THE NEW MARTYRS
A report on the executions of 1590, by Elizabeth and Stephen Usherwood
A priest trained and newly ordained on the Continent for the English mission was most at risk in the first few months after his return.
He might be asked a question concerning an event he knew nothing of, and a hesitant answer would betray him. At such a moment to have a lay companion with a ready tongue was invaluable. One such ally was Ven Nicholas Horner, a tailor in London, but a native of Grantley near Ripon, a saintly old man, known among friends as Father Homer and by the authorities as an "obstinate papist".
Imprisoned in Armada year for saying he would not take the Queen's part if there were an invasion, he was released for a time, but soon re-arrested for harbouring a priest. Confined at Newgate in a filthy cell known as Limbo, a sore on his leg became so gangrenous that he was taken up to the Justice Hall, where the limb was amputated without anaesthetic, but during this operation he showed no sign of feeling pain, being transported by a vision, and soon after was released, probably being "bought out".
Early in 1590 he was arrested, with Ven Alexander Blake, accused of helping a priest, 131 Christopher Bales, and all three were condemned. The Privy Council decided to put them to death on the same day, Ash Wednesday, March 4, 1590, but in order to terrify as many people as possible, at different places.
Three gibbets were erected, each bearing a notice: "For Treason and Favouring Foreign Invasions". Fr Bales was dragged on a hurdle to Fleet Street, then, as now, a busy thoroughfare. His execution completed, the hangman hurried to Smithfield and dispatched Nicholas Horner near his home, after which Alexander Blake, an ostler, was hanged on a gibbet set up outside his house in Gray's Inn Lane. St Robert Southwell, reporting this bloodshed to Rome, wrote: "With such dews as these, the Church is watered."
Twelve weeks later four young priests, newly arrived from Rheims, were executed together in Durham. Ven Edmund Duke, who had been born in Kent, educated in Rheims and ordained in Rome in 1589, travelled to the north of England with Ven Richard Hill, Ven John Hogg and Ven Richard Holiday, Yorkshiremen also educated at Rheims, but ordained at Laon.
They knew the country well, and consequently may have been over-confident, not realising how changed the mood of people was after the invasion threat of the previous year. When they stopped to rest in a village, someone informed the saints." local Justice of the Peace, who, on questioning them, discovered they were priests and took them to Durham jail.
There Cathedral clergy and other ministers discussed religion with them, and, having lost the argument, handed them over for trial, since as priests, returning after ordination abroad, they were traitors within the meaning of the Act of 1585. Condemned and executed on May 27, 1590, according to custom, their severed limbs were dipped in a cauldron of boiling water before being nailed up on public buildings. A tradition arose that the spring from which the cauldron was filled dried up, giving the place the name Dryburne.
The traffic in Fleet Street was again held up on July 7, 1591 for the execution of two priests, Ven George Beesley, who had served in the north, and Ven Montford Scott, whose work had been done in East Anglia. A Catholic church was later built on the site in Goosnargh, Lancashire, where Beesley was born in 1563. He was the second of five sons of George Beesley, whose third son, Fr Richard, was still on mission in the county in 1638. George, a Rheims student ordained in March 1587, returned to England in company with St Eustace White and BI Christopher Bales, landing in the north where he was known as Passlow.
One of Walsingham's spies reported as Catholics known to have given him shelter Mrs Rotherhay of Latham, Mrs Middleton of Leighton, and the Daltons of York. In London he officiated at the marriage of Mr and Mrs Webster in the Marshalsea, and, when a guest of John and Margaret Gage in Surrey, had been seen at Croydon races dressed in green velvet, riding a gelding and carrying a pistol, intending, his accusers said, to assassinate the Queen.
Confined in the Martin Tower, he inscribed his name on the cell wall; even Topcliffe's terrible tortures could not make him betray fellow Catholics; so, after six months, with Fr Scott, he was indicted at Newgate for treason solely on the ground of priesthood, and condemned.
Mountford Scott's parents were Suffolk gentlefolk and he had been one of the first students to enter Douai in the 1570s. Sent to England with Frs Dominic Vaughan and Roger Wakeman while still a deacon, he was betrayed and taken prisoner at Ingatestone with St John Payne.
Returning from banishment in 1577 his ship was captured by pirates, but he was not harmed, and until 1585 was in East Anglia, where two Norwich couples, Needham and Dunn, were accused of having received "hallowed beads" from him.
Lord Scrope, aided by Scott's cousin Richard (brother of BI Brian) Lacey, arrested him in York. After seven years' imprisonment in London he was "bought out", but re-arrested by Topcliffe, and held as dangerous, because people considered him a saint.
When asked whether, if England were invaded, he would pray for the success of the Established Church, he answered: "No, for the Universal Church".
After being allowed to speak on the scaffold, he was requested, as a temptation, to say the Lord's Prayer in English; he refused, saying he had already said it in Latin. (Assent would have been taken as a lastmoment acceptance of Protestantism.) When he had been dismembered, an onlooker, pointing out that the skin of his knees was horny from long hours at prayer, shouted: "I came to see traitors and I behold