I found this curious line in J.C. Ryle’s book, Five English Reformers. In fact, it’s the first line of chapter three, which is devoted to the martyr Rowland Taylor. Ryle writes this, “Rowland Taylor, Rector of Hadleigh in Suffolk, one of the famous Protestant martyrs in Queen Mary’s days, is a man about whom the church possesses singularly little information.” When I saw that, I thought that we would see what little information we can find out about this man. Who is he and why does he matter? It turns out that Hadleigh was a small rural town about fifty miles outside of London. There, Taylor labored and lived mostly in obscurity. Taylor never wrote any books and he did not publish a single sermon during his lifetime, so we have no literary legacy left behind. But, the legacy of his martyrdom has been left behind for us.
Rowland Taylor is chronicled in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. In fact, Ryle points out that it is extremely probable that Foxe visited Taylor’s parish and that Foxe would’ve even interviewed Taylor’s parishioners. Not only was Hadleigh a small rural town, the town of Taylor’s birth was also a very small rural town. He was born at Rothbury in Northumberland. In the year 2000, the census had a population of about 1,700 there at Rothbury. Back in Taylor’s day there would’ve been far far fewer. He went on to become a student at Cambridge.
There are two things we should note. First, while at Cambridge, Taylor came under the influence of the sermons of Bishop Latimer. Bishop Latimer himself would go on to be martyred. Also, in addition to those sermons, Rowland Taylor had some sort of position under Thomas Cranmer. He even lived in Thomas Cranmer’s house. These were the days of Henry VIII and on into the reign of Edward VI. In fact, when Cranmer left Cambridge and became Archbishop Cranmer, Cranmer appointed Taylor to the post of bishop at Hadleigh. Hadleigh was a Reformation town. Foxe tells us how the Reformation came there through the preaching of Thomas Bilney. Foxe tells us that you could find most people in that town who had not only read through the Bible many times, but you could find people in that town who had memorized large portions of Paul’s epistles. Into this town came Rowland Taylor as a preacher.
Again, we don’t know much about what he did while he was there except faithfully preach. After Edward VI died, Queen Mary came to the throne and threw the Reformation in England into reverse. Taylor was summoned to London. He was summarily put in prison and he left behind in the town of Hadleigh not only his parish, but his wife and nine children. He was imprisoned for two years.
In February of 1555, he was led back to Hadleigh by a sheriff’s guard. He was burned at the stake on February 9, 1555. He was only permitted a few last words, and among them were these, “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. Come hither this day to seal sit with my blood.”
Taylor was also granted to write one last letter. He sent it to his wife, and he said, “I say to my wife and to my dear 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 the sparrows and for the hairs of our heads. I’ve ever found Him more faithful and favorable than is any father or husband. Trust ye therefore in Him by the means of our dear Savior Christ’s merits. Believe, love, fear, and obey Him.” That’s Rowland Taylor, martyr.