John Bradford was born in 1510 and educated at Manchester Grammar School where he showed considerable ability in Latin and Arithmetic.
He served under John Harrington, using his numeracy skills in managing his financial affairs before going on to study law at the Temple in London. It was there that it is said that through the influence of a fellow student he was converted to the Protestant Christian faith; the religion of England at the time under Edward VI, leaving law school to begin his study of theology at Cambridge.
In 1550, he was ordained by Bishop Ridley to be a “roving chaplain”, but the religious climate of the country would change with Edward’s early death, England now came under the rule of Mary Tudor who was zealous to bring back the Roman Catholic religion and to discipline “heretics.”
Just one month into Mary’s reign, John was arrested on a trivial charge and confined to the Tower of London which although he would never leave until his execution, continued to preach and write letters and treatises that would encourage fellow believers. During his two-year imprisonment he was cast for a time into a single cell with three fellow reformers, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. All three were to become martyrs to the Protestant cause.
Bradford was condemned to death on January 3lst 1555 but it wasn’t until the afternoon of June 30th of that year, that he would know just when his execution would take place, although he seems to have had a premonition of it in his dreams.
Brought to the notorious Newgate Prison to be burned at the stake as a heretic and though the burning was scheduled for 4 a.m. there was a great crowd, made up of many who admired Bradford and who had come to witness the execution.
A certain Mrs Honywood, who died in 1620 having lived to be 92, often told of how she was present at the time, and had her shoes trodden off by the crowd.
When Bradford and his fellow martyr, John Leaf, arrived at the stake they prostrated themselves in prayer. Annoyed by the press of the crowd the Sheriff ordered Bradford to conclude his prayers. Standing at the stake, Bradford looked towards heaven and said “O England, England, repent thee of thy sins, repent thee of thy sins. Beware of idolatry, beware of false antichrists.”
He was chained to the stake and after begging forgiveness of any he might have wronged and freely forgiving those who had wronged him, he turned to John Leaf, with these words, “Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!”
A writer of his period recorded that he endured the flame “as a fresh gale of wind in a hot summer’s day”