The memorial plaques for Thomas Benet and Agnes Prest 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.”
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 panel depicting Thomas Benet nailing his protest to the door of Exeter Cathedral. However, sources suggest that he used wax, a much more likely method as the sound of a hammer would have attracted attention to his actions. Another relief panel depicts Angnes Prest being burnt at the stake.
The story of THOMAS BENET is told in John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments, popularly known as “The Book of Martyrs”. Benet was born in Cambridge and took an MA at Cambridge University. In 1524, he moved to Torrington, North Devon, with his wife and family so that he could exercise his religious conscience more freely in a county where no one knew him. It seems he may also have changed his name from Dusgate to Benet at about the same time.
The following year, he rented a house in Butcher Row, Exeter, where he took in pupils. At length he felt he must act against what he believed were religious abuses of the time and fastened a number of scrolls containing protests such as “we ought to worship God only, and no saints” to the door of Exeter Cathedral. It is said that later he sat among the cathedral congregation listening to the offending heretic being excommunicated and a curse being pronounced. He burst into laughter and was nearly arrested.
About 5 a.m. next morning, Benet sent his son to fix more protests to the gates of the churchyard, but the boy was caught and Benet was violently apprehended. “Exeter’s Luther” declared to his interrogators that he would do it again “for I have written nothing but that is very truth.” In the Bishop’s prison Benet was kept in stocks and irons but despite physical and psychological pressure, he never recanted, and was burnt alive at the stake at Livery Dole, Heavitree, probably in early January 1532, rather than 1531 as on the plaque, aged about 50. JM
See also Agnes Prest