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The Burning of Joan Waste: The Blind Faithful Protestant

Updated on September 20, 2014
St. Peter's Church, Derby where Joan Waste and her family attended service
St. Peter's Church, Derby where Joan Waste and her family attended service | Source

On August 1, 1556, Joan Waste was hanged and burned for holding protestant views. She was one of around 300 Protestants burned for heresy during Mary I’s reign, when the country temporarily returned to Catholicism for the five year period. Joan was just around 22 at the time and was executed in her hometown of Derby.

The Birth of Joan Waste

Joan was a twin—so both babies and the mother were lucky to survive at the time—but was born blind. The exact date is unknown but it is sometime in 1534. This was after Henry VIII had broken from the Catholic church in order to marry Anne Boleyn a year earlier. The poor girl was raised to be a Protestant and her family would have been deemed heretics had they not raised her with Protestant views. She had no chance of survival when it came to Mary I’s reign.

Joan’s blindness didn’t stop her from succeeding in life. She learnt to knit and was skilled at making ropes. Her father, William Waste, was a rope-maker and taught her everything he knew. Her twin brother, Roger, grew up to be a barber in Derby.

Mary I condemned people for their Protestant views
Mary I condemned people for their Protestant views

Mary I Makes Protestant Views Illegal

While Mary took the throne in 1553, she didn’t make Protestantism illegal until 1555. Mary was raised as a Catholic and her mother was a devout Catholic. When Henry VIII broke from Rome and banned Catherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor from seeing each other, Mary refused to conform to the Protestant religion. It was such a worry for Edward VI, Mary’s half-brother, that he tried to remove Mary from the line of succession by placing their Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne. Of course, this lasted all of 13 days and Mary I had the support of the English people to become Queen of England.

There were around 300 people who were condemned for their religious views. Some of the bigger names include Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer but there were many who were relatively unknown. It was a shame for the English people though. They were in a world that was very uncertain and they were all very religious people.

Until Mary’s reign, many of the English people were now used to listening to services in English and now they were thrown into Latin services. This was difficult for many but more so Joan, who was blind and wouldn’t even be able to risk reading her own bible in secret.

The Differences Between Protestantism and Catholicism

Many people may question what the differences are. Many Christian countries have simply become used to so many different branches of the religion and accept that people have different views. Those who aren’t Christian view the different branches as the same thing: they both believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; the Three in One.

There are some major differences though. One of those is the fact that traditionally, the Catholic services were spoken in Latin and the bibles were all in Latin. This helped to prevent the “lower people” misinterpreting the word. The Priests and Cardinals were the only people able to preach about the word because they ‘knew the true meaning of it’. Protestants believed that everyone had the right to read God’s word and the bibles were translated into English.

Another major difference was the aspect of Mass. Protestantism removed Mass from the services. While bread and wine was still taken, believers of this faith didn’t believe that it became Jesus’ blood and flesh like Catholics did. Joan refused to acknowledge the Catholic view of Mass. She stated that they were just bread and wine; a symbol of the flesh and blood of Christ.

One difference that many know is that Catholics believe the Pope is the only person who can talk directly to God, along with those appointed by the Pope. To ask God’s forgiveness for sin, they must go to Confession and talk to their priest. The priest will tell them everything they have to do to atone and receive that forgiveness. However, Protestants believe that they can all talk to God. They can ask him directly for forgiveness and, as long as they are genuine in this asking, they will receive it.

Joan Waste was executed at Windmill Pit
Joan Waste was executed at Windmill Pit

Joan Waste Is Condemned of Heresy

Sometime in 1556, Joan was called before Anthony Draycot, the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry. He was a Catholic and the chancellor of Ralph Baines. She had objected to services being spoken in Latin and defended her Protestant views. Instantly she was condemned for heresy as she was breaking the law created the year earlier.

One factor that condemned Joan was how she bought her own New Testament. While she couldn’t read it herself, she paid her friends a penny a time to read some of it to her. This was her way of understanding the bible in her own way and discussing it with her friends.

Her trial was at All Saints Parish Church as it was known back then. It is now known as Derby Cathedral and has been rebuilt over time. The only part of the original building is the tower, which is from the 1530s.

Fan Video of Mary I vs. Elizabeth I

The Execution of Joan Waste

Joan walked to her execution holding her twin brother’s hands. The final sermon was given by Anthony Draycot and was also accompanied by Master Jon Dethick, Sir John Port, Henry Vernon and Thomas Powthread. The execution was at Windmill Pit, referred to as the Ordeal Pit during the 1200s.

Joan was hanged by a rope over a fire. When the fire burnt through the rope, she dropped into the flames. It was expected that she would forever suffer and burn for her Protestant beliefs. It was a shame for Joan. Had she denied her Protestant views, just for two years, she would have been saved. Mary I died in November 1558 and Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England. However, it does show the strong beliefs that Joan held. She knew she would be condemned for her religious views and admitted to them anyway. She truly believed that this would save her from the pits of Hell after her death.

What happened to Draycot? He lost his Bishop title on June 21, 1559, during the reign of Elizabeth I. Elizabeth repealed the law forbidding Protestant views and helped to find a balance between the differing religions. Draycot became a prisoner of the fleet. He died after his release in 1571.

The site of Joan Waste’s execution is now a Roman Catholic church! Joan did become a Martyr for her religion.


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      Andeslay Rodriguez 4 months ago


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      Wayne Joel Bushong 4 years ago from America

      She died a martyr for Christ. Christians do not agree with Catholic teachings and may she rest in Gods peace. I hope I have the same courage she did if put to the test.