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English Confessors and Martyrs (1534-1729)

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Though the resistance of the English as a people to the Reformation compares very badly with the resistance offered by several other nations, the example given by those who did stand firm is remarkably interesting and instructive. (1) They suffered the extreme penalty for maintaining the unity of the Church and the Supremacy of the Apostolic See, the doctrines most impugned by the reformation in all lands, and at all times. (2) They maintained their faith almost entirely by the most modern methods, and they were the first to so maintain it, i.e., by education of the clergy in the seminaries, and of Catholic youth in colleges, at the risk, and often at the cost of life. (3) The tyranny they had to withstand was, as a rule, not the sudden violence of a tyrant, but the continuous oppression of laws sanctioned by the people in Parliament, passed on the specious plea of political and national necessity, and operating for centuries with an almost irresistible force which the law acquires when acting for generations in conservative and law-abiding counties. (4) The study of their causes and their acts is easy. The number of martyrs are many; their trials are spread over a long time. We have in many cases the papers of the prosecution as well as those of the defense, and the voice of Rome is frequently heard pronouncing on the questions of the debate, and declaring that this or that matter is essential, on which no compromise can be permitted; or by her silence she lets it be understood that some other formula may pass.

The cause of the beatification

The cause of the beatification of the English Martyrs is important not for England only, but for all missionary countries, where its precedents may possibly be followed. The English cause is a very ancient one. Pope Gregory XIII, between 1580 and 1585, made several important viva voce concessions. Relics of these martyrs might, in default of others, be used to consecrate altars, a Te Deum might be publically sung on the receipt of the news of their martyrdoms, and their pictures with their names attached might be placed in the church of the English College, Rome. These permissions were given without any systematic inquiry that we know of. Pope Urban VII, in 1642, commenced such an inquiry, and though the outbreak of the civil war in 1642 postponed indefinitely the public progress of the cause, a list was drawn up by the vicar Apostolic, Dr. Richard Smith, Bishop of Chalcedon, which was subsequently amplified and published by Dr. Richard Challoner. It was not until 1855 that the cause was revived, when Canon John Morris (a Jesuit after 1866) became its apostle. After several unsuccessful petitions, as that of the Third Synod of Westminster in 1859, to obtain an immediate sanction for their cultus by papal decree, a formal "ordinary process" was held in London, June to September, 1874. The work was one of much difficulty, first because nothing of the sort had been attempted in England before, and secondly because of the multitude of the martyrs. Largely, however, through the public spirit of the Fathers of the London Oratory, who devoted themselves to it unitedly; success was achieved, both in gathering together a body of evidence, and in fulfilling the multifarious ceremonial precautions on which the Roman jurists so strongly insist. After the cause had been for twelve years in the Roman courts, two decrees were issued which, broadly speaking, gave full force and efficacy to the two ancient papal ordinations before mentioned (see BEATIFICATION AND CANONIZATION).

Thus Pope Gregory's concession resulted in the equivalent beatification of sixty-three martyrs mentioned by name in the pictures (at first, in 1888, fifty-four were admitted; in 1895, eight more were added, with one not in the Roman pictures), while the lists drawn up by Bishops Smith and Challoner led to the "admission of the cause" of two hundred and forty-one martyrs (all but twelve post-Gregorian), who are therefore called "Venerables". Forty-four were left with their fate still in suspense, and are called Dilati. Except seven, these are all "Confessors", who certainly died in prison for their faith, though it is not yet proven that they died precisely because of their imprisonment. There is yet another class to be described. While the foregoing cause was pending, great progress was being made with the arrangement of papers in the Public Record Office of London, so that we now know immeasurably more of the persecution and its victims than before the cause began. In short, over 230 additional sufferers seem possibly worthy of being declared martyrs. They are called Prætermissi, because they were passed over in the first cause. A new cause was therefore held at Westminster (September, 1888, to August, 1889), and the proceedings have been sent to Rome. For reasons which it is not necessary to touch upon here, it was thought best to include every possible claimant, even those of whom there was very little definite information, and the far-reaching cause of Queen Mary Stuart. This, however, proved a tactical mistake. An obscure cause needs as much attention as a clear cause, or more. Moreover, the Roman courts are, on the one hand, so short-handed, that they grudge giving men to a work which will lead to little result, and on the other hand they are overwhelmed with causes which certainly need attention. In order to facilitate progress, therefore, the cause has been split up; the case of Queen Mary has been handed over to the hierarchy of Scotland, and other simplifications have been attempted; nevertheless the cause of the Prætermissi so far hangs fire. Apostolic letters for a Processus de Scriptus were issued by the Sacred Congregation on Rites on 24 March, 1899, ordering the then Archbishop of Westminster to gather up copies of all the extant writings of the martyrs declared Venerable. This proved a lengthy task, and when complete, the collection comprised nearly 500 scripta, and over 2000 pages. It was not completed till 17 June, 1904. Then, by special concession, four censors were appointed to draw up a special censura in England, and this was forwarded to Rome, where, after further consideration, a decree was drawn up and confirmed by the Pope on 2 March, 1906, declaring that none of the writings produced would hinder the cause of the martyrs now under discussion. In the course of the same year a further decree was obtained allowing altars for the beati, but not without many restrictions.


