He was originally a member of Cranmer's household, which he left after his appointment to Hadleigh, and went at once to reside at his living, where he taught the truths of the gospel most successfully to a manufacturing population. But Taylor was not only a good preacher, he was an admirable parish priest; he visited the poor, the sick and the needy to comfort, relieve, and instruct them, and he called regularly on the rich clothiers to go with him to the almshouses and see that everything was duly provided there.
But when Mary and persecution appeared upon the scene, a few Roman Catholics brought, with armed followers, a priest to his church to celebrate mass. Taylor, as the shepherd appointed to feed the flock, ordered these popish wolves, as he called them, to depart, on which they forced him out of the church, closed the doors against the people who were eager to defend their clergyman, and performed mass. After this they lodged a complaint against Dr. Taylor, and he was summoned before Gardiner, a summons equivalent to a death warrant. His friends earnestly entreated him to fly at once, as so many had done, across seas, reminding him that Christ had en joined His disciples when they were persecuted in one city to flee unto another. But he replied, "I am old, and have already lived too long to see these terrible and most wicked days. Fly you, and do as your conscience leadeth you. I know that there is neither justice nor truth to be looked for at my adversaries' hands, but rather imprisonment and cruel death. Yet know I my cause to be so good and rightous, and the truth so strong upon my side, that I will, by God's grace, go and appear before them, and to their beards resist them. God will hereafter raise up teachers to this people who will with more diligence and fruit teach them than I have done. He will not forsake His Church, though now for a time He trieth and correcteth us, and not without just cause. As for me, I shall never be able to do so good service, nor have so glorious a calling, nor so great mercy of God proffered me as at this present. Wherefore I beseech you, and all other my friends, to pray for me, and I doubt not that God will give me strength and His Holy Spirit that all mine adversaries shall have shame of their doings."
And in obedience to the summons he set out for London accompanied by a faithful servant named John Hall, who, on the way, besought him to fly, offering to follow him everywhere and in all perils.
"Oh, John," said his master, "remember the Good Shepherd Christ, which not alone fed His flock, but died for it. Him must I follow, and, with God's grace, will do. Therefore, good John, pray for me; and if thou seest me weak at any time, comfort me, and discourage me not in this my godly enterprise and purpose."
When he was brought before Gardiner, he was thus addressed:
"Art thou come, thou villain? How darest thou look me in the face for shame? Knowest thou not who I am?"
"Yes," quoth Taylor; "you are Dr. Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and Lord Chancellor, and yet but a mortal man, I trow. But if I should be afraid of your lordly looks, why fear ye not God, the Lord of us all? How dare ye, for shame, look any Christian man in the face, seeing ye have forsaken the truth, and done contrary to your own oath and writing? With what countenance will ye appear before the judgment seat of Christ and answer to your oath, made first unto the blessed King Henry VIII., of famous memory, and afterwards unto blessed King Edward, his son?"
The bishop answered that was Herod's oath, he had done well in breaking it, and the pope had discharged him of it. When the brave Church of England man told him that no man could assoil him from it, and that Christ would require it at his hands, Gardiner told him he was an arrogant knave and a very fool. . . . Presently Gardiner said contemptuously, "Thou art married." He replied, "I thank God I am, and have nine children." When reproached for opposing the priest he answered, "My Lord, I am parson of Hadleigh, and it is against all right, conscience, and laws that any man should come into my charge and presume to infect the flock committed to me with venom of the pope's idolatrous mass."
He was ordered to close custody in the King's Bench, to which many of the best and ablest men in England were committed for the same cause. Taylor had an excellent fellow prisoner, John Bradford, also destined to martyrdom and waiting for it with equal courage.
Taylor lay two years in prison, then he was summoned and the mockery of his degradation was performed. Bonner officiated, and was about to strike him on the breast with the crosier, which was part of the ceremony, when one of his chaplains called out to the bishop not to strike, for that if he did Taylor would return the blow.
"Yea, by St. Peter, will I," said Taylor; " the cause is Christ's, and I were no good Christian if I would not fight in my Master's quarrel."
As Taylor was a large powerful man, Gardiner refrained from striking him. "By my troth," said he, rubbing his hands when he related this to Bradford, "I made him believe I would do so!"
The prisoners at the King's Bench were humanely treated. The night after Taylor's degradation the gaoler permitted his wife, one of his sons, and the faithful John Hull to sup with him. His admonitions to his boy were excellent. He advised his "faithful yoke fellow," as he called his wife, to marry again if asked by some good man, for her children's sake. He bequeathed his whole family to the Almighty's protection, saying that he was going to the five children - naming them - whom God had taken to Him.
His wife expected that he would be removed that night, and therefore went to the church porch of St. Botolph's beside Aldgate, by which she knew he must pass, and watched all night, - a bitterly cold night, too, for it was early in February. She had with her one of her daughters and an orphan girl whom Dr. Taylor had adopted and brought up.
At two in the morning Sir William Chester, one of the sheriffs, a humane and compassionate man, came to conduct Taylor to an inn without Aldgate, where the Sheriff of Essex was to take him in charge.
"They were without lights, but when they approached the church the orphan heard them coming, and exclaiming, 'Oh, my dear father!' called upon her mother. ' Rowland, Rowland,' said the wife, 'where art thou?' For it was so dark that they could not see each other. He answered her, and stopped; the men would have hurried him on, but the sheriff desired them to let him stay awhile and speak to his wife.
