It must have been a troubling time to be a church goer in England in the mid 16th century as the country went on a roller coaster ride plunging between positions from the English Catholicism of Henry VIII , extreme Protestantism of Edward VI back to the fanatical Catholicism of Mary before the arrival of the Elizabethan Settlement and the establishment of the Church of England.
Of course, a wrong choice in the matter of religious belief could result in imprisonment, torture and at worse a gruesome execution. One book that chronicled the 300 or so Protestants who were executed during the reign of “Bloody” Mary was the “ Acts and Monuments” of John Foxe better known as the “Book of Martyrs”.
It was one of the most important books of its time whose graphic illustrations helped to frame the anti Catholicism of the country right up to the 20th century. The main message of the book that Catholics were cruel oppressors was so powerfully conveyed that a essential characteristic of “Englishness” up to fairly recent times could be defined as not being Catholic. One account in the Book of Martyrs features as a villain a local man Anthony Draycott, a native of Draycott- in- the- Moors, a prelate at Lichfield Cathedral and a zealous Catholic. He was determined to root out heresy locally. Draycott had also been Rector of Grindon and was well known in the area. He and the Bishop of Lichfield Baines began to eagerly conduct trials of Protestants after 1555. The case of Joan Waste, a young blind woman from Derby, came to their attention. A Protestant convert she had objected to the services now being read in Latin. She was sentenced for buying a New Testament in English which she asked friends to read to her.
Waste also denied the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and held that the bread and wine were only that. She was quickly found guilty and condemned to die at the stake in Derby. Foxe takes up the story
“Sentence was then adjudged, and Dr. Draycott appointed to preach her condemned sermon, which took place August 1, 1556, the day of her martyrdom. His fulminating discourse being finished, the poor, sightless object was taken to a place called Windmill Pit, near the town, where she for a time held her brother by the hand, and then prepared herself for the fire, calling upon the pitying multitude to pray with her, and upon Christ to have mercy upon her, until the glorious light of the everlasting Sun of righteousness beamed upon her departed spirit”. It said that after the burning Draycott calmly ate a meal.
However, he quickly fell foul of the new Queen Elizabeth and was imprisoned in London before being allowed to return to North Staffordshire dying at the family home Painsley Hall near Cheadle in 1572.