Who was Nicholas Ridley?
Nicholas Ridley (c. 1500–16 October 1555) was an English Bishop of London. Ridley was burned at the stake, as one of the Oxford Martyrs, during the Marian Persecutions, for his teachings and his support of Lady Jane Grey. Ridley is remembered with a commemoration in the calendar of saints in some parts of the Anglican Communion on 16 October. Ridley came from a prominent family in Tynedale, Northumberland, and was born c.1500. He was the second son of Christopher Ridley, first cousin to Lancelot Ridley and grew up in Unthank Hall from the old House of Unthank located on the site of an ancient watch tower or pele tower. The boy was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he received his Master's degree in 1525.
Soon afterward he was ordained as a priest and went to the Sorbonne, in Paris, for further education. After returning to England around 1529, he became the senior proctor of Cambridge University in 1534. Around that time there was significant debate about the Pope's supremacy. Ridley was well versed on Biblical hermeneutics, and through his arguments the university came up with the following resolution: "That the Bishop of Rome had no more authority and jurisdiction derived to him from God, in this kingdom of England, than any other foreign bishop." He graduated B.D. in 1537 and was then appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, to serve as one of his chaplains. In April 1538, Cranmer made him vicar of Herne in Kent.
In 1540-41, he was made one of the King's Chaplains, and was also presented with a prebendal stall in Canterbury Cathedral. He was also made Master of Pembroke College. In 1543 he was accused of heresy, but he was able to beat the charge. Cranmer had resolved to support the English Reformation by gradually replacing the old guard in his ecclesiastical province with men who followed the new thinking.
Ridley was made the Bishop of Rochester in 1547, and shortly after coming to office, directed that the altars in the churches of his diocese should be removed, and tables put in their place to celebrate the Lord's Supper. In 1548 he helped Cranmer compile the Book of Common Prayer and in 1549 he was one of the commissioners who investigated Bishops Stephen Gardiner and Edmund Bonner. He concurred that they should be removed from office. As Cranmer's former chaplain, Ridley was translated from the minor see of Rochester to the then-vacant diocese of London in 1550. John Ponet took Ridley’s former position. Incumbent conservatives were uprooted and replaced with reformers.
The death of Edward VI, here as Prince of Wales, brought about Ridley's downfall. On 2 February 1553 Cranmer was ordered to appoint John Knox as vicar of Allhallows Church in London placing him under the authority of Ridley. Knox returned to London in order to deliver a sermon before the king and the court during Lent after which he refused to take his assigned post.
That same year, Ridley pleaded with Edward VI to give some of his empty palaces over to the city to house homeless women and children. One such foundation was Bridewell Royal Hospital, which is today known as King Edward's School, Witley. Edward VI became seriously ill from tuberculosis and in mid-June the councillors were told that he did not have long to live. They set to work to convince several judges to put on the throne Lady Jane Grey, Edward's cousin, instead of Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and a Roman Catholic.
On 17 June 1553 the king made his will noting Jane would succeed him, contravening the Third Succession Act. Ridley signed the letters patent giving the English throne to Lady Jane Grey. On 9 July 1553 he preached a sermon at St Paul's cross in which he affirmed that the princesses Mary and Elizabeth were bastards. By mid-July, there were serious provincial revolts in Mary’s favour and support for Jane in the council fell.
As Mary was proclaimed queen, Ridley, Jane’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, and others were imprisoned. Ridley was sent to the Tower of London. Throughout February 1554 the political leaders of the supporters of Jane were executed, including Jane herself. After that, there was time to deal with the religious leaders of the English Reformation and so on 8 March 1554 the Privy Council ordered Cranmer, Ridley, and Hugh Latimer to be transferred to Bocardo prison in Oxford to await trial for heresy. The trial of Latimer and Ridley started shortly after Cranmer's with John Jewel acting as notary to Ridley. Their verdicts came almost immediately and they were to be burned at the stake.
The sentence was carried out on 16 October 1555 in Oxford. Cranmer was taken to a tower to watch the proceedings. Ridley burned extremely slowly and suffered a great deal, through no fault of the executioner: Ridley's brother-in-law foolishly put more faggots on the pyre, in order to speed Ridley's death, while in fact they caused only Ridley's lower parts to burn. Latimer is supposed to have said to Ridley, "Be of good comfort, and play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."
This is quoted in Acts and Monuments by John Foxe, who put the story of their deaths to effective use. It is not, however, in the first edition of the book: there Foxe says that he can "learn from no man" what Ridley and Latimer said to each other. A metal cross in a cobbled patch of road in Broad Street, Oxford marks the site. Eventually Ridley and Latimer were seen as martyrs for their support of a Church of England independent from the Roman Catholic Church. Along with Thomas Cranmer, they are known as the Oxford Martyrs.
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