Julins Palmer; Reformer or Heretic?

photo by Geoff Fletcher of Brian Harrington who played Julins Palmer in the community play

Julins' Life History

Julins was only 24 when he died, he had already lost three jobs for his religious beliefs and had ‘earned’ his later entry into the Foxes Book of Martyrs.

Julins was born in Coventry where his Father had been Mayor and was educated at Magdalen College Oxford.  We know that: ‘In study he was indefatigable, inasmuch as he became Bachelor of Arts.’ A 1550 fellow of Magdalen College and reader in Logic

At this time he was a zealous Catholic, bitterly opposed to the new reformed religion.  He showed contempt for the new thinking college preachers and declined to attend chapel refusing permission for scholars also.  He was called many times to college authorities to answer for his ‘popish pranks’, he was reprimanded, fined and eventually expelled.

Following the expulsion he was offered the position of tutor to Sir Francis Knollys’ household.

With the accession of Mary he was reinstated at Magdalen, following the policy of reinstating Catholic teachers.

But Julins was not to remain Catholic; he became very affected by the burnings in Mary’s reign and experienced a dramatic change in his religious beliefs.  He became very interested in how and why the martyrs were arrested and what happened to them.  He was very sympathetic to their cause ‘he learned with what great, extreme and horrible crueltie the martyrs of God were tried, and how valiantly they overcame all kinde of torments to the end’

He was greatly affected by his witnessing of the burning of Latimer and Ridley in Oxford.

His new found beliefs led him to read the works of the reformers.  And so, having suffered as a Roman Catholic under Edward, he now became converted to Protestantism under Mary.

Julins was now suspected of heresy.  Even friends turned and he had no option but to resign his Fellowship at Magdalen.  He did this with the belief ‘ let the Lord work, I will commit myself to God and the wide world.’

Julins now secures a place teaching at Reading Grammar School and here so called friends searched his study and threatened to use the information against him.  Because of this he has to leave Reading and decides to visit his Mother. His Mother’s reaction gives the world an insight into the difficulties of the times.  On his asking her blessing she curses him ‘ Thou shalt have Christ’s curse and mine wheresoever thou go.’  She refused him shelter or money.  Julins left tearful, blessing his Mother as he left.

He now returned secretly to Magdalen.  Here he was helped to receive an appointment in Gloucestershire.  On his way to take up the post he decided to return to Reading to pick up belongings that he had left there.  He stayed at the ‘Cardinal’s Hat’ and here he was discovered, betrayed and imprisoned.  He was charged with treason, sedition, surmised murder and adultery.’  He proclaimed his innocence and the Mayor, believing him, was anxious to allow him to leave secretly but others wanted him convicted and they now charged him with heresy.  The papers stolen from his study were given as evidence and these were enough to bring him to trial, on 16th July he was to appear before Dr Jeffrey in Newbury.

The Trial (sourced from the archive records of the trial)

‘The charges against palmer were:
• First. That you deny the pope’s holiness supremacy
• Secondly. That there are but two sacraments.
• Thirdly. That the priest sheweth up an idol at masse, and therefore, you went to no masse, since your first coming to Reading.
• Fourthly. That there is no purgatories.
Last of all, that you be a sower of sedition and have sought to divide the unitie of the queen’s subjects.’

Palmer’s defence was that all his writings were consistent with the Bible, and that the doctrine he professed was ‘good and sound’. He argued his case in front of 300 in the church.

Jeffrey: ‘Thou art but a beardless boy, start up yesterday out of the schools, and darest thou presume to offer disputation or encounter with a doctor?’

Palmer: ‘ --- although your wit and learning be greater than mine, yet your belief in the truth and zeal to defend the same, is no greater than mine.’

His bearing at the trial must have impressed his hearers as the sheriff, Sir Richard Bridges, a Knight of Great Shefford, and John Winchcombe attempted that evening to get him to recant.

Sir Richard offering: ‘ If thou wilt be conformable – I will give thee meat and drink and books and ten pounds yearly --- I will procure thee a wife and a farm.’

Winchombe urged: ‘ take pity on thy golden years and pleasant flowers of lusty youth before it be too late.’

But their urgings were in vain – the next day at his trial Palmer insisted: ‘ I forsake the Pope and his popelings with all popish heresy.’

And signed the charges against him, adding words in his own hand to ensure that it was a true reflection of his ‘good and sound doctrine.’ This was effectively the signing of his own death warrant and he was delivered to the sheriff to be burned the same day.

Palmer remained positive to the end:

‘We shall not end our lives in the fire, but make a change for a better life.’
He prayed urging the crowd ‘for Christ’s sake beware of popish teachers.’

‘ When the fire was kindled and began to take hold upon their bodies, they lift their hands towards heaven and quietly and cheerfully – they cried, Lord Jesu strengthen us, Lord Jesu assist us, Lord Jesu receive our souls.’


  • The Foxes Book of Martyrs – written by a Protestant extremist and kept in churches for many years after as a reminder of the burnings.
  • The Newbury Martyrs West Berkshire Museum Heritage Guide no. 5
  • The Newbury Martyrs J.H Thompson (1905) printed to commemorate 350 years and to erect a memorial – written in response to the Oxford Movement seen by many Protestants as the ‘catholicising’ of the established Church.
    Available from Newbury Library.

A note of caution – it is difficult (though not impossible) to find a balanced view of the martyrs – all information had some ‘reason’ or ‘cause’ to be written.