!NIGHT of the
°-.0.00.0 By Fr. Joseph BAMBER Aftwoom
What tales must have passed between the Sisters of Louvain..
eVEN the most casual observer could hardly have failed to discern a false note in the Christmas-New Year festivities in progress at Rossall Grange on the northern Lancashire coast.
Guests were there in plenty -in fact too many of them, for the twenty-seven tenants and neighbours invited by Mrs. Allen were confronted by a mob of obvious gate-crashers not much fewer in numbers than themselves,
But the hostess herself, widow of the Cardinals brother was absent noticeably so. And, to my the least of it, the friends she had begged to grace her table were behaving in a most un-neighbourly fashion indeed, devouring the wellstocked larder as if they hadn't fed for days.
/THE truth was that in 1584, at this traditional season of peace. Rossall was being raided.
Mrs. Allen was trying an old ruse, despatching to her home as many loyal friends as she could muster, ostensibly to celebrate the season according to custom but in reality to eat up as much as they could and force the unwelcome intruders either to leave or starve.
It was a particularly savage and mean revenge, this raid on Rossail Grange, for the one it was meant to hurt most was safe on the Continent, out of harm's way. It was only indirectly through his relatives and friends that he could be reached.
But of all his fellow-countrymen the future Cardinal was undoubtably the most obnoxious to the government of his day, and the most to be feared. As far as opposition to the new religion went he had done the most damage and he must pay for it somehow.
judge Allen today solely on the College of Douay. On that standard alone he is truly gigantic an educator and inspirer the like of whom our country is hardly likely to produce again.
He opened his new school when Elizabeth had been ten years on the throne; yet by the end of her reign some 450 Douay priests had been sent to the English mission. Of its total of 160 martyred priests 70 of those who died upon the scaffold were ordained during his presidency.
The standard which its scholarship could reach, even in such troublous times, may be seen in its translation of the Bible, still in use in England today.
Yet, incredible as it may sound, the secondary activities of the collage were only less important than its main purpose. It was the chief centre of English Catholic life with the hundred and one consequences which that implied.
It was the educator not only of priests but also of Catholic laymen. Many of its visitors were Protestants abroad. Hundreds were converted after visiting it and one at least passed on to martyrdom. The spirit of the place was Allen's. There was no constitution other than his will.
TS UT there are still two other con siderable scores on which Allen had become obnoxious to the Government before ever Douay had been thought of.
The first was his direct and personal influence on the northern gentry during his visit home in 1562 and the years immediately following.
His astounding career at Oxford had been cut short after fourteen years at Oriel by the arrival of the Royal Commissioners to tender the Oath of Supremacy. lie had gone into exile. Sickness, however, drove him back to his native air.
This premature return, far from
being catastrophic, was a blessing in disguise. Indeed, though perhaps less spectacular than many of the other things he did, the basic work which he then began of consolidating the resistance movement in the North was among his most enduring accomplishments, Especially as the work of a layman, it must be regarded as one of the major feats of his life. Strype records: "Religion in Lancashire and the parts thereabouts went backwards."
THE other score was h i s voluminous literary work.
Although Allen's writings are often treated now as of mere academic interest, in their day they were eminently practical. Indeed, bis first major work (on the defence of the doctrine of Purgatory, 1565) so roused the Government that the Queen issued a writ for the apprehension of a number of people significantly headed by "Alen, who wrote the late booke of Purgatory".
It is a most interesting book on many counts, first because it struck a real blow at one of the basic heresies of the Reformers, and even more perhaps, because it was immediately treated as an act of defiance.
Since the very existence of purgatory had been denounced and the monies left for Masses in wellnigh all the churches in the land had been converted to other uses, any defence of the old doctrine committed the unpardonable error of touching the purse strings.
But the arrival of the book also contained a new and formidable threat which the Government was was not slow to realise. Just as the founding of Allen's school was soon to expose the fallacy that the line of priests in England would eventually cease, so too this, his first major work with its ominous Continental imprint, showed equally clearly that journalism and controversial writing in defence of the Faith wasn't going to be stopped at the source either.
