Bradford, John (1510?-1555) (DNB00)


BRADFORD, JOHN (1510?–1555), protestant martyr, was born of gentle parents about 1510 in the parish of Manchester. A local tradition claims him as a native of the chapelry of Blackley. He was educated at the grammar school, Manchester. In his 'Meditations on the Commandments,' written during his imprisonment in the reign of Queen Mary, he speaks of the 'particular benefits' that he had received from his parents and tutors. Foxe records that Bradford entered the service of Sir John Harrington of Exton, Rutlandshire, who was treasurer at various times of the king's camps and buildings in Boulogne. At the siege of Montreuil in 1544 Bradford acted as deputy-paymaster under Sir John Harrington. On 8 April 1547 he entered the Inner Temple as a student of common law. Here, at the instance of a fellow-student, Thomas Sampson, afterwards dean of Christ Church, he turned his attention to the study of divinity. A marked change now came over his character. He sold his 'chains, rings, brooches, and jewels of gold,' and gave the money to the poor. Moved by a sermon of Latimer, he caused restitution to be made to the crown of a sum of money which he or Sir John Harrington had fraudulently appropriated. The facts are not very clear. Sampson in his address 'To the Christian Reader,' prefixed to Bradford's 'Two Notable Sermons,' 1574, states that the fraud was committed by Bradford and without the knowledge of his master; but Bradford's own words, in his last examination before Bishop Gardiner, are: 'My lord, I set my foot to his foot, whosoever he be, that can come forth and justly vouch to my face that ever I deceived my master. And as you are chief justice by office in England, I desire justice upon them that so slander me, because they cannot prove it' (Examination of Bradford, London, 1561, sig. a vi.) In May 1548 he published translations from Artopœus and Chrysostom, and in or about the following August entered St. Catharine's Hall, Cambridge, where his 'diligence in study and profiting in knowledge and godly conversation' were such, that on 19 Oct. 1549 the university bestowed on him, by special grace, the degree of master of arts. The entry in the grace book describes him as a man of mature age and approved life, who had for eight years been diligently employed in the study of literature, the arts, and holy scriptures. He was shortly afterwards elected to a fellowship at Pembroke Hall. In a letter to Traves, written about November 1549, he says: 'My fellowship here is worth seven pound a year, for I have allowed me eighteen-pence a week, and as good as thirty-three shillings fourpence a year in money, besides my chamber, launder, barber, &c.; and I am bound to nothing but once or twice a year to keep a problem. Thus you see what a good Lord God is unto me.' Among his pupils at Pembroke Hall was John Whitgift, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury. One of his intimate friends was Martin Bucer, whom he accompanied on a visit to Oxford in July 1550. On 10 Aug. of the same year he was ordained deacon by Bishop Ridley at Fulham, and received a license to preach. The bishop made him one of his chaplains, received him into his own house, and held him in the highest esteem. 'I thank God heartily,' wrote Ridley to Bernhere [q. v.] after Bradford's martyrdom, 'that ever I was acquainted with our dear brother Bradford, and that ever I had such a one in my house.' On 24 Aug. 1551 Bradford received the prebend of Kentish Town, in the church of St. Paul. A few months later he was appointed one of the king's six chaplains in ordinary. Two of the chaplains remained with the king, and four preached throughout the country. Bradford preached in many towns of Lancashire and Cheshire, also in London and Saffron Walden. Foxe says that 'sharply he opened and reproved sin; sweetly he preached Christ crucified; pithily he impugned heresies and errors; earnestly he persuaded to godly life.' John Knox, in his 'Godly Letter,' 1554, speaks with admiration of his intrepidity in the pulpit. Bradford's sermons ring with passionate earnestness. He takes the first words that come to hand, and makes no attempt to construct elaborate periods. 'Let us, even to the wearing of our tongue to the stumps, preach and pray,' he exclaims in the 'Sermon on Repentance;' and not for a moment did he slacken his energy. He spoke out boldly and never shrank from denouncing the vices of the great. In a sermon preached before Edward VI he rebuked the worldliness of the courtiers, declaring that God's vengeance would come upon the ungodly among them, and bidding them take example by the sudden fate that had befallen the late Duke of Somerset. At the close of his sermon, with weeping eyes and in a voice of lamentation, he cried out aloud: 'God punished him; and shall He spare you that be double more wicked? No, He shall not. Will ye or will ye not, ye shall drink the cup of the Lord's wrath. Judicium Domini, Judicium Domini! The judgment of the Lord, the judgment of the Lord!'

