Thomas Causton - Burnt at the Stake

Historical background to Thomas Causton's Death

After the death of King Edward VI in 1553 Queen Mary assumed the throne.

Mary was a practicing Roman catholic taking power in a nation that had been protestant since 1529 under King Edward VI and his Father King Henry VIII.

One of her first acts was to repeal protestant legislation and restore papal supremacy to England.

No doubt her anger was increased by the memories of the humiliation that her mother Catherine of Aragon felt in being divorced by Henry VIII which led to the rejection of Rome. Following her mothers devout Roman Catholicism she had then seen persecution of Roman Catholics throughout England and set about revenge that was to give her the name Bloody Mary.

Essex was one of five regions seen as hotbeds of protestants and was singled out for specific attention.

Bishop Edmund Bonner pursues a career of a clerical politician and rose swiftly to carry out many missions for Henry VII and supported his decision to reject Rome in 1529. By 1547 he appears to have had a change of heart and resisted reformation which earned him imprisonment in Marchelsea Prison until Queen Mary assumed the throne at which point he was released and made Bishop of London. As the most important Bishop in the land it fell to Bishop Bonner to try to impose Catholicism on a country that wished to remain protestant. Where conversion failed Bishop Bonner authorised burning at the stake for protestants who refused to recant.

The book of martyrs was written at the time by Mr Foxxe described Bishop Bonner in these terms -  "This cannibal in three years space three hundred martyrs slew They were his food, he loved so blood, he spared none he knew." . Foxxe appears to have exaggerated a little but history records at least 120 protestants burnt at the stake on the orders of Bishop Bonner.

Thomas Causton's Story


Thomas Causton held the Manor of Tillingham Grange and Mowich (in 1860 it was known as Midlins)which had land in Tillingham and Dengie.

Caulston also had land at Thundersley which was his main family residence.

Causton was denounced as a practicing protestant and arrested with his servant after which he was taken to Colchester and held in chains in the Castle Dungeons.

Causton was highly regarded and Catholicism was not widely embraces in Essex so when word of his arrest spread there was public disquiet.

'Perceiving them to be of worshipful estate and of great estimation in the country'  Bishop Bonner himself personally traveled to Colchester thinking that he could reclaim Causton for Catholicism and so encourage other people in Essex to follow his example.

When he found his efforts were a failure Bonner returned to London taking Causton with him. There is no record of the fate which befell the servant.

They were brought to an open examination at the Consistory at St Paul's Cathedral on 17 February 1555.

At the examination Bishop Bonner and Bishop Gilbert Bourne ( Bishop of Bath and Wells) demanded that Caulston recanted. Caulston refused and was remanded back into custody at Newgate Prison.

On 9 March 1555 he once again appeared before Bishop Bonner and were given one last chance to recant which Caulston refused with the following words;

'no I will not abiure. Ye sayd that the bishops that were lately burned, be Heretickes: But I pray God make me suche an Hereticke as they were'.

He was sentenced to death at the stake and on 23 March 1555 he was delivered to the Sheriff of Essex and burnt at the stake at Rayleigh.

a contemporary print of burning at a stake

As a consequence of his death, Robert Drakes , the Rector of Thundersley who had been sponsored by Caulston was deprived of his living and the lands of Caulston were confiscated.

The family tried unsuccessfully to recover the estates. Records exist of a request from Bishop Aylmer who was then Bishop of London to Lord Burleigh in 1578 asking his help in restoring the estates to Caulstons grandsons S Whytheas, Nat Traheron and  W Truelove