Embassy of Heaven

Bunyan Before the Courts

 

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Wife presents petition

The coronation of the king. Reasons why Bunyan could not be pardoned. Interview of Bunyan's wife with Sir Matthew Hale, and his treatment of her. The temper of Justice Chester.

Here followeth a Discourse between my Wife and the Judges, with others, touching my Deliverance at the Assizes 31 court sessions held periodically in each county of England. following; the which I took from her own mouth.

AFTER that I had received this sentence of banishing or hanging from them, and after the former admonition touching the determination of justices if I did not recant, just when the time drew nigh in which I should have abjured or have done worse, (as Mr. Cobb told me,) came the time in which the king was to be crowned. Now at the coronation of a king there is usually a releasement of divers prisoners by virtue of his coronation; in which privilege also I should have had my share, but that they took me for a convicted person, and therefore, unless I sued out a pardon, (as they called it,) I could have no benefit thereby notwithstanding; yet forasmuch as the coronation proclamation did give liberty from the day the king was crowned to that day twelvemonth to sue them out, therefore, though they would not let me out of prison as they let out thousands, yet they could not meddle with me as touching the execution of their sentence, because of the liberty offered for the suing out of pardons. Whereupon I continued in prison till the next assizes, which are called midsummer assizes, being then kept in August, 1661.

Now at that assizes, because I would not leave any possible means unattempted that might be lawful, I did, by my wife, present a petition to the judges three times that I might be heard, and that they would impartially take my case into consideration.

The first time my wife went she presented it to Judge Hales, who very mildly received it at her hand, telling her that he would do her and me the best good he could, but he feared, he said, he could do none. The next day again, lest they should, through the multitude of business, forget me, we did throw another petition into the coach to Judge Twisdon; who, when he had seen it, snapt her up and angrily told her that I was a convicted person, and could not be released unless I would promise to preach no more, &c.

Well, after this she yet again presented another to Judge Hales as he sat on the bench, who, as it seemed, was willing to give her audience; only Justice Chester, being present, stept up and said that I was convicted in the court, and that I was a hot-spirited fellow, or words to that purpose, whereat he waived it and did not meddle therewith. But yet my wife, being encouraged by the high sheriff, did venture once more into their presence, (as the poor widow did to the unjust judge,) to try what she could do with them for my liberty before they went forth of the town. The place where she went to them was to the Swan Chamber, where the two judges and many justices and gentry of the country were in company together. She then, coming into the chamber, with a bashful face and a trembling heart began her errand to them in this manner:

Woman. My lord, (directing herself to Judge Hales,) I make bold to come once again to your lordship to know what may be done to my husband.

Judge Hales. To whom he said, Woman, I told thee before I could do thee no good, because they have taken that for a conviction which thy husband spoke at the sessions; and unless there be something done to undo that, I can do thee no good.

Woman. My lord, said she, he is kept unlawfully in prison; they clapped him up before there was any proclamation against the meetings; the indictment also is false; besides, they never asked him whether he was guilty or no; neither did he confess the indictment.

One of the Justices. Then one of the justices that stood by, whom she knew not, said, My lord, he was lawfully convicted.

Woman. It is false, said she; for when they said to him, Do you confess the indictment? he said only this, that he had been at several meetings, both where there was preaching the word and prayer, and that they had God's presence among them.

Judge Twisdon. Whereat Judge Twisdon answered very angrily, saying, What! you think we can do what we list; your husband is a breaker of the peace and is convicted by the law, &c. Whereupon Judge Hales called for the statute-book.

Woman. But, said she, my lord, he was not lawfully convicted.

Chester. Then Justice Chester said, My lord, he was lawfully convicted.

Woman. It is false, said she; it was but a word of discourse that they took for a conviction, (as you heard before.)

Chester. But it is recorded, woman, it is recorded, says Justice Chester. As if it must be of necessity true because it was recorded! With which words he often endeavoured to stop her mouth, having no other argument to convince her but, It is recorded, it is recorded.

Woman. My lord, said she, I was awhile since in London, to see if I could get my husband's liberty, and there I spoke with my Lord Barkwood, one of the House of Lords, to whom I delivered a petition, who took it of me and presented it to some of the rest of the House of Lords, for my husband's releasement; who, when they had seen it, they said that they could not release him, but had committed his releasement to the judges at the next assizes. This he told me; and now I come to you to see if any thing may be done in this business, and you give neither releasement nor relief. To which they gave her no answer, but made as if they heard her not.

Chester. Only Justice Chester was often up with this, He is convicted, and it is recorded.

Woman. If it be, it is false, said she.

Chester. My lord, said Justice Chester, he is a pestilent fellow; there is not such a fellow in the country again.

Twisdon. What! will your husband leave preaching? If he will do so, then send for him.

Woman. My lord, said she, he dares not leave preaching as long as he can speak.

Twisdon. See here, what should we talk any more about such a fellow? Must he do what he lists? He is a breaker of the peace.

Woman. She told him again that he desired to live peaceably and to follow his calling, that his family might be maintained; and moreover said, My lord, I have four small children that cannot help themselves, of which one is blind, and have nothing to live upon but the charity of good people.

Hales. Hast thou four children? said Judge Hales; thou art but a young woman to have four children.

Woman. My lord, said she, I am but mother-in-law to them, having not been married to him yet full two years. Indeed I was with child when my husband was first apprehended, but being young and unaccustomed to such things, said she, I, being dismayed at the news, fell into labour, and so continued for eight days, and then was delivered, but my child died.

