Thomas Hawkes came of a respectable family of Essex. He was carefully reared and sent to serve as a page at the court of king Edward VI. As he grew in years he was noted for his comeliness of person and his gentle manners. Following the fashion of the court, when he became a man he entered the service of the lord of Oxford, where he remained for some time, being liked by all the household.
But when Edward died, religion was changed, and those who held to the reformed faith began to be in danger. Hawkes was one of these, so, rather than change his faith, he decided to leave his place and go back to his own home. He had married while at Oxford, and soon after coming home a son was born to him. As he did not want to have the child baptized by a Romish priest he put off the baptism for three weeks. His enemies hearing of this, had him brought before the magistrate charged with being unsound in religion. After a hearing he was sent up to London and put into the hands of Bonner, bishop of London.
When Hawkes was brought before the bishop, he was asked why he kept the child unbaptized so long. To this the prisoner replied that he believed he was doing better for the child than by taking it to a priest. After a good deal of argument, the bishop asked him if he would have his child baptized according to the form set forth in the service-book of Edward VI. To this Hawkes replied, that it was the very thing he desired from his soul. This question, however, was a mere device to find out Hawkes’ real faith. So the bishop sent him a prisoner to the Gate-house, in Westminster, commanding the keeper to confine him closely, and not to permit any person whatever to speak with him.
During Hawkes’ imprisonment, various plans were laid to make him recant, such as arguments, reading, taking him to hear sermons, and the like; but all proved useless, his constant answer to all who spoke to him on that subject, being, “I am no changeling.” At last the bishop summoned him, with several others, to appear publicly in the consistory court at St. Paul’s, where the charges against him were read. They then urged him to recant, that they might not be obliged to pass the awful sentence of death upon him. To this he firmly replied, that he would rather suffer death than renounce his faith in the gospel. The bishop then read the sentence of condemnation against him, and five others at the same time; after which he was sent back to prison.
While in prison, waiting till he should be taken to the stake, Hawkes was allowed to see his friends, many of whom called on him. Some of them asked him if it would be possible for him to give them some token to show that a man could suffer the fire without despairing. Hawkes promised, “by the help of God, to show them that the most terrible torments could be endured in the glorious cause of Christ and his gospel, the comforts of which were able to lift the believing soul above all the injuries men could inflict.” Accordingly, it was agreed between them, that if the pains of burning were bearable, the martyr should lift up his hands toward heaven, before he died, as a signal to his friends.
Soon after, Thomas Hawkes was led to the place of execution. After being fastened to the stake with a chain, he addressed the crowd, and especially Lord Rich, pointing out to him the sin and dreadful consequences of shedding innocent blood.
After Hawkes had made a prayer, the flames were kindled around him, and soon blazed with such fierceness that his speech was taken away by their violence; his frame shrunk and the people thought him dead — when suddenly, the martyr, mindful of the promise he had made to his friends, held his hands high above his head, and, as if in an ecstasy of joy, clapped them thrice together.
The awe-struck multitude stood speechless at this unlooked-for signal from one whom they thought already dead; but his friends, remembering the promise he had made them in prison, were thus convinced of the wonderful power of faith to support believers through every trial.
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