Henry Burton, Prisoner at Lancaster

Lancaster Castle is now a popular tourist spot; this imposing old fortress commands views of Morecambe Bay and is used as a backdrop for wedding photographs. Of course, it has a darker history, too. It was the fetid place at which our local Pendle witches were imprisoned and tried. It was also the remote and lonely prison of Henry Burton, puritan minister of London. In 1636, he was condemned to be deprived of his church, expelled from the ministry, deprived of his degrees, fined £5,000, fastened in the pillory (a set of stocks, but for the head), his ears cut off, and permanent imprisonment in remote Lancaster, without access to his family, while denied use of pen, ink, and paper. The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, thanked the court for its punishment.

His cell was dark and smoky with no furniture and gaps between the floorboards which made walking dangerous and the noise loud coming from the prisoners held in the cell below. Augustine Wildbore, vicar of Lancaster, was responsible for censoring the books he read. 


What had he done to deserve this? He was a champion of the reformed protestant faith and critic of the English bishops who sought to introduce Roman ceremonial to Anglican worship. He called these bishops caterpillars rather than pillars, and 'antichristian mushrumps.' His book Babel no Bethel: that is the Church of Rome no True Visible Church of Christ was considered an act of sedition. 

Eventfully, Burton became an Independent or Congregationalist, preferring a ‘gathered’ church to which only believers belonged rather than all who lived in a parish. As the nation prepared for civil war and views were polarised, Parliament released him, while Laud was executed and Wildbore got the sack as a ‘delinquent’. 

Burton lost his job, family, dignity, home and ears for the sake of truth. God gave him the pleasure of seeing his enemies humbled before him, though he himself died not long afterward:

The righteous perisheth, and no man considereth it in heart, and merciful men are taken away, and no man understandeth that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. Peace shall come: they shall rest in their beds, everyone that walketh before him.

Isaiah 57:1-2 (Geneva Bible) 

'The Sabbath is the market day of our souls, in which we come to God's house to buy the wine and milk of the word without money' -Henry Burton

Cartoon showing the released Puritan with the archbishop, his nemesis. British Library.