of worship was an unacceptable ideal before 1689. In an age when ritual and
doctrine in religion were determined by the state, all dissenters were
punished. Attendance in church each Sunday was required by law, irrespective of
personal belief, and in 1584 Rice Jones of Gelligaer was presented to the
magistrates at Cardifffor playing tennis at the time of divine service. In the following year, 11
people were presented for their failure to attend church, each absence
incurring a fine of 1/-, a considerable sum in those days.
Some clergymen, such as Anthony
Kitchin, adapted their religious philosophy to rapidly changing circumstances.
Others were guided by their conscience and suffered the rigour of the law. In
its most extreme form, their destiny was a martyr's death of excruciating
agony, a fate which befell Thomas Capper in 1542 when he was burnt at the stake
in Cardiff. The
exact nature of his offence is not recorded, but a document relating to his
execution refers to a payment of 4/4d towards the "costs and
expenses sustained in burning Thomas Capper, who was attainted of heresy at
Cardiff'. The story of Rawlins White, Cardiff's most famous Protestant martyr,
is available in much greater detail and is narrated by his friend, John Dane,
in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. White came to Cardiff from Somerset and
found accommodation near Quay Street. In
1550 he was renting five fishing henges along the Taff and, at the age of 65,
his life so far had been fairly uneventful, but in common with many other
people this state of affairs was to be transformed by the Reformation.
Rawlins became "a diligent
hearer and seeker-out of the truth'. Since he was unable to read for himself,
his son read to him from the Bible. Possessing a marvellous memory, White
became an eloquent preacher, able to quote at length from the scriptures. Soon,
he was spending more of his time preaching than fishing, as he wandered through
Cardiff and its
nearby villages, proclaiming the gospel to all who would listen to him.
When Mary Tudor ascended the throne
in 1553, she resolved to restore the Roman Catholic religion without making any
concessions to Protestant dissenters. The response of Rawlins White was to
deliberately flout all laws which inhibited the
preaching of Protestant beliefs. He "looked every hour to go to
prison', an attitude which Bishop Kitchin, bearing the responsibility for
enforcing religious laws, found
incomprehensible. White was arrested in 1554 and imprisoned, first at
Chepstow, and then at CardiffCastle. At this stage he
could easily have escaped and Kitchin no doubt hoped he would do so.
In the spring of 1555 Protestants
were being treated much more harshly and White was faced with his moment of
truth. He was brought to the Bishop's Palace at Mathern and in the chapel he
was given a last opportunity to save himself. Neither threats nor pleas could
move him and, hoping for a miracle, Kitchin ordered Mass to be taken. Rawlins
turned his back on the Bishop and beseeched the people present to "bear
witness at the day of judgement that I did not bow to this idol'. The Bishop
had no choice but to pronounce sentence of death and White was transferred to
the Cockmarel prison to await his execution. John Dane relates that he
cheerfully spent the last three weeks of his life praying and singing psalms.
Dane spares us none of the details
in the final act of this drama. Rawlins urged the blacksmith to fasten the
great iron chain around him tightly, "for it may be that the flesh would
strive mightily'. As the wood, straw and reeds
were laid about him in a funeral pyre, he still found time to argue with
a Catholic priest who was warning the crowd of the fate awaiting all
heretics.The fire was lit and crying out, "O Lord, receive my soul',
Rawlins White toppled into the flames. As his body was consumed, Dane observed,
"he seemed to shed his and ten years and his head and beard appeared altogether
Later, a plaque was erected to his
memory and fixed to the Town Hall. It disappeared when the building was
demolished in 1747 but in 1903 a new memorial tablet in bronze was placed on
the wall of Bethany Chapel in St.
Mary Street. It reads:- "Near this spot
suffered for the truth, March
30th, 1555, Rawlins White, a fisherman of this town'. When the firm
of James Howell extended their premises to encompass the chapel, the plaque
remained and can still be seen in the men's department. It is a fitting tribute
to courage, faith and stubborn determination.
Religious tension was always at its
most pronounced between Protestant and Roman Catholic, but divisions were also
to be found among Protestants themselves. The Anglican clergy and worshippers,
who were abused by Puritan zealots at Llandaff Cathedral, were not alone. The
Vicars of Llandaff and Llanedeyrn were ejected from their livings in 1650, in
favour of Puritan ministers who received the same treatment after the
The originators of Nonconformity in
Cardiff were William Erbery and Walter Cradock, the Vicar and Curate of St.
