'Gallows were set up upon the top of the tower of the parish church and all things being ready the vicar was brought to the place and by a rope about his middle drawn up to the top of the tower and there in chains hanged in his popish apparel and having a water bucket, a sprinkler, a sacring bell, a rosary, and other such popish trash hanged about him; and there, with the same about him, remained a long time; he very patiently took his death'.
Here in Oxford much has been made in the past of those who suffered for the Protestant religion under Queen Mary. There is a 'Martyrs' Memorial' to celebrate them. I wonder if those who demand the removal of controversial statues might start a movement against these statues! I plan a post about them in a day or two's time.
And Catholics very properly celebrate our own martyrs, including Bl George Napier, who bore witness at the Castle which is within my own old parish of S Thomas the Martyr.
But what about those who must be accounted members of the Church of England who were executed - without trial - in 1549 because they would not accept the newly state-imposed protestant 'Prayer Book' worship? On July 9 Lord Gray (an impoverished nobleman, known for his ferocity, who harnessed his diminished fortunes to the new religion) ordered the execution of four Oxfordshire clergy: Fr Richard Tompson, Vicar of Dunstew; Fr Henry Matthew, Vicar of Deddington; Fr Henry Joyes, Vicar of Chipping Norton; and Fr John Wade, Vicar of Bloxham. It was specified that the last two should be hanged from their steeples. Laymen also suffered: John White; John Brookyns; William Boolar; Richard Whittington; (?) Bowldry. Executions were to be spread around Oxford, Banbury, Deddington, Islip, Wattlington, Thame, and Bicester 'for the more terror of the said evil people'.
What has not always been noticed is that the 'order' describes this as 'further execution to be done'; in other words, this list is only the tip of an iceberg of slaughter already perpetrated.
Lord Gray then hurried down to Devon and Cornwall to join Lord Russell (whose fortune, still enjoyed by his descendants the Dukes of Bedford, was based on murder and the spoliation of the Church) in suppressing the better-known 'Western Rebellion', spectacularly recalled in Eamon Duffy's Voices of Morebath. That 'rebellion' is 'better-known' than the Oxfordshire 'insurrection' precisely because it was carefully recorded by a (Protestant) local chronicler, Vowell. The scale of the slaughters there has elicited the word 'genocide'. The description, above, which starts this piece, describes the execution of the Vicar of S Thomas the Martyr, Exeter.
These were martyrs for our Catholic Faith. But they did not die in full communion with the See of S Peter. Indeed, two of them had accepted institution from the schismatic first bishop of Oxford, occupant of a see erected by Henry VIII. They undoubtedly resented the schism in which their murderous and rapacious 'betters' had involved them; their fellow-rebels in Devon significantly included in their demands the appointment of the exiled Cardinal Pole to be First in the Privy Council. How that must have made the crooks around the Privy Council table tremble!
So what are we to make of these Martyrs? They did not absent themselves from the schismatic 'Church of England', and Catholic lists of "the English Martyrs" have never, to my knowledge, included them.
Personally ... this is just me ... I regard them as protomartyrs of that burning desire for the Catholic Faith, and for Catholic Unity with the See of S Peter, which flourished among the twentieth century 'Anglo-papalists' and was to come to happy fruition when Pope Benedict XVI erected the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham.
During this Octave of Prayer for Unity ... Unity with the See of S Peter ... I find myself thinking of them and of their heroic witness.
Would it be improper for me to celebrate a Mass from the commune of Many Martyrs, with them in mind?