458 years ago today saw one of the most gruesome events in Gloucester’s long and fascinating history. On 9 February 1555, Bishop John Hooper was burned at the stake for heresy by the Catholic ‘Bloody’ Mary for refusing to recant his Protestant principles.
Now I am no lover of religion of any sort, but going around burning people alive for their beliefs does not strike me as a very Christian act.
Bishop Hooper was brought to Gloucester from Fleet Prison, where he had been kept in terrible conditions for eighteen months. According to Fosbrooke’s An Original History of the City of Gloucester from 1819, on the night before his death Hooper was ‘lodged in the house of one Robert Ingram, opposite St Nicholas Church’. This is traditionally said to be the Folk Museum, which was a merchant’s house at that time, although there is no evidence to support this. It is much more likely that he actually stayed at an inn, The Crown, which is where the Old Crown stands now, but at that time it was much more extensive.
In my research at the Gloucestershire Archives, one of the most chillingly dispassionate documents that I have encountered is a medieval expenses claim for ‘Giftes gevyn with other necessarie expences’ for ‘a dyner made and gevyn to the Lord Chandos and other gentilmen at Maister Maires howse the day that Maister Hooper was brant’.
Wherever Bishop Hooper spent his last night, he was taken the following day to St Mary’s Knapp and, in front of a large crowd, was burnt at the stake; an occasion described in gruesome detail in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, written in 1563.
St Mary’s Knapp was a natural mound between St Mary de Lode Church and the Cathedral wall. Today the event is commemorated by an impressive monument, erected in 1862, built on the site of an earlier memorial. During excavations for the foundations of this monument the stump of a charred wooden stake was discovered. It can now be seen in the Folk Museum.
Pictures were taken on 19 January 2013 – see previous blog Snowy Gloucester