John Story, the son of Nicholas and Joan Story was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in about 1503. Story was educated at Hinksey Hall and graduated from Oxford University in 1531. He was a brilliant scholar and was appointed regius lecturer and professor of civil law. Story was principal of Broadgates Hall and by 1541 he was on an annual salary of £40. (1)
Story entered the House of Commons as member for Hindon in 1547, and was imprisoned for opposing the Act of Uniformity in 1548. (2) On his release in 1549 he went to live in Louvain with his wife, Joan Watts. Over the next few years the couple had five children. (3)
Edward VI died on 6th July, 1553. As soon as she gained power, Queen Mary ordered the arrests of the leading Protestants in England. John Story, recently elected as the MP for East Grinstead, helped her in this task by becoming commissary-general to Bishop Edmund Bonner. Story wrote to Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon, that in London, "the sharpness of the sword, and other corrections, hath begun to bring forth that the word in stony hearts could not do, so that by discreet severity we have good hope of universal unity in religion". (4)
Bishop Bonner ordered the arrests of Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and John Bradford. (5) On 14th February, 1555, Cranmer was stripped of his church offices, and turned over to the secular authorities. John Foxe pointed out: "The doctors and divines of Oxford all tried to make him recant, even allowing him to stay in the dean's house while they argued with him, and eventually Cranmer gave in to their requests and signed a recantation accepting the pope's authority in all things." (6)
Cranmer was put on trial for heresy on 12th September 1555. Pope Paul IV appointed James Brooks, Bishop of Gloucester, to act as judge, which was held in St Mary's Church in Oxford. Thomas Martin, counsel for the prosecution, subjected Cranmer to what has been described as a "brilliant and merciless cross-examination", asking him about his relationship to "Black Joan of the Dolphin" in Cambridge, and his marriage to Margaret in Germany in 1532. Martin also spent time on the oath he gave on 30th March 1533 during the consecration ceremony when he became Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer was also cross-examined by John Story, according to R.W. Heinze, a "brilliant inquisitor". (7)
According to Jasper Ridley, the author of Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002): "Cranmer gave a piteous exhibition; he was utterly broken by his imprisonment, by the humiliations heaped upon him, and by the defeat of all his hopes; and the fundamental weakness in his character, his hesitations and his doubts were clearly displayed. But he steadfastly refused to recant and to acknowledge Papal Supremacy. He was condemned as a heretic." (8)
John Foxe claimed that "he had a hand in most of the conflagrations in Mary's time, and was even ingenious in his invention of new modes of inflicting torture". This apparently took the form of a heatable iron cage. (9) Elizabeth Warne was arrested and charged with heresy. Elizabeth was related to Story and he used his influence to obtain her release. However, when he found that she was an obstinate heretic who would not recant, he denounced her to the authorities. She was burnt at the stake at Stratford-at-Bow on 23rd August 1555. (10)
Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alba, described John Story as "the principal minister of the inquisition in England", Julian Lock claims that Story kept prisoners in his house, but stated that he treated them well and persuaded all but one of twenty-seven or twenty-eight to recant and receive pardons by October 1556. "He recognized that it was futile to continue the persecutions and welcomed a halt to the Smithfield burnings in June 1558... However, he denied having much control over the general policy of persecution." (11)
After the death of Queen Mary she was replaced by Queen Elizabeth, who brought an end to the burning of heretics. Christopher Morris, the author of The Tudors (1955) has argued: "The punishment of death by burning was an appallingly cruel one, but it was not this that shocked contemporaries - after all, in an age that knew nothing of anaesthetics, a great deal of pain had to be endured by everybody at one time or another, and the taste for public executions, bear-baiting and cock-fighting suggests a callousness that blunted susceptibilities." (12) During a five year period around 280 people were burnt at the stake. John Foxe claimed that about 200 were personally tried and sentenced by Bishop Edmund Bonner and during this period Story was his chief assistant. (13)
John Story was returned as MP for Downton. In the House of Commons Story was praised for defending papal supremacy. He also boasted about the part he had played in persecuting heretics under Mary: "I wish for my part that I had done more that I did. I threw a faggot in the face of an earwig at the stake at Uxbridge as he was singing a psalm, and set a bushel of thorns under his feet... and I see nothing to be ashamed of, nor sorry for." Story then went on to say that he had told Queen Mary that she was only prosecuting the common people by "chopping at twigs". Story explained that he "wished to have chopped at the roots, which if they had done, this gear had not come now in question". Virtually everyone who heard the debate thought that Story meant that the Catholics should have burned Princesses Elizabeth. (14)
