GREENWOOD GENEALOGIES, 1154-1914
By Frederick Greenwood, East Templeton, MA — 1914

Chapter 5THE EXECUTION OF JOHN GREENWOOD

It will be of interest to every Greenwood to learn of the execution in England of John Greenwood as a Puritan. He was a graduate of Cambridge University in England, a clergyman in the Established Church, and the very first to separate from that church and found the religious doctrine known as Puritanism or Congregationalism. He labored for simplicity of religious forms. Seven years he suffered the privations of close prison confinement and finally on the sixth of April, 1593, with his co-worker, Henry Barrowe, was taken from jail and hanged. That little band of Pilgrims that landed at Plymouth, Mass., in 1620, were his followers -- they had worshipped at the church he founded -- that band of Puritans that landed in America and founded Boston were believers in the doctrine he was first to teach. The religious teachings of John Greenwood rapidly spread in England and in 1640 occurred the civil war in which the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell as leader overthrew the English church and government and established in England the right of the Puritans to existence in that country. Persecution of the Puritans ceased for a time in England after Cromwell established himself as ruler of the country. But that little band of Pilgrims at Plymouth, that band of Puritans at Boston, those followers who wended their way to Virginia and Maryland -- they brought to America the teachings of John Greenwood -- the separation of church and state -- and if America owes its greatness, its progress, and its achievements to one principle in government more than another it is that in America every American can kneel at the altar of his own faith, and worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. The state in America is separated from the church. American government tolerates no single form of religious worship but shelters and protects alike all. John Greenwood taught that there could be but one head to the church and that head was not the Queen but Christ, and that there could be no law for the government of the church other than what the Scriptures contained. The execution of John Greenwood was in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

John Greenwood, b. 1556, entered Corpus Christie (or Benet) College, Cambridge, Mar. 18, 1577-8, a theological student, received his Bachelor's degree 1580-1, was ordained deacon of the English Established Church by the Bishop of London and priest by the Bishop of Lincoln, and for 5 years labored in the English Church, in Norfolk County. What led to a change in his religious belief is unknown but he was deprived of his benefice and began holding secret religious services at the home of Lord Robert Rich, of Rockford, Essex County, who was interested in his doctrine. Soon Lord Rich and a clergyman named Robert Wright, who was associated with John Greenwood, were arrested and thrown into prison. Mr. Greenwood then went to London where he formed a secret congregation at the house of one Henry Martin at St. Andrews. Here, early in October, 1586, he was arrested and lodged in the Clink prison while conducting a service.

There had preceded Greenwood at Cambridge by a little more than 10 years a man of marked ability, by name of Henry Barrowe, third son of Thomas Barrowe, Esq., of Shipdam, Norfolk, by his second wife, Mary. He entered Cambridge Nov. 22, 1565, receiving his degree of Bachelor of Arts 1569-70, became a lawyer and practiced in Her Majesty's courts. He had become interested in the religious teachings of John Greenwood, and hearing of Greenwood's arrest he visited Greenwood on Sunday, Nov. 19, 1586, between 9 and 10 o'clock, at the Clink. Here with no pretense of legal warrant Barrowe was arrested and locked in with Greenwood. A few days later both Greenwood and Barrowe were removed to the fleet prison, where their quarters were close, and deprived of proper food, sufficient warmth and many necessities of life they were kept in confinement for 7 years. Many times during their imprisonment Greenwood and Barrowe were taken before the authorities of the English Church and questioned as to their religious belief. Such an examination of Greenwood took place first at the palace (1586) before the Bishop of London. Asked by the Bishop if he believed in baptism, Greenwood replied that he did. Asked if he did not have a son unbaptized, Greenwood replied that his son Abel, 1-1/2 years old, was unbaptized, but that he had been in prison and was unable to take his son to a reformed church where he could be baptized according to God's ordinance. Asked if he did not consider the English Church a church of God replied "No." Mr. Greenwood told the Bishop that every congregation of Christ should be governed by a pastor, teacher and elder and by no other than that Christ appoints. He would excommunicate the Prince (Queen) as well as all members of the church who disobeyed the teachings of the word of God. He would make no exception of the Prince. "The Scriptures Set down efficient laws for the worship of God and government of church which no man may add to or diminish. Her Majesty is not the supreme head of the church."

Barrow's first examination was on the afternoon of his arrest before the Archbishop, Archdeacon and Doctor Cosin. He protested stoutly against his arrest without a warrant but to no effect. An effort was made to bind Barrowe by an oath to attend the Established Church, but he refused to take the oath. Eight days afterwards, 27 November, Barrowe was taken to Lambert before a synod of bishops and a dean, when a long sheet of accusations was read against him. He admitted that much of the matter was true but not all, and demanded that witnesses against him should be sworn, whereupon Whitgift (head of Corpus Christie College), losing his temper, burst out "Where is his keeper? You shall not prattle here. Away with him. Clap him up close. let no man go to him. I will make him tell another tale yer I have done with him."