Mary's Church. In 1634, the Bishop of Llandaff accused them of preaching,
"very schismatically to the people' and a year later he referred them to
the Court of High Commission. Soon afterwards, Erbery left the Anglican Church
to seek the truth as an Independent. His daughter, Mary, became a Quaker and,
when Puritan ministers refused to give a Christian funeral to Quakers
during the Commonwealth period, she granted them a burial plot at
Soudrey, near the South Gate.
In spite of persecution, the
Quakers were firmly established in Cardiffby 1655 and that autumn, led by a hatter from Cardiff, they created a disturbance at St.
Andrew's Church near Dinas Powis. In 1658, following a public protest against
the payment of stipends to the clergy, several Quakers were put in the stocks
or sent to gaol. The Quakers fared no better after the Restoration. The
Anglicans loathed them with a relish which equalled that of the Puritans, and
in 1661 there were 40 Quakers in the prison at Cardiff. Suffering seems to have strengthened
their faith and, when George Fox visited the town in 1668, he discovered that
more than 150 of his fellow Quakers were meeting in Canton with a further 40 at
and ill-used as they were, the Quakers never faced the danger which was an
everyday occurrence to Roman Catholic priests. The penal laws directed at them
could be extremely harsh, and a Catholic priest practising his religion was
deemed to be guilty of high treason. The extremity of the law was rarely
enforced except at times of great peril, such as the threat from the Armada in
1588 or from the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. But, for a recusant or dissenter,
commitment to prison was often enough to cause his death from gaol fever, a
fate which befell Lewis Turberville in 1598.
In 1679 came the final bloodletting
in the name of religion. It arose from the Popish Plot, a fantastic falsehood
promoted by Titus Oates which alleged that the Pope planned to invade England with an
army of 50,000 men. It was claimed, that after assassinating Charles II, the
Papists intended to place his Catholic brother, James, upon the throne and so
restore Roman Catholicism. The tale was preposterous but it led to an
In South Wales,
two priests were arrested at the end of 1678. They were John Lloyd, who was
chaplain to John Turberville of Penllin, and Philip Evans, who was a priest at
Sker House, the home of Christopher Turberville. Initially, both men were
incarcerated in the gaol at Cardiffand their trial was set for the Assizes of May 1679. The result of the trial
was a foregone conclusion since the accused were Catholic priests, and that was
sufficient justification to convict them. There were several witnesses, but the
most damning evidence came from Mayne Trott, a deformed dwarf who was also a
former Catholic. He was well informed about Catholic activities in Glamorgan
and was now in the service of Justice Arnold, an ardent hunter of priests.
Later that year, Trott dropped dead in the street in London, a fate which
Catholics naturally interpreted as a divine punishment.
Evans and Lloyd were sentenced to
death but a stay of execution was granted while a reprieve was under
consideration. During this period, Philip Evans is said to have passed his time
strumming the harp and playing tennis near St. John'sChurch.
In July the Popish Plot produced a new wave of hysteria and the death penalty
was invoked. The two men were allowed to spend their last days together in
fairly comfortable conditions at the BlackTower, but on 22 July 1679 they were
dragged on hurdles to the Gallows Field. The final words attributed to Philip
Evans might just as easily have come from the mouth of Rawlins White:- "I
die for religion and conscience' sake. Sure this is the best pulpit a man can
have to preach in ... if I had never so many lives, I would willingly give them
all for so good a cause.
The anguish of John Lloyd and
Philip Evans is remembered on a plaque at the National Westminster Bank in Crwys Road. At St.
Peter's Church, near City Road,
another memorial takes the form of a stained glass window. Roman Catholic
schools in Cardiffalso bear the names of the martyrs, and in 1970 both men received the ultimate
recognition of their sacrifice when they were canonised by Pope Paul VI.
Not until 1689, when the Toleration
Act became a healing contribution to the "Glorious Revolution', was it
finally accepted that tolerance in religious belief is the only alternative to
fanaticism. Even after this act, Catholics did not enjoy full rights of
citizenship until the nineteenth century.