Bayfield [alias Somersam], Richard
- Andrew Hope
Bayfield [alias Somersam], Richard (d. 1531), Benedictine monk and protestant martyr, was born at Hadleigh in Suffolk of unknown parentage. His alias, presumably a locative surname, suggests that his family originated at Somersham, a few miles north-east of Hadleigh. He was professed at Bury St Edmunds Abbey in 1514, and ordained priest in 1518. In the early 1520s, having responsibility for the abbey's hospitality, he came to know Robert Barnes, who visited to see a former colleague from their Louvain University days, Edmund Rougham. Barnes was at the time at Cambridge and one of the leaders of those interested in the new Lutheran theology. Bayfield came under the influence both of Barnes (who provided him with Erasmus's new Latin translation of the New Testament), and of two London Lollards, Lawrence Maxwell and John Stacy, who seem also to have been visiting the abbey to hold talks with Barnes. The outcome was that Bayfield was incarcerated in the abbot's prison, from which Barnes was able to free him only with difficulty. Barnes took Bayfield back with him to Cambridge, where Bayfield developed an admiration for Thomas Bilney and Thomas Arthur. When Barnes was convicted of heresy in early 1526, Bayfield was offered shelter in London by Maxwell and Stacy.
For Bayfield's movements in the years which followed the major source is John Foxe's Acts and Monuments, which is not without its difficulties. According to Foxe, Maxwell and Stacy arranged for Bayfield to go overseas soon after his arrival in London. If so, he was back in England, probably the following year, and there is evidence that he was beginning to traffic in prohibited books. Early in 1528 he was arrested and convicted of heresy before Cuthbert Tunstall, the bishop of London, for asserting that praise was only to be given to God and not to anything created, and that a priest needed no licence to preach. According to Foxe, Bayfield performed only part of his penance before absconding abroad again, and then, thinking better of it, reappearing before Tunstall two months later. He was exiled from the diocese of London and told to return to Bury and wear his monk's habit. He returned to Bury but ignored the other provisions. He then left Bury and fled abroad again.
Bayfield now took on the role of the main supplier of prohibited reformation books to the English market, a role vacant since the arrest of Thomas Garrett in 1528. The major source of such books was the Low Countries and in particular Antwerp. There is a stray reference to Bayfield also supplying the French market. He is known to have sent three major consignments to England, the first via Colchester in mid-1530, the second via St Katharine by the Tower, London, in late 1530, and the third via Norfolk about Easter 1531. The second consignment was wholly intercepted by Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More, and the third probably partially so. A list of books recovered from Bayfield gives over fifty titles, of which he said he was bringing in multiple copies. Many were Lutheran but many also were by writers such as Oecolampadius, Lambert, and Zwingli who represented a more anti-sacramental theology.
Bayfield showed signs of not always appreciating the extreme danger he was in. He had indiscreet conversations with people who did not share his views. He was arrested at a London bookbinder's, possibly in October 1531, imprisoned, and interrogated by More. The authorities seem to have been alarmed that Bayfield was a source of anti-sacramental ideas, and even moved him out of a cell which he shared with another suspect, Thomas Patmere. His trial by the new bishop of London, John Stokesley, opened at St Paul's on 10 November. He was convicted as a relapsed heretic, degraded, and burnt with excruciating slowness at Smithfield, probably on 27 November, although some authorities give 4 December.
Thomas More maintained that Bayfield was a bigamous monk, having one wife in England and another in Brabant, but this would appear to be no more than one of More's fantasies. John Foxe, who seems to have been able to supplement the documentary record with somebody's personal reminiscences, described Bayfield in his first Latin martyrology as 'natura formidolosus, gratia autem fortissimus [by nature fearful, by grace on the other hand, most strong]' (Foxe, 4.767n.).
- J. Foxe, Acts and monuments, 4 (1858)
- St Thomas More, The confutation of Tyndale's answer, ed. L. A. Schuster and others, 3 vols. (1973), vol. 8 of The Yale edition of the complete works of St Thomas More
- St Thomas More, The apology, ed. J. B. Trapp (1979), vol. 9 of The Yale edition of the complete works of St Thomas More
- J. Strype, Ecclesiastical memorials, 3 vols. (1822), vol. 1