Hales. Whereat he, looking very soberly on the matter, said, Alas, poor woman!

Twisdon. But Judge Twisdon told her that she made poverty her cloak; and said, more over, that he understood I was maintained better by running up and down a-preaching than by following my calling.

Hales. What is his calling? said Judge Hales.

Answer. Then some of the company that stood by said, A tinker, my lord.

Woman. Yes, said she, and because he is a tinker and a poor man, therefore he is despised and cannot have justice.

Hales. Then Judge Hales answered, very mildly, saying, I tell thee, woman, seeing it is so that they have taken what thy husband spake for a conviction, thou must either apply thyself to the king, or sue out his pardon, or get a writ of error.

Chester. But when Justice Chester heard him give her this counsel, and especially (as she supposed) because he spoke of a writ of error, he chafed and seemed to be very much offended, saying, My lord, he will preach and do what he lists.

Woman. He preacheth nothing but the word of God, said she.

Twisdon. He preach the word of God! said Twisdon, (and withal she thought he would have struck her;) he runneth up and down, and doeth harm.

Woman. No, my lord, said she, it is not so; God hath owned him, and done much good by him.

Twisdon. God! said he: his doctrine is the doctrine of the devil.

Woman. My lord, said she, when the righteous Judge shall appear it will be known that his doctrine is not the doctrine of the devil.

Twisdon. My lord, said he to Judge Hales, do not mind her, but send her away.

Hales. Then said Judge Hales, I am sorry, woman, that I can do thee no good; thou must do one of those three things aforesaid - namely, either to apply thyself to the king, or sue out his pardon, or get a writ of error; but a writ of error will be cheapest.

Woman. At which Chester again seemed to be in a chafe, and put off his hat, and, as she thought, scratched his head for anger; but when I saw, said she, that there was no prevailing to have my husband sent for, though I often desired them that they would send for him that he might speak for himself, telling them that he could give them better satisfaction than I could in what they demanded of him, with several other things, which now I forget - only this I remember, that though I was somewhat timorous at my first entrance into the chamber, yet before I went out I could not but break forth into tears, not so much because they were so hardhearted against me and my husband, but to think what a sad account such poor creatures will have to give at the coming of the Lord, when they shall there answer for all things whatsoever they have done in the body, whether it be good or whether it be bad.

So when I departed from them the book of statutes was brought, but what they said of it I know nothing at all, neither did I hear any more from them.

Some Carriages of the Adversaries of God's Truth with me at the next Assizes, which was on the Nineteenth of the First Month, 1662.

I SHALL pass by what befell between these two assizes - how I had, by my jailer, some liberty granted me more than at the first, and how I followed my wonted course of preaching, taking all occasions that were put into my hand to visit the people of God, exhorting them to be steadfast in the faith of Jesus Christ, and to take heed that they touched not the common prayer, &c., but to mind the word of God, which giveth direction to Christians in every point, being able to make the man of God perfect in all things through faith in Jesus Christ, and thoroughly to furnish him up to all good works.32 2 Timothy 3:17 Also how I having, I say, somewhat more liberty, did go to see Christians at London, which my enemies hearing of, were so angry that they had almost cast my jailer out of his place, threatening to indict him and to do what they could against him. They charged me also that I went thither to plot and raise division and make insurrection, which God knows was a slander; whereupon my liberty was more straitened than it was before, so that I must not look out of the door.

Well, when the next sessions came, which was about the 10th of the 11th month, I did expect to have been very roundly dealt withal; but they passed me by and would not call me, so that I rested till the assizes, which was the 19th of the first month following; and when they came, because I had a desire to come before the judge, I desired my jailer to put my name into the calendar, among the felons, and made friends to the judge and high sheriff, who promised that I should be called; so that I thought what I had done might have been effectual for the obtaining of my desire; but all was in vain; for when the assizes came, though my name was in the calendar, and also though both the judge and sheriff had promised that I should appear before them, yet the justices and the clerk of the peace did so work it about that I, notwithstanding, was deferred and might not appear.

And though I say I do not know of all their carriages towards me, yet this I know, that the clerk of the peace did discover himself to be one of my greatest opposers; for, first he came to my jailer, and told him that I must not go down before the judge, and therefore must not be put into the calendar; to whom my jailer said that my name was in already. He bid him put me out again; my jailer told him that he could not, for he had given the judge a calendar with my name in it, and also the sheriff another. At which he was very much displeased, and desired to see that calendar that was yet in my jailer's hand; who when he had given it him he looked on it and said it was a false calendar; he also took the calendar and blotted out my accusation, as my jailer had writ it, (which accusation I cannot tell what it was, because it was so blotted out,) and he himself put in words to this purpose:

That John Bunyan was committed in prison, being lawfully convicted for upholding of unlawful meetings and conventicles, &c. But yet for all this, fearing that what he had done, unless he added thereto, would not do, he first ran to the clerk of the assizes, then to the justices, and afterwards, because he would not leave any means unattempted to hinder me, he comes again to my jailer, and tells him that if I did go down before the judge and was released, he would make him pay my fees, which he said were due to him; and further told him that he would complain of him at the next quarter sessions for making of false calendars, though my jailer himself, as I afterwards learned, had put in my accusation worse than in itself it was by far. And thus was I hindered and prevented at that time also from appearing before the judge, and left in prison. Farewell.

JOHN BUNYAN

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