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The Bury Martyrs

The memorial to commemorate the seventeen Protestant Martyrs was erected by public subscription in 1903 and is situated in the churchyard between St. Mary and St. James Churches in Bury St. Edmunds. These men were burned or imprisoned between 1555 and 1558 by the orders of Queen Mary I for not attending Mass or taking the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

The Martyrdom of James Abbes at Bury St Edmunds

The Martyrdom of James Abbes at Bury St Edmunds- 2nd Aug 1555
Woodcut from Fox’s Book of Martyrs

However there seems to have been an error perpetuated over time as to the actual number of these men, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs only indicates fourteen. This book was originally published in Latin in 1550 and further expanded until Foxe’s death in 1583. This is a contemporary source and the only comprehensive one available. So, who were the extra three men? Their names were John Parrett, Martin Hunt and John Norice, and the entry in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs clearly describes their fate. The following is the extract dated 27th to the 29th June 1556, pages 1739-1740 of the 1610 edition of Foxe’s Martyrs.

“After the burning of these three in Stratford the same month died in prison of the Kings Bench in Southwarke, one Thomas Parret, and was buried in the backside, the 27th day of the month above said.  Also, Martin Hunt (as is reported) in the same prison was famished the 29th Day. At which time likewise died in the same prison, as I find recorded, one John Norice, and after the same last as the others was buried on the backside of the said prison the day above mentioned.”

Although they appear on the Bury St. Edmunds memorial, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs does not say they are Suffolk Men nor that they were burnt at Bury St. Edmunds. The various secondary source books do not mention these three men at all. So where did the information come from which lead to them being included on this memorial? A book written in 1902 by Nina F Layard (Seventeen Suffolk Martyrs) mentions all three as being Suffolk Martyrs and burned at Bury. The memorial was being planned and discussed at around this time, so the information may have come from her book. The author claims that the list of Martyrs used in her book was taken from “The History of Stowmarket” by Hollingsworth; who in turn claims the information came from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. So, is this an error, or misinterpretation in the past which has just been repeated? It is a lesson to all historians to check and even double check the sources.

The 1610 edition of Foxe’s Martyrs (CUL3781) can be found in the Cullum library in the Bury St. Edmunds branch.

Jean Deathridge- Searchroom Assistant