The sixty-three blessed will be noted in detail elsewhere, and the principal authorities will be there noted. Their names are here arranged in companies when they were tried or died together.

Under King Henry VIII

Under Queen Elizabeth


Separate notices will be given of the more notable martyrs and groups of martyrs. But, though they all died heroically, their lives were so retired and obscure that there is generally but little known about them. It may, however, be remarked that, being educated in most cases in the same seminaries, engaged in the same work, and suffering under the same procedures and laws the details which we know about some of the more notable martyrs (of whom special biographies are given) are generally also true for the more obscure. The authorities, too, will be the same in both cases.

Under King Henry VIII (12)

Under Queen Elizabeth

Under James I and Charles

1604: John Sugar p., with Robert Grissold l., 16 July, Warwick; Lawrence Bailey l., 16 Sept., Lancaster; 1605: Thomas Welborne l., with John Fulthering l., 1 Aug., York; William Brown l., 5 Sept., Ripon; 1606: Martyrs at the time of the Powder Plot: Nicholas Owen, S.J., day unknown, Tower; Edward Oldcorne, S.J., with Robert Ashley, S.J., 7 April, Worcester. From this time to the end of the reign the martyrs might have saved their lives had they taken the condemned oath of allegiance. 1607: Robert Drury p., 26 Feb., Tyburn; 1608: Matthew Flathers p., 21 March, York; George Gervase, O.S.B., 11 April, Tyburn; Thomas Garnet, S.J., 23 June, Tyburn. 1610: Roger Cadwallador p., 27 Aug., Leominster; George Napper p., 9 No., Oxford; Thomas Somers p., 10 Dec., Tyburn; John Roberts, O.S.B., 10 Dec., Tyburn; 1612: William Scot, O.S.B., with Richard Newport p., 30 May, Tyburn; John Almond p., 5 Dec., Tyburn; 1616: Thomas Atkinson p., 11 March, York; John Thouless p., with Roger Wrenno l., 18 March, Lancaster; Thomas Maxfield p., 1 July, Tyburn; Thomas Tunstall p., 13 July, Norwich; 1618: William Southerne p., 30 April, Newcastle-under-Lyne. 1628: Edmund Arrowsmith, S.J., with Richard Herst l., 20 and 21 Aug., Lancaster.


All these suffered before the death of Oliver Cromwell.— 1641: William Ward p., 26 July, Tyburn; Edward Barlow, O.S.B., 10 Sept., Lancaster; 1642: Thomas Reynolds p., with Bartholomew Roe, O.S.B., 21 January, Tyburn; John Lockwood p., with Edmund Catherick p., 13 April, York; Edward Morgan p., 26 April, Tyburn; Hugh Green p., 19 Aug., Dorchester; Thomas Bullaker, O.S.F., 12 Oct., Tyburn; Thomas Holland, S.J., 12 Dec., Tyburn. 1643: Henry Heath, O.S.F., 17 April, Tyburn; Brian Cansfield, S.J., 3 Aug., York Castle; Arthur Bell, O.S.V., 11 Dec., Tyburn; 1644: Richard Price, colonel, 7 May, Lincoln; John Duckett p., with Ralph Corbin, S.J., 7 Sept., Tyburn; 1645: Henry Morse, S.J., 1 Feb., Tyburn; John Goodman p., 8 April, Newgate; 1646: Philip Powell, O.S.B., 30 June, Tyburn; John Woodcock, O.S.F., with Edward Bamber p., and Thomas Whitaker p., 7 Aug., Lancaster. 1651: Peter Wright, S.J., 19 May, Tyburn. 1654: John Southworth p., 28 June, Tyburn.

