The young Joanne Bouchier (died 1550) stood on the pyre, her shorn head erect. Dr Scory (d1585), who later was appointed the Bishop of Rochester, asked her to repent. Joanne looked defiant but said nothing. The pyre was lit and as the flames leapt around her feet, she called out to Scory, ‘you lying rogue’. The crowd hushed, in order to her final gasps with which she told the Scory to go home, ‘ and read the scriptures…’ Joanne then died, her beliefs intact.
Joanne Bouchier, Bocher, Burchen or Boucher – there are many different spellings, was probably of Flemish stock having fled persecution in their homeland and eventually resided in Eythorne. The village, pronounced Aythorne, lies to the north east of Dover. In Saxon days, it was called Hegythe Thorne and the parish was divided into two districts, Upper and Lower Eythorne, the first is sometimes referred to as Eythorne Green.
In 807 Cuthbert, King of Kent, with the consent of Coenulph, the King of Mercia, gave his minister Aethelnoth, three plough lands in the vicinity of the village in return for a considerable amount of money. The land then passed through several hands until the Conquest (1066) when it came into the possession of the Badelsmere family. Passing again through several hands, Eythorne came into the possession of Sir Thomas Browne (d1460), Chancellor of the Exchequer during the reign of Henry VI (1422-1461 + 1470-1471), who was executed for treason on 20 July 1460. In 1449, Sir Thomas had instituted a fair in perpetuity on the feast of St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains – celebrated on 1 August). The fair proved popular for centuries but then went into incline and became an annual running race but interest waned and the fair ceased.
During the 16th century, Protestantism was spreading rapidly throughout northern Europe. Martin Luther (1483-1546) proclaimed the doctorine of Justification by Faith and John Calvin (1509-1564) proclaimed the doctorine of Predestination. They and their contemporaries were distinguished men of learning and were highly influencial. At the time Charles V (1519-1556), was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire that included the Low Countries and Protestants per se were being persecuted. By 1534 it was reported that there was a strong following in many countries including present-day Belgium, where Joanne’s family came from. It is highly likely that Joanne was the daughter of an affluent Protestant refugee who arrived in Canterbury and then moved to Eythorne. Although many were of of high birth, these refugees were described, in contemporary accounts, as cowherds, clothiers and weavers. They built cottages around the village of Upper Eythorne and one of these homes was Loom Cottage on the Coldred Road, demolished in 1901. It is believed that this was the residency of ‘good Master Humphrey,’ Joanne’s teacher.
It was in 1540 that Joanne came to public notice, dispensing Tyndale’s (various spellings including Tindale) New Testament to the ladies of the court of Henry VIII (1509-1547). William Tyndale (c1494-1556) was an English academic and Protestant who translated the Bible into English. This contravened both the Roman Catholic Church and English laws and was punishable by death. In 1536, Tyndale was arrested in Brussels, convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation and burning. It is reported that his final words were, ‘Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes’. Two years later Henry VIII authorised the English translation of the Bible.
Joanne, it was said, was an arrestingly pretty girl with flaxen hair and considered ‘a great reader of scripture.’ She was a friend of Baptist, Anne Askew (1521-1546). Although Henry VIII had declared himself and England as Protestant, anyone who did not conform to his version – the Church of England – was seen as heretics and that was a treasonable offence. In 1543 Joanne was arrested and charged with heresy but for reasons unclear, Henry VIII stopped the proceedings. However, a case was brought against Anne Askew, who was subjected to torture by the rack (stretching the limbs), in the Tower of London. She was burnt at the stake on 16 July 1546.
Fresh charges were brought against Joanne and following her arrest, she was examined by the Archbishop of Canterbury – Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Bishop Hugh Latimer (1487-1555) and other Church of England worthies. Joanne was excommunicated. They then examined the case against her. This rested on Joanne’s assertion that Christ’s nature was wholly divine, and that consequently he had no human body born of the Virgin, but merely a phantom one. This was heresy.
An account tells us that Joanne stood before them, pale but with a haughty countenance. Archbishop Cranmer asked her if she would renounce her errors of thought. In answer, Joanne told them that she would not and quoted the scriptures that backed her argument. She finished by saying, ‘I have had, forsooth, of what you call your conference, nor do I wish again to hear you expose to a woman the weakness of your arguments. In truth your speeches may have a show of worldly wisdom, and perchance, too much heat of human anger, but no coal of the Lord’s kindling hath touched a tongue between you.’
