Flavit et dissipati sunt 1588 — so ran the inscription on a gold medal commemorating the destruction by a terrible hurricane of most of the Spanish Armada's ships, a great deliverance, but, for English and Welsh Catholics 1588 was a year of blood and tears.
Although no scrap of evidence was produced to show that they had any intention of collaborating with invaders, all over the country priests and lay people were executed. For years the Queen, without declaring war, had sent men, money and arms to aid the Dutch fighting the Spaniards, and had encouraged Sir Francis Drake and others to attack the Spanish empire, but when Philip II decided upon a counter offensive to end this aggression, she used fear of Spain as an excuse for enforcing the antiCatholic laws with ferocious severity.
Eight years before, Ven Edmund Sykes, the son of a well-to-do Leeds merchant, one of the founders of Leeds Grammer School, had, at the age of thirty, left his father's business to study for the priesthood at Douai, and was ' ordained at Rheims in 1581.
For four years he served the Catholics of Yorkshire before being arrested and imprisoned at York, where, while ill, he allovted himself to be coerced into attending a protestant service, something he immediately regretted. Transported with other Catholics to France in 1585, he travelled to Italy intending to do penance for his lapse and to join a religious order, but in Rome a vision inspired him to return to the mission.
He landed in July 1586 and a few months later was arrested on information given by his brother to the authorities in York. While incarcerated, Fr Sykes devoted himself to prayer, fasting and the use of a discipline, which upset his fellow prisoners.
After refusing to recant a second time, insisting that he was no traitor though a Catholic priest, he was hung, drawn and quartered in York on March 24 1588.
As the Armada entered the western approached on July 24 the people of Derby witnessed the execution of three priests. Ven Richard Simpson, Ven Nicholas Garlicx and Ven Robert Ludlam. Simpson, born at Well, near Ripon, was probably, before his conversion, an Oxford graduate and an Anglican priest.
Ordained at Brussels in May 1577, he was on mission in England for the next eight years. Captured and deported, he returned almost at once, was rearrested in Derbyshire, and confined in the county jail, where the authorities hoped he might agree to conform.
Garlicx, who was born at Dinting in Derbyshire in 1555, studied for a time at Oxford, but, being a Catholic, could not take a degree, so returned to Derbyshire and the post of schoolmaster at Tideswell, but by 1581 he was at Rheims with three of his pupils who were also studying for the priesthood. (One, B1 Christopher Buxton, was martyred at Canterbury in 1588.) After ordination at Chalonssur-Marne in March 1582 Fr Garlicx worked in Hampshire and Dorset for three years before being arrested in London. Banished in 1585, he soon returned, and in September of the next year a spy wrote to Secretary of State Walsingham: "Would God he were intercepted."
This was finally accomplished in July 1588 at Padley Hall, Derbyshire, the home of John Fitzherbert, where Garlicx was captured with another Derbyshire man, Fr Robert Ludlam, who had ministered to Catholics in England for six years.
After study at St John's College, Oxford, Ludlam had been tutor to the children of a gentlewoman before ordination at Rheims in 1581. At Padley Hall the priests were examined and sent to prison by George Talbot, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, who had supervised the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in the previous year, a deed that shocked Europe.
In Derby jail they met Fr Simpson, and persuaded him to stand firm. When tried on 23 July the only evidence against Simpson was the admission, under interrogation, of a nineteen-year old gentleman, Henry Slater, that "Simpson, a priest, encouraged him to go abroad to be instructed in Catholic truth."
Nevertheless, they were all condemned for priesthood, and next day dragged on hurdles to the gibbet in Derby. Fr Garlicx went quickly to the ladder, kissed the noose and spoke at some length with confidence and joy about the meaning of his witness. Ne was followed by Fr Ludlam who raised his eyes to heaven and, as if greeting unseen angels, exclaimed: "Come, you blessed of the Lord." Fr Simpson, inspired by their faith, died with equal courage.
Three days after this Ven Robert Sutton suffered at Stafford. Robert, educated at Burton-on-Trent Grammer School until he was sixteen, studied at the newly founded Christ Church College, Oxford.
Taking Holy Orders in the Church of England, he was appointed rector of Lutterworth, Leicester, in June 1571. Through the influence of his younger brother William, already a student at Douai, Robert was converted, and early in 1577, calling together his parishioners, and openly declaring his intention of entering the Catholic Church, he asked pardon for having misled them.
With his brother Abraham he then left at once for Douai, where they were admitted on March 23 1578, ordained at the end of the month, and sent immediately to England. Both were banished in 1585, but soon returned to work among their own people in Staffordshire, where, in July 1588 Robert was arrested in the house of a Catholic relative, Erasmus Wolsely, where he was probably saying Mass.
Wolsely was later pardoned, but at the summer assizes a few days later Fr Robert was condemned for his priesthood and executed. Fr Abraham, who was in prison when James I came to the throne, was sent into perpetual banishment in 1605.
Elizabeth and Stephen Usherwood