"Taylor then took his daughter in his arms, and kneeling in the porch with his wife and the orphan girl, said the Lord's Prayer. He then kissed her, and shaking her by the hand said, 'Farewell, dear wife. Be of good cheer, for I am quiet in my conscience,' and blessing the children, he charged them to stand strong and steadfast unto Christ and keep themselves from idolatry. Then said his wife, 'God be with thee, dear Rowland; I will, with God's grace, meet thee at Hadleigh.' She followed them to the inn, but the sheriff, who had wept apace during their sad interview, would, in mercy, allow no more such meetings. He entreated her to go to his house and use it as her own, promising that she should lack nothing, and sent two officers to conduct her thither; but at her request she was taken to her own mother's, who was charged to keep her there.
"A little before noon the Sheriff of Essex arrived. Taylor was placed on a horse and brought out of the inn. John Hull was waiting without the gates with Taylor's son, Taylor called the child, and John lifted him up and set him on the horse before his father. 'Good people,' said he, 'this is mine own son, begotten in lawful matrimony . . . and God be blessed for lawful matrimony.' He then prayed for the boy, laid his hand on his head and blessed him, and returned him again to John, whom he took by the hand, saying, 'Farewell, John Hull, the faithfullest servant that ever man had.' And so they rode forth, the Sheriff of Essex with four yeoman of guard and the sheriff's men leading him.
"At Brentford a close hood with holes for the eyes and mouth was put over his head, that he might not be recognised. They stayed at Chelmsford for the night, where the Sheriff of Suffolk met them. The two gentlemen supped with the prisoner, and during supper both earnestly urged him to recant and be reconciled to the Church of Rome, the Sheriff of Suffolk praising his learning and good report, and promising, if he would do so, to win his pardon from the queen. Taylor replied, 'Mr. Sheriff and my masters all, I heartily thank you for your good will; I have hearkened unto your words and marked well your counsels, and to be plain with you, I do perceive that I have been deceived myself and am likely to deceive a great many at Hadleigh of their expectation.'". 1
They were rejoiced at this, and blessed hint for those words; but they were only one of the reverend humorist's jests; he told them he had been deceived in thinking that he should be burned at Hadleigh, and that the churchyard worms would be deceived in their expectation of a feast on him when dead. An unpleasant jest rather at the expense of the sheriffs.
When they entered Suffolk a number of gentry, who had been appointed to aid the sheriff, met them. They were earnest for Taylor to recant, They assured him that they had his pardon ready, and promised him promotion to a bishopric if he would accept it. But all their offers were vain. As they approached Hadleigh the sheriff asked him how he fared. "Never better," replied Taylor ; "I am almost at home. I lack not past two stiles to go over, and I am even at my father's house." A poor man was waiting for him at the bridge foot with five small children. They fell upon their knees, holding up their hands, and the man cried, "O dear father and good shepherd, Doctor Taylor, God help and succour thee, as thou hast many a time succoured me and my poor children."
The streets through which they passed were lined with people, some of whom cried out, "There goeth our good shepherd that so faithfully hath taught us, so fatherly hath cared for us, and so godly hath governed us! What shall become of this most wicked world ? Good Lord, strengthen him and comfort him." The sheriff and his men rebuked the people sternly for thus expressing their feelings; but Taylor evermore said to them, "I have preached to you God's word and truth, and am come this day to seal it with my blood." As he passed the alms-houses, he gave among their inmates all that was left of the money with which charitable persons had supplied him during his long imprisonment. He carried it in a glove, and inquiring at the last of these houses if the blind man and woman who dwelt there were living, threw the glove into the window, and rode on to Oldham Common, where he was to suffer. When they told him that was the place, he exclaimed, " God be thanked, I am even at home!" and alighting from his horse, he tore with both his hands the hood from his head. The people burst into loud weeping when they saw " his reverend and ancient face, with a long white beard," and his grey hairs, which had been roughly clipped and disfigured at his degradation; and they cried oat, " God save thee, good Doctor Taylor; Christ strengthen thee and help thee !" He attempted to speak to them, but one of the guards thrust a staff into his mouth; and when he asked leave of the sheriff to speak the sheriff refused it, and bade him remember his promise to the council; upon which he replied, "Well, promises must be kept."
The common belief was, that after the martyrs were condemned, the council told them their tongues should be cut out, unless they would promise that at their deaths they would not speak to the people. When Taylor had undressed himself to his shirt, he said with a loud voice, "Good people, I have taught you nothing but God's holy word and those lessons that I have taken out of God's blessed Book, the Holy Bible, and I come hither this day to seal it with my blood." One of the guards, a fellow who had used him inhumanly all the way, struck him on the head with a staff, saying, "Is that keeping thy promise, thou heretic?"
Taylor then knelt and prayed, and a poor woman, in spite of the guards who threatened to tread her down under their horses' feet, prayed beside him. Taylor then kissed the stake, got into the pitch barrel in which he was to stand and stood upright, his hands folded, and his eyes raised towards heaven in prayer. A butcher, who was ordered to assist in setting up the faggots refused, and persisted in his refusal, though the sheriff threatened to send him to prison. Wretches, however, were easily found for the work, and one of them threw a faggot at the martyr, as he stood chained to the stake, which cut his face, so that the blood ran down. "O friend," said Taylor, "I have harm enough! What needed that?"
Sir John Shelton, hearing him repeat the Psalm Miserere in English, struck him on the lips, saying, "Ye knave, speak Latin, or I will make thee."
They at length set fire to the faggots, and Dr. Taylor held up his hands and prayed, saying, "Merciful Father of Heaven, for Jesus Christ my Saviour's sake receive my soul into Thy hands." In this attitude he remained, without moving or uttering another sound, until Soyce struck him forcibly on the head with his halberd, and put an end to his sufferings.
A stone was set up on the common to mark the spot where he suffered with this inscription:-
"1555. Dr. Taylor, in defending what was gode, at this plas left his blode."
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