9 February 1555 – John Hooper

John HooperEvents conspired against John Hooper to ensure he was burned at the stake in 1555.

The ex-Bishop and clergyman had been banged up for heresy, but they couldn’t touch him because there were no laws to call upon. But under Mary I’s rule, things changed and the heresy laws were revived sanctioning the death penalty in December 1554. Just a couple of months later he was to be executed.

Good turnout

It was market day so there was a great turnout, according to records captured by writer John Foxe in his ‘Book of Martyrs’. Foxe estimated around 7,000 turned up for the execution.

At about eight o’clock, Hooper was led to the stake, near Gloucester Cathedral where he’d been Bishop. He leaned on a staff due to his sciatica brought on from grim prison life.

Black mail

Then came the second event that gave him a glimpse of life. Mid-prayer, ‘a boxe was brought and layd before hym’. It was on a fur stole and was said to contain ‘his pardō (or at the least wise it was fayned to be hys pardon)’. But it came with a caveat. That he should turn to Catholicism. “Away with it if you love my soul” said Hooper and in defiance. He even kissed two faggots, stuffed them under each arm and showed the executioners how to set the remaining ones around him.

A swell time

Apparently it was windy that day and when the boughs were set alight the flames were blown away from him, so some dried faggots were added, which caught light and burned his hair causing his skin to blister and swell.

But progress was slow mainly because the faggots were green and the wind was against them. As his bottom half burned slowly he cried, ‘For God’s love, let me have more fire’. More faggots were added, even gunpowder, but to no avail.

Dead and dripping

The details of his death according to John Foxe were as graphic as any horror film. Foxe wrote: ‘…when he was blacke in the mouth, and his tonge swollen, that he could not speake: yet his lippes went, ’til they wer shrounke to the gommes [gums]: and he did knocke his brest with his hands untill one of his armes fel of, and then knocked still with the other, what time the fat, water, and bloud dropped out at his fingers endes, until by renewing of the fire, his strength was gonne….So immediatly bowing forwardes, he yelded up his spirite.’

Bowel movement

Foxe went on to say that it took 45 minutes or more for him to die, quietly as a lamb: he didn’t move despite the bottom part of his body burning until his bowels fell out. John Foxe observed that the 60-year-old died ‘as quietly as a child in his bed’.

Also on this day

9 February 1961 – George Riley

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