After a discussion, the ecclesiastical worthies pronounced the sentence of death by burning. Over this she protested, saying, ‘If you are men, if there is a human, let alone Christian feeling in your bosoms, stop the proceedings. I will not die. Nay stop or I will curse you with a curse, which shall cling to every soul among ye. God forgive me, I should rather pray for you, and that you may see the errors of your ways …’ This echoed the sentiments expressed by William Tyndale about Henry VIII. Archbishop Cranmer, suggested that Joanne should recant her beliefs, but young girl refused, saying, ‘My path lies straight before me and I will tread it. I see the end waiting for me, but now I tremble not. I am above ye, ye hypocrites, ye whited sepulchres. In our little meeting in quiet Eythorne where as a happy child I first drank in the good truth with good Master Humphrey did me expand unto us the how that ever true faith doth manifest itself by works…’
Before the sentence of death could be formally passed, it had to be approved by the boy king, Edward VI (1547-1553). At first, he declined to sign the warrant but Archbishop Cranmer pointed out that as King it was his duty to obey the due processes of the law. Joanne was then kept in close confinement at York House belonging to the Lord Chancellor Richard Rich (1496-1567). He had actively participated in the torture of Anne Askew. While at York House Joanne was frequently visited by Archbishop Cranmer and Bishop Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555) during which time they tried to persuade her to recant her beliefs. She was then taken to the Archbishop’s palace at Bekesbourne, near Canterbury, where again pressure was put on the young girl to recant. Eventually Joanne was returned to London and burnt at Smithfield on 2nd May 1550.
Following the execution, Edmund Becke published, ‘A Brefe Confutacion of this most detestable and Anabaptistrial opinion that Christ dyd not take hys flesh of the blessed Vyrgyn Mary nor any corporal substance of her body. For the maintenaunce whereof Jhone Bucher, otherwise called Jhon of Kent, most obstinately suffered and was burned in Smythfyelde, the ii. day of May Anno Domini M.D.L.’
On 8 March 1554, when Roman Catholic Mary I (1553-1558) was on the throne, the Privy Council ordered Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley to be taken to Bocardo Prison, Oxford to await trial for heresy. Latimer and Ridley’s trials followed shortly after and they were both burnt at the stake for their heretical adherence to the Church of England – set up by Henry VIII. Thomas Cranmer was imprisoned for two years during which time he recanted his adherence to the Church of England, declaring himself a Roman Catholic. On the day that he was burnt at the stake, he stated that he was a martyr to the principles of the English Reformation and died a member of the Church of England.
It is generally believed that the Master Humphrey, whom Joanne referred to when she was burnt at the stake, was an ancestor of John Knott, the first of four successive Baptist preachers in Eythorne from 1600-1780. They were all called John Knott and as persecution of Nonconformists was to continue until the Glorious Revolution of 1688, it is difficult to know about whom an arrest warrant was issued. This was for John Knott preacher and village blacksmith and it was said that he evaded capture by hiding in the village sawpit. His goods were seized and put up for sale but no one would buy them so they were eventually returned to John.
Baptist meetings continued in private homes in the village, such as Loom Cottage, until 1604 when the first Church was built nearby. Initially tiny, it was greatly enlarged during the ministry of John Giles (1792-1827), when people came from Dover and surrounding villages to hear his sermons. Peter Fector, Dover banker and businessman built Eythorne House on the Coldred Road and it was nearby where the Baptists had erected their Church. Annoyed by the congregation’s constant singing etc., Fector offered £500 of ‘lawful money of Great Britain,’ if they moved. He also offered to give up an acre of land at Langdown in Eythorne, on which they could build a new Church. The entry in the Eythorne Baptist Church minute book for 29 January 1804, states ‘That after mature deliberation, excepting two of three sisters, we unanimously agree to accept the offer.’ In the grounds of the new Church, the congregation had extensive stabling built for those who drove miles to hear Pastor Giles for his services would last for hours. In the new Church, lunch for the congregation was provided in the vestry.
Dr John Rippon (1751–1836) opened the Church, a roomy building. On the right side of the pulpit Lady Elizabeth Sophia Russell (d1901), the wife of Sir Edward Russell, 1st Baron Russell of Liverpool (1834-1920) had a marble tablet erected in memory of the four John Knott’s, from which she was descended. In 1863 the Eythorne Church was still the main Baptist centre in East Kent. That year a particularly famous preacher came to deliver the sermon and people flocked from far and wide to attend. In the vestry they prepared tea for a congregation of nine hundred and ninety worshippers. In 1937 the stables adjacent to the Church were demolished and the Young People’s Hall was built. John Husk, preacher and founder of Coombe Valley Transport, Dover, laid the foundation stone on 25 November that year. Of note, there is also a path from Eythorne to Frogham, some two miles away, is still referred to as Baptists Walk.
(The statements quoted above appertaining to Joanne Bouchier, are an interpretation from J Foxe, Acts and Monuments, 1563.)
- Dover Mercury: 02 June 2005