The Protestant
Martyrs of
Chichester

The crowd that had gathered in the Cathedral precincts on 24 July 1555 started to disperse. The smoke and the smell didn’t clear so quickly. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the price that had to be paid for holding to one’s conscience and beliefs was a high one. Thomas Iveson had just paid it. He had been burned to death at the stake close to the Cathedral in Chichester.

Iveson, a carpenter from Godstone in Surrey had been arrested in Brighthelmstone (now known as Brighton) along with some nine other men. Their crime? Reading the new English translation of the Bible and Psalter of Edward VI in the home of a Brighton brewer, Deryk Carver. The reading of both these books had been encouraged during the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) but since his half sister Mary became Queen in 1553 everything had changed. Mary was a Roman Catholic and it was forbidden for ordinary Christians to read the Bible and Protestant Prayer Book in their own language.

The reason for this is quite clear when we understand that Iveson at his trial before Edmund Bonner Bishop of London said very clearly that he found no grounds in Holy Scripture for a number of practices of the church of Rome.

Pressed to recant, Iveson replied, “I would not recant and forsake my opinion and belief for all the goods in London”.

He was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake remaining constant in his faith unto the end.

Interestingly it is written of Bishop Day of Chichester that he was ‘inclinable to the Reformation’ having preached at the funeral of Edward Vl. It was subsequently recorded in the Memorials of the See of Chichester that he ‘condemned Protestants to be burned and presided at their execution’. As he was Bishop until 1556 it is highly probable that he would have been at Iveson’s burning.

In fact the year 1555 saw two men burned at the stake in the precincts of Chichester Cathedral for in October of that year Richard Hook of Alfriston, Sussex was also condemned by Day. It is recorded in the Public Records Office: ‘Bishop George (Day), 1553-1556: October 13 1555, Richard Hook of Alfriston, a child and nursling of devilish iniquity, on account of his manifest wicked errors, detestable heresies and damnable opinions opposed and repugnant to the Catholic faith…has been denounced as an obstinate and confirmed heretic…and handed over to the secular arm to be punished and broken’. He was sent to the stake and it is believed that the place of burning was Vicar’s Close as it was for Iveson.

With Permission from Sussex Martyrs Commemoration Council www.sussexmartyrs.co.uk