Anthony Turner (martyr)
He was born in Leicestershire, the son of a clergyman. He studied at the University of Cambridge, where according to tradition he converted to Roman Catholicism. He went to the English College, Rome and then to the Jesuit College, St. Omer's. He was ordained in 1659. In 1661 he was sent to the Worcestershire mission and remained there for the rest of his life; in due course he was appointed Jesuit Superior for the District.
Trial and execution
On the outbreak of the Popish Plot the Government showed exceptional interest in apprehending Turner: why he was of such importance is unclear, but he was sought in three counties. Turner fled to London, but while arrangements were being made to smuggle him out of the country he gave himself up to the authorities in February 1679. His motives are unclear: Jesuits, though schooled to endure martyrdom, were not expected to seek it, nor does his spirited defence at his trial suggest that he had any such wish. Most likely, as Kenyon suggests, his physical and mental suffering caused a short-lived nervous breakdown.
He was tried on 13 June 1679 together with Thomas Whitbread, John Fenwick, John Gavan and William Barrow. The importance of the trial is indicated by the fact that no less than seven judges sat, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir William Scroggs, a convinced believer in the Plot and no friend to priests. Turner, having recovered his mental health, defended himself with vigour, although like the others he allowed the young and able John Gavan to act as the principal spokesman for all five. Attempts to destroy the testimony of Titus Oates, the inventor of the Plot, by proving that he had been in St. Omer's for six months when he claimed to have been in London, failed, as the Court ruled that the witnesses, being Catholic, could receive a dispensation to lie and were therefore not credible. Far more effective were the direct attacks on Oates himself; in particular, though he knew Whitbread and Fenwick, Gavan was a stranger to him and his evidence against him was so feeble that even Scroggs remarked I perceive your memory is not good Despite the obvious weaknesses in the prosecution case, Scroggs summed up firmly for conviction, and the jury delivered a guilty verdict within fifteen minutes.
All five were hanged at Tyburn on 20 June 1679. The well-known story that they were offered a royal pardon on the scaffold if they would confess seems to have no foundation. Charles II was asked to show clemency, but refused, for fear of inflaming public opinion; the most he would do is order that the five be allowed to hang until dead, that they be spared drawing and quartering and given proper burial. The crowd showed that its sympathy was with the victims, standing in respectful silence while each delivered a last speech maintaining innocence. They were buried in St. Giles-in-the-Fields.
- Kenyon, J.P. The Popish Plot 2nd Edition Phoenix Press London 2000 p.162
- Kenyon,p. 251
- Kenyon, p.180
- Kenyon p.181
- Kenyon, pp.190–1