It was to prove only one of many of those very unwelcome presents that were to issue from the foreign presses.
TpOW disturbed the Government became at the labours of Allen and his priests may be judged by the fact that Burghley in 1583 felt it desirable to issue a defence of his policy of extermination.
Allen immediately replied in 1584 in his best known work. The question was a basic one then as it still is today-were those who died for their religion on the scaffold martyrs or merely felons? It is more than coincidence that many historians who give full publicity to Burghley's defence never so much as mention Allen's reply.
But there is a sort of postscript to the argument which partly answers Burghley's case in its stride and is a damning commentary on even his own estimation of the sureness of his stand in fair controversy for conveying copies of Allen's reply into England one of Allen's priests, Thomas Alfield, and a layman, Thomas Webley, who helped him to distribute them, were executed at Tyburn.
IT is not surprising. therefore. that against this background the Allen family at Rossall should have come under observation. But there is a more local reason as well.
Certain lands and properties were going cheap in those days. While, however, the shift of ownership consequent on the destruction of the monasteries enriched many a rising family, the legal disputes which accompanied the change were often involved and acrimonious.
Now the Aliens originally held Rossall Grange as lessees from Dieulacres Abbey and the lease had not yet expired. But in 1553. after the Dissolution, the Rossall estate was sold by the Crown to one Thomas Fleetwood. His son and heir. Edmund, had already made several unsuccessful attempts to acquire the Allen property for himself and it is supposed by some that he was one of the instigators for the arrest of Mrs. Allen.
Mrs. Allen learned in advance of the intended capture and endeavoured as best she could to safeguard her children's right to the family possessions should anything happen to her. These ought legally to have passed to them without quibble under the terms of her late husband's will. But to strengthen the case beyond dispute should she be outlawed she made the property over to them by a deed of gift. This done she went into hiding and so was not to be found when the searchers arrived.
THE expected raid was made about the eve of the Epiphany, precceded by the arrival of in spy sent by Edmund Fleetwood to first search out Mrs. Allen.
In the early morning the raiding party, headed by the UnderSheriff and a Justice of the Peace, had set out from Blainscough Hall (home of the Worthingtons), which they had just plundered, and proceeded with all haste to Rossall.
Though refused admission without first showing a warrant they nevertheless made forcible entry and occupied the hall.
It was to discourage any long stay that Mrs. Allen arranged the "celebration". Eventually the poor rustics who answered her call were to pay dearly for their loyalty, for although at first their numbers alarmed the intruders, once their harmlessness had become apparent and they had fed sufficiently well, the majority of them were persuaded to leave and the remaining few were no great threat. In due course they were each fined seventeen shillings at the assizes!
if 4 AtEANWH ILE the sheriff's deputy, having by now determined to lay siege to the place, sent ten of his men back to Manchester. On their way they were joined by a stranger, a spy. who joined forces with them and gave them the information that Mrs. Allen had been seen in the house of a certain Anion, All turned course and began a new raid with the gratifying find, if not of Mrs. Allen herself, at least of £500 in golden pieces concealed in a flour-bin. In high glee the deputy, expecting no very great reward for his services otherwise, forwarded £451 to the sheriff!
An attempt was made to force Mr. Anion to confess that the money was intended for Dr. Allen at Rheims. But the faithful servant would not budge from the statement that the money belonged to Mrs. Allen and was intended not for the Doctor at all but for her daughters, should anything befall the mother "in these ups and downs", Meanwhile back at the Grange, force was being employed in a number of ways. The most notorious instance was perhaps the removal and imprisonment in a dungeon of two of the Allen servants, with the same object of drawing an admission that the money was intended for overseas. When threatened with further torture the brave creatures replied that not for a thousand torments would they confess to that of which they had no knowledge.
.•AUT an even more
insidious plan was
being formed. It Was a common practice, if the parents were imprisoned or outlawed, to seize the children of the house, remove them to the custody of others and bring them up in the new religion.
