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).
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