William Flower (martyr)

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William Flower was a 16th-century English Protestant martyr. His story is recorded in Foxe's Book of Martyrs . He was burnt to death on 24 April 1555 at St. Margaret's churchyard, Westminster, London.

<i>Foxes Book of Martyrs</i> book by John Foxe

The Actes and Monuments, popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs, is a work of Protestant history and martyrology by Protestant English historian John Foxe, first published in 1563 by John Day. It includes a polemical account of the sufferings of Protestants under the Catholic Church, with particular emphasis on England and Scotland. The book was highly influential in those countries and helped shape lasting popular notions of Catholicism there. The book went through four editions in Foxe's lifetime and a number of later editions and abridgements, including some that specifically reduced the text to a Book of Martyrs.

Westminster area of central London, within the City of Westminster

Westminster is a government district and former capital of the Kingdom of England in Central London within the City of Westminster, part of the West End, on the north bank of the River Thames. Westminster's concentration of visitor attractions and historic landmarks, one of the highest in London, includes the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral.


Early life

Flower was born in Snailwell in Cambridgeshire. While still a boy he was sent to Ely Cathedral to live as a Benedictine monk. Upon the suppression of the monasteries he began working as priest. He then lived in various places around the country. He was married in Tewkesbury Abbey to Alice Pulton with whom he had three children. He worked for some time as a doctor and surgeon, despite lacking any qualifications to do so, and also as a schoolmaster in Northamptonshire. Finally he moved to Lambeth with his family, although spent much of his time away from home.

Snailwell village in the United Kingdom

Snailwell is a small village and civil parish in East Cambridgeshire, England around 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) north of Newmarket.

Cambridgeshire County of England

Cambridgeshire is a county in the East of England, bordering Lincolnshire to the north, Norfolk to the north-east, Suffolk to the east, Essex and Hertfordshire to the south, and Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire to the west. The city of Cambridge is the county town. Modern Cambridgeshire was formed in 1974 as an amalgamation of the counties of Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely and Huntingdon and Peterborough, the former covering the historic county of Cambridgeshire and the latter covering the historic county of Huntingdonshire and the Soke of Peterborough, historically part of Northamptonshire. It contains most of the region known as Silicon Fen.

Ely Cathedral Church in Cambridgeshire, England

Ely Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral in the city of Ely, Cambridgeshire, England.

Attack at St Margaret's Church

Flower was a Protestant, and for many years had rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation. On Easter Day 1555, intending to assault the celebrant at what he saw as a Popish mass, he made his way across the Thames to St Margaret's Church, Westminster. He had intended to do the same on the previous Christmas Day at St Pauls Cathedral, but arriving at the cathedral he had not the resolve to do so. This time, however, he entered St Margaret armed with a wood-knife (a large cleaver used by hunters for disjointing carcasses). He struck the priest administering the sacrament on the head and again on his arm, wounding him grievously and causing his blood to spill into the chalice containing the consecrated hosts. A great tumult ensued and Flower was seized and taken to Newgate prison.

Transubstantiation Catholic doctrine that the body and blood of Jesus are present in Eucharist

Transubstantiation is, according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the change of substance or essence by which the bread and wine offered in the sacrifice of the sacrament of the Eucharist during the Mass, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Trial and execution

The execution of William Flower William Flower.gif
The execution of William Flower

Brought before Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London at the consistory court, Flower eventually repented for injuring the priest but refused to repent for the reason why he had done so. Bonner excommunicated him and then turned him over to the secular court whereupon he was sentenced to have his hand cut off and then be burnt at the stake.

Edmund Bonner Bishop of London, was an English bishop

Edmund Bonner was Bishop of London from 1539–49 and again from 1553-59.

Bishop of London third most senior bishop of the Church of England

The Bishop of London is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of London in the Province of Canterbury.

On 24 April 1555 Flower was brought to St Margaret's Church and outside the churchyard was tied to a stake and his right hand cut off. Flower did not flinch at this:

And thus fire was set unto him, who burning therein, cried with a loud voice, "O the Son of God, have mercy upon me! O the Son of God, receive my soul!" three times; and so his speech being taken from him, he spake no more, lifting up, notwithstanding, his stump with his other arm, as long as he could. And thus endured this constant witness and faithful servant of God the extremity of the fire, being therein cruelly handled, by reason that to his burning little wood was brought; so that for lack of faggots, there being not sufficient to burn him, they were fain to strike him down into the fire; where he lying along (which was doleful to behold) upon the ground, his nether part was consumed in the fire, whilst his upper part was clean without the fire, his tongue in all men's sight still moving in his mouth. [1]


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  1. John Foxe (1841). John Cumming (ed.). Actes and monuments of these latter and perillous dayes. 3. pp. 148–155.