The reign of Bloody Mary, (1553-1558) saw many people put to death for their beliefs.
The daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, she came to the throne on 19th July 1553, after her younger half-brother, Edward VI died earlier in that month; it was Lady Jane Grey, who succeed to the throne immediately after the untimely death of the young, sickly Edward – Mary had to fight for her right to rule, but that is another story, and does not concern us here, now. What we need to consider is that Mary, was responsible for plunging the country back into the Catholic faith her Father had done his best to remove, in order for him to rid himself of her Mother, so that he could marry the infamous Ann Boleyn.
To say she had a difficult childhood is somewhat of an understatement!
She came to the throne, determined to reinstate her faith and saw fit to remove any dissenters causing her brief time on the throne to be one of the bloodiest in British history; hence the name by which she will always be known; Bloody Mary.
It was under her rule that the Rev George Marsh, (born 1515 in the parish of Deane, near Bolton in Lancaster) who was by then a widower with children, was bought to ‘justice’; he was found guilty of heresy – he being a Lutheran kind – a penalty of death by burning at the stake was passed on him in 1554 by the court which sat in the Lady Chapel of Cathedral, the Bishop of Chester, one Dr. Coates, passed the sentence.
George Marsh, heretic, was imprisoned awaiting his death.
On the appointed day, April 24th 1555, said to be a windy day, he was taken in chains to the Gallows Hill by the Sheriffs, just outside the centre of Chester. It is said that on the way, he read his bible and on reaching the stake he turned to the crowd that had gathered only to be told to stop his sermonising. A pardon was offered to him by the Vice-Chamberlin, but only would it be granted if he recant his Protestant faith – off course, he didn’t – George had a reputation for being a firm man, not easily swayed; he had courage.
What happened next, could have come right out of a modern day Hollywood block buster; one of the sheriffs, John Cowper of Overleigh, attempted to rescue George! What exactly happened, is unclear, but the attempt was (sadly) thwarted and Cowper fled – from Chester over the Dee river bridge at Farndon, to Holt in Wales and freedom. As a result, his family were ruined, loosing their lands and there he hid until Bloody Mary died!
Whether George Marsh knew this attempt would take place, we can only speculate – but the failure meant he had to meet his Fate in the flames… it is said the fire could not be lit, and when it was, it kept going out and that the wind came in eddies causing him much suffering – but the flames of that badly made fire, eventually consumed the the spirit and body of George Marsh that windy day in April; he was burnt to ashes, as the Bishop had decreed.
These ashes were gathered up, and taken to nearby St Giles Church near by, where they were buried in the Church yard with no marker…
But Gorge Marsh was not forgotten.
The memorial raised in the 19thC (pictured here) near to the Gallows Hill, reads:
“George Marsh born Dean Co. Lancaster.
To the memory of George Marsh martyr who was burned to death near this spot for the truth sake April 24th 1555.”