In May 1560 Story, Edmund Bonner and John Feckenham, were arrested and taken to the Fleet Prison "for having obstinately refused attendance on public worship, and everywhere declaiming and railing against that religion which we now profess". (15) Story escaped but was arrested again in the west country. The refusal to take the oath of supremacy was now a capital offence. Story was one of the first four Catholics to whom it was proposed to administer it in April 1563. Elizabeth delayed signing the commission and Story escaped in May, and eventually reached the safety of Spanish territory where he was protected by Philip II. (16)
It is claimed that Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alba, employed him as a persecutor of heretics in the office of the Inquisition in Antwerp. One of his main duties was to make sure that no heretical books were brought into Spanish territory from England. (17) It has been claimed by his biographer, Julian Lock, that John Story "enriched himself out of confiscations". (18)
Francis Walsingham was given government money to set-up Britain's first counter-intelligence network. To protect Elizabeth he created a network of spies in Europe. (19) It was decided to kidnap Story because it was believed he was organising plots against Elizabeth (20) One of the spies Walsingham recruited was John Lee, a merchant based in Antwerp. He recruited "Robert Ramsden, Martin Bragge, and Simon Jewkes to acquire a ship, and - critically - William Parker, a Catholic exile employed as searcher under Story, who decided he wanted to go home... Parker persuaded Story to go to the quieter port of Bergen op Zoom to search the ship in question. When they boarded, it raised anchor and carried them to Yarmouth on 14 August 1570." (21)
On his arrival in England, John Story was arrested and sent to London where he was prosecuted for high treason for inciting Fernando Alvarez de Toledo to invade England and for instigating Catholic uprisings in the north of the country. (22) Story was found guilty of high treason and was sentenced to be executed on 1st June, 1571. According to William Fulke, Story "did not only roar and cry like a hell hound, but... resisted as long as strength did serve him, being kept down by three or four men, until he was dead." (23) His head was set on London Bridge while his quarters were set on four of the city gates.
Julian Lock has pointed out: "Story's execution served as a partial act of exorcism of the past. His notoriety among protestants passed, but he was remembered by the Roman Catholic church. Leo XIII on 29 December 1886 authorized his veneration as a blessed martyr on the grounds of an existing cult. He thereby approved the idea that Story's death arose not from Anglo-Spanish but from religious conflict. Story's beatification was confirmed in 1929 but he was not included among the canonized English martyrs in 1970 because of his zealous persecution of protestants, because he was apprehended by force, and because he tried to defend himself by saying he was a Spanish subject rather than embrace martyrdom." (24)
He (John Story) was educated at Oxford, and was president of Broadgates Hall, now Pembroke College, from 1537 to 1539. He entered Parliament as member for Hindon, Wilts, in 1547, and was imprisoned for opposing the Bill of Uniformity, 24 Jan.-2 March, 1548-9. On his release he retired with his family to Louvain, but after the accession of Queen Mary he returned to England (Aug., 1553), and became chancellor to Bishop Bonner. From 1553 to 1560 he sat for one or other parliamentary division of Wiltshire, and in the latter year he incurred the displeasure of Elizabeth for his outspoken opposition to the Bill of Supremacy. He was committed to the Fleet, 20 May, 1560, but escaped, was re-arrested and imprisoned in the Marshalsea (1563). He once more made good his escape to Antwerp, where he renounced his English allegiance and became a Spanish subject. Under the Duke of Alva he held a position in the customs of Flanders until August, 1570, when he was kidnapped at Bergen-op-Zoon by Cecil's agents. He was brought to London and imprisoned in the Tower, where he was frequently racked, and on 26 May, 1571, he was indicted in Westminster Hall for having conspired against the queen's life and for having while at Antwerp assisted the Northern rebels. The saintly martyr bore his tortures with fortitude, asserted over and over his innocence of the charges, but refused to make any further plea, on the ground that he was a Spanish subject, and that consequently his judges had no jurisdiction. The spectacle of this trial moved Edmund Campion, who was present in the Hall, to reconsider his own position and opened his eyes to his duty as a Catholic. Blessed John Story was condemned 27 May, and spent his last night in the Tower, preparing for a death which his persecutors made as barbarously cruel as it was possible.
