A Colchester mystery
Have you ever visited Colchester Castle? The guide book is very informative about three thousand years of the town’s history, particularly the 1989 revision, which I have. Page twenty names some 23 people who were imprisoned there and burned during 1555-8, together with two more who died there before they could be executed. Some of their cells, in the south-east corner, can be visited today.
This amounts to eight per cent of the usual estimate (about 280) of those put to death under Mary I through the revival of “de heretico comburendo”. Some suggest that 280 is an exaggeration of the real national total, perhaps inspired by writers such as Foxe, but that would make 23 in Colchester even more significant. Many of them came from neighbouring villages, of course, but the general impression is that the authorities in North Essex, as they were in Suffolk, were particularly tough on cases of suspected heresy.
Support for this conclusion can be found from Paul Johnson’s Elizabeth I: A study in power and intellect. Pages 53 to 54 emphasise that “they (the victims) were concentrated very largely in the south-east of the country”, including 67 in London, 11 in Middlesex, 39 in Essex and 59 in Kent, compared to 1 in the north and almost none in Wales and the West except 10 in Gloucestershire. Johnson also emphasises that they were “of the younger generation” and ” from the economically advanced areas of the country”.