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In the beautiful church of St Oswald's, Ravenstonedale, well-know for its inward-facing
pews and fine three-decker pulpit, there is a stained-glass window commemorating
the death on 4th October 1685 of the last woman to be burnt at the stake at Tyburn
for her belief. She was Elizabeth Gaunt, the Anabaptist daughter of Anthony Fothergill
of Brownber, the head of an influential family in the Dale: a family who produced
many eminent members in the 17th and 18th centuries and whose descendents still live
in the parish. None, however, were so famous as Elizabeth Gaunt. At that time Baptists
were sometimes called 'Anabaptists' after a group founded on the continent in the
16th century and those beliefs were brought over by refugees from the Low Counties.
They refused to have their children baptised and re-instituted the baptism of believers,
hence the nick-name 'Anabaptists' after the Greek, meaning 're-baptisers', so, in
today's phraseology, you could say that Elizabeth Gaunt was one of the first 'born-again
The Anabaptists were vigorously denounced by both Luther and Calvin and
were severely persecuted by both Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. Those put
to death probably ran into tens of thousands.
In Hume's 'History of England' there
is this account of Elizabeth's death:
'Of all the executions during the dismal period
when the iniquitous Jeffries was carrying out his dreadful work, the most remarkable
were those of Mrs Gaunt and Lady Lyle who had been accused of harbouring traitors.
Mrs Gaunt was an Anabaptist, noted for her benevolence which she extended to persons
of all professions and persuasions. One of the rebels, knowing her humane disposition,
had recourse to her in distress and was concealed by her. Hearing of the proclamation
which offered an indemnity to such as discovered criminals, he betrayed his benefactress
and bore evidence against her. He received a pardon as a recompense for his treachery
and she was burnt alive for her charity.' One of the witnesses of her death was William
Penn, who related that 'when she had calmly disposed the straw about her in such
a manner as to shorten her suff~rings, all the bystanders burst into tears'. It was
recorded that while the foulest judicial murder which had disgraced even those times
was perpetrated, a tempest burst forth such as had not been seen for many a day.
died a brave and good woman. 'My fault,' said Elizabeth, shortly before her death,
'was one which a prince might well have forgiven, did but relieve a poor family and
I must die for it.'