The Story Of Joan Waste

The history of the town of Derby records just one Reformation Martyr, a young blind girl called Joan Waste. Very little is known about Joan's early life, although Foxe records that both her parents died when she was very young, and so for a while she lived with her brother Roger. In the providence of God, Joan lived through the short but godly reign of Edward VI, the young King known as "the English Josiah" because of the remarkable character of his life (2 Kings 22,23).

While Edward was upon the throne the people of England had church services in their own language instead of Latin. Joan was moved by the Holy Spirit to go daily to hear the Bible readings and sermons, and soon she was converted to Christ her Saviour Who found His own poor lost blind sheep and gave her new eyes of saving faith.

Joan wanted a Bible of her own, even though she was blind! Her plan was to get others to read it to her but first she had to buy one - not easy when books were expensive and you were poor and blind. She found work and saved hard, and eventually managed to afford a New Testament. Now Joan had to find someone to read it to her! This too was not easy  because (despite England having a Protestant King) most English people were Roman Catholics who trusted in the Church rather than God's Word.

Immediately after getting her New Testament, Joan began by asking all around Derby if anyone would read it to her, initially to no avail. Eventually though, she found an elderly man in Derby Gaol called John Hurt, who said he would gladly read to her every day. Hurt is mentioned in Foxe as a "sober, grave man" of little means, and it appears that he was in prison  for failure to pay his debts. In a day in which the poor often had what few goods they owned taken away from them by corrupt officials or were not paid by their employers, they would often find themselves cast into prison for the "crime" of poverty. This was not an unusual fate for ordinary people.

John Hurt was happy to make the acquaintance of his new Christian friend, and not only did he appreciate every visit - she went to the Gaol daily (Matthew 25:36) - but he gladly read her a chapter of Scripture each day until illness finally rendered him unable to read.

Not one to give up easily, Joan went to the Clerk of All Saints Church (now the Cathedral) and persuaded him to read for her. When he was too busy to oblige, she fell back on a group of other acquaintances who were only too happy to read a few chapters "for a penny or two". And a penny was a great deal of money in those days - around a day's pay.

In a short while Joan was able to recite long passages of Scripture purely from memory. Not only that, she was learning to refute all the false religion that flourished all around her in Derby, and to rebuke those that sinned against the teaching of the Word of God. Immorality was rife, and the Roman Catholic attitude to it was that people couldn't help it and the priest would absolve it; Joan had no time for this wickedness and exhorted her hearers to forsake their sins and turn to Christ else live in certain expectation of a coming judgement.

Edward VI died in early 1553 and his Roman Catholic sister Mary became Queen. Almost straight away the laws respecting Protestant liberty and freedom of religion were done away with, and attendance at the Roman Catholic Mass was once again made compulsory. Of course Joan refused to attend and so, at just twenty two years of age, she was summoned to appear before  the Bishop and the Bishop's Chancellor, Dr. Draicot, on a charge of Heresy. This took place in June, which gives some idea of how seriously Rome regards these things, and how quickly she turns on "heretics" once she has the Civil Power on her side. (When the Civil Power is not on her side, however, she pleads for religious liberty.)

Charged to account for her actions, Joan first of all declared (in a way reminiscent of Luther) that she believed only the things taught by Holy Scripture and by godly, Bible-believing men. Then, reminding her hearers that a number of sincere Christians had recently been imprisoned and then burned to death for believing the same things that she did rather than embrace the doctrines of Rome, boldly she went on,  "Are you prepared to die for your doctrine? If not, then for God's sake trouble me no more. I am but a poor, blind, uneducated woman, but with God's help I am ready to yield up my life in this faith."

At this point the Bishop and his Chancellor became angry. First they tried to persuade her that the Son of God was easily and regularly brought down and changed into bread and wine but, when it was clear that she would not listen, they threatened her with imprisonment, torture and death if she refused to believe in this "Sacrament of the Altar". Seeking to save her life if it was at all possible to do this without in any way denying her Lord, Joan asked the Bishop if he really believed in his heart that his doctrine was true, and if he was therefore willing to answer for her on the Day of Judgement.

The Bishop replied that he did and he would, only to be contradicted by Dr. Draicot who said, "My Lord, you do not know what you are doing - you may under no circumstances answer to God for a heretic." Immediately the Bishop backed down, and told Joan she should turn away from the faith of the Bible and trust only in Holy Church, and that she would have to give account to God on her own behalf!

"If you refuse to take on your conscience as true what you wish me to believe, I will answer you no more; do your pleasure" replied Joan, and she was remanded to the bailiffs at Derby who put her in prison.

About five weeks later the Bishop sent a writ to the bailiffs entitled "On The Burning Of Heretics", which ordered that Joan was to be taken to All Saints Church on August 1st when Dr. Draicot would preach. The rich and noble entered first, and then this slip of a poor blind girl was brought in and held fast before the pulpit as the sermon began.

"This woman is condemned for denying the Sacrament of the Altar to be the very body and blood of Christ, really and substantially, and is for this reason cut off from the body of the Catholic Church", Dr. Draicot began, and went on to say that "she is not only blind in her bodily eyes, but also blind in the eyes of her soul. And as her body will soon be consumed with material fire, so her soul will be burned in Hell with everlasting fire, as soon as it is separated from the body. There it will remain, world without end." He then forbade everyone to pray for her, issuing "many terrible threats" against any that dared to do so. Finally he gave the order to burn Joan to death.

Joan was taken away to a place called the Windmill Pit where, holding her brother's hand, she prepared herself for execution. Let Foxe conclude the story: Joan "desired the people to pray for her, and said such prayers as she had learned, and cried upon Christ to have mercy upon her, as long as life served. Dr. Draicot went to his inn, and there laid him down and slept, during all the time of her execution."

(Adapted from an item selected from Castlefields (Derby) Chapel Magazine by the editor of "The Reformer", the official organ of the Protestant Alliance. Used with permission.)

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