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1582: John Payne, snitched out

April 2nd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1582, the Jesuit priest John Payne suffered drawing and quartering at Chelmsford for his forbidden faith.

This blog tips its cap to any fellow who prefers that awful punishment to a timely change of doctrine. Payne (or Paine) is accordingly one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales recognized by the Catholic church.

But at our present distance, Payne hardly stands out from the slew of 16th century Catholic martyrs in the way an Edmund Campion does.

We pause instead to take note of a small continuity between Payne and Campion, a secondary character whose shadow we observe but fleetingly, but whose presence suggests the condition of a community under siege — and whose character seems not unknown to our time.

Campion was apprehended by a police informant named George Eliot (“Judas Eliot”, Protestants as well as Catholics would call him).* A Catholic himself, Eliot took to collecting bounties on fugitive priests — to relieve himself, the Catholics said, of a murder charge pending against him. Eliot attended Campion’s last service, excused himself, and returned with a posse.

Later, he would meet his prize in prison:

“If I had thought that you would have had to suffer aught but imprisonment through my accusing of you, I would never have done it,” [Eliot] said, “however I might have lost by it.”

“If that is the case,” replied Campion, “I beseech you, in God’s name, to do penance, and confess your crime, to God’s glory and your own salvation.”

But it was fear for his life rather than for his soul that had brought the informer to the Tower; ever since the journey from Lyford,** when the people had called him “Judas,” he had been haunted by the specter of Catholic reprisal.

“You are much deceived,” said Campion, “if you think the Catholics push their detestation and wrath as far as revenge; yet to make you quite safe, I will, if you please, recommend you to a Catholic duke in Germany, where you may live in perfect security.”

But it was another man who was saved by the offer. Eliot went back to his trade of spy; Delahays, Campion’s jailer, who was present at the interview, was so moved by Campion’s generosity that he became a Catholic.

In fact, not long after Campion met his death, Eliot testified against Payne:

The said priest Payne went about once to persuade me to kill (Jesus preserve her) the Queen’s Majesty, and said that there were divers matters from the Pope published against her, that it was lawful to kill her Highness without any offence to Godward … the Pope would yield as much allowance of money as would fully furnish fifty men, to every man a good horse, an arming sword, a privy coat, and a pocket-dagge.

Which Payne answered:

For Eliot I forgive his monstrous wickedness and defy his malicious inventions; wishing that his former behaviour towards others being well known, as hereafter it will, were not a sufficient reproof of these devised slanders.

Reviled to posterity — to the extent he is not utterly obscure — Eliot enjoyed the material rewards of his labors. The Catholic source we have been citing reports that “he had been made a yeoman of her Majesty’s guard, and had come flaunting into court with his red coat.”

On this date, when John Payne was hanged, drawn and quartered still professing his innocence of treason and adherence to the Roman church, Eliot pocketed £4 for his service.

* The informants themselves became public figures who not only had to defend their integrity from the impeachments of their victims but contend with one another for pride of place. Eliot and fellow-informant Anthony Munday, later to make himself a name less blackened as a minor playwright, wrote competing pamphlets each asserting (and justifying) their own contributions to Campion’s arrest. (Source)

** Eliot arrested Campion at Lyford; on the journey to prison, Catholic tradition has it that Campion was supported by the crowd and Eliot openly jeered.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Notable Sleuthing,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason

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