On this day many years ago on 24th April 1555, George Marsh, Martyr was burned at the stake in West Chester for his testimony and faithfulness to the Word of God. This weekend, (Saturday 26th April) Protestants in Chester will gather in the afternoon for a public commemoration to Marsh outside the Town Hall and will walk to the site of his execution.
He was the only Protestant to be Martyred in the North of England and it was on this day so many years ago when this powerful, yet horrific event occurred.
In memory to him and to all the faithful Martyrs of Christ, I add this little tribute with my slightly more modern spelling of the original narrative, of which John Foxe had this to say;
“When the time and day appointed came that he should suffer: the Sheriffs of the City (whose names were Amry & Couper) with their officers and a great number of poor simple Barbers, with rusty Bills & Pole axe’s, went to the Northgate & there took out the said George Marsh, who came with them most humbly & meekly, with a lock upon his feet. And as he came upon the way towards the place of execution, some folks offered him money, & looked that he should have gone with a little purse in his hand (as the manner of felons was, accustomed in that City in times past, at their going to execution) to the end to gather money to give unto a Priest to say masses for them after their death, whereby they might (as they thought) be saved: but Marsh said he would not be troubled with meddling with money, but willed some good man to take the money, if the people were disposed to give any, and to give it unto the prisoners or poor people.
So he went all the way unto his death, with his book in his hand, looking upon the same, and many of the people said: this man goes not unto his death as a thief, or as one that deserves to die.
Now when he came to the place of execution without the City, near unto Spittle boughton, one Cawdrey, being then deputy of Chester, showed Marsh a writing under a great seal, saying that it was a pardon for him if he would recant. Where at Marsh answered, that he would gladly accept the same (and said farther, that he loved the Queen) but for as much as it tended to pluck him from God, he could not receive it upon that condition.
After that, he began to speak to the people showing the cause of his death, and would have exhorted them to stick unto Christ. Whereupon one of the Sheriffs said: George Marsh, we must have no sermonizing now. To whom he said, “Master, I cry you mercy” and so kneeling down made his Prayers, and then put of his clothes unto his shirt, and then was he chained unto the post, having a number of sticks under him, and a thing made like a firkin, with pitch and tar in the same over his head: and by reason that the fire was unskillfully made, and that the wind did drive the flame to and fro, he suffered great extremity in his death, which not withstanding he abode very patiently.
Wherein this in him is to be noted, that when as he had been a long time tormented in the fire without moving, having his flesh so broiled and puffed up that they which stood before him could not see the chain wherewith he was fastened, and therefore supposed no less but he had been dead, not withstanding suddenly he spread abroad his arms, saying “father of heaven have mercy upon me, and so yielded his spirit into the hands of the Lord.
Upon this, many of the people said that he was a Martyr, and died marvelously patiently and godly. Which thing caused the Bishop shortly after to make a Sermon in the Cathedral Church, and therein affirmed, that the said Marsh was an heretic, burnt like an heretic, and was a firebrand in hell.
In recompense of this his good and charitable Sermon, within short time after, the just judgement of GOD appeared upon the said Bishop: recompensing him in such wise, that not long after he turned up his heels and died.
Upon what cause his death was, I have not here precisely to pronounce, because the rumour and voice of the people is not always to be followed. Not withstanding such a report went in all men’s mouths, that he was burned of an harlot. Whereupon whether he died or no, I am not certain, neither dare lean too much upon public speech. Albeit this is certain, that when he was after ward searched being dead, by some of his secret friends & certain Aldermen for stopping the rumour of the people, this maidenly Priest and Bishop was found not to be free from certain appearance, which declared but small virginity in him, and that the rumour was not raised up altogether upon naught, among the people. But of this I will stay, & proceed no farther, not because more can not be said, but because I will not be so uncharitable in defacing these men, as they are cruel in condemning Gods servants to death.”
John Foxe. Acts and Monuments (1576)
George Marsh. 1515-1555. In Memoriam.