Born in Lancashire c. 1510, Bradford was in military service in France and afterwards studied law in London. His conversion (c. 1547) led him to study divinity at Cambridge where Martin Bucer and other Protestant leaders soon urged him to the work of preaching. Made a prebend of St Paul’s and a chaplain to King Edward VI in 1551, Bradford’s was a short ministry terminated by arrest in 1553 under Mary Tudor. It was nonetheless so deeply effective as to be spoken of for generations to come.
‘In this preaching office’, wrote John Foxe, ‘by the space of three years, how faithfully Bradford walked, how diligently he laboured, many parts of England can testify. Sharply he opened and reproved sin; sweetly he preached Christ crucified’. Speaking of his boldness, John Knox observed, ‘Mastor Bradford . . . spared not the proudest.’ Commending Bradford as an instructor in pure Christianity, his friend Thomas Sampson says, ‘They are counted the most profitable teachers which have themselves good experience by practice in themselves of that which they do teach to others’. Many others were to make similar comment. ‘Learned and eloquent’, writes Aubrey Townsend, ‘Bradford possessed qualities of a yet higher order. Deep spirituality and heavenly-mindedness, a humble and self-denying walk before God, evinced in him an unwonted measure of “the wisdom that is from above”. In these respects he was enabled, his enemies themselves being judges, to reflect, in no slight degree, his Divine Master’s likeness.’
He died at the stake in Smithfield, London, on 1 July, 1555, enduring the flame ‘as a fresh gale of wind in a hot summer’s day, confirming by his death the truth of that doctrine he had so diligently and powerfully preached during his life.’
The Parker Society edition of The Writings of John Bradford, in two volumes, is published by the Trust.