John Bradford

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John Bradford
John Bradford.jpg
Born 1510
Died July 1, 1555 (age 44-55)
Smithfield, London
Education Catharine Hall, University of Cambridge and Pembroke College, Cambridge
Church Church of England
Ordained 1550
Offices held

John Bradford (1510–1555) was a prebendary of St. Paul's. He was an English Reformer and martyr. The phrase "There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford", spoken by Bradford while imprisoned in the Tower of London when he saw criminals being led toward their execution at Tyburn, entered the English language in modified form.[1] Bradford was in the Tower of London for alleged crimes against Mary Tudor for his Protestant faith. Bradford was burned at the stake on 1 July 1555.


Bradford was born in Blackley, Manchester in 1510. Owing to his financially stable family, he was educated at a good grammar school. Talented with numbers and money, he later served under John Harrington of Exton in Rutland as a servant. Through his good influence and abilities in auditing and writing, he gained favour and trust with his employer and at the siege of Montreuil in 1544, occupied the office of paymaster of the English army during the wars of Henry VIII. Later, he became a law student at the Inner Temple in London. Through the contact and preachings of a fellow student, he became acquainted with and converted to the Protestant faith. This caused him to abandon his legal studies and in 1548, he took up theology at the Catharine Hall (now St Catharine's College), University of Cambridge and then later a fellowship at Pembroke College, Cambridge.[2]

"Bradford Appeasing the Riot at St. Paul's Cross".[3][4]

At this institution he was often referred to with the nickname "Holy Bradford" not from malice but out of respect for his dedication to God and his unselfish attitude.[5] In 1550, during the reign of Edward VI of England, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Nicholas Ridley to serve as a roving chaplain, preaching mainly in Lancashire and Cheshire. Following Edward VI's early death in 1553, the Catholic Mary Tudor ascended to the throne.

In the first month of the new monarch's reign, Bradford, who had become somewhat well known for his devotion to the Church of England, was arrested and imprisoned on a seemingly trivial charge of "trying to stir up a mob". Whilst confined to the Tower of London, it was known he would not be released. During his time in prison, he continued to write religious works and preach to all who would listen. At one point, he was put in a cell with three other reformers, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Bishop Nicholas Ridley (who had ordained him), and Hugh Latimer. Their time was spent in careful study of the New Testament. All of them, including Bradford, were to become martyrs.

Phrase attribution[edit]

At some time during his imprisonment it is said that Bradford witnessed a group of prisoners being led to their execution and remarked, "There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford." The phrase has survived in common parlance in its variant, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

Bradford in prison with bishops from Foxe's Book of Martyrs.


On 31 January 1555 Bradford was tried and condemned to death with all the others, and on 1 July he was taken to Newgate Prison to be burned at the stake. A large crowd delayed the execution, which had been scheduled for 4 o'clock in the morning as many who admired Bradford came to witness. He was chained to the stake at Smithfield with a young man, John Leaf. Before the fire was lit, he begged forgiveness of any he had wronged, and offered forgiveness to those who had wronged him. He then turned to Leaf and said, "Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!"[6] A century later, in his Worthies of England, Thomas Fuller wrote that he endured the flame "as a fresh gale of wind in a hot summer's day, confirming by his death the truth of that doctrine he had so diligently and powerfully preached during his life."[7] Bradford is commemorated at the Marian Martyrs' Monument in Smithfield, London.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Quotation from the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File, New York, 1997.
  2. ^ "Bradford, John (BRDT548J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ From an 1887 edition of Foxe's Book of Martyrs illustrated by Kronheim. According to Foxe, a Catholic speaker, Mr. Bourne, had nearly driven his Protestant listeners to riot, but Bradford came to his rescue and calmed the mob.
  4. ^ John Foxe (1887 republication), Book of Martyrs, Frederick Warne and Co, London and New York, pp. 160–61
  5. ^ Britannica Bio: John Bradford
  6. ^ Britannica Bio: John Bradford
  7. ^ Stoeffler, F. Ernest. 1971. The rise of evangelical pietism.]p.43.
  8. ^ John Bradford's memorial page on Find A Grave. Retrieved on 29 January 2008.

External links[edit]