Exeter Civic Society

Exeter Civic Society

Prest, Agnes

Agnes Prest, died 1557, Religious martyr, burned at the stake (See also Thomas Benet)

Memorial plaques for Agnes Prest and Thomas Benet are incorporated at the base of an obelisk—the Exeter Protestant Martyrs’ Memorial—at the junction of Barnfield Road and Denmark Road, Exeter.

Two plaques carry inscriptions that read:

In grateful remembrance of Thomas Benet, M.A. who suffered at Livery Dole, A.D. 1531, for denying the supremacy of the Pope, and of Agnes Prest who suffered on Southernhay, A.D. 1557, for refusing to accept the doctrine of transubstantiation. “Faithful unto Death.”

and

To the glory of God & in honour of his faithful witnesses who, near this spot, yielded their bodies to be burned for the love of Christ and in vindication of the principles of the Protestant Reformation, this monument was erected by public subscription A.D. 1909. They being dead, yet speak.
These individuals are not named.

The monument of Dartmoor granite was designed by the Exeter ecclesiastical architect Harry Hems, who also produced the sculpted bronze relief panels, one of which depicts Angnes Prest being burnt at the stake.

The story of AGNES PREST can by found in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. As a young woman, she was working in Exeter as a servant when she was moved by Thomas Benet’s martyrdom. When she returned to her native Cornwall she married a man called Prest from Launceston. They settled nearby and had children, but her husband was an ardent Roman Catholic and Agnes was a Protestant. Although she was uneducated, she knew the Bible intimately. Eventually pressure at home became so great that she left. When she returned, because she could not bear being parted from her children, her husband had her arrested for heresy.

Agnes, then in her early 50s, was brought to Exeter for interrogation. Many came to trick, taunt or threaten her into recanting her beliefs. But Agnes was able to give as good she got. The story goes that she upbraided a Dutch stonemason repairing images of saints in Exeter Cathedral with the words: “What a madde man art thou to make them new noses, which within a few dayes shall all lose theyr heades” — whereupon she was once more thrown into prison. She stood firm against all the pressure, was tried at Exeter Guildhall, sentenced to death, and burnt at the stake on Southernay, just outside the city walls, on 15 August 1557.

Foxe describes Agnes as a short woman, aged about 54, with a cheerful countenance, sober in apparel, and never idle; a great comfort to as many as would talk with her; and good to the poor. JM

The harrowing story of the ordeal of Agnes Prest can be found in John Foxe’s The Acts and Monuments Online: 1583 edition, Book 12, Pages 2073 – 2076. University of Sheffield at www.johnfoxe.org
See also: A complete parochial history of the county of Cornwall edited by Joseph Polsue (1872) (www.exetermemories.co.uk/em/executed/prest/php). NB. Polsue’s account gives November 1558 as the date of her execution.

See also Thomas Benet