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  • Writer's pictureDavid Smith


CELEBRATIONS - The celebrations were of epic proportions and lasted 40 days. The initial feast was... well... fit for a queen. The smells emanating from the kitchen of roast goose, marinated hind, jellied eels and smoked salmon settled into every part of the palace from royal suite to darkest dungeon. The State banqueting table was decorated with wild boar and exotic peacocks as the minstrels played to serenade them on their first Christmas Day as matrimonial partners. The newly married couple of six months were in a joyous, yeah, a rapturous mood having announced the expectant birth of their first child who would in time unite the two most powerful kingdoms in Europe. Everything was going their way. She had been crowned the new Queen a year and a half earlier and Philip, her consort, the future King of Spain, had conquered England without even firing a shot.

COUNTER-REFORMATION - At last, the dark days of Protestantism had come to an end and Catholicism was once again the established state religion. As Queen she had parliament enact a new law that legitimized the marriage of her late Spanish mother Catherine to her late English father Henry. She was therefore no longer a bastard. She was indeed the rightful heir to the throne of England. Soon after this sleight of hand she had the former laws which had been put into place under her villainous father Henry VIII and her sickly younger brother Edward VI concerning religion revoked and new laws enacted empowering the arrest and punishment of any and all who would speak against the church or it’s doctrines. This new statute, which gave power to silence free speech and dictate to the conscience of men made free by the Gospel, was in fact disguised under the banner of anti-treason laws; speak against the church and you have spoken against the sovereign and the state.

CANDLEMAS - The final highlight of the 1554-55 Christmas season was the Feast of the Purification observed on 2 February, which celebrated the purification of the Virgin Mary in the Temple after the birth of Christ. The feast remembered by the Royal family was marked by a magnificent procession adorned with candles, hence its name Candlemas. For this special occasion England’s two great composers, Thomas Tallis and John Sheppard lead the Royal Chapel (choir) to perform two newly commissioned pieces for the first and second Vespers. Such was the audacious spirit of the most spectacular Christmas festivities in England’s history that extravagant comparisons of the Queen to the Virgin Mary became commonplace.

CATTLE MARKET - Two days after the voices of the choir fell silent, on 4 February 1555, activities of another sort were entertained not far from where they sang before the Queen, in a place called Smithfield. Smithfield was then, as it is now, a meat market. It was where business of the ordinary mundane things of life took place but on rare occasions the extraordinary was observed. Often the crowds erupted into cheers and even jeers as condemned men and women were led to their death. Smithfield was one of three places in London warranted for public executions.

CONFINEMENT - John Rogers had been languishing in prison for more than a year, ever since August 1553, only days after Henry VIII’s oldest daughter was declared Queen in July. His incarceration began as an house arrest by the Bishop of London followed five months later with full imprisonment in the renowned New Gate Prison. His purported crime... well... the crime for which he was arrested was he openly preached against the "pestilent popery, idolatry and superstition” of the Roman Catholic Church, although at the time of his arrest it was not against the law to do so. It wasn’t until December 1554 that the Queen could legally deal with John Rogers for it was only then that parliament made it treasonable to speak against the Church. Rogers knew the likely outcome of his public disquiet and was at peace with himself and with God.

CAPITAL CRIME - But his public outburst against the Church was not the only reason why John Rogers was so reviled by the Catholic Queen. His, in her eyes, was a crime against God’s holy Church. Remember, years earlier, under the pseudonym of Thomas Matthew, John Rogers persuaded the Queens father, Henry VIII, in 1537 to license a legally published English Bible. This supposed new translation, however, was none other than that of William Tyndale the Bible translator, who had been burned at the stake as an heretic too in 1535 and Miles Coverdale who had spent years in hiding under threat of imprisonment or death. Rogers had fooled the King into thinking his Bible was a fresh translation now dedicated to the King. And the new Bible went forth across the land with the King’s blessing and in answer to Tyndale's dying prayer, “Lord open the King of England’s eyes.” When the King discovered the deception he ordered the notes in the margins white washed or the volumes destroyed. From 1537, when the first folio edition of the Matthew’s Bible was published, until July 1553, when the Princess was declared Queen, 72 editions of the scriptures were printed and made available to the public. The new Queen had not forgotten what Rogers had done and just as his arrest was the first under her authority as Queen so first would be his execution after the new legislation had been enacted in December 1554. While Queen, from 1553 until 1558, no English portion of scripture was printed or published in England during Mary’s reign.

COMMUNION DEFINED - Only two days after the new anti-treason law came into effect, on 22 January 1555, Rogers was tried, found guilty and seven days later, on 29 January, sentenced to death for “heretically denying the Christian character of the Church of Rome and the physical presence of the body of Christ in the sacrament of communion.” All of this took place while the Queen and her Royal Court celebrated the Christmas season. As the Queen retired to Hampton Court Palace out of the hearing of the tumultuous crowds of Smithfield, John Rogers was led from New Gate Prison to meet his maker. As the under sheriff Mr. Woodroofe led Rogers to the stake he asked if he would resign his abominable doctrine, and his evil opinions of the Sacred Sacrament of the altar. Rogers replied, "That which I have preached I will seal with my blood." The sheriff angrily retorted, "Thou art an heretic!" Rogers calmly and quietly whispered, "That shall be known at the Day of Judgment." Mr. Woodroofe added with scorn, "I will never pray for thee" and Rogers with some of his last words on earth lovingly responded, "But I will pray for you.”

CORNER IN HEAVEN - The French ambassador, Noailles, commented concerning John Rogers’ execution at Smithfield, "Even his children assisted at it, comforting him in such a manner that it seemed as if he had been led to a wedding rather than an execution." Sometimes if you close your eyes and listen carefully you can still hear their encouraging words above the jeering crowds, “Come father, remember God’s Holi Worde! Hee preparest a table before you against your enemies… His loving kyndnes and mercy will be with you… you will soon dwel in the house of the Lorde forever ... Oh father, in a just a little while you’ll see His face... we will miss you father and we love you for your testimony of faith and love of Jesus our Saviour... mother will be fine, we’ll take care of her.” And there she stood, his lovely bride, having been denied one last moment with her brave husband. She watched as the green faggots were set alight. Slowly, slowly at first the fire took hold and then ever so quickly the flames stole his breath and then consumed his body as his spirit loosed from the chains of persecution and his soul slipped into the everlasting arms of his Saviour. Today, John Rogers enjoys the real presence of the Lamb of God who alone takes away the sin of the world. He bows in the presence of the eternal Word that he so bravely put into the hands of lost English sinners so they too could read and know, in English for themselves, He lives. I would like to think that somewhere in “Glory,” on a corner of two golden streets, perhaps called the Way of Grace and the Highway of Faith, stands a group of three noble Bible translators, Master Tyndale with his friend Miles Coverdale listening as their partner in crimes against Hell, John Rogers, once again preaches the glories of Christ.

CONCLUSION - Soon it was discovered the Queen was not pregnant after all and shortly thereafter, her husband, Philip of Spain left never to return to England again. In the next three years, up and down the length and breadth of the country, a further almost 300 godly Christians were put to the flames for their faith and love of the Word of God. Finally, on 16 November 1558, the Queen, now known as the infamous “bloody Mary,” passed into eternity to be judged by her God. When you next turn the pages of your Bible thank God for John Rogers.

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