Marsh, George (DNB00)

MARSH, GEORGE (1515–1555), protestant martyr, born at Dean, near Bolton, Lancashire, about 1515, was educated in some local grammar school, probably Warrington. On leaving school he lived as a farmer, and when about twenty-five years old married, but his wife soon died, where-upon he gave up his farm, left his children in the care of his mother, and went to Cambridge University. There in due course he graduated ('commencing M. A. 1642,' Cooper, Athenæ Cantabr.) He was ordained by the bishops of London and Lincoln, and lived chiefly at Cambridge, but also acted as curate to Laurence Saunders (afterwards martyred) at Langton in Leicestershire and in London. In one of his examinations he said he ' served a cure and taught a school,' In 1554 he entertained the intention of leaving England for Denmark or Germany, and went into Lancashire to take leave of his relations. While there he preached at Dean and elsewhere. His protestant views and teaching soon brought him into trouble. He was informed that Justice Barton, acting for the Earl of Derby, sought to arrest him, and he was advised to fly. He, however, gave himself up at Smithells Hall, near Bolton, to Robert Barton, by whom he was sent to Lathom House, to be tried by the Earl of Derby. Of his two examinations before the earl and his council he has left a most interesting and minute account, as well as of the endeavours that were privately made to persuade him to conform to the Romish church. He was firm in his denial of transubstantiation and other cardinal points, and eventually was committed to prison at Lancaster. At Lancaster Castle he had as his fellow-prisoner one Warburton, with whom, as he 'said, he prayed with 'so high and loud a voice that the people without, in the streets, might hear us, and would oftentimes come and sit down in our sight under the windows and hear us read,' Dr. George Cotes, bishop of the diocese (Chester), came to Lancaster while he was imprisoned, and caused greater restrictions to be enforced. Marsh was afterwards removed to Chester, and again examined in the lady-chapel of the cathedral, being charged with having ' preached and openly published, most heretically and blasphemously, within the parishes of Dean, Eccles, Bolton, and many other parishes . . . directly against the Pope's authority and catholic church of Rome, the blessed mass, the sacrament of the altar, and many other articles,' In the end, after further trial, he was condemned to execution, and the sentence was carried out on 24 April 1555 at Spital Boughton, within the liberties of the city of Chester, where he was burnt at the stake, and his sufferings augmented by a barrel of pitch being placed over his head. His remains were buried at Spital Boughton. Bishop Cotes afterwards preached a sermon in the cathedral, and affirmed that Marsh was a heretic, burnt like a heretic, and was a firebrand in hell. Foxe prints several impressive letters after the manner of the apostolic epistles, written by Marsh to the people of Langton, Manchester, and elsewhere. These letters were long treasured by the puritans of Lancashire. The influence which his character and sufferings exerted is attested by the marvellous traditions that prevailed among the common people. One of them was that an impression of a man's foot on a stone step at Smithells Hall was made by Marsh when asserting his innocence of heresy. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who visited Smithells Hall in 1855, introduces the legend of the 'Bloody Footstep' in 'Septimius' and some other stories (cf. Roby, Traditions of Lancashire).

[Foxe's Acts and Monuments (the particulars about Marsh were reprinted at Bolton, 1787, and in A. Hewlett's George Marsh, 1844); Fuller's Worthies; Cooper's Athenaæ Cantabr. i. 126; Lancashire Church Goods (Chetham Soc.), cvii. 28; Ormerod's Cheshire, ed, Helsby, i. 235; Nathaniel Hawthorne's English Note Books, i. 291.]

C. W. S.