Thomas Hitton is generally considered to be the first English martyr of the Reformation, although the followers of Wycliffe, the Lollards had been burnt at the stake as recently as 1519. [1]. Hitton was a priest who had joined William Tyndale and the English exiles in the Low Countries. He returned to England on a brief visit in 1529 to contact the supporters of Tyndale and to arrange for the distribution of smuggled books such as the first English Psalter translated by George Joye. He was seized near Gravesend on his way to the coast to take a ship [2], and found to be in possession of letters from the English exiles. He was then arrested on the grounds of heresy, interrogated and probably tortured. He was condemned by Archbishop William Warham and by Bishop John Fisher and burnt at the stake at Maidstone on 23 February, 1530. When Joye's second Primer (entitled Hortulus animae) appeared a year later, he included the feast of "Sainte Thomas mar." (referring to Hitton) in the calendar. Tyndale also referred briefly to Hitton's execution:

And More amonge his other blasphemies in his Dialoge sayth that none of vs dare abyde by our fayth vnto deeth: but shortlye therafter/ god to proue More/ that he hath euer bene/ euen a false lyare/ gaue strength vnto his servaunte syr Thomas Hitton/ to confesse and that vnto the deeth the fayth of his holie sonne Iesus/ whiche Tomas the bishopes of Caunterburye & Rochester/ after they had dieted and tormented him secretlye murthered at Maydstone most cruellye.

Thomas More described Hitton as "the devil's stinking martyr" and took a personal interest in the case [4]. He criticized George Joye for canonizing Hitton:

In theyr calendar before theyr deuout prayers, they haue sette vs a new saynt/ syr Thomas Hitton the heretyke that was burned in Kent, [...] they haue as I sayde sette his name in the calendar byfore a boke of theyr englyshe prayours, yn the name of saynt Thomas the martyr, in the vigyle of the blessed apostle saynte Mathye, the xxiii. daye of February.

Hitton believed in the supremacy of the Scriptures. He also argued that, whilst baptism was necessary and marriage was good, neither had to be done by a priest or in a church, and that baptism "would be much better if it were spoken in English".

See also


  1. Michael Farris, "From Tyndale to Madison, 2007"
  2. Review in Sunday Times, 19 May 2002
  3. Tyndale, The practyse of Prelates, sig. R6r.
  4. Pilgrimage, the English Experience from Beckett to Bunyan, Colin Roberts and Peter Morris, 2002
  5. More, The confutacyon of Tyndales answere, sigs. Bb2r, Bb3r

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