Forty Martyrs of England and Wales 25 October 1570

(From the Roman Church) In the years following the quarrel between Henry VIII of England and the Pope of Rome, questions of religious faith became entangled with questions of political loyalty. Henry when young had married his brother's widow, Catharine of Aragon (Spain), who bore him a daughter, Mary. Marriage with one's brother's widow was not permitted in those days, and Henry's marriage had taken place by special permission of the Pope. Later, Henry claimed that the Pope had no right to make an exception, and that the marriage was null and void. He set Catharine aside, and married Anne Boleyn, who bore him a daughter, Elizabeth. Henry later accused Anne of adultery, had her beheaded, and married Jane Seymour, who bore him a son, Edward, and died shortly after giving birth. Roman Catholics held that Mary was born in wedlock, but that Elizabeth was not and had no right to inherit the throne. Protestants held the reverse opinion. (There were exceptions on both sides.) Not surprisingly, Mary grew up Roman Catholic, and her half-sister Elizabeth grew up Protestant.

After Henry's death, Edward ruled from 1547 to 1553 (aged 10 to 16), and was (or his advisors were) Protestant. After his death, Mary (born 1516) ruled from 1553 to 1558, and was vigorously Roman Catholic, trying to undo all the changes of the previous reigns, but by methods that lost her support she might otherwise have had. After her death, Elizabeth (born 1533) ruled from 1558 to 1601, and was a moderate Protestant, attempting so far as possible to avoid conflict with either side. For some years, she succeeded fairly well, and then the Pope decreed (in 1570, I think) that: (1) Roman Catholics in England, who had hitherto been attending the English-language services in their parish churches, must instead receive the sacraments from priests smuggled in from the mainland to say Mass in Latin; and (2) Elizabeth was no lawful monarch, and Roman Catholics had a duty to depose her and replace her with her Roman Catholic cousin, Mary of Scotland. The English government reacted by declaring that the saying of Mass in Latin was treason. The stage was set for more than a hundred years of religious martyrdoms with political undercurrents.

In 1970, the Vatican selected as representatives of a larger group (totalling perhaps three hundred) forty Roman Catholic men and women, both clergy and laity, who suffered death for conscience' sake during the years from 1535 to 1679. Their names are given below, with years of death. Those marked with an asterisk (*) are Welsh, the others English.

Religious Orders (monks, friars, etc.):
   John Houghton, Augustine Webster, Robert Lawrence, 1535;
Brigittine: Richard Reynolds; 1535.
Augustinian friar: John Stone; 1539.
   Edmund Campion, 1581;
   Robert Southwell, Henry Walpole, 1595;
   Nicholas Owen, Jesuit laybrother, 1606;
   Thomas Garnet, 1608;
   Edmund Arrowsmith, 1628;
   Henry Morse, 1645;
   Philip Evans*, David Lewis*, 1679.
   John Roberts*, 1610;
   Ambrose Barlow, 1641;
   Alban Roe, 1642.
Friar Obervant, John Jones*, 1598;
Franciscan, John Wall, 1679.

Secular Clergy (parish priests not in monastic orders):
   Cuthbert Mayne, 1577;
   Ralph Sherwin, Alexander Briant, 1581;
   John Pain, Luke Kirby, 1582;
   Edmund Gennings, Eustace White, Polydore Plasden, 1591;
   John Boste, 1594;
   John Almond, 1612;
   John Southworth, 1654;
   John Lloyd*, John Plessington, John Kemble, 1679.

   Richard Gwyn*, poet and schoolmaster 1584;
   Swithun Wells*, schoolmaster, 1591;
   Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel and Surrey, died in prison      (poisoned?) 1595;
   John Rigby, household retainer of the Huddleston family, 1600.

   Margaret Clitherow, wife, mother, and schoolmistress, 1586;
   Margaret Ward, for managing a priest's escape from prison, 1588;
   Anne Line, widow, "harborer of priests", 1601.

written by James Kiefer


Almighty God, who have given to your servants grace and power to stand firm for conscience' sake even to death: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.