Thomas Benet, Martyr.
 Cursed by Bell, Book, and Candle.

Thomas Benet came from Cambridge where
he was also educated and graduated Master of Arts from that university. It
is thought possible that he may have been a priest at some stage as in
later life he disclosed that he had married and it had been a factor in
his move to Devon .

 Benet was a quiet unassuming
individual ,evidently well educated, and an acquaintance of Thomas Bilney.
He became more and more disillusioned with the catholic religion and the
issues surrounding it . The emerging dissent on religion that was gaining
ground in Cambridge, caused him to consider his and his family`s safety
and they remove firstly to Torrington,  Devon, in 1524. Here he
taught local children but after a year and disappointed in the place
,moved again to Exeter where  the family settled in  Butcher`s
Row. He again took up teaching. and spent his private time studying the
Scriptures and attending all the sermons and preachings he could.

It came to his attention that a William
Stroud  of Newnham, a complete stranger to him, had been locked up in
the Bishop of Exeter`s  prison on suspicion of heresy. Benet wrote to
Stroud  letters of comfort and consolation  and disclosed his
background including  that he would not be

 ” a whoremonger,
or an unclean person, therefore I married a wife, with whom I have hidden
myself in Devonshire  from the tyranny of the antichristians these
six years.”.

It seemed to be  a
strange thing to do – to deliberately write  self incriminating
letters to a prisoner held for heresy, since there was a strong
possibility that the letters would be intercepted and read. However, it
seems that Benet was going through a catharsis and began to be much more
open and critical of the priests when in the company of friends. His
fervour increased to such an extent that he became minded to ” continue a
faithful soldier to the end”, convincing himself that he must die for his
beliefs. He then gave instructions to dispose of his books, and in October
1530 wrote his beliefs and criticisms on scrolls of paper and secretly
affixed them to to the doors of Exeter Cathedral. In this action,
reminiscent of Martin Luther a few years previous, he was bound to excite
the papists and his own pursuit. Inquiries commenced immediately, although
the secular authority – the mayor and his officers were not greatly
enthused to do so.

A week later Benet went on
the Sunday to the cathedral where he came under suspicion but fooled the
watchers by his attentiveness to the sermon, good behaviour, and reading a
New Testament in Latin. Confounded by his outward appearances they were
unable to find cause to question him. The prelates then hit upon the idea
of cursing the unknown author `by Bell, Book and Candle`, in the hope that
it might drive him into the open.  This elaborate process was devised
by the Bishop of Winchester at the Council of London, ca 1144 AD.

The curse by Bell, Book
and Candle.

The activity in the
cathedral was deliberately dramatic to impress upon the audience the
enormity of the curse being uttered.  A priest, dressed in white,
entered the pulpit while around him stood several monks, one bearing a
cross adorned with lit candles. The priest began with “there is blasphemy
in the army” and then tediously went through the events complained of,
concluding it was the actions of a foul and abominable  heretic. The
formality of the curse was uttered and the priest beseeched God , Our
Lady,  St Peter,  with all the holy martyrs and saints ,
confessors and virgins that it might be made known  what heretic had
put up the blasphemous posters. The drama was then enhanced by a throwing
down, with a startling and loud clatter, of the staff, signifying the the
end of the curse.

Benet who was in the
congregation watching, could not contain himself and began to laugh openly
at the fantasy unfolding in the church.  Exclaiming to those around
him  “who can forbear , seeing such merry conceits and interludes
played by the priests” he was immediately seized, even though there was
uncertainty whether he was the mysterious bill poster. He was released and
went home, determined to post more bills, which were prepared for posting
in the early morning of the next day. Fate then turned upon Benet, as his
son was caught at about five am posting a bill to the church gate and
taken before the mayor. Benet was promptly seized and thrown into prison.

The following day the
interrogations began during which Benet was asked why he put up the bills
rather than speaking out, to which he replied

” I put up the bills
that many should read and hear what abominable  blasphemers ye are,
and that they might better know  your antichtrist, the pope, to be
that boar out of the wood, which destroyeth and throweth down the the
hedges of God`s church; for if I had been heard to speak but one word, I
should have been clapped fast in prison, and the matter of God hidden .
But now I trust more of your blasphemious doings will thereby be opened
and come to light; for God will so have it , and will no longer suffer

Thrown in chains and
manacles into the Bishops prison, Benet was surrounded in the usual manner
by friars and priests endeavouring to catch him out, find and verify
heresies as they saw it. The inquisitors included an apostate monk, Gregory Basset. 
Bassett had left the Church and been imprisoned several times. He then
recanted when he was threatened that they, his interrogators, would burn
his hands off in a cauldron of fire prepared for the purpose. He became a
fanatical supporter of the Church. He was also a learned man and smooth
talker, who was involved in disputing with Benet the matter of the Pope`s
ascendancy and God`s representative on earth. Benet  repudiated the
core arguement with ease, rejecting St Peter as the rock and keeper of the
keys of Heaven, quoting St Paul  saying  the church should be 
`Upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. The interrogations
continued night and day for over a week to no avail before the writ of
`de comburendo` arrived from London. On `15
January  1531 he was delivered into the custody of Sir Thomas Denis,
sheriff of Devonshire, for execution which duly took place at the
`Livery-dole`, Exeter. Even here at the time of death, the papists 
Thomas Carew and John Barnehouse, could not let him alone. They shouted at
him to confess, retract, and call upon the Virgin Mary . Benet replied
that it was only to God that we should call . This so incensed Barnehouse
that he speared some furze kindling on a pike, lit it and thrust it into
Benet`s face, such was his intolerance and frustration at Benet`s
repudiation of their demands to recant.

So died yet another humble
man, sacrificed on the altar of intolerance and prejudice.