Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of Rochester
English prelate, reformer, and Protestant martyr, Nicholas Ridley was the son of Christopher Ridley, the Lord of Ridley, in the county of Northumberland, from 1519. Christopher was a confidante of Henry VIII and, it is reported, one of the few men whom Henry really regarded as a friend. The Lordship dates from 1230 when it was created and first bestowed on John Ridley by King Henry III. The domain of Ridley lies in the Northumbrian area of England, on the river Tyne, a few miles east of Halt whistle and twelve miles west of Hexham. Haydon Bridge is three miles to the east and Hadrian's Wall just four miles north. On John's death in 1258 his son, Richard, succeeded to the Title. Richard played a crucial role in the development of science of that era by being the patron of Roger Bacon who is credited with the invention of the optical lens and gunpowder (though the Arabs may have known it earlier). Richard Ridley, Lord from 1330 until 1368, entertained Edward III as the English marched through Ridley in 1332 on their way to invade Scotland. The following year Richard was invited to be present at the Royal coronation in Scotland. Among the many notable Lords of Ridley was Joseph, who, in 1485, joined Henry Tudorand his army and, at the head of a band of men from Ridley, fought in the decisive battle of Bosworth. Joseph's son Nicholas, succeeded to the Lordship in 1490 and was appointed to a leading position in the Royal mint. He was instrumental in reforming the coinage, and was responsible for the minting of the first pound coin, the sovereign. In 1534, Nicholas Ridley, while a proctor of Cambridge, signed the decree against the pope's supremacy in England. In 1537 he became chaplain to Thomas Cranmer, in 1540 master of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, and in 1541 chaplain to Henry VIII and canon of Canterbury. Under the reign of Edward, he became Bishop of Rochester (1547), and was part of the committee that drew up the first English Book of Common Prayer. As Bishop of Rochester, Ridley was chosen to strengthen and establish the Reformed teachings at Cambridge, and he was a commissioner in the examination that resulted in the deposition of bishops Stephen Gardiner and Edmund Bonner. In 1550 he succeeded Bonner as Bishop of London, where he did much to improve the condition of the poor by preaching on social injustices before the King. Ridley supported Lady Jane Grey's claims to the crown, and in 1553, shortly after the accession of the Catholic Mary I, he was imprisoned. With Cranmer and Hugh Latimerhe took part (1554) in the Oxford disputations against a group of Catholic theologians and would not recant his Protestant faith. On Oct 16, 1555, Ridley and Latimer were lead to their martyrdom. Ridley came fully robed, as he would be dressed as a Bishop. Latimer, wore a simple frieze frock. The seventy-year-old Latimer followed feebly behind Ridley. Ridley gave his clothes away to those standing by. Latimer quietly stripped to his shroud. "And though in his clothes he appeared a withered, crooked old man, he now stood bolt upright". As they were fastened to their stakes, Ridley's brother tied a bag of gunpowder to both of their necks. And then, as a burning faggot was laid at the feet of Ridley, Latimer spoke his famous words:
"Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle. By God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."
And so the fire being kindled, when Ridley saw the fire flaming up towards him, he cried with a loud voice, “Lord into Thy hands I commend my spirit: Lord, receive my spirit!’ and repeated the latter part often. Latimer, crying as vehemently on the other side of the stake, “Father of heaven, receive my soul!” received the flame as if embracing it. After he had stroked his face with his hands, and as it were bathed them a little in the fire, he soon died, as it appeared, with very little pain.
Latimer, who lived and died unmarried, eased out of this world. But it was not so with his friend Nicholas Ridley. The faggots being piled too high, he screamed for his bystanders to pull off some of the wood. Misunderstanding him, his brother-in-law, added more sticks to the fire. The fire “burned clean all his nether parts, before it once touched the upper; and that made him often desire them to let the fire come unto him”. He exclaimed,‘I cannot burn!’. When he turned to his watchers, they saw a ghastly sight.”After his legs were consumed he showed that side towards us clean, shirt and all untouched with flame”. Finally, a bystander pulled the faggots from the fire, and the fire flamed to his face, igniting the gunpowder. And he stirred no more. And as hundreds of bystanders looked on at these two motionless bodies, all that could be heard was weeping.