Rowland Taylor, Protestant martyr


This month, on October 6, it was 500 years since the birth of the Protestant martyr, Rowland Taylor, in 1510. From Northumberland, Rowland Taylor earned his law degree and then a doctorate from Cambridge in the 1530s. He also married Margaret, niece of William Tyndale (who translated the Bible into English, and for it, was burnt by Henry VIII in 1536). But as evangelical thought developed under Henry and flourished under Protestant King Edward VI, Taylor served each of the three great Bishops of the English Reformation: Latimer, Cranmer (who ordained him) and Ridley. From 1544 he was the Rector of Hadleigh in Suffolk, a post he remained in till his arrest. He also served more broadly as Archdeacon.

Taylor was arrested soon after ‘Bloody’ Queen Mary ascended the throne in 1553. She ordered an immediate return to Roman Catholic rule in obedience to the Pope. But Taylor opposed the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation, which claimed the bread and wine in Holy Communion became the literal body and blood of Christ. He also denounced the Catholic requirement for compulsory clerical celibacy, which as a Protestant he had abandoned as unbiblical. The trial proceedings ran over a couple of years.

January 1555 was an ominous month for Anglican clergy in England. On the 20th, Parliament revived the old statute of burning convicted heretics. Two days later a commission of bishops and lawyers examined Taylor and several others. One recanted his evangelical beliefs and was pardoned. Another equivocated and was held in the Tower of London. But Taylor remained committed. On 30 January, he was excommunicated and sentenced to death.

Days before his execution in his home town of Hadleigh, he spent a short time with his wife, Margaret. In the tears before parting, he gave her his precious copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Taylor loved the book, which he had used every day in prison, because it constantly pointed to the saving grace of Jesus. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records his words to his family:

“I say to my wife, and to my children, The Lord gave you unto me, and the Lord hath taken me from you, and you from me: blessed be the name of the Lord! I believe that they are blessed which die in the Lord. God careth for sparrows, and for the hairs of our heads. I have ever found Him more faithful and favourable, than is any father or husband. Trust ye therefore in Him by the means of our dear Saviour Christ’s merits: believe, love, fear, and obey Him: pray to Him, for He hath promised to help. Count me not dead, for I shall certainly live, and never die. I go before, and you shall follow after, to our long home.”

On 9th February 1555, Taylor became the third of about 250 Protestants martyred by Queen Mary. Just before he was burned at the stake he said, with a loud voice,
“Good people! I have taught you nothing but God’s holy Word, and those lessons that I have taken out of God’s blessed book, the holy Bible: and I am come hither this day to seal it with my blood”.

Andrew Atherstone writes:

“Taylor was not a great theologian or scholar … [His] work was at the coal-face, getting his hands dirty amongst the people of his parish. He was an energetic preacher and a compassionate pastor who taught the gospel message with clarity and warmth. Physically a big man … he was famous for his big heart, especially his care for the poor. Although not a controversialist by nature, Taylor was prepared when necessary to become involved in controversy for the sake of the people. He knew that being a good pastor means a willingness not just to feed the flock of God but also to defend [it] when it is under attack. When it came to the crunch Taylor was willing even to lay down his life for the sheep.”

(I recommend Atherstone’s moving and challenging article, ‘The Passions of the Marian Martyrs: Lessons for the Anglican Communion’, from Churchman.

6 thoughts on “Rowland Taylor, Protestant martyr

  1. Sandy,
    Thanks for sharing this mini bio of Taylor. I was struck while reading it that we often make much of the great theologians, and preachers (and rightly so). However was reminded through that we should also make much of faithful brothers and sisters who strive to make much of God through how they live and serve his people.

  2. Thanks Sandy – I always love hearing about the martyrs. Keep it coming.

    And Andrew Atherstone is a top notch evangelical historian – I’d read anything by him, especially on the 19th century.

  3. Thank you Sandy.
    I often find it more encouraging and spurring to read stories of the little man. I doubt I’ll ever be a Wilberforce, Wesley or Whitfield. But I could be a Rowland Taylor.

  4. It’s my pleasure, and I am really only harvesting the fruit of the experts work, although when time and access allows I try to read a little of the primary sources.

  5. Hi Sandy,

    Thanks for Rowland Taylor’s mini Bio, I’ll have to go and find more out about him now.

    I did find it curious that you stated that Tyndale was burnt by Henry VIII, as isn’t that historically incorrect?

    Tyndale was betrayed by Henry Phillips, & David Daniell’s Tyndale bio on p363 says that Phillips was reported as a traitor & that he detested Henry VIII, so I find it difficult to think Phillips would have worked at Henry’s behest.

    Isn’t it more generally considered that Phillips may have been working for Stokesley, the Bishop of London, rather then Henry?


    P.S. I love the Tyndale story, and think today’s Christian do not value our English translation as highly as they ought. Its marvellous how God ensures his word is accessible to everyone he calls.

  6. Hello Hugh, thanks for your encouragement. I recommend the Atherstone article. You might also try J. C. Ryle’s lecture, Why were our Reformers Burned?.

    I am a reader of history not an expert, and I certainly didn’t focus on Tyndale in preparing this article. The family connection just seemed like a bit of human interest to me.

    In regards to your question, my phrasing was careless and ignorant. I now realise I should have said Tyndale was burned on the Continent, during the reign of Henry VIII.

    However I do understand the following is correct…

    (i) When Tyndale wanted to translate the Bible into English, the Church, under Henry, did not support him, and he had to go to continental Europe to carry out the task. (Of course, after Tyndale’s death, Henry did permit an English Bible to be published, which was indebted to Tyndale.)

    (ii) Tyndale’s publication in 1530, The Practyse of Prelates, opposed Henry VIII’s divorce on the grounds that it was unscriptural. The King did not like this and asked the emperor Charles V to have the writer apprehended and returned to England.  Tyndale and Sir Thomas More then carried on a debate in their writings about this and other matters, with More claiming Tyndale was a heretic and traitor.

    (iii) The Phillip’s betrayal was the actual occasion for his arrest in Antwerp in 1535 and his trial at the castle of Vilvoorde in what we now call Belgium. So clearly I was wrong to say he was burnt by Henry, when he was outside England. I don’t know about Henry’s relationship with Phillips.

    (iv) Actually it may be more correct to say Tyndale was strangled at the stake and then his dead body was burned there.

    (iv) Foxe reports Tyndale’s final words as “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.” Clearly Tyndale thought Henry VIII was not yet on the same page as him!

    Hugh, thanks for your correction. I have learned something more.

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