On this date in 1588, three Catholic priests were hanged, drawn, and quartered at St. Mary’s Bridge in Derbyshire.
Though we find Catholic proselytizers at risk of their lives throughout the Elizabethan period, at few moments was the profession of the Old Faith more fraught than during the summer of 1588.
Elizabeth’s Catholic rival Mary, Queen of Scots had lost her head just the year before, having been the focal point of one too many Catholic plots to overthrow Elizabeth. England’s support for Dutch Protestants rebelling against Spain had drawn the Spanish Armada, a feared invasion force even at this moment beginning to engage the English navy a couple of weeks ahead of its ultimate defeat. Even the French Wars of Religion were running white-hot, with an ultra-Catholic pogrom in Paris that spring.
If ever the wrong religion constituted treason, this was the time.
This also made it a great moment for zealous local authorities to crack down on suspected Catholics. When that happened in Derbyshire, a raid of a recusant‘s property (prompted by a tip from the target’s nephew) turned up two Popish clerics living in the lovely medieval manor house on-site, Padley Chapel.
Padley Chapel. (cc) image from kev747.
Fathers Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam were condemned within days to a traitor’s death for endeavoring to “seduce” the Queen’s subjects to Catholicism.* Their few hours left in this vale of tears were sufficient to firm the resolve of a wavering fellow-priest, Richard Simpson, who joined Garlick and Ludlam on the scaffold.
A hagiography of these men — they have all since been beatified — notes that the less steely Simpson “suffered with great constancy, though not with such (remarkable) signs of joy and alacrity as the other two.” But considering he was out there getting disemboweled for God and you’re just sitting around reading some blog, you probably ought to cut him a little slack.
When Garlick did the ladder kiss,
And Sympson after hie,
Methought that there St. Andrew was
Desirous for to die.
When Ludlam lookèd smilingly,
And joyful did remain,
It seemed St. Stephen was standing by,
For to be stoned again.
And what if Sympson seemed to yield,
For doubt and dread to die;
He rose again, and won the field
And died most constantly.
His watching, fasting, shirt of hair;
His speech, his death, and all,
Do record give, do witness bear,
He wailed his former fall.
* Garlick, at least, had been a specific target of priest-hunters for some time; he appears in reports to Francis Walsingham‘s spy network, where he is once accursed as “the demonite,” presumably for taking part in some well-publicized exorcisms in 1585-1586. (These exorcisms seem to be reflected in Shakespeare’s King Lear.) There’s a very large pdf touching the “demonite” reference: a scan of the public-domain 19th century tome The Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers.