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The Chichester Martyrs

by Lorna Still

by Lorna Still, volunteer at the Novium Museum

Many people will have heard of Latimer and Ridley, who were burnt at the stake in Oxford for their beliefs during the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary, who was determined to stamp out the Reformation. Fewer people are aware that Sussex had its share of Protestant martyrs and that two of them, Thomas Iveson and Richard Hook, were executed in Chichester.

Thomas Iveson was a carpenter from Godstone in Surrey. In October 1554 he went to Brighton, then known as Brightelmston. With him was a 25-year-old husbandman (small landowner) called John Launder, who was going on a business trip for his father. Whilst in Brighton, they heard of a brewer called Derek Carver who 'did much favour the Gospel'. They went to his house in Black Lion Street where he held meetings for worship using the English Bible authorised by Henry VIII, and the English Prayer Book published in the reign of Edward VI. The use of these books had been banned by Queen Mary, so Carver, Launder and Iveson were arrested by the sheriff with about nine other people and taken to Newgate Prison, London, where they remained for some time. Carver spent his time in prison learning to read, so he could read the English Bible for himself.

In June 1555, the Bishop of London, Bishop Bonner, was urged to examine the prisoners taken in Sussex.

At his trial in July, Iveson admitted that he had not been to Mass or gone to confession in the past seven years. This was enough to condemn him, as attendance was compulsory in Queen Mary's time. He denounced 'Romish ceremony' as 'vain, superfluous, superstitious and naught', and roundly declared that 'if there came an angel from heaven to teach me any other doctrine than that which I am now in, I would not believe him.' Iveson was sent to Chichester, as this was the seat of the Diocese in which he was arrested, to be burnt in the Cathedral precincts on 24th July 1555, most probably in Vicar's Close.

Carver was burnt in Lewes and Launder in Steyning.

Richard Hook, who was lame and came from Alfriston, was one of several Sussex men tried and condemned by George Daye, Bishop of Chichester. Daye had been consecrated Bishop by Thomas Cranmer in 1543. He was a Catholic at heart and, although he had accepted Henry VIII as Head of the Church of England, he was opposed to the spread of Protestantism under Edward VI. He expressed a readiness to suffer martyrdom for his Catholic faith and because he refused to replace altars with tables, he was imprisoned in Fleet Prison, London, and deprived of his bishopric in 1551. However, when Edward VI died, Mary re-established him immediately, and he preached at both Edward's funeral and Mary's coronation.

Richard Hook was tried on October 13th 1555. Although there is no account of his trial, his condemnation is strongly worded. Hook is denounced as 'an obstinate and confirmed heretic', described as a 'putrid member' and given over to the secular arm 'to be punished and broken'. He was also burnt in Vicar's Close and his name appears in Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

In 1948, a memorial to Iveson and Hook was unveiled by The Hon. L.W. Joynson-Hicks, MP for Chichester. This memorial is now placed above the front entrance to Providence Chapel in Chapel Street. It reads as follows:

FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH To the memory of THOMAS IVESON and RICHARD HOOK who were martyred at Chichester 1555 for their faith.