A fair definition of Scapegoat is "one who is blamed or punished for the mistakes or sins of others".
Tyndale was burned at the stake. Against him was the might of Thomas More and Henry VIII, and indeed the establishment who did not want the plebs to be able to read the Bible in English, particularly women. A friend of his, one Frith, wrote pamphlets that denied the Catholic tenet of transubstantion and went to the stake telling all who would listen that the threat of execution could not change his opinion that the idea that bread and wine served at the Eucharist became the actual body and blood of Christ was nonsense.
Was Frith a martyr or a scapegoat? Is there a difference? Well, Frith, Tyndale and others were a bit of both. They were martyrs in the respect that they died for a cause they believed in and scapegoats for a regime that wished to supress the spread of information. In publishing information that the elite did not want to be circulated they became the focus of a campaign of hatred and victimisation. They were labeled as seditious and dangerous and this gave their betrayers a good excuse to betray them.
In those times the fight between the establishment and the rebels was couched in religious terms, but essentially it was the timeless struggle between those in power, who wished to be in control of the flow of information to the populace, and those who did not believe in that monopoly.
When the elite become paranoid it is meet to them to foment a climate of fear. Fear is good. Fear works, fear clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
(Apologies to Gordon Gekko, there.) Fear is a powerful tool when used as an element of propaganda: it is essential in the manufacture of scapegoats. It triggers our inherent and antidiluvian reflex of fight or flight but is more gracefully engaged, for want of a better word, as scapegoating.
It was fear coupled with righteious indignation that sparked the witch trials in Salem, Mass.
One of my ancestors was brought to trial and executed as a witch in Salem. Her pleas were pathetic:
I petition your honours not for my own life for I know I must die and my appointed time is sett but the Lord he knowes it is that if be possible no more Innocent blood may be shed which undoubtidly cannot be Avoyd[e]d In the way and course you goe in I Question not buy your honours doesw to the uttmost of your Powers in the discovery and detecting of withcraft and witches and would not be gulty of Innocent blood for the world
I sometimes wonder at this poor girl, born Mary Towne, in Yarmouth in 1634. She was accused of something that did not exist and yet she had no defense. She was a scapegoat for all the ills that the people of the time ascribed to witchery; failed harvests, illness, death, etc.
I have another ancestor. He too was a scapegoat. He was a scapegoat for one person's hatred of himself and the rest of the world:
Robert Eastick was the youngest of four children. At the time of the 1841 census, the Eastick family lived in Broad Street, Kings Lynn. By 1851, Robert Eastick snr., a cooper, had died. While his older brother and two sisters went into service, young Robert and his mother fell on hard times and entered the new St James Workhouse in 1856.
Shortly afterwards, Robert was apprenticed as a cabin boy to local councillor John Sugars, one of the Workhouse Guardians, to serve in his newly-acquired sailing ship, named John Sugars after him. The ship operated out of Hartlepool on the Ceylon tea-trading route.
However, poor Robert's life went from bad to worse. Far from being a career opportunity, his service as a cabin boy under Captain Johnson William Doyle was a brief, desperately miserable episode.
Doyle, for unknown reasons, formed an intense hatred for the boy. During the voyage he tortured him, starved him, beat and humiliated him every single day. Even the crew were appalled by the treatment Robert received, although they apparently did little to intervene, apart from smuggle food to him when they could. Eventually, when living became unbearable, Robert took his own life by throwing himself overboard and drowning.
When the John Sugars returned to England, the crew immediately reported Doyle and he was arrested. He was tried at Thames Police Court in London for cruelty. The case, reported in the Lynn Advertiser on 12 September, 1857, details how Doyle had flogged Robert daily with a rope studded with iron eyelets; he had made him march up and down the decks for hours on end, gagged with a heavy iron marlin spike and shouldering another spike like a soldier's musket. He had starved him, and tied him to the ship's rigging, exposed to the elements, sometimes for days at a time. We can only imagine the horrific mental and physical torment that drove the teenager to drown himself.
And Captain Doyle's punishment? He was sent to prison for three months, and his ship's Master's Certificate was suspended for a year.
The dreadful story lived on in the memories of Lynn's seafaring community for many years. It was still spoken of more than a hundred years later and lives on in the words of the song. Robert died on 18th August, 1857
"I saw the captain flog him once besides, with a rope's end about an inch and a half thick—I do not know what it was for—he was about fourteen years old, and was a handy lad." Testimony of George Murdoch, Seaman, Monday, October 26th, 1857
How can there be so much hatred in the world?
Today we have scapegoats. I am not going to say who they are. That is up to you, dear reader.