimer and Ridley:-

“Dr. Ridley, the night before execution, was very facetious, had himself shaved, and called his supper a marriage feast; he remarked upon seeing Mrs. Irish (the keeper’s wife) weep, “though my breakfast will be somewhat sharp, my supper will be more pleasant and sweet.”

The place of death was on the north side of the town opposite Baliol College:—Dr. Ridley was dressed in a black gown furred, and Mr. Latimer had a long shroud on, hanging down to his feet. Dr. Ridley, as he passed Bocardo, looked up to see Dr. Cranmer, but the latter was then engaged in disputation with a friar.—When they came to the stake, Dr. Ridley embraced Latimer fervently, and bid him be of good heart. He then knelt by the stake, and after earnestly praying together, they had a short private conversation. Dr. Smith then preached a short sermon against the martyrs, who would have answered him, but were prevented by Dr. Marshal, the vice-chancellor. Dr. Ridley then took off his gown and tippet, and gave them to his brother-in-law, Mr. Shipside. He gave away also many trifles to his weeping friends, and the populace were anxious to get even a fragment of his garments. Mr. Latimer gave nothing, and from the poverty of his garb, was soon stripped to his shroud, and stood venerable and erect, fearless of death.

Dr. Ridley being unclothed to his shirt, the smith placed an iron chain about their waists, and Dr. Ridley bid him fasten it securely; his brother having tied a bag of gunpowder about his neck, gave some also to Mr. Latimer. Dr. Ridley then requested of Lord Williams, of Fame, to advocate with the queen the cause of some poor men to whom he had, when bishop, granted leases, but which the present bishop refused to confirm. A lighted fagot was now laid at Dr. Ridley’s feet, which caused Mr. Latimer to say, “Be of good cheer, Ridley; and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England, as, I trust, will never be put out.” When Dr. Ridley saw the flame approaching him, he exclaimed, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!” and repeated often, “Lord receive my spirit!” Mr. Latimer, too, ceased not to say, “O Father of heaven receive my soul!” Embracing the flame, he bathed his hands in it, and soon died, apparently with little pain; but Dr. Ridley, by the ill-adjustment of the fagots, which were green, and placed too high above the furze was burnt much downwards. At this time, piteously entreating for more fire to come to him, his brother-in-law imprudently heaped the fagots up over him, which caused the fire more fiercely to burn his limbs, whence he literally leaped up and down under the fagots, exclaiming that he could not burn; indeed, his dreadful extremity was but too plain, for after his legs were quite consumed, he showed his body and shirt unsinged by the flame. Crying upon God for mercy, a man with a bill pulled the fagots down, and when the flames arose, he bent himself towards that side; at length the gunpowder was ignited, and then he ceased to move, burning on the other side, and falling down at Mr. Latimer’s feet over the chain that had hitherto supported him.

Every eye shed tears at the afflicting sight of these sufferers, who were among the most distinguished persons of their time in dignity, piety, and public estimation. They suffered October 16, 1555.”


  • Actes and Monuments (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs), John Foxe, p232
  • Wikipedia pages on Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley

5 thoughts on “The Burnings of Ridley and Latimer

  1. I’ve often wondered, as we Americans would say, why they didn’t get the hell out of Dodge when they had the chance? Surely they must have known that Mary would not forgive anyone who had caused her so much pain under the reign of Edward VI. To me, it seems that the essential teachings of Jesus got lost in the dogma of religion. People had such hard lives as it was without having to deal with being on the wrong side of a religious dispute. I read a great book about the history of God by Karen Armstrong and how religions have developed and the problems that have been caused by organized religion.

  2. Claire — my appreciation for this commemoration. I used to hear excerpts from the Book of the Martyrs when I started attending adult Sunday School, and also remember it being mentioned in various sermons before I actually got to read some of it during my studies. So these things were already very vivid in my mind when I saw the opening to Elizabeth and the very graphic burnings of (I believe) Latimer and Ridley. But it is even more powerful to read the account….When I’m reminded that Anne Boleyn might have died the exact same way (burning or beheading at the King’s pleasure), even death by the sword was more merciful. Anyway, thanks again for posting this.

  3. If ever two men were NOT on the wrong side of a religious dispute it was these two. By their martyrdom we stand today through the power of our Saviour and Lord.

    I take great inspiration in my Christian walk in three words from Hugh Latimer ‘Play the Man’.

  4. My father once told me a long time ago to read about hugh latimer a ancester of ours.He used to say you are an englishman.I never looked it up until now.I am a christian with Godly beliefs and will swtand upon my faith.Jesus died for me so that i might have life.I believe in the ressuurrection of the dead.I am only so sorry for the sufferings of the dead.hugh latimer stood for what he believed in and that matters alot.Jesus stood for us and that matters even more.I thank God for these two men that gave thier lives for a good cause.They will be remembered.May God grant pease and life to all men who will believe in him. may God richly bless you all.Bro JackLatimer

  5. In Oxford town the faggots they piled,

    With furious haste and with curses wild,

    Round two brave men of our British breed,

    Who dared to stand true to their speech and deed;

    Round two brave men of that sturdy race,

    Who with tremorless souls the worst can face;

    Round two brave souls who could keep their tryst

    Through a pathway of fire to follow Christ.

    And the flames leaped up, but the blinding smoke

    Could not the soul of Hugh Latimer choke;

    For, said he, “Brother Ridley, be of good cheer,

    A candle in England is lighted here,

    Which by grace of God shall never go out!”–

    And that speech in whispers was echoed about–

    Latimer’s Light shall never go out,

    However the winds may blow it about

    Latimer’s Light has come to stay

    Till the trump of a coming judgment day.

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