On 13 Aug. 1553, shortly after the accession of Queen Mary, a sermon in defence of Bonner and against Edward VI was preached at St. Paul's Cross by Gilbert Bourne [q. v.], rector of High Ongar in Essex, and afterwards bishop of Bath and Wells. The sermon gave great offence to the hearers, who would have pulled him out of the pulpit and torn him to pieces if Bradford and John Rogers, vicar of St. Sepulchre's, had not interposed. On the same day in the afternoon Bradford preached at Bow Church, Cheapside, and reproved the people for the violence that had been offered in the morning to Bourne. Within three days after this occurrence Bradford was summoned before the privy council on the charge of preaching seditious sermons, and was committed to the Tower, where he wrote his treatise on 'The Hurt of Hearing Mass.' At first he was permitted to see no man but his keeper; afterwards this severity was relaxed, and he was allowed the society of his fellow-prisoner, Dr. Sandys. On 6 Feb. 1553-4 Bradford and Sandys were separated; the latter was sent to the Marshalsea, and the former was lodged in the same room as Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley, the Tower being then very full owing to the imprisonment of Wyatt and his followers. Latimer, in his protest addressed to the queen's commissioners at Oxford (Works, ii. 258-9, Parker Society), tells how he and his fellow-prisoners 'did together read over the New Testament with great deliberation and painful study.' On 24 March Bradford was transferred to the King's Bench prison. Here, probably by the favour of Sir William Fitzwilliam, the knight-marshal of the prison, he was occasionally allowed at large on his parole, and was suffered to receive visitors and administer the sacrament. Once a week he used to visit the criminals in the prison, distributing charity among them and exhorting them to amend their lives. On 22 Jan. 1554-5 he was brought up for examination before Bishops Gardiner, Bonner, and other prelates. There is an account (first published in 1561) in his own words of his three separate examinations before the commissioners on 22, 29, and 30 Jan. The commissioners questioned him closely on subtle points of doctrine, and endeavoured to convince him that his views were heretical; but he answered their arguments with imperturbable calmness, and refused to be convinced. Accordingly he was condemned as an obstinate heretic, and was committed to the Compter in the Poultry. It was at first determined to have him burned at his native town, Manchester; but, whether in the hope of making him recant or from fear of enraging the people of Manchester, the authorities finally kept him in London and waited some months before carrying out the sentence. At the Compter he was visited by several catholic divines, who endeavoured unsuccessfully to effect his conversion. Among these were Archbishop Heath, Bishop Day, Alphonsus a Castro, afterwards archbishop of Compostella, and Bartholomew Carranza, confessor to King Philip, and afterwards archbishop of Toledo. At length, as he refused to recant, a day was fixed for carrying out the sentence. On Sunday, 30 June 1555, he was taken late at night from the Compter to Newgate, all the prisoners in tears bidding him farewell. In spite of the lateness of the hour great crowds were abroad, and as he passed along Cheapside the people wept and prayed for him. A rumour spread that he was to be burned at four o'clock the next morning, and by that hour a great concourse of people had assembled; but it was not until nine o'clock that he was brought to the stake. 'Then,' says Foxe, 'was he led forth to Smithfield with a great company of weaponed men to conduct him thither, as the like was not seen at no man's burning; for in every corner of Smithfield there were some, besides those who stood about the stake.' A young man named John Leaf was his fellow-martyr. After taking a faggot in his hand and kissing it, Bradford desired of the sheriffs that his servant might have his raiment. Consent being given, he put off his raiment and went to the stake. Then holding up his hands, and looking up to heaven, he cried: 'England, England, repent thee of thy sins, repent thee of thy sins. Beware of idolatry, beware of false antichrists; take heed they do not deceive you.' As he was speaking the sheriff ordered his hands to be tied if he would not keep silence. 'O master sheriff,' said Bradford, 'I am quiet. God forgive you this, master sheriff.' Then having asked the people to pray for him he turned to John Leaf and said: 'Be of good comfort, brother, for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night.' His last words were: 'Strait is the way and narrow is the gate that leadeth to salvation, and few there be that find it.'

