29 May 1593 – John Penry

John PenryIt should be a criminal offence to call your kids Deliverance, Comfort, Safety and Sure-hope. But that’s not why John Penry kicked the bucket today in 1593. Wales’s first Protestant martyr was hanged for his nationalistic views on religion.


At a time when England was in the throes of the Reformation, you’d have thought it would have been a great time to be encouraging services held in the Welsh language. But such reforms were slow to filter to the deeply traditional heartlands of Wales. Besides, such emotive and revolutionary ideas were viewed with suspicion.

Indeed, it was precisely those kinds of words that were to be the death of Penry for he was pretty outspoken on his opinions, publishing his thoughts in a book. The problem was that the text got air play at Parliament and they took exception, because he’d dissed the bishops.

Jock scrap

Amid the furore, he was arrested under instruction from Archbishop Whitgift, only this time he was lucky – he was released. Yet he wouldn’t be told, such was his fervent support of such beliefs. Penry scarpered taking his argument north of the border to Scotland where he started defending Scottish rights to hold ceremonies in their dialect.

Chain of events

When the dust settled he returned to London, but by this time he was taking part in surreptitious ceremonies, practicing what he preached. However this was an out and out flouting of the Established Church and was considered treason. So it came as no surprise when he was shopped by the vicar of Stepney.

He was tried for his crimes and found guilty in 1593 – the sentence was hanging and it was all done in double quick time. He never even got a chance to see his wife and daughters before he was hanged in chains at St Thomas-a-Watering on the Old Kent Road.

Guess who got to autograph Penry’s death warrant: only his old adversary Archbishop Whitgift.

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