With many thanks to Martin Pounce for providing this article.

Almost hidden behind a high hedge on the edge of a field is a monument to one of the darkest events in Amersham’s history. It records how six men, and one woman were burnt here as heretics 500 years ago. The Martyrs Memorial was erected in 1931 by the Protestant Alliance. The martyrs were Lollards who followed the teachings of a 14th century Oxford theologian, John Wycliffe. He began to translate the Latin Bible and promote prayers in English and challenged many religious practices such as going on pilgrimage. His ideas spread to different parts of the country, and after his death, Parliament was so alarmed that it passed an act in 1401 defining these beliefs as heresy; for which the punishment for persistent offenders could be burning.

The people recorded on this monument were not the first Amersham martyrs. Some Amersham men were named as heretics for following the Lollard leader, Sir John Oldcastle’s revolt in 1414. Three were executed and a fourth, Richard Sprotford, was among 27 others sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered for treason who were pardoned by King Henry V.

Lollard sympathisers persisted in the Chilterns. Edmund Brudenell, lord of the manor of Raans bequeathed three English Bibles, probably Wycliffe translations, to Oxford University in 1457. In 1462, proceedings were taken against more Amersham men for obtaining heretical advice from the priest of Chesham Bois. They renounced their beliefs and were spared the death penalty. Punishments included making an annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham, wearing a heretic badge or parading bare foot in the market place, wearing a shift and carrying a candle.

More Lollard heresy cases followed. It was reported that Thomas Grove a London butcher, William Galsbroke of Harrow-on-the Hill and William Tylesworth, a London goldsmith “used to resort and confer together on matters of religion in the house of Thomas Man of Amersham”. Thomas Man had been travelling between Newbury and Windsor, when he heard that there was “a godly and a great company” at Amersham. He went there and became a trusted teacher, being known as “Doctor Man”. He also assisted several persons to escape from Amersham and the surrounding area to the eastern counties which were considered safer. Thomas Man was eventually burned in Smithfield in 1518.

The Martyrs Memorial asserts that William Tylesworth was burned in Amersham in 1506. A document in the Lincoln archives states that a William Tylesworth, who was likely the same man, was excommunicated in 1511, so we now think the correct date for his martyrdom is 1511. The main source for the Lollard burnings in Amersham, John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, popularly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, is full of inaccuracies as well as much anti-Catholic invective.

Foxe escaped to the Continent in 1553 to avoid Mary Tudor’s persecution of Protestants and hastily wrote much of the book there in just 14 months. He returned to England after the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558, and his second edition, published in 1570, provides the first mention of Buckinghamshire Lollards. His witnesses were men and women remembering events fifty years before. For the trials at which William Tylesworth was condemned he specifies the evidence provided by William Littlepage and Agnes Wetherly. Littlepage, who was apprenticed to John Scrivener, had borne faggots to Tylesworth’s pyre and was branded on the cheek. He describes Agnes Wetherly as nearly a hundred years old so she would have been ancient for the time. How could the two witnesses make a mistake about the year and get it wrong by five years? Without notes or a diary to refer to, witnesses could mis-remember; or Foxe may have made a mistake in transcribing his notes.

The Martyrs Memorial also lists the victims in 1521: John Scrivener, James Morden, Robert Rave, Thomas Holmes, Thomas Barnard and the one woman, Joan Norman. John Scrivener suffered the added anguish that his young son had to light the faggots under his father.


Amersham Museum was planning to commemorate the 500th anniversary of these terrible events last March but Covid put paid to that idea. However, further research tells us that 2022 is not too late after all. We don’t doubt the accuracy of John Foxe’s account this time, but rather the Protestant Alliance’s understanding of the Tudor calendar. Year numbering changed on 25 March until 1752 when it moved to January 1. The bishop of Lincoln handed John Scrivener and two others over to the civil authorities for burning in January. In the old calendar that was still 1521 but in our calendar, it was 1522.

Amersham Museum will be presenting the Amersham Martyrs Community Play in St Mary’s Church, Amersham from 17-19 and 24-26 March 2022. Owing to continuing Covid concerns the production has been remodelled by Co-Directors Stan Pretty and Sally Alford so that a reduced audience can be seated in the church while Tudor town life goes on around them and the story of the Lollard martyrs unfolds on stage.

Tickets are £13 and will be on sale online at www.amershammuseum.org from 7 February or from Amersham Museum when it reopens 19 February.