That this might happen at Rossail was the greatest anxiety of Mrs. Allen during her long days of hiding. That it had already been decided on -and indeed that it should have taken place that day had become known to her two eldest children.
Fortunately for them the deputy sheriff left the final arrangements to his subordinates who were in no great hurry to depart. And so, under cover of darkness, when the rest of the household was fast asleep, the two girls crept down quietly, drew the bolts from the door and scurried off to the nearest ferry. Without daring to think of further peril they embarked in a boat laid up by the river side and, with what dif ficulty is not recorded. managed to cross the Wyre mouth.
Danger was not over. however. Search was immediately made for them. They hardly dared to trust themselves to anyone's hospitality. It was not till after a fortnight's pitiable wandering, wavering between hope and fear, that they finally reached their mother.
EHE mother's next concern was to see that her children were not deprived of their property. The case was booked for Manchester Assizes. But she, of course, as an outlaw, could not show herself in person. Nor would she allow her children to be present in case they were taken away. She therefore chose a number of gentlemen to argue her case and to be witnesses of her deed of gift. On the day appointed the sheriff named as foreman of the jury none other than Edmund Fleetwood. A Challenge was immediately made against him but he was deemed a proper man to pronounce of the cause.
So he it was, when the hearing was over. who spoke the extraordinary verdict of the Court: "Whereas the children, in whose name this suit is instituted, are not here present. we declare that they are either deceased. or else are fled the realm, and therefore are accounted as civilly dead. Whence it followelei that whatsoever property bath been found, the same doth all belong to the mother. and not to the children: and since the mother hath been proclaimed an outlaw, we adjudge that all the property cloth apertain to the Crown and ought thither to revert."
NCE the verdict 14 had been given. with hardly any delay the sheriff betook himself to the two houses of Mrs. Allen, caused all the cattle to be driven away and the goods and chattels and the leases and deeds to be carried off. Even the dresses and trinkets of the two girls were taken, since they were not present to claim their property.
The gallant mother made a final appeal to the Privy Council but likewise in vain. Then came an unseemly scramble for the possessions between the sheriff (Trafford) and his partner (Worsley), two ladies, a pensioner of the royal palace, and no less a person than William Cecil himself. It need hardly be suggested who got the lion's share!
The case was now over and nothing remained but for Mrs. Allen to flee with her daughters to the Continent. The journey was perilous, much of the travelling being done by night and days being spent in the shelter of woods and thickets. It was not until two months later that amid great rejoicing, they reached Dr. Allen at Rheims.
When Allen came to die a further detail about the raid on Rossall Grange was made public in his panegyric. Douay's Protomartyr, Blessed Cuthbert Mayne had long since gone to his reward. Francis Tregian was lingering still in prison for the crime of sheltering him. But the great confessor's eldest son was in Rome and in the chapel of the English College, in an eloquent oration in Allen's praise, he revealed how. way back at Rossall, the Cardinal's portrait had been savagely hacked with knives and daggers and then thrown down upon the floor and trampled underfoot. But, he added prophetically, all to no purpose, for the great man's image in the hearts of his countrymen would never be effaced.
aND what. finally, of Mrs. Allen and her family? All her three surviving daughters died. like herself, in exile. But, their losses apart, it was really not so sad an exile for any of them, particularly for the two elder girls with whom we have been most concerned. They had the great good fortune, after their troubles. to join perhaps the most wonderful community of nuns that must ever have existed. It was to Louvain, to St. Ursula's, that they went, where old Mother Clement was Superior.
The spirit of St. Thomas More was still in this daughter of Margaret Giggs whom the Chancellor had adopted into his own home and brought up with his own children.
But closer ties still with the martyrs and confessors were in the very blood of one after another of the friends they made there Susan Layburne, Frances Burrows, Anne and Dorothy Rookwood, Margaret and Helen Gar net, Nancy and Bridget Wiseman and Anne Clitherow.
What tales must have passed round after supper or during recreation !
In such a company sufferings became but memories and peace came back to two lives that had been turned topsy-turvy on the night of that Strange Festivity.