Saturday, January 23, 2010

They Burned for Their Beliefs!

Some may think that religious extremism and intolerance is a modern day phenomena born out of the troubles in the Middle East.....

In a bleak disused cemetery on East Hill, Dartford stands a stark monument to three Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake for their beliefs in 1555.

The burnings took place at the behest of Queen Mary - Bloody Mary!

The staunchly Catholic Queen was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. She was crowned Queen of England and Ireland on 19th July 1553 following the early death of her Protestant half brother King Edward VI from tuberculosis and a failed attempt at placing Lady Jane Grey on the throne by the Dudleys.

Initially Mary was a popular Queen but her decision to marry Prince Philip of Spain, who later became King Philip II, was widely distrusted by her English subjects and lead to uprisings in various part of the country which were ruthlessly suppressed.

Despite the disquiet, the marriage went ahead on 25th July 1554.

The Queen made it her mission to zealously reverse the Protestant policies introduced by her father King Henry VIII during the Reformation and continued by her half brother Edward, and return England to the Catholic faith.

Protestants from all walks of life, not only the clergy, were heavily persecuted and tried for heresy if they refused to recant their beliefs.

In total nearly three hundred Protestants were executed, mainly by burning, during Mary's short reign of just over five years. Protestants in Kent suffered particularly with more than sixty perishing in the so called the Marian Persecutions.

The Dartford memorial commemorates the names of three of the Kent martyrs - Christopher Waid, Nicholas Hall and Margery Polley.

In June 1555 Christopher Waid, a linen-weaver, and Nicholas Hall, a bricklayer, both from Dartford, were arrested and charged with heresy due to their Protestant beliefs and failure to recant.

They were tried by the notorious Bishop of Rochester, Maurice Griffiths. Both men were found guilty and sentenced to be publicly burnt at the stake.

Christopher Waid's execution was fixed for the 17th July 1555 and Nicholas Hall for the 19th July (coincidentally the second anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne). Hall met his fate in Rochester.

Christopher Waid was taken early in the morning of the 17th July to the Brent (in Dartford) - at that time an area of heath land - and put into a gravel pit which was often used for the execution of common criminals.

Waid and Margery Polley, the third person commemorated on the Dartford memorial, had been placed in the charge of the Sheriff and his men.

Polley was a widow from Pembury near Tonbridge who had earlier been tried and sentenced to death by the Bishop of Rochester, Maurice Griffiths. She was the first women to be executed in the Marian persecutions.

Polley was brought to the Brent on the way to her own execution in Tonbridge which took place the next day.

Margery Polley said to Christopher Waid, on seeing in the distance the large crowd assembled to witness his execution : " You may rejoice to see such a company gathered to celebrate your marriage this day,".

Waid and Polley then sang a psalm together.

(Incidentally, it is recorded that "divers fruiterers came with horse loads of cherries and sold them to the many people who had come to witness the martyrdom". )

Waid was stripped of his clothes and dressed in a long white garment. He was then led to the stake, which he embraced. A pitch barrel having been placed near him, he was fastened to the stake with a metal hoop by a local cooper.

As soon as this was done, he looked up to Heaven and, with a loud and cheerful voice, said :

"Shew me a token for good, that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed : because Thou, Lord, hast helped me and comforted me "

Near the stake was a raised mound with a platform on which stood a friar holding a Bible.

Christopher Waid saw the friar and urged the watching crowd to " heed the Gospel and beware of the errors of Rome."

The Sheriff interrupted Waid, saying : "Be quiet, Waid, and die patiently."

Waid said : "I am quiet, thank God, and so trust to die."

Faggots (bundles of branches) were then piled around Waid, who is said, with his own hands to have opened a space for his face to be seen, and so that he could see the crowd.

His voice was heard repeatedly saying : " Lord Jesus, receive my soul ! "

With no sign of cowardice, no longer able to speak, he finally put his hands over his head and towards Heaven before perishing in the flames.

Mary's reign of terror ended with her death on 17th November 1558. She had not produced an heir from her marriage to Philip and the crown passed to her Protestant half sister Elizabeth (daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn).

If you have found this post interesting, please feel free to leave a comment. They are always very welcome.

