Rawlins White – The Martyr
The plaque in House of Fraser, close to the spot where Rawlins White was burnt
Rawlins White had been a fisherman in the town for more than twenty years. He lived in the part of the city between the River Taff and Westgate Street, near where the Millenium Stadium now stands. White had probably been converted as a result of hearing the preaching of itinerant reformers during Henry VIII’s reign, though it is possible that he inherited his ideas from the group of early Protestants in Cardiff who had been associated with Thomas Capper. Foxe described him as ‘a good man … altogether unlearned and very simple’, but also as ‘a great searcher-out of truth’. He sent his son to school that he might learn to read sufficiently to be able to read the scriptures to him – probably Wycliffe’s early English translation. He was well-known and well liked in the town, and ‘a notable and open professor of the truth’. He had drawn together a small group of fellow believers who sought together to worship God simply and sincerely in their homes. It was probably one of the first examples of a genuine ‘gathered’ church in Wales. But in the atmosphere of fear that characterised Mary’s brief reign, at a time when the church authorities were anxious to be seen to be towing the party line, as the leader of the group Rawlins White was vulnerable. Though he and others began to meet in secret to worship God and encourage one another rather than openly, they were either found out or betrayed. White was seized by local officers on suspicion of teaching heresy, and brought before the Bishop of Llandaff who ordered him to be imprisoned in Chepstow. Later he was brought back to Cardiff and imprisoned in the castle – possibly so that the ecclesiastical authorities could access him more easily in order to try to persuade him to recant from the Protestant views to which he was totally committed. He languished there for over a year, resisting all the Bishop’s attempts to change his mind regarding his faith so that he felt forced to treat White as an heretic.
Rawlins White Bannerette – faithful to the description on the martyrdom as written in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
When the day of his execution arrived, 30th March 1555, armed soldiers came to take White to the place of execution. Seeing them, he was shocked and said:”Alas! What meaneth this? Soldiers are not needed. By God’s grace I will not run away. With all my heart I give Him thanks that I am considered worthy to bear all this for His name’s sake.” He was taken from Cockmarel to be burned at the stake a short distance away. On his way Rawlins White saw his wife and children waiting for him, weeping. The sight of his family was more than he could bear, and he himself wept to see them there. Recovering, he struck his breast with his hand, saying, “Ah, flesh, movest thou me so! Wouldst thou prevail? Well, I tell thee, do what thou canst, thou shalt not have the victory!”
The site of the former Cockmarrel prison in Cardiff
Arriving at the execution place, Rawlins White fell to his knees on the ground and kissed it; and when he arose, there was dirt on his face. He was heard to say “Earth unto earth, and dust unto dust; thou art my mother, and unto thee I shall return”.White stood with his back against the stake, while a blacksmith put a chain around him and made it fast. White said to him, “I pray you, good friend, nail the chain fast; for it may be that the flesh will strive mightily, but may God in His great mercy give me strength and patience to bear the fire.”
The Martyrdom of Rawlins White at Cardiff
White saw a friend of his who was there called John Dane, who subsequently recorded the events of the day. White said to him: “I feel a great fighting between the flesh and the spirit and the flesh would very fain have his way; therefore I pray you, if you see me tempted to save myself from the fire, hold your finger up to me, and I trust I shall remember myself.” The wood and hay were placed around him. White himself reached out to help them arrange the materials for the fire to try to ensure the flames would be more effective and quick. He seemed to the crowd to be very calm and relaxed. Then a priest began to speak the words of the liturgy, and White called out to the people not to listen to them – at which voices were raised against him from the the large crowd, and there was shouting for the flames to be lit.
Foxe’s account of the end of Rawlins White’s life continues:
Then some that stood by cried out, put fire! set on fire! which being done, the straw and reeds cast up a great and sudden flame. In which flame this good man bathed his hands so long, until such time as the sinews shrank, and the fat dropped away, saving that once he did, as it were, wipe his face with one of them. All this while, which was somewhat long, he cried with a loud voice, O Lord, receive my spirit! until he could not open his mouth. At last the extremity of the fire was so vehement against his legs, that they were consumed almost before the rest of his body was hurt, which made the whole body fall over the chain into the fire sooner than it would have done. Thus died this good old man for his testimony of God’s truth, and is now rewarded, no doubt, with the crown of eternal life.
The plaque in House of Fraser, on the old wall from Bethany Chapel
At the time of his death, Rawlins White was reported by his loyal friend John Dane to have been about 60 years of age. What subsequently became of his family or the others who associated with him in their simple pursuance of the Christian faith is not known. There is a plaque (see top photo) in House of Fraser Department store on St Mary’s Street in Cardiff, in honour of Rawlins White. It was erected by local Protestants and was originally on the wall of Bethany Chapel, which stood on the approximate site where Rawlins White was burnt to death. When Cardiff was re-developed in the early 20th century, the store was built on the site of the old chapel, but the wall and plaque were kept and incorporated into the building of the store – the plaque is on the ground floor Menswear Department.