Eighty-five martyrs of England and Wales

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Eighty-five Martyrs of England and Wales
Died Between 1584 and 1679,England and Wales
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified

22 November 1987

by Pope John Paul II

The Eighty-five Martyrs of England and Wales are a group of men who were executed on charges of treason[1] and related offences in the Kingdom of England between 1584 and 1679. They are considered martyrs in the Roman Catholic Church and were beatified on 22 November 1987 by Pope John Paul II.

List of individual names[edit]

They were chosen from a number of priests and laymen executed between 1584 and 1679. Their names were:

Liturgical Feast Day[edit]

In England, these martyrs, together with those beatified between 1886 and 1929, are commemorated by a feast day on 4 May. This day also honours the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who hold the rank of saint; the Forty Martyrs were honoured separately on 25 October until the liturgical calendar for England was revised in the year 2000.[2]

In Wales, 4 May specifically commemorates the beatified martyrs of England and Wales. At least two of the martyrs named in this group of 85 - William Davies and Charles Mahoney - have Welsh connections. In the Welsh calendar, 25 October is still kept as a distinct feast of the 'Six Welsh Martyrs and their companions', as the Forty canonised Martyrs are known in Wales.[3][4]

Historical context and treason accusations[edit]

Queen Elizabeth I was excommunicated by Pope Pius V, on 25 February 1570, creating a situation full of perplexity for English Roman Catholics. Once this declaration was made, a number of Catholics acted on it, and a number, under the influence of Spanish ambassador Bernardino de Mendoza and others, were implicated in plots against Elizabeth which were undoubtedly treasonable from the English Government's point of view. That a certain party of English Catholics was in rebellion against Elizabeth is not disputed. Thus William Allen, with many of the exiles of Douai and Louvain, and Robert Persons, with many of the Jesuits, saw in the rule of Elizabeth a greater danger to the highest interests of England than had previously been threatened in cases where history had justified the deposition of kings. And the supreme authority had sanctioned this view.

In the eyes of Elizabeth and her ministers, such opposition was nothing less than high treason. But a large number of English Catholics refused to go so far as rebellion. As John Lingard writes:

"...among the English Catholics (the bull) served only to breed doubts, dissensions, and dismay. Many contended that it had been issued by an incompetent authority; others that it could not bind the natives till it should be carried into actual execution by some foreign power; all agreed that it was in their regard an imprudent and cruel expedient, which rendered them liable to the suspicion of disloyalty, and afforded their enemies a presence to brand them with the name of traitors".

The next pope, Gregory XIII, on 14 April 1580 issued a declaration that although Elizabeth and her abettors remained subject to the excommunication, it was not to be binding on Catholics to their detriment. The majority of English Roman Catholics then did not give the royal government grounds for suspecting their loyalty, but they persisted in the practice of their religion, which was made possible only by the coming of the seminary priests. After the Northern Rising, Parliament had passed a statute (13 Eliz. c. 2) declaring it to be high treason to put into effect any papal Bull of absolution to absolve or reconcile any person to the Church of Rome, to be absolved or reconciled, or to procure or publish any papal Bull or writing whatsoever. Purely religious acts were declared by Parliament to be treasonable.

Elizabeth's government, for its own purposes, refused to make any distinction between Catholics who had been engaged in open opposition to the Queen and those who were forced by conscience to ignore the provisions of this statute of 1571. All were purposely identified by the government and treated as one for controversial purposes.

This view was put forward officially in a pamphlet by William Cecil, Lord Burghley:

"The Execution of Justice in England for maintenance of public and Christian peace, against certain stirrers of sedition and adherents to the traitors and enemies of the realm without any persecution of them for questions of religion, as is falsely reported, and published by the fautors and fosterers of their treasons." In it, Catholic priests risking their lives are not given credit for any religious purpose, but "the seminary fugitives come secretly into the realm to induce the people to obey the Pope's bull".

Under the Act of 1585, it became high treason for any seminary priest, or any Jesuit, simply to come to England; and felony for any person to harbour or relieve them. Burghley insists that before the excommunication no one had been charged with capital crimes on the ground of religion, and brings everything back to the question of the Bull. The pamphlet ends by proposing six questions or tests by which traitors might be distinguished from simple scholars (the so-called "bloody questions").[5]

Contemporary controversy[edit]

William Allen, in his Answer to the Libel of English Justice published in 1584, joined issue on all points, stating "that many priests and other Catholics in England have been persecuted, condemned and executed for mere matter of religion and for transgression only of new statutes which make cases of conscience to be treason without all pretence or surmise of any old treasons or statutes for the same". He defended Edmund Campion and the other martyrs from the imputation of treason.[5]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bowden, Henry Sebastian. Mementoes of the Martyrs and Confessors of England & Wales [1910]. New edition revised by Donald Attwater. London. Burns & Oates, 1962.
  • Challoner, Richard. Memoirs of Missionary Priests, [1741]. New edition revised by J.H. Pollen. London. Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1924.
  • Connelly, Roland. The Eighty-five Martyrs. Essex. McCrimmons Publishing Company, 1987.
  • Foley, B.C. The Eighty-five Blessed Martyrs. London. Incorporated Catholic Truth Society. 1987.
  • Usherwood, Stephen and Elizabeth. We die for the Old Religion. London. Sheed & Ward. 1987.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Burton, Many were convicted under extremely biased political trials, if they had a trial at all. All were subjected to the religiously oppressive regimes of the Tudor and Stuart periods. A part of the Protestant purge that lasted for several hundred years. E., "Accusations of Treason", Catholic Encyclopedia (1912). "The martyrs themselves constantly protested against this accusation of treason, and prayed for the queen on the scaffold. In very many instances they were offered a free pardon if they would attend the Protestant church, and some priests unfortunately yielded to the temptation. But the fact of the offer being made sufficiently shows that religion, not treason, was the ground of their offence."
  2. ^ National Calendar for England, Liturgy Office for England and Wales. Accessed 2011-11-21.
  3. ^ National Calendar for Wales, Liturgy Office for England and Wales. Accessed 2011-11-21.
  4. ^ Ordo for Wales 2010, Diocese of Menevia, pp.277, 294. Accessed 2011-11-21.
  5. ^ a b Burton, Edwin. "Accusations of Treason", The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company (1912). Retrieved 2011-11-21.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.