The Oates Plot

1678: Edward Coleman l., 3 Dec., Tyburn; Edward Mico, S.J., 3 Dec., in Newgate; Thomas Beddingfeld, 21 Dec., in Gatehouse Prison; 1679: William Ireland, S.J., with John Grove l., 24 Jan, Tyburn; Thomas Pickering O.S.B. 9, May, Tyburn; Thomas Whitbread S.J., with William Harcourt, S.J., John Fenwick, S.J., John Gavin or Green S.J., and Anthony Turner, S.J., 20 June, Tyburn; Francis Nevil, S.J., Feb., in Stafford Gaol; Richard Langhorne l., 14 July, Tyburn; William Plessington p., 19 July, Chester; Philip Evans, S.J., 22 July, with John Lloyd p., 22 July, Cardiff; Nicholas Postgate p., 7 Aug., York; Charles Mahoney, O.S.V., 12 Aug., Ruthin; John Wall, O.S.F., 29 Aug., Worcester; Francis Levinson, O.S.F., 11 Feb., in prison; John Kemble p., 22 Aug., Hereford; David Lewis, S.J., 27 Aug., Usk. 1680: Thomas Thwing p., 23 Oct., York; William Howard, Viscount Stafford, 29 Dec., Tower Hill. The cause of Irish martyr Oliver Plunkett, 1 July, Tower hill, was commenced with the above martyrs. The cause of his beatification is now being actively proceeded with by the Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh.

The forty-four dilati

These, as has been explained above, are those "put off" for further proof. Of these, the majority were confessors, who perished after a comparatively short period of imprisonment, though definite proof of their death ex oerumnis is not forthcoming.

Under Queen Elizabeth (18)

Robert Dimock, hereditary champion of England, was arrested at Mass, and perished after a few weeks' imprisonment at Lincoln, 11 Sept., 1580; John Cooper, a young man, brought up by the writer, Dr. Nicholas Harpsfield, and probably a distributor of Catholic books, arrested at Dover and sent to the Tower, died of "hunger, cold, and stench", 1580; Mr. Ailworth (Aylword), probably of Passage Castle, Waterford, who admitted Catholics to Mass at his house, was arrested, and died after eight days, 1580; William Chaplain p., Thomas Cotesmore p., Roger Holmes p., Roger Wakeman p., James Lomax p., perished in 1584. Cotesmore was a bachelor of Oxford in 1586; of Wakeman's suffering several harrowing details are on record. Thomas Crowther p., Edward Pole p., John Jetter p., and Laurence Vaux p., perished in 1585; John Harrison p., 1586; Martin Sherson p., and Gabriel Thimelby p., 1587; Thomas Metham S.J., 1592; Eleanor Hunt and Mrs. Wells, gentlewomen, on unknown days in 1600 and 1602.

Under the Commonwealth (8)

Edward Wilkes p., died in York Castle before execution in 1642; Boniface Kempe (or Francis Kipton) and Idlephonse Hesketh (or William Hanson) O.S.B., professed of Montserrat, seized by Puritan soldiery in Yorkshire, and worried to death, 26 July (?), 1644; Richard Bradley S.J., b. at Bryning Hall, Lancs., 1605, of a well-known Catholic family, seized, imprisoned, but died before trial at Manchester, 20 Jan, 1640; John Felton, S.J., visiting another Father in Lincoln, was seized and so badly used that, when released (for no one appeared against him) he died within a month, 17 Feb., 1645; Thomas Vaughan of Cortfield p., and Thomas Blount p., imprisoned at Shrewsbury, d. at unknown date; Robert Cox, O.S.B., died at the Clink Prison, 1650.

