STORY, John (1504-71).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1504, s. of Nicholas Story of Salisbury by his w. Joan. educ. Hinxsey Hall, Oxf., BCL 8 May 1531, DCL 29 July 1538; adv. Doctors’ Commons 1539. m. bef. 1549, Joan Watts, 1da. and 4 other ch.2

Offices Held

Principal, Broadgates Hall, Oxf. 1537-9, 1st Regius lecturer and prof. civil law 1535, re-appointed 1553; vicar-gen. diocese of London Nov. 1539-bef. 16 July 1540, chancellor dioceses of London and Oxf. Jan. 1554-9; j.p.q. Mdx. 18 Feb. 1554-9; Queen’s proctor at the trial of Cranmer 1555; commr. against heresy 1557-8; master in Chancery for a few months in 1558.3


Of humble birth, Story had a chequered career at Oxford. In the 1540s he was a civil lawyer in the service of both the Crown and the Church. A strong Catholic, his attack on the Prayer Book in Parliament in 1549 led to his imprisonment in the Tower and eventual flight to the Continent. He returned on Mary’s accession and, as Bishop Bonner’s chancellor (‘worse than Bonner’ said Foxe), played an active part in the persecution of protestants from 1555 to 1558.4

He was returned to the Parliament of 1559 for Downton by the Marian Bishop White of Winchester, and on 23 Mar. 1559 was reprimanded by the Commons for acting as counsel for White before the Lords. Story confessed his fault and was pardoned by the House. In the same Parliament he justified his conduct under Mary, regretting only that the Catholics had then

laboured about the young and little twigs whereas they should have struck at the root.

‘And herein, most traitorously’, wrote the author of an anonymous pamphlet, ‘he meant the destruction of our dear and sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth’. ‘Story had his wanton words’ said William Fleetwood in the Parliament of 1572 ‘and passed without punishment’. He was in fact sent to the Fleet on 20 May 1560, though soon released. But on 31 May 1562 Bishop Parkhurst wrote to Henry Bullinger at Zurich: ‘Story, that little man of law and most impudent papist, has been arrested, as I understand, in the west of England in his barrister’s robes’. He was imprisoned until the next year, when the oath of supremacy was put to him and presumably refused. The Spanish ambassador now despaired for his life, but, with the aid of the chaplain at the Spanish embassy, Story escaped to the Netherlands. There he secured a pension from Philip II and the post of inspector of incoming ships at Antwerp and elsewhere—probably with the duty of preventing the entry of heretical books.5

The Queen may not have regretted his flight, for she had delayed signing the commission for his trial, and Story himself later claimed that she had given him licence to go abroad, considering him ‘an abject and cast away’. In July 1570, however, some English seamen fastened the hatches while he was searching their ship and brought him to England where in due course he was arraigned for treason at Westminster Hall, 26 May 1571. Story refused to plead, claiming to be a subject of Philip II, and the sentence was a foregone conclusion.6

On 1 June 1571 he was led to execution, and allowed to make a long speech. He recalled how he had twice lost everything he possessed by exile, and asked charity for ‘the faithfullest wife, the lovingest and constantest that ever man had’, and for their children. He stated that he died ‘in the faith Catholic of my King’, and claimed that

every man is free-born and hath the whole face of the earth before him, to dwell and abide in where he liketh best; and if he cannot live here, he may go elsewhere.

Cut down alive from the scaffold, a near-contemporary account of the execution describes him as attacking the executioner as he began to disembowel him. His trial and death furnished material for the pamphleteers on both sides in the years to come. He was beatified on 29 Dec. 1886.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Roger Virgoe


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Harl. Misc. (1808), iii. 105, 107; I. Temple Petyt mss 538, vol. 47, f. 66; CJ, i. 7.
  • 3. Ath. Oxon. i. 386-7; CPR, 1553-4, p. 395; 1555-6, p. 281; Guildhall mss, Bonner’s register ff. 1b, 3; Strype, Cranmer, i. 533; E101/520/17.
  • 4. DNB; Ath. Oxon. i. 386-7; C. E. Coote, English Civilians, i. 34; CPR, 1553-4, p. 395; CJ, i. 6-9; Strype, Annals, ii. 296-7; Examinations and Writings of Archdeacon Philpot (Parker Soc. 1842), 4-13, 47-8.
  • 5. CJ, i. 58; Harl. Misc. iii. 102; Neale, Parlts, i. 62; Strype, Annals, i(1), 220; Parker, ii. 366-7; Zurich Letters 1558-69 (Parker Soc.), 111; CSP Span. 1558-67, pp. 322-3.
  • 6. CSP Span. 1558-67, p. 323; 1568-79, pp. 267, 272-7, 288, 296, 312; Harl. Misc. iii. 106; viii. 608-12; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 389-415 passim; Strype, Parker, ii. 366-7; APC, vii. 385; T. B. Howell, State Trials (1816), i. 1087-95.
  • 7. Harl. Misc. iii. 105-8; DNB.