The Oxford Martyrs: Nicholas Ridley

Nicholas Ridley - Bishop of London

Nicholas Ridley – Bishop of London

Nicholas Ridley stood as an academic of the English Reformation. He, like Latimer sought to articulate the errors of the Catholic Church. Ridley attacked transubstantiation, the merit of pilgrimages, purgatory, the veneration of the saints, images of Christ, and even the office of pope itself to which he referred as “Antichrist.” Nicholas Ridley illustrates for us a prime example of those who laid down their lives as the Reformation took off.

Nicholas Ridley - Portrait

Nicholas Ridley – Portrait

Born in Tynedale, Northumberland around the year 1501, Ridley, like many of his counterparts went to school at Cambridge. He completed his B.A. by 1522, his M.A. by 1525, and his Doctor of Divinity by 1541. Cambridge had become a hotbed of Protestant writings as Luther’s works had been disseminated in England. Ridley, like Latimer, Rogers, and Tyndale frequented the White Horse Tavern right off of the campus of the university and engaged their mind in the study of the scriptures. Ridley eventually held a number of church offices including Canon of Canterbury and Westminster as well as Bishop of London and Rochester. (A Cambridge Alumni Database)

Ridley served the English Reformation as a prolific writer. Even after his death, Ridley’s works were being translated into Latin and into French and German. As a result, Ridley’s reputation would grow exponentially. One writer remarks that after the Huguenots in France received copies of his writings “Ridley came to be viewed as the ‘English Calvin’ in French Reformed circles.” (Panofré 191) Church historian Cumrine concurs that “Among the three martyrs, Ridley produced the majority of the theological words and played the most active role in the Protestant leadership,” even while imprisoned. (76).

Nicholas Ridley - Bishop of London - 1555 - National Portrait Gallery, London

Nicholas Ridley – Bishop of London – 1555 – National Portrait Gallery, London

Some of Ridley’s works attacked the office of pope, others the mass, still others the Eucharist as not congruent with the scriptures. In his A Piteous Lamentation of the Miserable Estate of the Church in England Ridely attacks the corruption amongst the clergy declaring:

Now shall come in the flattering friars, and the false pardoners, and play their old pranks and knavery; as they were wont to do. Now you shall have (but of the See of Rome only, and that for money) canonizing of such saints as have stood stout in the Pope’s cause, shining of relics, and from any kind of wickedness, if you will pay well for it, clear absolution, a poena et culpa, with thousands of years; yea, at every poor bishop’s hands and suffragan, ye shall have hallowing of churches, chapels, altars, superaltars, chalices, and of all the whole household stuff and adornment which shall be used in the church after the Romish guise; for all these things must be esteemed of such high price, that they may not be done, but by a consecrate bishop only. Oh Lord, all these things are such as thy Apostles never knew. As for conjuring (they call it hallowing, but it is conjuring indeed) of water and salt, of christening of bells and such like light things, what need I to speak? For every priest that can but read, hath power, they say, not only to do that, but also hath such power over Christ’s body, as to make God and man, once at the least every day, of a wafer-cake! (Ridley 55-56).

Ridley’s criticism did not stop. He caused another disturbance when he put into practice his view which denied transubstantiation by not taking any care to have a nicely decorated table on which to set the elements. A biography from the Encyclopedia Britannica relates that Ridley, “created an uproar with his campaign for the use of a plain table for communion instead of the altar.” To make matters worse, he threw in his support to the Protestant Lady Jane Grey for ascendance to the throne in England after Edward VI’s death. All of this would lead to Ridley’s imprisonment and execution during the Marian Counter-Reformation.

Queen Mary I was not going to take any chances with Ridley and threw him in jail as soon as she took the throne in July of 1553. As Ridley spent that last two years of his life in prison, he had his letters and treatises smuggled out. Cumrine explains, “[Ridley, Cranmer, and Latimer’s] religious tracts quickly found their way into the hands of supporters on the continent through sympathetic networks in England itself” (76) An underground network kept the light of the Reformation going until Elizabeth I took the throne from Bloody Mary. Indeed, “the number of these evangelicals ‘who promptly re-adopted Protestantism’ upon the ascendancy of Elizabeth demonstrates their group’s vitality and potential.” (78-79) Far from conforming the public into re-Catholicism, Ridley’s Martyr’s death only fueled the fire of the reformation.

Bishop Ridley and Latimer Burnt at one Stake at Oxford - 1555 - Granger

Bishop Ridley and Latimer Burnt at one Stake at Oxford – 1555 – Granger

October 16th, 1555 saw a double burning: Latimer and Ridley. As Ridley was secured to the post he prayed aloud, “Oh, heavenly Father, I give unto thee most hearty thanks that thou hast called me to be a professor of thee, even unto death. I beseech thee, Lord God, have mercy on this realm of England, and deliver it from all her enemies.” (“Bishops Ridley and Latimer Burned”) His parting words showed a genuine care and resolution. Ridley suffered more than Latimer. He agonized over the low flames saying “Let the fire come unto me! I cannot burn!” It was not until “one of the bystanders finally brought the flames to the top of the pyre” that Ridley finally died. (“Bishops Ridley and Latimer Burned”)

Today Ridley stands as one who fought for a new kind of church that left superstition behind. He is venerated today in the Church of England and other reformed churches for his great work.

“Bishops Ridley and Latimer Burned.” 2007. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Crumrine, Harrison. “The Oxford Martyrs and the English Protestant Movement, 1553-58.” Historian 70.1 (2008): 75–90. EBSCOhost. Print. Retrieved at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Panofré, Charlotte Anne. “From Latimer’s Fellow-Martyr to the ‘English Calvin’: Nicholas Ridley’s Reputation and the Circulation of A Brief Declaration of the Lordes Supper, 1555-1570.” Reformation & Renaissance Review: Journal of the Society for Reformation Studies 10.2 (2008): 175–193. EBSCOhost. Print. Retrieved at Westminster Theological Seminary.

“Ridley, Nicholas.” A Cambridge Alumni Database. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

Ridley, Nicholas. “A Piteous Lamentation of the Miserable State of the Church in England.” The Works of Nicholas Ridley. Henry Christmas, Ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1841). Web. 15 Oct. 2015.


5 thoughts on “The Oxford Martyrs: Nicholas Ridley

  1. Great post and excellent writing. This was such a violent period of history. The way you described the burning at the stake of the two bishops gave me chills!

  2. Pingback: The Oxford Martyrs: Thomas Cranmer – Archbishop of Canterbury | Continuing Reformation

  3. Pingback: John Knox: Rebel of Scotland and Father of Presbyterianism | Continuing Reformation

  4. Pingback: Peter Martyr Vermigli: Reformer of Europe | Continuing Reformation

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