In all the histories of English martyrs there is perhaps none more touching that that of Julins or Joscelyn Palmer, usually written ‘Julius’. He had been a Romanist (Catholic) at Oxford and full of the zeal which urged St. Paul to hold the garment of those who stoned Stephen, had been present at the burning of the Bishops at Oxford. The spectacle of their heroic deaths led him to enquire for himself. He was soon suspected of heresy, resigned his fellowship, and became Master of Reading Grammar School.
The suspicions soon followed him, he had to flee from Reading, and went to Ensham to see his mother. Here he found no rest, his mother cursed him for not believing as his father and she and all his forefathers had done, instead of ‘what was taught by the new law in King Edwards days, which is damnable heresy’. ‘Faggots I have to burn thee’ ended the old woman, ‘more thou gettest not from me’. He departed blessing her, the tears trickling down his cheeks, whereat she hurled an old angel after him and said ‘take it to keep thee a true man’.
He then visited his friend Cope at Magdalen College in Oxford and then went on to Reading to get his arrears of salary, where he was arrested and sent with a bill of instructions to Dr Jeffrey, who was holding a visitation for the Bishop of Salisbury at Newbury.
He was arraigned with two other brethren, Thomas Askew and John Gwin by name, in St. Nicolas Church in Newbury on the 15th July 1556 before Geoffrey D.C.L. Chancellor of Salisbury, Sir Richard Bridges Knight of Great Shefford, Sheriff Sir William Rainsford, John Winchcombe (son of Jack of Newbury), and Clement Burdett the Rector of Englefield and Official Principal to the Bishop of Salisbury.
The indictment was for denying the Popes supremacy, maintaining that the priest showeth up an idol at Mass, and other charges. At first Palmer answered guardedly, offering to recant whatever in his teaching ‘will not stand with Gods word’, but it soon became clear to Palmer that recantation was required which he could never make. The Chancellor told Palmer that ‘he would wring peccavi out of his lips ere he had done with him’, and the parson of Englefield called him ‘as forward an heretic as he had ever talked with’. Rainsford appears to have taken no part in the trial, and Winchcombe acted very kindly. Sir Richard Bridges the Sheriff, who had throughout the examination been trying to get fair play for Palmer, honours the youngsters courage and for his part does not like the work he is about, and would gladly get out of it altogether. So after the first days trial, the old Knight sends presence of divers persons to revoke his opinions, and spare his young years, wit, and learning.
‘If thou wilt be conformable, and show thyself corrigible and repentant, in good faith I promise thee before this company I will give thee meat and drink, and books, and ten pounds yearly, so long as thou shalt dwell with me, and if thou shall set thy mind to marriage, I will procure thee a wife and a farm, and help to stuff and fit thy farm for thee. How sayest thou?’
‘Books! meat and drink, and £10 a year! a wife and a farm! these are good things, but there is one thing better, Sir Richard, even the truth of Almighty God.’
‘Well Palmer’ saith he, ‘then I perceive one of us twain shall be damned, for we be of two faiths, and certain I am that there is but one faith that leadeth of life and salvation.’
‘Sir, I hope we both shall be saved,’ answers Palmer. On the Sheriff asking ‘how might that be?’ his prisoner answered, ‘right well, sir, for as it hath pleased our merciful Saviour, according to the Gospel parable, to call me at the third hour of the day, even in my flowers at the age of twenty-four years, even so I trust he hath called and will call you at the eleventh hour of this your old age, and give you everlasting life for your portion’.
‘Sayest thou so’, re-joined the Sheriff, ‘well, Palmer, I would I might have thee but one month in my house, I doubt not but I would convert thee or thou should’st convert me.’ The compassionate Winchcombe said ‘take pity, on thy golden years, and pleasant flowers of lusty youth, before it is too late.’ ‘Sir’ was the young Martyrs reply, ‘I long for those springing flowers that shall never fade away.’
At the end of the second days examination, Dr Jeffrey proceeded to deliver sentence of condemnation, and Palmer with his two fellow martyrs, were delivered to the secular authorities. About five o’clock in the evening, Sir Richard Bridges and the Bailiffs of the town, with a great company of harnessed and weaponed men, conducted Palmer and his brethren to the fire.
They put off their raiment and went to the stake, and kissed it, and when they were bound to the post, Palmer said ‘good people, pray for us that we may persevere unto the end, and for Christ his sake beware of Popish teachers, for they deceive you.’ As he spoke this, a servant of one of the Bailiffs threw a faggot at his face, the blood gushed out in divers places. For the fact the Sheriff broke is head, the blood likewise ran about his ears.
When the fire was kindled and began to take hold of their bodies, they lift their hands towards heaven, and quietly and cheerfully, as though they felt on smart, they cried, ‘Lord Jesu, strengthen us; Lord Jesu, assist us; Lord Jesu, receive our souls.’ And so they continued, without any struggling, holding up their hands and knocking their hearts and calling upon Jesu until they had ended their mortal lives.
The place where the martyrs were burnt was called the ‘Sandpits’ which was the south side of Enbourn Road, but the exact spot in not known. It is however, generally supposed to have been near the site of the pond near the Lamb Inn.