Bradford was a man of singularly gentle character. Parsons, the Jesuit, allowed that he was 'of a more soft and mild nature than many of his fellows.' There is a tradition that on seeing some criminals going to execution he exclaimed: 'But for the grace of God there goes John Bradford.' Often when engaged in conversation he would suddenly fall into a deep reverie, during which his eyes would fill with tears or be radiant with smiles. In all companies he would reprove sin and misbehaviour in any person, 'especially swearers, filthy talkers, and popish praters;' but the manner of his reproof was at once so earnest and so kindly that none could take offence. His life was passed in prayer and study. He seldom slept more than four hours, and he ate only one meal a day. In person he was tall and slender, of a somewhat sanguine complexion, and with an auburn beard. A portrait of him (which is engraved in Baines's 'History of Lancashire, ii. 243) is preserved in the Chetham Library at Manchester. A more modern portrait is in Pembroke Hall, Cambridge.

The following is a list of Bradford's writings:

  1. 'The Divisyon of the Places of the Lawe and of the Gospell, gathered owt of the hooly scriptures by Petrum Artopœum … Translated into English,' London, 1548, 8vo.
  2. 'A Godlye Treatise of Prayer [by Melanchthon], translated into English,' London, n. d. 8vo.
  3. 'Two Notable Sermons, the one of Repentance, and the other of the Lorde's Supper,' London, 1574, 1581, 1599, 1617; the 'Sermon on Repentance' had been issued separately in 1553 and 1558.
  4. 'Complaint of Veritye,' 1559; a short metrical piece printed in a collection issued by William Copland.
  5. 'A Godlye Medytacyon,' London, 1559.
  6. 'Godlie Meditations upon the Lordes. Prayer, the Beleefe, and Ten Commandements … whereunto is annexed a defence of the doctrine of God's eternal election and predestination,' London, 1562,1578, 1604, &c.
  7. 'Meditations;' from his autograph in a copy of Tyndale's New Testament.
  8. 'Meditations and Prayers from manuscripts in Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and elsewhere.'
  9. 'All the Examinacions of the Constante Martir of God, M. John Bradforde, before the Lord Chancellour, B. of Winchester, the B. of London, and other comissioners; whereunto ar annexed his priuate talk and conflictes in prison after his condemnacion,' &c. 1561.
  10. 'Hurte of hering Masse,' n. d. (printed by Copland), 1580, 1596.
  11. 'A Fruitefull Treatise and full of heavenly consolation against the feare of death,' n. d.
  12. Five treatises, namely (1) 'The Old Man and the New;' (2) 'The Flesh and the Spirit;' (3) 'Defence of Election;' (4) 'Against the Fear of Death; ' (5) 'The Restoration of all Things.'
  13. 'Ten Declarations and Addresses.'
  14. 'An Exhortation to the Brethren in England, and four farewells to London, Cambridge, Lancashire, and Cheshire, and Saffron Walden;' from Coverdale's 'Letters of the Martyrs' and Foxe's 'Acts and Monuments.'
  15. 'Sweet Meditations of the Kingdom of Christ,' n. d.
  16. Letters from Foxe's 'Acts and Monuments,' 1563, 1570, and 1583; Coverdale's 'Letters of the Martyrs,' Strype's 'Ecclesiastical Memorials,' and manuscripts in Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and British Museum. It is probable that Bradford contributed to 'A Confutacion of Four Romish Doctrines,' a treatise entitled 'An Exhortacion to the Carienge of Chryste's crosse, with a true and briefe confutacion of false and papisticall doctryne,' n. d., printed abroad.

A complete collection of Bradford's writings, very carefully edited by Rev. Aubrey Townsend, was published at Cambridge for the Parker Society, 2 vols. 8vo, 1848-53.

[Life by Rev. Aubrey Townsend; Foxe's Acts and Monuments; Strype; Hollingworth's Mancuniensis, ed. 1839, pp. 67-76; Baines's Lancashire, ii. 243-54; Fuller's Worthies; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser, i. 125; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabrigienses.]

A. H. B.