Thomas Hawkes, The Martyr I Almost Knew

Banner - OBWAT sheriff fire in eyeglasses - Thomas Hawkes Protestant martyr

30 August 2019
· Augments the post Look Upon His Like(ness) Again ·

When Mary Tudor came to the throne in July 1553 following Edward VI’s death and the nine days’ blunder of Jane Grey Dudley, the new regime’s machinery for eradicating Protestantism took some time to get up to speed. Heresy statutes against Lollardy dated back to 1401 in the reign of Henry IV, but these had been repealed under Mary’s father and brother. After a contentious battle in Parliament, the statutes were revived at the end of 1554; the burnings commenced six weeks later. Of the 284 souls whose blood gave Mary her nickname, 243 died between 1555 and 1557. In 1558 an epidemic of quartan fever managed to distract the country’s attention from its internecine holy war; it also became evident that Mary was mortally ill and would bear no Catholic heir. The fires slowed ahead of Elizabeth’s accession and another religious reversal.

John Foxe’s The Acts and Monuments is a sobering book for anyone to read, and additionally so for me because my father’s name can be found in its pages, once bearing the marginal description persecutor. (My father’s role is explained in the main post. The slur is somewhat mitigated by his attitude, if not his actions.)

John de Vere as persecutor from Foxe - Thomas Hawkes Protestant martyrBe that as it may, I would share this story.

Quoted phrases in blue italics, from Foxe’s 1570 edition (see Sources). Spelling updated as needed for readability.

Thomas Hawkes came from a solid Essex family, who raised him daintily from his childhood, like a gentleman. He was employed in the service of my father John, 16th Earl of Oxford. By Foxe’s account Hawkes was tall and comely, esteemed and loved of all the household. He would have celebrated the birth of an Oxford heir in 1550, dandled me as a baby, seen my toddling steps. After Queen Mary’s accession, however, Hawkes was unable to reconcile his reformed faith with my father’s acquiescence in the return of the old religion, so he resigned his position and went home to his own family. At the beginning of February 1554 he was arrested for refusing to allow his newborn son to be baptised after the papistical manner. It fell to my father to arraign his former companion-servant and send him to London, where in the succeeding months he was repeatedly examined by Edmund Bonner and other Catholic prelates.

One of these examinations took place in early September at Fulham Palace, Bonner’s residence as Bishop of London. Hawkes wrote afterwards of that day’s disputation with his inquisitors, including a layman named Miles Huggard.

Then said one Miles Huggard: Where prove you that infants were baptised?

Hawkes [quoting from Matthew]: “Go teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Sir, here is none excepted.

Huggard: What? Shall we go teach children?

Hawkes: That word [teach] doth trouble you. It might be left out full well, it is too much for you to teach. [He’s punning – ie, you haven’t the wits for this.] Is not your name Miles Huggard?

Huggard: So am I called.

Hawkes: Be you not a hosier, and dwell in Pudding Lane?

Huggard: Yes, that I am, and there I do dwell.

Hawkes: It would seem so,

  • For ye can better skill to eat a pudding and make a hose,
  • Than in scripture, either to answer, or to oppose.

[Hawkes writes]: With that Huggard was in great rage, and did chafe up and down. Then I desired that some man would take the pain to walk the gentleman, he did fret so for anger.

Iesu Christi! By this point Hawkes had been seven months in prison, kept from his wife and the baby son whose non-baptism had put him into this tight spot. He saw his reflection aflame in the eyes of the men who hounded and threatened him, yet he possessed the inner confidence to play with his interrogator. The clueless hosier was set up and then lit up with a searing couplet, which Hawkes followed with concern for the smoking carcass he had just burnt. Metaphorically.

After a further nine months’ detention, once Henry IV’s De heretico comburendo again carried the force of law, Hawkes was brought back to Essex. He was burnt, non-metaphorically, on the 10th of June, 1555. Coggeshall is less than half a day’s ride south of Hedingham.

Hawkes at the stake - woodcut from 1563 Foxe - Thomas Hawkes Protestant martyrThe British Museum

My father must have been devastated by Thomas Hawkes’s fate and the part he had to play in it. It’s easy to see why he wanted me out of there. I’ve tried to remember Hawkes, small kindnesses he may have shown to the small son of his lord, or whether I noticed his absence in the short time between his departure from the household and my own. It doesn’t work. I was too young, and it was too long ago.
Thomas Hawkes’s return to Essex and execution at Coggeshall were accomplished under the charge of Richard Lord Rich, the man whose testimony twenty years before helped send Thomas More to the block for siding with Rome against Henry VIII. During Mary’s reign, Rich (unlike my father) was energetic in his efforts to suppress Protestantism in Essex. Rich was a flexible fellow.

Miles Huggard (or Hogarde) was an indefatigable opponent of the Reformation. He was a polemical pamphleteer and even something of a poet, as well as a Pudding Lane hosier who couldn’t take a joke. No wonder Hawkes’s freestyling infuriated him. The verses that preface Huggard’s 1556 diatribe The displaying of the Protestantes, & sondry their practises, with a description of divers their abuses of late frequented (etc) were written in ballad metre, rhythmically equivalent to the fourteeners I blogged about in 2018, though divided into lines differently. As for the verses’ merit, you’ll have to decide that for yourself. It won’t be difficult.

  • Sources and Additional Reading
  • Bloody Mary? []
  • · by Eamon Duffy
  • · The Digital History Magazine, Issue 5, 2015
  • The Reign of Mary Tudor []
  • · by James Anthony Froude
  • · Dent & Sons, London, and Dutton & Co, New York, 1910
  • · pages 133-187, on the revival of De heretico comburendo (On the burning of heretics)