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The Wexford Martyrs were Matthew Lambert, Robert Tyler, Edward Cheevers, Patrick Cavanagh and two unknown individuals. In 1581, they were found guilty of treason for aiding in the escape of James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass and refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy which declared Elizabeth I of England to be the head of the Church. They were subsequently hanged, drawn and quartered in Wexford, Ireland. They were subsequently Beatified by Pope John Paul II.
In the Pale the predominant religion was Catholic, and the Catholics saw a growing threat from the Protestant-dominated government, a perception supported by their marked decline in participation within the kingdom's government. English-born Protestants increasingly occupied positions of authority. The people of the Pale resented taxes on their property for the government's military policy against the Gaelic lords and rebellious Anglo-Irish. Troops were also billeted upon their lands. James Eustace's father, Viscount Roland, had been imprisoned by the Elizabethan administration for his opposition.
During the summer of 1580, James Eustace, Viscount Baltinglass, apparently prompted almost entirely by religious motives, raised forces in County Wicklow, in support of the Earl of Desmond's separate uprising in Munster. The Viscount's allies included clansmen led by Fiach McHugh O'Byrne. At first the revolt was successful, but Baltinglass did not coordinate his efforts with those of Desmond and could not sustain the conflict. He and his followers were outlawed, Forty-five were hanged in Dublin. James Eustace escaped to Munster, where Desmond was still in revolt. After Desmond was killed he left for Spain.
Escape of Viscount Baltinglass
Pursued by English troops after the collapse of the Second Desmond Rebellion, James Eustace and his chaplain, Father Robert Rochford, eventually found refuge with Matthew Lambert, a Wexford baker. Lambert fed them and arranged with five sailor acquaintances for safe passage by ship for them. Lambert was betrayed, along with sailors Patrick Cavanagh, Edward Cheevers, Robert Myler, and two others. They were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured, before being executed in Wexford 5 July 1581.
The authorities heard of the plan beforehand and Matthew was arrested together with his five sailor friends. Thrown into prison, they were questioned about politics and religion. Lambert's reply was: "I am not a learned man. I am unable to debate with you, but I can tell you this, I am a Catholic and I believe whatever our Holy Mother the Catholic Church believes." They were found guilty of treason and hanged, drawn, and quartered in Wexford on 5 July 1581.
Questioned on his faith and politics at their trial, Matthew Lambert answered:
I am not a learned man. I am unable to debate with you, but I can tell you this, ‘I am a Catholic and I believe whatever our Holy Mother the Catholic Church believes.’”