18th July 1556

The Guernsey Martyrs were burned at the stake

Sisters Guillemine Gilbert and Perotine Massey were burned alive, along with their mother, Katharine Cauchés, on 18 July 1556. Collectively, the three are now known as the Guernsey Martyrs.

As Calvinists, they had been found guilty of heresy under the Marian persecutions. The persecutions were so-called because they were carried out under the authority of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary (and, before her, Henry VIII). Similar persecutions were conducted during the reigns of Edward VI, Elizabeth I and James I.

The women’s “crime” was their protestant belief, which was enough to earn them a conviction in the Catholic-oriented Ecclesiastical court held in St Peter Port’s Town Church.

The women had initially been brought to court upon suspicion of theft – a crime of which they were not guilty. It was only upon taking statements from the women’s neighbours that the authorities discovered that their beliefs didn’t tally with officially sanctioned doctrine.

A gruesome execution

Had they received the usual punishment for deviating from the monarch’s beliefs, the women would first have been strangled. In that way, the burning that followed would be more of a cremation than an execution. However, the rope that was being used for this purpose broke. Rather than delay matters further, the burning proceeded as planned, with the women still alive and fully aware.

Katharine was tied to a stake in the middle of the fire, with one daughter on either side. The heat – and, no doubt, stress and fear – was so great that Perotine Massey, who was pregnant at the time of her execution, gave birth in the fire. Contemporary accounts describe how “the belly of the woman burst asunder by the vehemence of the flame”.

Her baby boy was retrieved by the crowd and laid out on the grass to recover. However, the Bailiff, Hellier Gosselin, commanded that it be thrown back into the fire so that it would suffer the same fate as its mother.


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Other events that occured in July

Guernseyman Edward Tupper killed by cannibals 1st
Alderney is occupied by German forces 2nd
Seigneur of Sark, Michael Beaumont, dies aged 88 3rd
Guernsey hosted the Island Games 2003 closing ceremony 4th
New coins are minted for Guernsey 5th
Royal Guernsey Light Infantry Museum opens 6th
Victor Hugo statue is unveiled in Candie Gardens 7th
First Commando raid of the Second World War 8th
Birth of Sark-based writer Mervyn Peake 9th
Guernsey nurses go on hunger strike 10th
ITV broadcasts first episode of Island at War 11th
A Guernsey man posted himself to Sark 12th
Murderer Peter Robin sentenced to death 13th
Victor Hugo plants his United States of Europe oak 14th
Point Law runs aground off Alderney 15th
Racing yacht Westward is blown up off Guernsey
BBC made its first ever Channel Islands broadcast 16th
The Star received some “grave” news 17th
The Guernsey Martyrs were burned at the stake 18th
Prince Charles and Camilla visit Guernsey 19th
President Garcia is re-floated in Saints Bay 20th
Typhoid suspect holidaymaker flies home 21st
Guernsey Controlling Committee’s Sir John Leale died 22nd
Alderney to Guernsey radio connection established 23rd
Val des Terres was first opened for traffic 24th
The BBC broadcasts from Sark for the first time 25th
Guernsey court escapee was caught again 26th
Braye du Valle was gifted by the crown 27th
Murderer sentenced to death in three hours 28th
Guernsey bought Herm from the mainland 29th
Albert Lamy appointed Guernsey Police Chief Officer 30th
Guernsey to Jersey plane crashed into the sea 31st