A from "ordinary to extraordinary" story


Here is the story which "inspired" the YACs and school children:-


A cricket pavilion overlooking Great Bentley village green was built on the exact spot of the cottage of William Munt, his wife, Alice Munt, and her twenty-year-old daughter, Rose.

   In 1556 they had such strong beliefs and faith, that, with twenty-two other protestants, they were arrested and sent to London. They were cross examined by Queen Mary Tudor’s Bishop Bonner. He sent them back to their home after deciding they were no threat to the authority of the Catholic Church and the Pope.

   William Munt was a farm labourer. His wife Alice, and her daughter Rose, were “spinsters”. That does not necessarily mean they were unmarried but that they spun wool into yarn for the cloth trade. The Earl of Oxford from Hedingham Castle, Lord Darcy and Master Tyrrell both of St Osyth were among those Justices and commissioners who had ordered their arrest.

   Protestants were people who questioned the authority, traditions, and practices of the Catholic Church. They rejected the belief that bread and wine, taken at mass or communion, was the body and blood of Christ himself.

   Queen Mary, who was ruling England at the time, was a devout Catholic. She and her husband, King Philip of Spain, regarded all protestants as heretics. Not only that, but protestants denied the Catholic faith. That, as far as King Philip and Queen Mary were concerned, was treason. The King and Queen strongly believed protestants would have no chance of going to heaven after they died. Queen Mary gave instructions to Bishop Bonner to purge all protestants of their evil heresy and treason and give them a chance of going to heaven. Mary decreed that, for the good of their souls, all protestants must have the evil heresy burned out of them until they died.

   When William, Alice, and Rose were sent back to their home in Great Bentley, it was not the end of their story.  Clergy in the parish, including one called Thomas Tye, sent a letter to Lord Darcy to complain that William, Alice, and Rose were not attending church. Lord Darcy sent Tye’s letter to Bishop Bonner. Thomas Tye also complained of the family, direct to Bishop Bonner, in a second letter.

   Thomas Tye’s letters claimed William, Alice, and Rose, “maliciously and seditiously seduced many from coming to the church… they also mocked those that frequented the church and called them ‘church owls.’”

   The letters stated that, in the nearby town of Colchester, “the ministers of the church are hemmed in and called knaves.”

   In the early hours of the morning of the 7th of March 1557, Master Thomas Tyrrell, who was from the same family which reputedly murdered the ‘princes in the tower’, met with the bailiff of the Tendring hundred, William Simnell, and two constables from Great Bentley, called John Baker and William Harris. The four men came to William, Alice, and Rose’s house with orders to arrest them and take them to Colchester Castle’s notoriously unhealthy prisons.

   Rose’s mother, Alice, clearly frightened by these four men raiding their home in the dark, kept to her bed and begged her daughter to fetch her some water to drink, before they departed from their home to the grim prisons of Colchester Castle.

   Rose picked up a candle and stone pot to collect some water from the well for her mother. As she returned to the house with the stone pot in one hand and the candle in the other, Thomas Tyrell stopped her, calling her rude names as he roughly grabbed the candle from her and seized her wrist. He demanded she persuade her parents to recant and to fully embrace the Catholic church. Rose steadfastly refused to do this, even as he pushed her hand down across the flame of the candle and moved it from side to side, burning it until the “sinews” could be heard to “crack.”

   Tyrrell, the bailiff and the two constables arrested William, Alice, and the wounded Rose. They took them in a cart, 9 miles, to Colchester castle prisons which were used to incarcerate prisoners from outside the walled town. They were visited there by neighbours and sympathisers. Rose told her visitors that her faith had given her the strength to bear the pain of the flame and would do again at the stake. Although Tyrrell had called her rude names and forced her hand into the flame, she had resisted the urge to bash him in the face with the stone pot. Instead, she kept her faith and her dignity. 

   At their trial, in Colchester town hall, in June, William, Alice, and Rose were found guilty of heresy. Their execution was ordered by Bishop Bonner, acting on Queen Mary’s behalf. Together with John Johnson, a farm labourer from Thorpe, the sentence was carried out in the bailey of Colchester Castle on the afternoon of August 2nd, 1557.

   Five years after the death of Mary 1st, an account of the many protestants persecuted and martyred during her reign was published, in “Foxes Book of Martyrs.” The tragic story of William, Alice and Rose was read all over England and became famous.

   There is another martyr from Great Bentley on the memorial outside the cricket pavilion. His name is Ralph Allerton. In 1556, Ralph had been arrested after persuading the congregation of Great Bentley church to take more interest in religion. He read extracts from the New Testament in English to them. This was disapproved of by Lord Darcy of St Osyth, who sent Ralph to be examined by Bishop Bonner. Ralph Allerton was released by the bishop, after they had a religious discussion, and came home to Great Bentley. He started preaching again in a neighbouring parish and hid in woods and barns to avoid being caught. But he was found out and arrested by Thomas Tye, the local priest, who had previously forsaken his protestant sympathies. This time Ralph was condemned to die for his faith in Islington, which was a village near the City of London at that time.

   There were two further martyrs from Great Bentley, not listed outside the cricket pavilion. Margaret Thurston, a widow, was due to die on the same day as William, Alice, and Rose, but the Colchester Castle gaolers left her, as she had a funny turn, shivering and shaking, when the time came. Previously Margaret’s husband John had died in the unhealthy prisons in Colchester Castle. Margaret was martyred in Colchester on the same day Ralph Allerton died, on 17th September 1557.


  1. In accounts of the arrest of the Munts, Johnson and Rose, the crown officer involved was Thomas Tyrrell. It is claimed he belonged to the same family, accused of murdering the "Princes in the Tower", on behalf of Richard lll, by some historical sources. From researches by the late historian John Ashdown Hill, who was instrumental in locating and identifying the remains of Richard lll, one of the princes may have been hidden in St John's Abbey, which could offer the same standards of chartered sanctuary as Westminster Abbey.


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