The Protestant Martyrs. With the Ballad of John Careless, Later adapted by Shakespeare in King Lear

Coverdale, Miles (1488-1568)

Certain most godly, fruitful, and comfortable letters of such true saintes and holy martyrs of God, as in the late bloodye persecution here within this realme, gaue their lyues for the defence of Christes holy gospel: written in the tyme of theyr affliction and cruell imprysonment.

London: By Iohn Day, dwelling ouer Aldersgate, beneath Saint Martines, 1564


Quarto: 18 x 13.5 cm. [8], 46, 49-689, [5] p. Collation: A4, B-C8, D8(-D8), E-I8, K8(-K6), L-Y8 2A-2X8, 2Y8 + [hand]Y4 (Leaves D8 and K6 are canceled, as intended.)


A very fine copy, clean throughout, bound in early 20th c. brown morocco, gilt. Printed in Black Letter, With a fine, historiated, woodcut title page border populated by swans, youths playing instruments, griffins, and masks. A large woodcut illustration, taken from Foxe’s “Martyrs”, shows six reformers being burned at the stake.

An important collection of writings by English Protestants, many of whom had been martyred, compiled and with a preface by Miles Coverdale. There are letters by Lady Jane Gray (1536/7-1554) (a letter written “to her syster the Ladye Katheryne, immediately before she suffered”), John Bradford (1510?-1555) (including a partial reprint of \"An exhortacion to the carienge of Chrystes crosse\", STC 3480.5), John Careless (as well as a ballad, about which see below), Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) (including a partial reprint of \"The copy of certain lettres sent to the Quene, and also to doctour Martin and doctour Storye\" STC 5999), John Hooper (d. 1555) (including a reprint of \"A soveraigne cordial for a Christian conscience\", STC 5157, possibly not by Hooper, and \"Whether Christian faith maye be kepte secret in the heart, without confession therof openly to the worlde as occasion shal serve\", STC 5160.3), John Philpot, and Nicholas Ridley (1500?-1555) (a reprint of \"A frendly farewel\", STC 21051.) On pages 634-638 Coverdale has printed a ballad by the Coventry weaver John Carelesse, who died in prison during Mary’s reign. The ballad begins:

'Some men for sodayne ioye do wepe And some in sorrow syng: when that they lie in daunger depe, To put away mourning. Betwene them both will I beginne, Being in ioy and payne: In sighing to lament my sinne, But yet reioyce agayne.'

Coverdale includes three other songs by Carelesse, addressed to Mistress Jane Glascocke, which Carelesse had written “in a booke of hers when she came to the prison to visite hym.” There is also a poignant letter, written by a group of prisoners in Canterbury Castle, and thrown out the window by them, lamenting that they were “lying in colde irons” and being starved to death by their guards:

“Be it knowen to all men that shall read or here red these our letters, that we the poore prisoners of the Castell of Canterbury for Gods truth, are kept and lye in cold yrons, and our keper will not suffer any meate to be brought to vs to comfort vs. And if any mā do bring anything, as bread, butter, cheese, or any other foode, the sayd keper will charge them that so bring vs any thyng, except money or rayment, to cary it with them agayne, or els if he do receaue any foode of any for vs, he doth kepe it for him selfe, and he and his seruauntes do spend it, so that we haue nothing therof: and thus the keper kepeth away our vittals frō vs. In so much þt there are iiij. of vs prisoners there for Gods truth, famished already and thus is it his minde to famish vs all: and we thinke he is appointed therunto of the Byshops and Priestes, & also of the Iustices, so to famish vs, & not onely vs of the sayd Castell, but also all other prisoners in other prisons for the like cause to be also famished; notwithstandyng we write not these our letters to that entent we mought not aforde to bee famished for the Lorde Iesus sake, but for this cause and entent, that they hauyng no law so to famish vs in prison, should not do it priuely, but that the murtherers hartes should be openly knowē to all the world, that all men may know of what Church they are, and who is their father.”

The following is a complete list of the authors in this volume: John Bradford, John Carelesse, Thomas Cranmer, John Hooper, John Philpot, Nicholas Ridley, Rowland Taylor, Lawrence Saunders, Thomas Whyttle, Robert Samuel, John Huyller, Robert Glover, Robert Smith, Bartelet Green, George Marsh, John Rough, Cuthbert Symson, William Coker, Nicholas Shetterden, Lady Jane Grey, Steven Cotton, Richard Roth.

STC 5886