Please see my 'Contact' page re email address.

                                                                                                                                    photos by Chris Drakes 2005
St. Peter's Church, Thundersley, Essex.

                                                                                                                               photo by Chris Drakes 2005

Rectors of St. Peter's Church, Thundersley, Essex, include, 'Robt. Drake (Ye Martyr) 1550', though Foxe's Book of Martyrs, which is contemporary, and most other sources, show him as 'Robert Drakes'. Even the Martyrs' Memorial, Rayleigh, Essex shows him as 'Drakes'.

Robert Drake(s), the Rector (Vicar, Priest, Parson, Minister) of Thundersley, Essex, was martyred on 24.4.1556, by being burned at the stake for his Protestant faith. On his being examined by the bishop of Winchester, it was demanded whether he would conform himself to the laws of this realm then in force (i.e. Roman Catholic); he replied, “As for your church of Rome, I utterly defy and refuse it, with all the works thereof, even as I refuse the devil and all his works.” This was during the reign of Queen Mary I (1553 - 58), daughter of Henry VIII; she restored the Roman Catholic Church to her realm, persecuted Protestants as 'heretics', and earned the name of 'Bloody Mary.' Things weren't much better when, under her sister Elizabeth I, the Protestant faith was resumed and Roman Catholic persecutions followed.

My thanks to David Butler for kindly letting me know about this plaque and for kindly sending me a photo

In 2013, a plaque was erected to his memory inside St. Peter's Church, Thundersley, Essex, by the Parish Church, the Essex Protestant Council, and the Protestant Alliance, which reads, 'In Memory of Robert Drake Rector of St. Peter's Church Thundersley 1550-1554 Burnt at the stake at Smithfield, London, for his protestant faith, April 1556, trusting for salvation in Christ alone. "Be thou faithful unto death" Revelation 2:10.'

Five others were burned with Robert Drake(s), in the same fire, at Smithfield, London: William Tyms, curate; Richard Spurge, sheerman; Thomas Spurge, fuller; John Cavel, weaver; and George Ambrose, fuller. They were all 'of Essex.'

The burning of Thomas Cranmer on 21st March 1556
Illustration from John Foxe's Book of Martyrs

About 340 people died for their faith during the reign of Queen Mary (18th February 1516 to 17th November 1558), of which 277 were burned at the stake. Many declared that they would not worship "the cross on which Christ suffered, but only Christ himself who had suffered on the cross," or openly denied the doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches that the sacramental bread is miraculously changed into the actual body of the Saviour. For these, and minor 'heresies', they were burned at the stake; many at Smithfield (then West Smithfield), in London, though others were burned around the country to give a strong 'local' message to the people, that the Roman Catholic Church was back in control:

Burned alive: 5 bishops, 21 divines, 8 gentlemen, 84 artificers, 100 husbandmen, servants, and labourers, 26 wives, 20 widows, 9 virgins, 2 boys, and 2 infants. (It one instance a pregnant woman's baby fell from her burning body; the infant was still alive and was removed from the fire, but those in charge ordered it to be thrown back with its mother.)

They were stood in empty tar barrels, chained to a wooden stake, faggots were stacked all around them (without blocking the public view), and it was lit. Their death was slow and very painful; this then being believed necessary to cleanse their souls. They died of a combination of shock from the burning, suffocation by the smoke, lung damage caused by the intense heat burning inside their lungs, but were often still conscious when parts of their body fell away into the flames due to burning.

Others persecuted for their faith: 64, of whom 7 were whipped, 16 perished in prison, and 12 were buried in dunghills.

                                                                                                                                    photos by Chris Drakes 2005

The Martyrs' Memorial, Rayleigh, Essex

                                                                                                                                        photos by Chris Drakes 2005

The Martyrs' Memorial, Rayleigh, Essex

                                                                                                                                        photos by Chris Drakes 2005

The Martyrs' Memorial at Rayleigh, Essex, shows, 'To Commemorate Robert Drakes, Minister of Thundersley, and William Tyms, Curate of Hockley, both suffered in one fire at Smithfield, 24 April 1556'.

There is considerable confusion as to whether Robert was a 'Drakes' or a 'Drake'. John Foxe (1517-1587) was the author of the 'Book of Martyrs', which was originally named, Acts and Monuments. In the 16th and 17th centuries this book was the second most read book in the English language, second only to the bible. It shows him as 'Robert Drakes', as does the Martyr's Memorial in High Street, Rayleigh, Essex. However, the present-day list of incumbents at Thundersley Parish Church shows, 'Robert Drake', as does the Robert Drake Primary School in Thundersley, Essex, the University of Oxford Register, 'Drake House' at Rayleigh Secondary School, Essex, and Rev. A. Girdlestone Fryer's book of 1908.

List of past Rectors of the parish, '........., James Whitley 1537, Robt. Drake (Ye Martyr) 1550, John Hollyman 1554, .........' I surmised from this that he was Rector of Thundersley from 1550 to 1554, when he was removed from the post on charges of heresy.

I believe that Robert may have been a 'Draxe', which is the same surname as 'Drakes', and thus may have been read as 'Drake' in error. This may seem a minor point, but, generally speaking, the two surnames are not normally related. 'Drake' is a far more common name and is found nationwide, whereas, 'Drakes' is the same surname as Drax, Dracass & Dracas and comes from a small area 50 miles wide by 15 miles high in North Lincolnshire, covering Wombwell, Yorks., to Old Clee, near Grimsby, Lincs.

Alumni Oxonienses, The University of Oxford Register, 1500-1714, shows, `Drake, Robert (Drycke), B.A. (sup. [supplicated; presented a formal petition for a degree] 16 Feb.) 1524-5, one of these names vicar of Aylisbeare, Devon, 1545, another rector of Thundersley, Essex, 1550. See Foster's Index Ecclesiasticus.' Since B.A. degrees were frequently presented about the age of 19, he was probably born about 1505/6, as some are presented age 21 and a few older. He is unlikely to have been born after 1505, unless he was extremely intelligent and came from an influential background.

He was first made deacon by doctor Rowland Taylor of Hadley, at the commandment of doctor Thomas Cranmer, late archbishop of Canterbury. Within a year, in third year of Edward's reign, archbishop Cranmer and doctor Nicholas Ridley, bishop of London, admitted him to minister God's holy word and the sacraments. He was presented to the benefice of Thundersley by Lord Rich in 1550, at the suit of Master Causton and Master Treheron. He was removed from the office in 1554, and sent up to London by Lord Rich, Tyrrell and others for examination. He remained in either the Marshalsea or the King's Bench for around one year, until the death of Gardiner. He was examined by Richard Read, the Lord Chancellor, on 22(21).3.1556. After Gardiner's death some of his fellow prisoners sent a petition to Heath, the new Lord Chancellor, on behalf of them all over their long imprisonment. He was condemned by Bonner on 28 March 1556. He was burned 24 April 1556 at Smithfield with William Tyms, Richard Spurge, Thomas Spurge, John Cavel, and George Ambrose.

I have not been able to trace his birth, nor link him to any of the main trees.

Useful website:
The John Foxe Project, Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield, have all early editions of Foxe's Book of Martyrs available on-line; it permits a name-search and provides all relevant extracts for each name searched, at: