Henry Barrow depicted in a stained glass windows at Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, England (UK), photo by Ian A. Wood (Flickr account Ian A. Wood + email sent to OTRS-NL) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
In 1586 John Greenwood lay in Clink Prison, London, because he believed that a company of believers in Christ had the right to covenant together to worship God, and thus to form a Christian church. He was about thirty years old, a graduate of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and had been a clergyman of the Church of England. His friend Henry Barrowe, who accepted Greenwood’s ideas without reservation, called on him on the Lord’s Day, November 19, but the keeper having gotten him inside the prison would not let him out, but arrested him without a warrant, and he became a fellow prisoner with Greenwood. Barrowe, too, was a Cambridge scholar, some years the senior of his friend. He had been a courtier, living a rather dissolute life, as was common among those who dwelt at court. But one day he had heard an earnest preacher, stepped inside to listen, and found his life changed. He adopted the principles of the Separatists, and soon became a leader among them.
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His detention brought great satisfaction to Archbishop Whitgift, who examined him that very Sunday and recommitted him without bail.
After six months in prison Barrowe and Greenwood were released on bail, and worshiped with like-minded believers, sometimes in private houses, sometimes in fields or woods or other retired places. But they were soon apprehended at one of these meetings and again imprisoned. This time they remained confined for more than five years. Here, under great inconvenience, suffering and difficulties, they wrote tracts and books defending their faith and rejecting the Church of England. Friends smuggled sheets of paper to them one or two at a time, and smuggled them back out when filled. They took these to Holland where their contents were printed and secretly brought back to England. Thus the prisoners spread abroad their doctrines, and the number of believers in the “primitive faith” multiplied.
Barrowe and Greenwood were hanged at Tyburn in 1593.
This introduction has been based on an account that appeared in Albert Elijah Dunning’s Congregationalists in America.
What follows is an account of Barrowe’s examinations before Whitgift. It is typical of the bullying tactics which prevailed at the time, such as requiring a prisoner to enter his plea before even knowing the charges against him.
Excerpt adapted from Samuel Hopkins’ The Puritans and Queen Elizabeth.
“Is your name Barrow?” inquired the Archbishop.
“It is told me that you refuse to receive or obey our letter. Do you realize what you are doing? It is from the high commissioners, and this man is a junior officer at arms.”
“I did refuse to receive or obey that letter.”
“Because I was under arrest and imprisoned without warrant and against law. Therefore it was too late to bring the letter.”
“What! Can’t a councillor commit someone to prison by his bare command?”
“That is not the question; but whether this man, the keeper of the Clink, may do so without warrant, by the law of the land.”
“Do you know the law of the land?”
“Very little. Yet I was at Gray’s Inn some years.” At this they all made fun of his scant knowledge of law.
“I ask you,” said Mr. Barrow, when their merriment had subsided, “why have you imprisoned me, and sent for me in this way?”
“You shall know that after you swear your oath,” said the Archbishop. “Will you swear?”
A long dialogue ensued about taking the oath; but Mr. Barrow declared that he would take no oath to accuse himself.
“Well,” said his Grace, “can you find sufficient surety for your good behavior?”
“Yes, as sufficient as you can take.”
“But know you what bond you should enter? You are bound by this to attend our churches.”
“I understand you, of my good behavior.”
“And this is contained in it.”
“Well; now that I know your mind, I will enter no such bond.”
“Will you enter bond to appear on Tuesday next at our court, and so on Thursday, if you are not called; and be bound not to depart until you be dismissed by order of our Court?”
“Then I will send you to prison.”
Mr. Barrow was then delivered to the junior officer, and taken to the gate-house, without being informed of the cause of his imprisonment.
Eight days later, he was again called before the commissioners; at which time the Archbishop again demanded whether he would now swear.
“I must first know to what.”
“You shall be told afterwards.”
“I will not swear, unless I know beforehand.”
“Well, I will satisfy your humor this far…”
A paper was then read, by which, for the first time, Mr. Barrow was made acquainted with the charges against him. The substance was, “that he held the Church of England to be not a true church.” This opinion, the paper alleged, he sustained by the following reasons: “That the worship of the English Church is idolatry; that its ministry is antichristian; that its preachers are hirelings, and have no scriptural calling; and that unsanctified persons are admitted to its communion.”
After the paper was read, the Archbishop resumed. “Now you know what you shall swear to. How say you, will you swear or not?”
“An oath requires great consideration. But I will give you a true answer. Much of the matter of this bill is true, but the form is false.”
“Go to, sirrah! Answer directly; will you swear?”
“There is more reason to swear my accuser than me. I will not swear.”
“Where is his keeper? You shall not prattle here. Away with him. Clap him up close—close. Let no man come near him. I will make him tell another tale before I have done with him.”