The Protestant Martyr of Steyning
When the Sussex Sheriff, Edward Gage, broke into the home of Brighton brewer Deryk Carver one dark evening at the end of October 1554, he found exactly what he suspected. In an upstairs room of the brewery in Black Lion Street about a dozen men were engaged ‘in prayer and saying the service in English as set forth in the time of Edward Vl’. He apprehended them all, sending three directly to London one being John Launder, a 25 year old farmer from Godstone in Surrey. He had traveled to Brighthelmstone on account of his father’s business and a friend from Godstone, Thomas Iveson, a carpenter, had joined him for the journey.
The reason for their arrest was that they were caught by Gage reading Carver’s English translation of the Bible and Psalter. This had been encouraged during the reign of Edward Vl (1549-1553) but with Roman Catholic Mary now on the throne things had changed. Although her father, Henry Vlll had granted the Bible in English and had one chained in every Parish Church in England in 1538, under Mary this was forbidden. In fact in 1554 this was taken to the extreme of issuing a mandate ordering that any Bible verses that had been painted on the walls or otherwise exhibited in churches should be ‘razed, abolished and extinguished’.
In London, Launder was held in the infamous Newgate Prison where today stands the Old Bailey. When called to be ‘examined’ by Bishop Bonner he made a bold confession before that austere judge. He admitted that on their arrival in Brightelmstone he and Iveson had sought out Carver understanding that ‘he was a man that favoured the Gospel’. As far as the Christian faith was concerned he believed that ‘there are only two Sacraments, Baptism and the Supper of
our Lord’. The Roman Catholic teaching then, as it is now, is that there are seven sacraments.
Furthermore he maintained that in the Lord’s Supper there is not contained the natural body and blood of Christ in substance, but that ‘when he doth receive the material bread and wine… he doth receive the Christ’s body and blood by faith’.
In short Launder denied the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. He maintained that the Mass is abominable and directly against God’s word. For Launder, as for those arrested with him, the only sure foundation for the Christian Faith and its practice must be always and only the Bible. His attitude towards auricular confession to a priest was entirely in accord with the Bible, that ‘this is not necessary, but that every person ought to acknowledge and confess his sins only to God.
One of Launder’s fellow prisoners in Newgate, Robert Smith, wrote to his wife Anne Smith, ‘there are also condemned this Monday, Dirick Carver, Thomas Iveson and John Launder. My brother Iveson sendeth you a token, to your Mother a token and to Katherine a token, three pence. John Launder sendeth you a piece of Spanish money. Pray to God to have mercy on His people’.
John launder was taken from London to the ancient picturesque village of Steyning in Sussex where on 23 July 1555 he suffered martyrdom. The place of his burning is believed to be the small Chantry Green close to the Parish Church.
Memorial outside the Library at Steyning