During the Oates Plot (10)

Thomas Jennison S.J., d. after twelve months' imprisonment, 27 Sept., 1679. he had renounced a handsome inheritance in favour of his brother, who, nevertheless, having apostatized, turned king's evidence against him. William Lloyd, d. under sentence of death, Brecknock, 1679. Placid Aldham or John Adland (O.S.B.), a convert clergyman, chaplain to Queen Catherine of Braganza, d. under sentence in 1679. William Atkins, S.J., condemned at Stafford, was too deaf to hear the sentence. When it was shouted in his ear he turned and thanked the judge; he was reprieved and died in bonds, 7 March, 1681. Richard Birkett p., d. 1680 under sentence in Lancaster Castle; but our martyrologists seem to have made some confusion between him and John Penketh, S.J., a fellow prisoner (see Gillow, Cath. Rec. Soc., IV, pp. 431-440). Richard Lacey (Prince), S.J., Newgate, 11 March, 1680; William Allison p., York Castle, 1681; Edward Turner, S.J., 19 March, 1681, Gatehouse; Benedict Counstable, O.S.B., professed at Lamspring, 1669, 11 Dec., 1683, Durham Gaol; William Bennet (Bentney), S.J., 30 Oct., 1692, Leicester Gaol under William III.

Others put off for various causes (8)

John Mawson, 1614, is not yet sufficiently distinguished from John Mason, 1591; there is a similar difficulty between Matthias Harrison, assigned to 1599, and James Harrison, 1602; William Tyrrwhit, named by error for his brother Robert; likewise the identity of Thomas Dyer, O.S.B., has been been fully proved; James Atkinson, killed under torture by Topcliffe, but evidence is wanted of his consistency to the end. Fr. Henry Garnet, S.J., was he killed ex odio fidei, or was he believed to be guilty of the Powder Plot, by merely human misjudgment, not through religious prejudice? The case of Lawrence Hill and Robert Green at the time of the Oates Plot is similar. Was it due to odium fidei, or an unprejudiced error?

The prætermissi (242)

Martyrs on the scaffold

1534: Elizabeth Barton (The Holy Maid of Kent), with five companions: John Dering, O.S.B., Edward Bocking, O.S.B., Hugh Rich, O.S.F., Richard Masters p., Henry Gold p., 1537. Monks, 28.

After the pilgrimage of grace and the rising of Lincolnshire many, probably several hundred, were executed, of whom no record remains. The following names, which do survive, are grouped under their respective abbeys or priories.

1538 (7): Henry Courtney, the Marquess of Exeter; Henry Pole, Lord Montague; Sir Edward Nevell and Sir Nicholas Carew; George Croft p., and John Collins p.; Hugh Holland l. Their cause was "adhering to the Pope, and his Legate, Cardinal Pole". 1540 (6): Lawrence Cook O. Carm., Prior of Doncaster; Thomas Empson, O.S.B.; Robert Bird p.; William Peterson p.; William Richardson p.; Giles Heron l. 1544 (3): Martin de Courdres, O.S.A., and Paul of St. William, O.S.A.; Darby Genning l. 1569, 1570 (8): Thomas Bishop, Simon Digby, John Fulthrope, John Hall, Christopher Norton, Thomas Norton, Robert Pennyman, Oswald Wilkinson, laymen, who suffered, like Blessed Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, on the occasion of the Northern Rising. Various Years (6): Thomas Gabyt, O. Cist., 1575; William Hambleton p., 1585; Roger Martin p., 1592; Christopher Dixon, O.S.A., 1616; James Laburne, 1583; Edward Arden, 1584.

Martyrs in chains

Bishops (2): Richard Creagh, Archbishop of Armagh, in Tower of London; Thomas Watson, Bishop of Lincoln, in Wisbeach Castle.

Priests in London Prisons (18): Austin Abbott, Richard Adams, Thomas Belser, John Boxall, D.D., James Brushford, Edmund Cannon, William Chedsey, D.D., Henry Cole, D.D., Anthony Draycott, D.D., Andrew Fryer, — Gretus, Richard Hatton, Nicholas Harpsfield, — Harrison, Francis Quashet, Thomas Slythurst, William Wood, John Young, D.D.

Laymen in London Prisons (35): Alexander Bales, Richard Bolbet, Sandra Cubley, Thomas Cosen, Mrs. Cosen, Hugh Dutton, Edward Ellis, Gabriel Empringham, John Fitzherbert, Sir Thomas Fitzherbert, John Fryer, Anthony Fugatio (Portuguese), — Glynne, David Gwynne, John Hammond (alias Jackson). Richard Hart, Robert Holland, John Lander, Anne Lander, Peter Lawson, Widow Lingon, Phillipe Lowe, — May, John Molineaux, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, Richard Reynolds, Edmund Sexton, Robert Shelly, Thomas Sommerset, Francis Spencer, John Thomas, Peter Tichborne, William Travers, Sir Edward Waldegrave, Richard Weston.