On the 9th of March 1589, Archdeacon Hutchinson visited Mr. Greenwood at the Fleet, saying he had come by virtue of a commission from her Majesty to confer. Mr. Greenwood declined to have anything to say until he could have pen and ink and a fellow prisoner as a witness of the conversation, on the ground that he had been wickedly slandered and his cause falsely reported by the bishops and specially by one Dr. Some. The pen, ink and witness being granted, the archdeacon read some questions, mainly as to whether a church made up of members who were called together by the blowing of Her Majesty's trumpet, received into the church without conversion and repentance and consisting of all sorts of profane people could be considered a true church of Christ. Very little progress was made at the interview and when the archdeacon went away he insisted on carrying with him all the notes that had been taken of what passed. He was prevailed upon to leave them in the hands of Mr. Calthop, the witness, but Mr. Greenwood says: "No sooner was I gone and locked up than the wardens were sent to the gentleman for the papers, who, declining to deliver them without our consent, the archbishop's servant came and took them away."

Eight days after this, Mar. 17, 1589, the archdeacon came to see Mr. Greenwood again, bringing a witness of his own and having the doors locked upon them with no other person present except the two turnkeys of the jail, one of whom acted as scribe. On this occasion the argument was mainly upon the question whether John the Baptist received to his baptism those Pharisees and Sadducees whom he called generations of vipers, the archdeacon insisting that he did and Mr. Greenwood contending that while the vipers may have been present they took no part in the baptism, except as onlookers.

In one interview the archdeacon had with Mr. Barrowe, the latter complained of his many years of illegal imprisonment and close confinement and was told by the archdeacon that "You should be most happy, for the solitary and contemplative I hold the most blessed life; it's the life I would choose." Mr. Barrowe meekly replied: "Could you be content, Mr. Andrews, to be kept from exercise and air for so long a time, matters so necessary to a body?" "I say not," was the answer, "that I would want air."

In an interview, April. 13, 1589, between Greenwood and Barrowe and clergymen of the English church, the prisoners state, "Things were disorderly handled and there were manifold cavils and shifts, shameless denials of manifest truths, and most unchristian contumelies, scoffs and reproaches against our persons." It ended with Greenwood and Barrowe being required to set down in brief the reasons why they persisted in refusing to return to the Church of England, which they did in these words:

  • That the people of the church, as they stand, are not orderly to the faith, but stand mingled together in confusion.
  • The ministry set over the people is not the true ministry of the gospel which Christ has appointed.
  • The administrations and worship of the church are not according to the word of God.
  • The ecclesiastical government, offers and canons are not according to the testament of Christ and are anti-Christian and popish.
  • That the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper as administered in the Established Church are not true sacraments.
  • that infants ought not be baptized according to the form of baptism now in the Church of England.
  • That it is not lawful to use the Lord's prayer publicly in the church for a set form of prayer.
  • That all set and stinted prayers are merely babblings in the sight of the Lord and not to be used in public Christian assemblies.
  • That the public prayers and worship of God in England as it is done in the Established Church is false, superstitious, popish and not to be used in any Christian congregation.

While in prison both Greenwood and Barrowe wrote several books which were produced under difficulties that would have crushed the spirit of men of weaker fiber and inferior courage. Denied proper writing material they used such scraps of paper and bits of material as was secretly brought to them by friends from the outside. When one piece of paper was written over it was taken away and another piece as secretly furnished. These pieces of paper were taken to Holland where the writing was put into print and the books published. The Holland printers had to make what they could of the writing, but on the whole they did their work fairly well. These books treated of the religious belief of Greenwood and Barrowe and contained the interviews between them and the English Church officers, and although 300 years have passed since their publication, some of these books are yet found.

In the autumn of 1592, for some reason not apparent, there was a relaxation of the rigor with which Greenwood was treated and he was allowed to leave the fleet, either on bail or on his personal promise to appear when required, and he went to live with Roger Rippon, in Southwalk. Barrowe remained in jail. Rippon's house was one of those at which the members of a secret church, formed by Mr. Greenwood four or five years before had held its meetings. Mr. Greenwood, now that he was out of prison, met twitch these people, and was appointed their doctor or teacher, but the bishops were alarmed by what they heard of the spread of Separatism and on Dec. 5, 192, Mr. Greenwood was again arrested and committed again to the Fleet with Barrowe. This time he was arrested at the home of Edward Boyse on Ludgate Hill.

On March 23, 1593, Greenwood and Barrowe were brought to trail at the Old Bailey in London. They were charged with publishing and dispensing seditious books; the proofs of the charge were found in the writings which they had published while in prison. Their sedition consisted in denying Her Majesty's ecclesiastical supremacy and attacking the existing ecclesiastical order. On the 3d, 11th and 20th of March Barrowe had been cited before Chief Justice Sir John Popham and Attorney General Lord Ellesmere and examined as to his opinions and his authorship of certain books. Barrowe avowed his convictions of the truth of his treatises and among other things expressed his opinion that the established government of the Church of England was unlawful and anti-christian.