Further reading.....

Day trip to Rochester

Sir Cloudesley Shovell

Milton Church, Gravesend - Porcupines and Masons


  1. This was the sad story. Religion always tell people to do good, to be kind but people just misuse it and do the opposite, how sad is it.
    I hope these type of inhuman behaviour wouldn't happen again.

  2. Madness, isn't it? But it goes on and on, and shows no signs of stopping in our lifetime.

  3. I suppose it made perfect sense for Mary to marry Philip, especially since Mary was in anycase a granddaughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. During her father's and brother's reigns, Mary had remained faithful to Roman Catholicism, at great risk to her own neck, presumably. Partnership with Spain would have been a very tempting offer, both politically and religiously, and Mary accepted that offer.

    But I don't think it was Philip's fault that Bloody Mary was so brutal to Protestants. In fact it would be interesting to know if Henry and Edward had been equally as brutal to Catholics. And for that matter, how many Catholic plotters did Elizabeth I later have executed?

    I would not like to have been an ordinary citizen in those days, worrying that if the monarch changed overnight, the religion of the land might well have changed too. It went from Catholic (early Henry, 1509) to Protestant (late Henry) to Catholic (Mary) to Protestant (Elizabeth, 1559) - only 50 years.

    Ordinary people just kept their heads down, waiting for eventual permanency.

  4. Unfortunately religion has caused much blood loss, wars and so on when it should really do the opposite.

    Very interesting read.

  5. Another really well written, insightful post, Glen. Thanks, Phil.

    Interesting to hear about martyrs - especially those who met gory ends. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley have received a lot of attention down the years, but many others burnt, too.

  6. A fascinating post, thanks. When I was doing A level history, my Dad gave me a Victorian edition of "Fox's Book of Martyrs", which was an eye-opener.

  7. Thanks to everyone who has commented on this post.

    Your contributions are always gratefully received.


  8. What a fascinating post!! I shall have to do some exporing of my own and find this place. We moved to Dartford in September and so far I've been duly impressed by the sense of history and all the old buildings.

  9. Hi Emm - thanks very much for leaving a comment. I had a look at your blog by the way and have subscribed under my alter ego Lights2Flag.

    Kent is one of the best places in the country for history on your doorstep as I like to say.

    If you'd like to see the Martyrs Memorial it's right at the top of East Hill in the old disused cemetary.

    There is a zig zag flight of steps that goes up to it about half way along East Hill heading if you are heading towards the Livingstone Hospital.

    You get a good view from there of the town and the church in particular on a clear day.

    Best wishes,

  10. Hey, Glen.

    I finally managed to read this post. You've told this story very well. Whoever knew there was so much in the county of Kent. It is unfortunate that religion continue to be used as a tool for persecution and dogma instead of an instrument for peace, tolerance and the recognition that as we are all human with the same potential for greatness, we should treat each other with the greatest respect.

  11. Hiya! If I'm walking up East Hill, is it on the left or right hand side? I'm trying to find it on this map!,-0.133577&sspn=0.00122,0.002304&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=&layer=c&cbll=50.823577,-0.133578&panoid=bZ_zx1I3Jno2dGPdkkVZjg&cbp=12,214.92,,1,1.3&ll=50.823492,-0.133638&spn=0,359.982319&t=h&z=16

  12. Hi Emm - it is on the left as you go up East Hill. Your best bet is to go up East Hill, turn left into St Albans Road, then left into Colney Road and then look for Waid Close. The cemetary is at the end of Waid Close which is a dead end (no pun intended!).
    If you don't know the area too well this is probably the best way to find it.

    Alternatively, there is a zig zag flight of steps that goes off from East Hill (on the left as you go up) which also leads up to the cemetary.

    Hope you find it. Good views of the town from up there although the cemetary itself is a bit bleak and unloved.


  13. Well, that certainly sounds possible now that I have an idea where it is!!

  14. Michaellitten@aol.com11 May 2016 at 21:21

    There is a stone horse trough in Pembury village commerating the martyrdom.

  15. I lived in Dartford and often spent my lunchtimes from school in that cemetery, but I never knew about this memorial or the story behind it. Thank you so much