Priests in York (12): John Ackridge, William Baldwin, William Bannersly, Thomas Bedal, Richard Bowes, Henry Comberford, James Gerard, Nicholas Grene, Thomas Harwood, John Pearson, Thomas Ridall, James Swarbrick.

Laymen in York (31): Anthony Ash, Thomas Blinkensop, Stephen Branton, Lucy Budge, John Chalmer, Isabel Chalmer, John Constable, Ralph Cowling, John Eldersha, Isabel Foster, — Foster, Agnes Fuister, Thomas Horsley, Stephen Hemsworth, Mary Hutton, Agnes Johnson, Thomas Layne, Thomas Luke, Alice Oldcorne, — Reynold, — Robinson, John Stable, Mrs. Margaret Stable, Geoffrey Stephenson, Thomas Vavasour, Mrs. Dorothy Vavasour, Margaret Webster, Frances Webster, Christopher Watson, Hercules Welborn, Alice Williamson.

In Various Prisons: Benedictines (11): James Brown, Richard Coppinger, Robert Edmonds, John Feckinham, Lawrence Mabbs, William Middleton, Placid Peto, Thomas Preston, Boniface Wilford, Thomas Rede, Sister Isabel Whitehead. Brigittine: Thomas Brownel (lay brother). Cistercians (2): John Almond, Thomas Mudde. Dominican: David Joseph Kemys. Franciscans: Thomas Ackridge, Paul Atkinson (the last of the confessors in chains, died in Hurst Castle, after thirty years' imprisonment, 15 Oct., 1729), Laurence Collier, Walter Coleman, Germane Holmes. Jesuits (12): Matthew Brazier (alias Grimes), Humphrey Browne, Thomas Foster, William Harcourt, John Hudd, Cuthbert Prescott, Ignatius Price, Charles Pritchard, Francis Simeon, Nicholas Tempest, John Thompson, Charles Thursley. Priests (4): William Baldwin, James Gerard, John Pearson, James Swarbick. Laymen (22): Thurstam Arrowsmith, Humphrey Beresford, William Bredstock, James Clayton, William Deeg, Ursula Foster, — Green, William Griffith, William Heath, Richard Hocknell, John Jessop, Richard Kitchin, William Knowles, Thomas Lynch, William Maxfield, — Morecock, Alice Paulin, Edmund Rookwood, Richard Spencer, — Tremaine, Edmund Vyse, Jane Vyse.

The eleven bishops

Since the process of the Prætermissi has been held, strong reasons have been shown for including on our list of sufferers, whose causes ought to be considered, the eleven bishops whom Queen Elizabeth deprived and left to die in prison, as Bonner, or under some form of confinement. Their names are: Cuthbert Turnstall, b. Durham, died 18 Nov. 1559; Ralph Bayle b. Lichfield, d. 18 Nov., 1559; Owen Ogle Thorpe, b. Carlisle, d. 31 Dec., 1559; John White, b. Winchester, d. 12 Jan., 1560; Richard Pate, b. Worcester, d. 23 Nov., 1565; David Poole, b. Peterborough, d. May, 1568; Edward Bonner, b. London, d. 5 Sept., 1569; Gilbert Bourne, b. Bath and Wells, d. 10 Sept., 1569; Thomas Thurlby, b. Ely, d. 26 Aug., 1570; James Thurberville, b. Exeter, d. 1 Nov., 1570; Nicholas Heath, Archbishop of York, d. Dec. 1578.


Lives of the English Martyrs, ed. Camm (2 vols., London, 1904), covering the lives of the Beati; the other lives are now in course of preparation; Challoner, Missionary Priests (London, 1878); Gillow, Bil. Dict. Eng. Cath.; Pollen, Acts of English Martyrs (London, 1891); Id., English Martyrs, (1594-1603), in Cath. Rec. Soc., Vol. V. (1908); Stanton, Menology for England (London, 1892); Dodd, Church History (London, 1839-43); Phillips, Extinction of the Ancient Hierarchy (London, 1906).

About this page

APA citation. Pollen, J.H. (1909). English Confessors and Martyrs (1534-1729). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Pollen, John Hungerford. "English Confessors and Martyrs (1534-1729)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue and J. Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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