Greenwood had been examined on the 11th and 20th and confessed to his authorship of the books laid to his charge. Robert Bowle and Robert Stokes examined and testified on the 19th as to the way the books of Greenwood and Barrowe had been printed. Daniel Studley and James Forster testified to the printing also of the books. The latter, who described himself as a physician and master of arts, confessed having written some part of the Greenwood's and Barrowe's book entitled "A Brief Description of the False Church."

The answers of Greenwood and Barrowe at the trial was a general denial of the charges brought against them but they were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

The next morning, March 24, 1593, preparations were made for their execution but they were reprieved. certain doctors and deans were then sent to the prisoners to confer with them but the prisoners claimed an open or public discussion, which was refused them. On the 31st of March the prisoners were conveyed to the place of execution very early and secretly, where being tied by the neck to the tree, were permitted to speak a few words. They declared their innocence of all malice or ill intent and exhorted the people to obey and love the Queen and magistrates but to follow their leaders no further than they followed Scripture. They were then in the act of parrying for the Queen when they were again reprieved. This time as the result of a supplication to the Lord Treasurer that "in a land where no Papist was put to death for religion, theirs should not be the first blood shed who disagreed about faith with what was professed in the country," and desired conference to be convinced of their error. But only six days was gained by this clemency.

The law that Greenwood and Barrowe were convicted under did not well apply in their case and the prelates having introduced a bill into Parliament that would apply were much alarmed when the bill came down to the Commons with its modifications and lest the prisoners should escape execution they were secretly and early on the morning of Apr. 6, 1593, taken to Tyburn and there hanged without ceremony.

After the death of Greenwood and Barrowe, Parliament of England enacted a law "To Retain the Queen Majesty's subjects in Their Due Obedience" which read: "That if any person over 16 years of age shall be absent from church for a month, or by writing, printing or speech shall attempt to persuade any of her Majesty's subjects to deny the Queen's ecclesiastical supremacy or shall attempt to persuade them from coming to church or shall be present at any unlawful meeting for religious worship they shall be committed to prison without bail until they conform and make submission. If for 3 months they refuse to conform they are to be banished from the realm. If they fail to leave the country or return without license they are to be hanged as felons."

Immediately after the passage of this act most of the Separatist prisoners were released from jail and several hundred of them streamed to Holland. Among the first that fled were the members of the secret church in London of which John Greenwood had been pastor. They crossed the sea in separate companies as they were able and within three or four years most of them had settled in Amsterdam. At one time 56 members of John Greenwood's secret church, while holding a service among the sand hills at Islington, were surprised and arrested. They were "committed without neither meat, drink, fry or lodgings, nor were their friends allowed to have access to them; husbands and wives were purposely put into different prisons; some had not a penny about them, so that not only they but their poor families were in wretched cause. All was contrary to law etiquette and conscience.

On May 22, 1593, John Penry, a graduate of Cambridge University and a member of John Greenwood's secret congregation, was hanged at St. Thomas Waterings in London. Gov. Bradford, in his "Dialogue," gives these additional names of Puritans who were publicly executed -- William Dennis at Thetford, Norfolk, and John and Elias Coppin at Bury St. Edmunds. A great many Puritans who were committed to jail died in prison. Some were horse whipped, some branded with hot irons and some kept in chains.

John Greenwood's definition of a church was: A company of faithful people separated from the unbelievers and heathen of the land, gathered in the name of Christ, whom they truly worship and readily obey as their only king, priest and prophet, joined together as members of one body, ordered and governed by such officers and laws as Christ in his will and testament hath hereunto obeyed.

It is interesting to notice how John Greenwood and members of the church he founded struck upon some of the simple forms of religious observance that have remained characteristic of the Congregational Church to this day: One Daniel Buck, a writing master, deposed 9 March, 1593, that when he joined the company "he made ye protestation that he would walk with the rest and yet so long as they did walk in the way of the Lorde and as far as might be warranted by the word of God; that Greenwood took water and washed the faces of them that were baptized saying only in ye administration of the sacrament 'I do baptize the in ye name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost and without Godfather and Godmother'; and that at the Lord's supper five white loaves or more were set upon ye table and that the pastor did break ye bread and then deliver it unto some of them and the deacons delivered to the rest, some of sd. congregation sitting and some standing about the table and that the pastor delivered the cup unto one and he unto another till they had all drank using the words at ye delivery thereof according as is set down in the eleventh of Cor. ye 24 verse."

Henry Barrowe was unmarried and a man of some property, which he willed to the Puritan Church at his death. His money paid for the printing of the religious works he and Mr. Greenwood wrote in prison.

The execution of John Greenwood at Tyborn is recorded on the records of Corpus Christie College, Cambridge, Eng., and the offense is given as "writing against the Book of Common Prayer."

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