The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Joan Sole - Kentish Martyr


 By Bob Sheldon


This article was originally published in the December 2006 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society


The memorial in Martyrs Field Road, Canterbury to Forty-One Kentish MartyrsA while ago, Lionel Sole sent me two photos he had taken of the memorial in Martyrs Field Road, Canterbury to Forty-One Kentish Martyrs who were burnt at the stake during the reign of Queen Mary (1555-1558). 


His interest had been aroused by seeing the name of Joan Sole on the stone.  Neither of us knew anything more about her nor the circumstances leading to her death.  This was still the state of affairs when we met at our Annual Gathering at Redditch and the subject was briefly touched upon during our name group session.


However thanks to the efforts of Colin Sole, who heard about Joan for the first time during our session, we now have a little more background to the events.  What follows is taken from extracts he found on the internet from John Fox’s Book of Martyrs which was published at various dates between 1563 and 1583.  (Please note that the book is written in “old” English and I have paraphrased in parts)


With Becket’s shrine destroyed, the pilgrim traffic stopped.  Canterbury plunged into relative decline.  More horrors followed and the 1550s saw more than 40 Protestants burnt at the stake during the short lived counter reformation in the reign of Queen Mary.


Joan Sole was one of four women and one man who were burnt at the stake on 31st January 1556.  She had been condemned on the 18th January for saying that the sacrament of the altar was “a naughty and abominable idol”, for utterly denying the sacrament and for persisting with these sayings.  She is said to have “suffered quietly and with great comfort for the right of Christ’s religion.”  With the others, Joan was condemned by the priests for not allowing “confessio auricular” and for denying the real presence and substance of Christ to be in the sacrament of the altar.


“The five martyrs were burnt at two stakes in one fire, singing hosannas to the glorified Saviour, until the breath of life was extinct.  Sir John Norton, who was present, wept bitterly at their unmerited sufferings.”


Little is known about Joan except that she was from the parish of Horton which at the time was situated somewhere between Hythe and Brabourne but which I believe no longer exists.  We do not know how old she was nor whether SOLE was her birth name or married name.  But she was clearly a woman of conviction and great courage who lived during a dangerous time.  


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