According to Foxe, Story even bragged of devising a heatable iron cage on the Phalaris model to torture heretics to death.... Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alba, described Story as the 'principal minister of the inquisition in England’... Catholic bishops were not immune to Story's criticism. In late 1555 he became impatient with Bonner's protracted reasoning with Philpot. When John Christopherson, bishop of Chichester, examined Richard Woodman, Story turned up late and barracked him, saying 'Why hear you him?… My lord, I will tell you how you shall tell a heretic by his words, because I have been more used to them than you have been’...
Story, according to Foxe, ensured prisoners were mistreated. Bonner's coalhouse, with ‘monstrous and huge stocks’, seemed to become a standard recourse. When some youths found with bibles were sent to Bridewell prison to be whipped, Story was the man to see that this was not ‘lightly handled’. Perhaps the most famous example is that of the faggot cast in the face of John Denley, while he was being burnt at the stake at Uxbridge, Middlesex, to silence his psalms, an action Story allegedly ‘impudently’ defended in the commons in 1559. He kept prisoners in his house, but stated that he treated them well and persuaded all but one of twenty-seven or twenty-eight to recant and receive pardons by October 1556. He recognized that it was futile to continue the persecutions and welcomed a halt to the Smithfield burnings in June 1558. However, he denied having much control over the general policy of persecution.
The bill abolishing Papal supremacy and recognising Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church of England was passed after heated debates in both Houses of Parliament. It was strongly opposed in the House of Commons by Story, who had played so prominent a part in the interrogation of several heretics, as well as having been one of the counsel for the prosecution at Cranmer's trial. He was elected MP for Downton in Wiltshire. In the debate he vigorously defended the part he had played in persecuting heretics under Mary. "I wish for my part that I had done more than I did", he said. "I threw a faggot in the face of an earwig at the stake at Uxbridge as he was singing a psalm, and seta bushel of thorns under his feet... and I see nothing to be ashamed of, nor sorry for." He said that he had often told the bishops in Queen Mary's time that they were persecuting the common people, "Chopping at twigs. But I wished to have chopped at the roots, which if they had done, this gear had not come now in question." Everyone thought that by chopping at the roots, he meant that they should have burned the Lady Elizabeth, now the Queen.
(1) Julian Lock, John Story : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(2) J. Wainewright, The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910)
(3) Julian Lock, John Story : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(4) John Story, letter to Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon (June, 1555)
(6) John Foxe, Book of Martyrs (1563) page 217 of 2014 edition.
(7) Julian Lock, John Story : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(8) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) page 112
(9) John Foxe, Book of Martyrs (1563) pages 235
(10) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) pages 102-103
(11) Julian Lock, John Story : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(12) Christopher Morris, The Tudors (1955) page 102
(13) John Foxe, Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563) page 248 of 2014 edition.
(14) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) page 219
(15) Hastings Robinson, Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation (1846) page 77
(16) Julian Lock, John Story : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(17) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) page 226
(18) Julian Lock, John Story : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(19) Simon Singh, The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes & Code-Breaking (2000) page 40
(20) G. D. Ramsay, The Queen's Merchants and the Revolt of the Netherlands (1986) page 161
(21) Julian Lock, John Story : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(22) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) page 226
(23) William Fulke, A Retentive to Stay Good Christians (1580) page 59
(23) Julian Lock, John Story : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)