Over the last month, many of us have been watching the BBC period-drama ‘Wolf Hall’, which came to its end a few days ago. Its theme has been the religious struggles during the time of Henry VIII, when Protestants and Catholics were at each other’s throats.
One story-line caused great controversy, that of the great Catholic martyr Sir (and Saint) Thomas More. In the TV series, he was depicted as a ruthless and cruel persecutor of Protestants – before he fell foul of a change in the king’s religion, and he himself became one of the persecuted.
But, did you know that a similar ‘hunter of Protestants’ was based right here in Draycott-in-the-Moors?
The local historian Bill Cawley calls Anthony Draycot a “villain” who was determined to root out Protestantism in Staffordshire, and who hunted down those he saw as ‘heretics’, sometimes ensuring they were then burned at the stake.
Young Anthony, who was born some time in the early sixteenth century, was a son of the staunchly Catholic local aristocratic family, the Draycotts; and quickly became a great scholar at Oxford. He was appointed Rector of Draycott in 1535 (not to mention of a few other places at the same time, including nearby Checkley) – but had to accept the fact that his king, Henry VIII, was turning away from Catholicism…
However, in 1553 came a new English monarch, Queen Mary, who was a Catholic – and Mary wanted to restore her religion as the state religion. So Anthony became Chancellor to the Bishop of Lichfield, and set about serving his queen zealously, by attacking Protestants… too zealously, we might say.
His reputation was tarnished, perhaps forever, by his depiction in the famous ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’, where he is described as cruel and cold.
But no-one was ever safe for long in those times. As soon as Mary died, it was the turn of Protestantism again (under Queen Elizabeth); and soon his beliefs caught up with Anthony. In 1560, he was condemned to prison as “an irreconcilable Papist”.
He probably would have stayed there much longer than he did but he was released due to his ill-health, and ended his years back home here in Draycott, at Paynsley Hall, on the family estate, dying in 1571.
Does he deserve his reputation as cruel persecutor? Probably… but, in those unpleasant and heartless days, both sides were at it, in what they all perceived then as a struggle that was even more important than mere life or death.
Curiously, despite his reputation, the Protestant church of St Margaret’s here in Draycott lovingly preserves his memorial.
If you go into the church, you will find a brass plate attached to the front pew. It has been polished and polished for so many years that the lettering has almost faded away – but this is his memorial.
However you won’t find his grave marked anywhere. Maybe that was one step too far for St Margaret’s, which, by the time of his death, was a fully established Church Of England & Protestant church.
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