Select Memoirs of the Reformers
Robert Ferrar, a champion for the Reformation.
AMONGST the illustrious champions for the reformation, we cannot avoid giving some account of this venerable prelate, notwithstanding that history affords little more concerning him than the circumstances that occasioned or immediately preceded and attended his martyrdom.
Mr. Ferrar was educated at Oxford, and became a canon regular of St. Mary’s in that university, where he also proceeded to the degree of bachelor of divinity. It appears that the duke of Somerset, lord protector of England, during the minority of Edward the VI., and a warm friend to the reformation, was Mr. Ferrar’s patron, who, judging him a proper instrument for promoting that important work, procured for him the vacant bishopric of St. David’s in Wales, to which he was consecrated on the 9th of September 1547. In performing the duties of this new office, bishop Ferrar’s zeal, for the cause of reformation, soon procured him a host of enemies amongst the papists and their credulous adherents. At the fall of the protector, his patron, whose death was effected soon after this by the intrigues of his enemies, these malicious people became extremely troublesome to this excellent man, and through the agency and villainous artifice of two ungrateful officers of his own see, procured an attachment against him, by which, some short time before the king’s death, he was committed to prison, under a debt pretended to be due from his bishopric to the crown. Nor can it be supposed that such an active promoter of the reformation, as bishop Ferrar, was at all likely to obtain his liberty during the following reign of bigotry and Romish superstition. Instead of a première, with which those, who wished him turned out of his bishopric, had formerly charged him, he was now attacked on the score of heresy by others, in whose eyes nothing less than his blood could atone for his protestant opinions. Accordingly, on the 4th of February 1555, he was brought, in company with bishop Hooper, Messrs Rogers, Bradford, Saunders, and others, before that persecuting bully of the Roman church, Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, who, according to his usual practice on similar occasions, treated both him and his associates with the greatest asperity and vulgar abuse, and particularly threatened to make a short work of it with Mr. Ferrar, in which, for once, he was as good as his word, so that the harmless bishop was hurried away to his death, without even the formalities of law or justice.
Judging by the liberty, civil and religious, at present enjoyed by all ranks of the people, it may seem astonishing that men were suffered to be condemned with so little ceremony, and regard even to the forms of justice, as we find they were, particularly under the short and bloody reign of queen Mary. But ecclesiastical tyranny now restored, the church was’ so earnestly engaged in extinguishing the latent sparks of religious liberty, that bigotry swallowed up every other consideration. But the abuse of power, on this occasion, led, as it always must, to the examination of the foundation on which it rested: for men never suffer extremities without setting their ingenuity to work, if by any means they may discover some mode of relief. Hence this merciless persecution tended more to the destruction of popery, in the kingdom of England, than the most unqualified toleration could have effected: for wherever force is admitted as a necessary argument in defending any set of opinions, the most ignorant are at no loss to determine who have the truth on their side of the controversy.
With regard, however, to bishop Ferrar, the queen’s council, that they might trample down every thing like justice, order, or common decency, sent him away to his own diocese in order to be condemned, not by a court of ecclesiastics commissioned for that particular purpose, where, as Solomon says, in the multitude of counselors there is safety, but by an individual, and that highly honored personage, Morgan, the identical successor of the maltreated bishop of St. David’s. Deeply interested in the disgraceful transaction he had undertaken to accomplish, and, in all probability, happy to embrace such a rare opportunity of putting his rival out of the way; in order also to find something like a plausible pretence for such an unheard of atrocity, he examined Ferrar on a few articles; which the bishop not being disposed to answer to his satisfaction, this new bishop of St. David’s, this solitary judge of orthodox and heretical sentiments, denounced the opinions of his fallen predecessor as damnable heresies; and having degraded him from his ecclesiastical functions, delivered him over to the secular power, the knuckling tools of prelatic malice, persecution, and .murder. The secular power, nothing deficient in loyalty to the queen, or .servility to the clergy, soon brought this innocent victim forth as a lamb to the slaughter, and had him burnt on the south side of the market cross of Carmarthen, on Saturday, the 13th of March 1555. Of this faithful martyr Mr. Fox says, that he stood the fire so patiently, that he never moved» but in the same posture as he stood, holding up his flaming stumps, so he continued to stand, till one Richard Gravell, with a staff, dashed him upon the head, and so struck him down into the fire.