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Bishop Ridley versus Queen Mary

Among the English Reformers, Nicholas Ridley (c. 1500–1555) was closest to the throne, and therefore in the most immediate danger from a hostile sovereign. As chaplain to Henry VIII, father of Queen Mary, and finally, Bishop of London, conflict was inevitable. When Edward VI died in 1553, and his sister Mary, who, writes Ryle, “had a special dislike to him,” took the throne, Ridley was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The circumstances under which Ridley came into direct collision with Queen Mary before the death of Edward VI are so graphically described by Fox that I think it best to give them in the martyrologist’s own words:

About the eighth of September, 1552, Dr Ridley, then Bishop of London, lying at his house at Hadham in Herts, went to visit the Lady Mary, then lying at Hunsden, two miles off, and was gently entertained of Sir Thomas Wharton and other her officers, till it was almost eleven of the clock, about which time the said Lady Mary came forth into her chamber of presence, and then the said bishop there saluted her Grace, and said that he was come to do this duty to her Grace. Then she thanked him for his pains, and for a quarter of an hour talked with him very pleasantly, and said that she knew him in the court when he was chaplain to her father, and could well remember a sermon that he made before King Henry her father at the marriage of my Lady Clinton that now is to Sir Anthony Browne, &c., and so dismissed him to dine with her officers. After the dinner was done, the bishop being called for by the said Lady Mary, resorted again to her Grace, between whom this communication was. First the bishop beginneth in manner as followeth: ‘Madam, I came not only to do my duty to see your Grace, but also to offer myself to preach before you on Sunday next, if it will please you to hear me.’

At this her countenance changed, and after silence for a space, she answered thus: ‘My Lord, as for this last matter, I pray you make the answer to it yourself.’


Ridley. ‘Madam, considering mine office and calling, I am bound to make your Grace this offer to preach before you.’

Mary. ‘Well, I pray you, make the answer, as I have said, to this matter yourself, for you know the answer well enough; but if there be no remedy, but I must make you answer, this shall be your answer, the door of the parish church adjoining shall be open for you, if you come, and ye may preach if you list, but neither I nor any of mine shall hear you.’

Ridley. ‘Madam, I trust you will not refuse God’s Word.’

Mary. ‘I cannot tell what ye call God’s Word that is not God’s Word now, that was God’s Word in my father’s days.’

Ridley. ‘God’s Word is one at all times, but hath been better understood and practised in some ages than in other.’

Mary. ‘You durst not for your ears have avouched that for God’s Word in my father’s days that now you do; and as for your new books, I thank God, I never read any of them, I never did nor ever will do.’

And after many bitter words against the form of religion then established, and against the government of the realm, and the laws made in the young years of her brother, which she said she was not bound to obey till her brother came to perfect age, and then she said she would obey them; she asked the Bishop whether he were one of the council? He answered, ‘No.’ ‘You might well enough,’ said she, ‘as the council goeth nowadays.’ And so she concluded with these words: ‘My Lord, for your gentleness to come and see me I thank you, but for your offering to preach before me I thank you never a whit.’

Then the said bishop was brought by Sir Thomas Wharton to the place where they had dined, and was desired to drink, and after he had drunk, he paused awhile, looking very sadly, and suddenly brake out into these words, ‘Surely I have done amiss.’ ‘Why so?’ quoth Sir Thomas Wharton. ‘For I have drunk,’ said he, ‘in that place where God’s Word offered hath been refused, whereas if I had remembered my duty, I ought to have departed immediately, and to have shaken off the dust of my shoes for a testimony against this house.’ These words were by the said bishop spoken with such a vehemency, that some of the hearers afterward confessed their hair to stand upright on their heads. This done, the said bishop departed, and so returned to his house.

From the Tower Ridley was sent to Oxford in 1554, to be baited and insulted in a mock disputation; and finally, after two years’ imprisonment, was burned at Oxford with old Latimer, on 16 October 1555. Singularly enough, he seems to have had forebodings of the kind of death he would die. Humphrey, in his Life of Jewel, records the following anecdote: ‘Ridley, on one occasion, being tossed about in a great storm, exhorted his terrified companions with these words, “Be of good cheer, and bend to your oars; this boat carries a Bishop who is not to be drowned, but burned.”’

—in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 184–186.


Posted 2017·05·23 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Church History · J C Ryle · Nicholas Ridley · Persecution/Suffering

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