John Bradford

John Bradford was born in Manchester in about 1510. According to his biographer, D. Andrew Penny. " His parents are said to have been of gentle birth, but little is known for certain of his family, except that he had at least three sisters. He attended Manchester grammar school, and was grateful for the rest of his life for the education he received there." (1)

In 1544 Bradford was employed by Sir John Harington of Exton, Rutland, the vice-treasurer of the English army in France. In 1547 he enrolled at the Inner Temple. After hearing the preacher Hugh Latimer he decided to enroll as a divinity student at St Catharine's College in 1549. An impressive student he was given a fellowship at Pembroke Hall at Cambridge University. (2)

John Bradford - Preacher

On 10 August 1550 Nicholas Ridley, the Bishop of London, ordained him deacon, gave him a preaching licence, and appointed him one of his own chaplains. On 24 August 1551 he was made one of six chaplains to Edward VI. It was intended that at any one time two should be serving at court, while the others travelled through the country preaching reformation. "His effectiveness was greatest in southern Lancashire, where he spoke to large crowds and attracted a number of converts, though without making much impression upon the gentry of the region." (3) John Foxe worked with Bradford during this period: "Bradford preached the gospel faithfully. He sharply reproved sin, sweetly preached Christ crucified, pithily spoke against heresies and errors, and earnestly persuaded his people to live godly lives." (4)

On 13th August, 1553, accompanied by John Rogers, he acted to calm disturbances provoked by the Catholic Gilbert Bourne in a sermon at Paul's Cross. A few days after he had assisted the authorities in the task of crowd control he was summoned before the council in the Tower of London, and charged with preaching seditious sermons. (5) So many Protestants were arrested that John Bradford had to share his apartment with Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer. (6)

Execution

John Foxe later recalled: "Bradford was a tall, slender man with an auburn beard. He rarely slept more than four hours a night, preferring to spend his time in writing, preaching, or reading. Once or twice a week he would visit the common criminals in the prison and give them money to buy food or other comforts. One of his friends once asked Bradford what he would do if he was freed. Bradford said he would marry and hide in England while he continued to preach and teach the people." (7)

On 4th February, 1555, Bradford's close friend, John Rogers was taken to Smithfield. His wife and children met him on the way to the burning, but Rogers still refused to recant. He told Sheriff Woodroofe: "That which I have preached I will seal with my blood." Woodroofe replied: "Then, you are a heretic. That will be known on the day of judgment." Just before the burning began a pardon arrived. However, Rogers refused to accept it and became the first martyr to suffer death during the reign of Queen Mary. (8)

On 30th June 1555 John Bradford was told he was to executed the following day. "Thank God" he replied. "I've looked forward to this for a long time. The lord make me worthy." His execution was announced for four o'clock the next morning. "No one was sure why such an unusual hour was chosen, but if the authorities hoped the hour would discourage a crowd, they were disappointed. The people waited faithfully at Smithfield until Bradford was brought there at nine in the morning, led by an unusually large number of armed guards. Bradford fell to the ground to say his prayers then went cheerfully to the stake." (9)

Primary Sources

(1) John Foxe, Book of Martyrs (1563)

Bradford was a tall, slender man with an auburn beard. He rarely slept more than four hours a night, preferring to spend his time in writing, preaching, or reading. Once or twice a week he would visit the common criminals in the prison and give them money to buy food or other comforts. One of his friends once asked Bradford what he would do if he was freed. Bradford said he would marry and hide in England while he continued to preach and teach the people...

His execution was announced for four o'clock the next morning. No one was sure why such an unusual hour was chosen, but if the authorities hoped the hour would discourage a crowd, they were disappointed. The people waited faithfully at Smithfield until Bradford was brought there at nine in the morning, led by an unusually large number of armed guards. Bradford fell to the ground to say his prayers then went cheerfully to the stake.

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References

(1) D. Andrew Penny, John Bradford : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(2) John Foxe, Book of Martyrs (1563) pages 153

(3) D. Andrew Penny, John Bradford : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(4) John Foxe, Book of Martyrs (1563) pages 154

(5) D. Andrew Penny, John Bradford : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(6) Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(7) D. Andrew Penny, John Bradford : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(8) David Daniell, John Rogers : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(9) John Foxe, Book of Martyrs (1563) pages 156-157