Chapter 16: Persecutions in England During the Reign of Queen Mary (38/48)
“Do you not destroy your souls, when you teach the people to worship idols, stocks, and stones, the works of men’s hands? and to worship a false God of your own making of a piece of bread, and teach that the pope is God’s vicar, and hath power to forgive sins? and that there is a purgatory, when God’s Son hath by His passion purged all? and say you make God and sacrifice Him, when Christ’s body was a sacrifice once for all? Do you not teach the people to number their sins in your ears, and say they will be damned if they confess not all; when God’s Word saith, Who can number his sins? Do you not promise them trentals and dirges and Masses for souls, and sell your prayers for money, and make them buy pardons, and trust to such foolish inventions of your imaginations? Do you not altogether act against God? Do you not teach us to pray upon beads, and to pray unto saints, and say they can pray for us? Do you not make holy water and holy bread to fray devils? Do you not do a thousand more abominations? And yet you say, you come for my profit, and to save my soul. No, no, one hath saved me. Farewell, you with your salvation.”
During the liberty granted her by the bishop, before-mentioned, she went into St. Peter’s Church, and there found a skillful Dutchman, who was affixing new noses to certain fine images which had been disfigured in King Edward’s time; to whom she said, “What a madman art thou, to make them new noses, which within a few days shall all lose their heads?” The Dutchman accused her and laid it hard to her charge. And she said unto him, “Thou art accursed, and so are thy images.” He called her a whore. “Nay,” said she, “thy images are whores, and thou art a whore-hunter; for doth not God say, ‘You go a whoring after strange gods, figures of your own making? and thou art one of them.'” After this she was ordered to be confined, and had no more liberty.
During the time of her imprisonment, many visited her, some sent by the bishop, and some of their own will, among these was one Daniel, a great preacher of the Gospel, in the days of King Edward, about Cornwall and Devonshire, but who, through the grievous persecution he had sustained, had fallen off. Earnestly did she exhort him to repent with Peter, and to be more constant in his profession.
Mrs. Walter Rauley and Mr. William and John Kede, persons of great respectability, bore ample testimony of her godly conversation, declaring, that unless God were with her, it were impossible she could have so ably defended the cause of Christ. Indeed, to sum up the character of this poor woman, she united the serpent and the dove, abounding in the highest wisdom joined to the greatest simplicity. She endured imprisonment, threatenings, taunts, and the vilest epithets, but nothing could induce her to swerve; her heart was fixed; she had cast anchor; nor could all the wounds of persecution remove her from the rock on which her hopes of felicity were built.
Such was her memory, that, without learning, she could tell in what chapter any text of Scripture was contained: on account of this singular property, one Gregory Basset, a rank papist, said she was deranged, and talked as a parrot, wild without meaning. At length, having tried every manner without effect to make her nominally a Catholic, they condemned her. After this, one exhorted her to leave her opinions, and go home to her family, as she was poor and illiterate. “True, (said she) though I am not learned, I am content to be a witness of Christ’s death, and I pray you make no longer delay with me; for my heart is fixed, and I will never say otherwise, nor turn to your superstitious doing.”
To the disgrace of Mr. Blackston, treasurer of the church, he would often send for this poor martyr from prison, to make sport for him and a woman whom he kept; putting religious questions to her, and turning her answers into ridicule. This done, he sent her back to her wretched dungeon, while he battened upon the good things of this world.
There was perhaps something simply ludicrous in the form of Mrs. Prest, as she was of a very short stature, thick set, and about fifty-four years of age; but her countenance was cheerful and lively, as if prepared for the day of her marriage with the Lamb. To mock at her form was an indirect accusation of her Creator, who framed her after the fashion He liked best, and gave her a mind that far excelled the transient endowments of perishable flesh. When she was offered money, she rejected it, “because (said she) I am going to a city where money bears no mastery, and while I am here God has promised to feed me.”
When sentence was read, condemning her to the flames, she lifted up her voice and praised God, adding, “This day have I found that which I have long sought.” When they tempted her to recant, “That will I not, (said she) God forbid that I should lose the life eternal, for this carnal and short life. I will never turn from my heavenly husband to my earthly husband; from the fellowship of angels to mortal children; and if my husband and children be faithful, then am I theirs. God is my father, God is my mother, God is my sister, my brother, my kinsman; God is my friend, most faithful.”
Being delivered to the sheriff, she was led by the officer to the place of execution, without the walls of Exeter, called Sothenhey, where again the superstitious priests assaulted her. While they were tying her to the stake, she continued earnestly to exclaim “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Patiently enduring the devouring conflagration, she was consumed to ashes, and thus ended a life which in unshaken fidelity to the cause of Christ, was not surpassed by that of any preceding martyr.