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On This Day: Burnt for his Beliefs

Updated: Feb 17


February 4th, 1555: John Rogers becomes the first Protestant martyr to be burnt at the stake in Queen Mary I’s persecutions. Formerly an orthodox Catholic priest, Rogers had converted to Protestantism after an encounter in Antwerp with William Tyndale.


Rogers was born c. AD 1500 in Aston, Staffordshire. Having graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1526, six year later (1532) he was made rector of Holy Trinity, Queenhithe, London. In 1534 Rogers became a chaplain to English merchants in Antwerp. There the English scholar William Tyndale influenced him to forsake Roman Catholicism for Protestantism.


After Tyndale was betrayed and executed in 1536, Rogers combined Tyndale’s incomplete translation of the Old Testament with the remaining books that had already been translated by another English scholar, Miles Coverdale. To the Old Testament, now in English, Rogers added Tyndale’s New Testament (1526). This version of the complete Bible, which also included Coverdale’s translation of the Apocrypha, was first printed in Antwerp in 1537 by one Thomas Matthew; a pseudonym probably intended to protect Rogers from meeting Tyndale’s fate. Shortly thereafter Rogers’ edition of ‘The English Bible’ was being sold in England.


He returned to England in 1547 during the reign of the Protestant Edward VI. On the accession of Edward’s Catholic half-sister Mary in 1553 Rogers preached an anti-Catholic sermon warning against ‘pestilent Popery, idolatry, and superstition’ and was immediately placed under house arrest. In January 1554 the Bishop of London sent him to Newgate, where he was imprisoned for a year. With ten other prisoners Rogers was brought before a council in Southwark in January 1555 for examination, and within a week he was sentenced to death by burning for heresy. The sentence was carried out on February 4th, 1555 in Smithfield, London.


A plea to see his wife one last time was denied and the sentence was carried out on February 4th. On the day of his public execution by burning, Rogers was led through streets lined with onlookers to where, outside the entrance to St Bartholomew’s Church, Smithfield, he was given a final chance to recant. On his refusal, the faggots were lit and as the flames reached his shoulders, he was seen to motion as if washing his hands in water. His bravery moved, and inspired, many.


Although Rogers had little to do with the actual translation, he supplied notes and valuable prefaces that constitute the first English commentary on the Bible. His work formed the basis of the Great Bible (1539), from which came the Bishops’ Bible (1568) and eventually the Authorized, or King James, Version (1611).

 

Reference:


Watkins, J., (2005), ‘Protestant martyr is burned’, BBC History Magazine Volume 6, Number 2, p. 11.


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