Joan Bocher was also known as Joan Knell and Joan of Kent. In the late 1530s she began advocating anabaptist ideas in the Canterbury area. It has been pointed out: "The Anabaptists not only objected to infant baptism, but also denied the divinity of Christ or said that he was not born to the Virgin Mary. They advocated a primitive form of Communism, denouncing private property and urging that all goods should be owned by the people in common." (1)
Bocher was arrested but was released on the orders of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Her biographer, Andrew Hope has argued that "she became convinced of the theory of Christ's celestial flesh - that Christ did not derive his physical body from his mother but that it was a divine distillation". Such views were unusual in England at the time and hat she picked them up from the influx of refugees early in the reign of Edward VI. (2)
After the execution of her friend Anne Askew on 16th July 1546, she began distributing pamphlets, and expressed the opinion that Christ, the perfect God, had not been born as a man to the Virgin Mary. She was arrested and brought to trial before Bishop Nicholas Ridley and found guilty of heresy. Boucher's views upset both Catholics and Protestants. John Rogers, who had been involved in the publishing of English Bible that had been translated by William Tyndale, was brought in to persuade her to recant. After failing in his mission he declared that she should be burnt at the stake.
John Foxe, who had been active in opposing the burning of heretics during the reign of Henry VIII was very distressed that Joan Bocher was now to be burned under the Protestant government of Edward VI. Although he disagreed with her views he thought that the life of "this wretched woman" should be spared and suggested that a better way of dealing with the problem was to imprison her so that she could not propagate her beliefs. Rogers insisted that she must die. Foxe replied she should not be burned: "at least let another kind of death be chosen, answering better to the mildness of the Gospel." Rogers insisted that burning alive was gentler than many other forms of death. Foxe took Rogers' hand and said: "Well, maybe the day will come when you yourself will have your hands full of the same gentle burning." (3) Foxe was right as Queen Mary ordered John Rogers to be burnt at the stake five years later. (4)
It has been claimed by Christian Neff that the 12-year-old King Edward at first refused to sign the death warrant. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer insisted that "she should be punished with death for her heresy according to the law of Moses".He is said to have told Cranmer with tears, "Cranmer, I will sign the verdict at your risk and responsibility before God’s judgment throne." Cranmer was deeply impressed, and he tried once more to induce her to recant but she still refused. (5)
Joan Bocher was burnt at Smithfield on 2nd May 1550. "She died still upbraiding those attempting to convert her, and maintaining that just as in time they had come to her views on the sacrament of the altar, so they would see she had been right about the person of Christ. She also asserted that there were a thousand Anabaptists living in the diocese of London." (6)
In the years after 1543 Joan Bocher's beliefs took an Anabaptist turn.... She was arrested, probably in 1548, and convicted of heresy in April 1549. She was then imprisoned for more than a year, for some of the time in the house of Lord Chancellor Rich, while great efforts were made to persuade her back to Edwardian orthodoxy, led by Archbishop Cranmer and Bishop Ridley of London.... When she remained adamant in her opinions, the privy council decided to proceed with her execution by burning, despite the lack of a statute under which to proceed. She was burnt at Smithfield on 2 May 1550, still upbraiding those attempting to convert her, and maintaining that just as in time they had come to her views on the sacrament of the altar, so they would see she had been right about the person of Christ. She also asserted that there were a thousand Anabaptists living in the diocese of London.
(1) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) page 35
(2) Andrew Hope, Joan Boucher: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(3) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) page 35
(4) David Daniell, John Rogers : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(5) Christian Neff, Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (1953-2015)
(6) Andrew Hope, Joan Boucher: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)