John Houghton (martyr)
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|John Houghton, O.Cart.|
St. John Houghton, O.Cart., by Francisco Zurbarán
|Forty Martyrs of England and Wales|
|Died||4 May 1535
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales|
|Beatified||9 December 1886 by Pope Leo XIII|
|Canonized||25 October 1970 by Pope Paul VI|
Saint John Houghton, O.Cart., (c. 1486-London, 4 May 1535) was a Carthusian hermit and Catholic priest and the first English Catholic martyr to die as a result of the Act of Supremacy by King Henry VIII of England. He was also the first member of his Order to die as a martyr.
Born around 1486, he was (according to one of his fellow Carthusians) educated at Cambridge, but cannot be identified among surviving records. Similarly, no certain records can be found of his ordination.
He joined the London Charterhouse in 1515, progressed to be sacristan in 1523, and procurator in 1526. In 1531, he became Prior of the Charterhouse of Beauvale in Nottinghamshire. However, in November of that year, he was elected Prior of the London house, to which he returned. 
In 1534, he asked that he and his community be exempted from the oaths required under the new Act of Succession, which resulted in both him and his procurator, Humphrey Middlemore, being arrested and taken to the Tower of London. However, by the end of May, they had been persuaded that the oath was consistent with their Catholicism, with the clause "as far as the law of Christ allows" and they returned to the Charterhouse, where (in the presence of a large armed force) the whole community made the required professions.
However, in 1535, the community was called upon to make the new oath as prescribed by the 1534 Act of Supremacy, which recognised Henry as the head of the Church in England. Again, Houghton, this time accompanied by the heads of the other two English Carthusian houses (Robert Lawrence, Prior of Beauvale, and Augustine Webster, Prior of Axholme), pleaded for an exemption, but this time they were summarily arrested by Thomas Cromwell. They were called before a special commission in April 1535, and sentenced to death, along with Richard Reynolds, O.Ss.S., a monk from Syon Abbey.
The three priors were taken to Tyburn in their religious habits and were not previously laicised from the priesthood and religious state as was the custom of the day. From his prison cell in the Tower, Thomas More saw the three Carthusian priors being dragged to Tyburn on hurdles and exclaimed to his daughter: "Look, Meg! These blessed Fathers be now as cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage!" John Houghton was the first to be executed. After he was hung, he was taken down alive, and the process of quartering him began.
Catholic tradition relates that when Houghton was about to be quartered, as the executioner tore open his chest to remove his heart, he prayed, "O Jesu, what wouldst thou do with my heart?" A painting of the Carthusian Protomartyr by the noted painter of religious figures, Francisco Zurbarán, depicts him with his heart in his hand and a noose around his neck. In the Chapter house of St. Hugh's Charterhouse, Parkminster, in England, there is a painting depicting the martyrdom of the three priors.
After his death, his body was chopped to pieces and hung in different parts of London. He was beatified on 9 December 1886 and canonized on 25 October 1970.
- "Houghton, John (HTN531J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Wainewright, John. "Blessed John Houghton." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 2 Feb. 2014
- Cranmer, Thomas (1833). The Remains of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Oxford University Press.
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2006)
- L. Hendriks, The London Charterhouse: its monks and its martyrs (1889)
- "Bl. Humphrey Middlemore". Catholic Encyclopedia.
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