Archive for August 30th, 2020

1588: St. Margaret Ward, the Pearl of Tyburn

Add comment August 30th, 2020 Richard Challoner

(Thanks to 18th century English Catholic Bishop Richard Challoner for the guest post — originally from Memoirs of Missionary Priests — on an intrepid Elizabethan Catholic, hanged in an anti-Catholic crackdown following the defeat of the Spanish Armada. While the timing of her execution might have been circumstantial, she earned her martyr’s crown fully by pulling off an daring jailbreak that loosed an English priest who might otherwise have hanged in her place. She’s one of three women among the 40 Martyrs of England, along with St. Margaret Clitherow and St. Anne Line, all three of whom are commemorated on August 30. Also martyred on the same occasion were John Roche (the waterman who aided Margaret Ward), a priest named Richard Leigh, and three other lay Catholics condemned for aiding priests — Richard Lloyd, Richard Martin, and Edward Shelley.)

THE HISTORY OF MRS. MARGARET WARD.

Keeping watch at London’s St. Etheldreda’s, an escape-rope curled in her basket. (cc) image from John Salmon.

Mrs. Margaret Ward was born at Congleton, in Cheshire, of a gentleman’s family, and was ia the service of a lady of distinction, when Mr. Watson, a secular priest, was confined in Bridewell for his religion. The story of this gentleman is thus related by the bishop of Tarrasona, J. 2. c. 5.

Richard Watson was a priest of the seminary of Rheims, a virtuous and zealous missioner, who had laboured much in the Lord’s vineyard; but being apprehended, and confined to Bridewell, was, at length, by force of torments, and the insupportable labours, and other miseries of the place, prevailed upon, through human frailty, to go once to the protestant church; upon which, he was set at liberty. But such was the remorse he felt in his soul after this sin, that, instead of bettering his condition by being thus enlarged, he found his case far worse, and the present torments of his mind much more insupportable, than those which he before had endured in his body, the more because he had now lost his God, whose divine grace had formerly been his comfort and support; whereas he now could find no comfort, either from God or man; but the heavens were become to him as of brass, and the earth as iron.

In this melancholy condition, he went to one of the prisons, where some others, his fellow priests were confined, to seek for counsel and comfort from them; and here, having confessed his fault, with great marks of a sincere repentance, and received absolution, desiring to repair the scandal he had given, in the same place where he had sinned, he returned to the church at Bridewell, and there, in the middle of the congregation, declared with a loud voice, that he had done very ill in coming lately to church with them, and joining in their service; which, said he, you untruly call the service of God, for it is, indeed, the service of the devil. He would have said much more, but was prevented by the people, who immediately laid hold of him, and stopping his mouth, dragged him to prison; where they thrust him into a dungeon so low, and so strait, that he could neither stand up in it, nor lay himself down at his full length to sleep. Here they loaded him with irons, and kept him for a whole month upon bread and water; of which they allowed him so small a pittance, that it was scarce enough to keep him alive, not suffering any one to come near him to comfort him or speak to him.

At the month’s end, he was translated from this dungeon to a lodging at the top of the house, where, at least, he could see the light, and was less straitened for room: but the adversaries of his faith made this lodging more troublesome to him than the former, by plying him continually, sometimes with threats, sometimes with prayers and promises, to engage him to go again to church, and to seem, at least outwardly, whatever he might inwardly believe, to be of their religion: so that their continual importunities made him perfectly weary of his life. In the mean time, the catholics, who heard of his sufferings, durst not attempt to come near him, to succour or comfort him, for fear of being taken for the persons who had persuaded him to what he had one, till Mrs. Margaret Ward, a gentlewoman of a courage above her sex, undertook to do it.

She was in the service of a lady of the first rank, who then resided at London; and hearing of the most afflicted condition of Mr. Watson, asked and obtained leave of her lady to go and attempt to visit and relieve him. In order to this, she changed her dress, and taking a basket upon her arm, full of provisions, went to the prison, but could not have leave to come at the priest, till, by the intercession of the gaoler, whom Mrs. Ward had found means to make her friend; with much ado she obtained permission to see him from time to time, and bring him necessaries, upon condition that she should be searched in coming in and going out, that she might carry no letter to him, or from him; which was so strictly observed for the first month, that they even broke the loaves, or pies, that she brought him, lest any paper should thereby be conveyed to him; and all the while she was with him, care was taken that some one should stand by to hear all that was said. But, at length, beginning to be persuaded that she came out of pure compassion to assist him, they were less strict in searching her basket, and in hearkening to their conversation; so that he had an opportunity of telling her, that he had found a way by which, if he had a cord long enough for that purpose, he could let himself down from the top of the house, and make his escape.

Mrs. Ward soon procured the cord, which she brought in her basket under the bread and other eatables, and appointed two catholic watermen, who were let into the secret, to attend with their boat near Bridewell, between two and three o’clock the next morning; at which time Mr. Watson, applying to the corner of the cornice his cord, which he had doubled, not sufficiently considering the height of the building, began to let himself down, holding the two ends of the cord ia his hands, with a design of carrying it away with him, after he had got down, that it might not be discovered by what means he had made his escape. But, by that time he had come down something more than half the way, he found that his cord, which he had doubled, was not now long enough; and he, for some time, remained suspended in the air, being neither able to ascend or descend, without danger of his life.

At length, recommending himself to God, he let go one end of his cord, and suffered himself to fall down upon an old shed or penthouse, which, with the weight of his body, fell in with a great noise. He was very much hurt and stunned by the fall, and broke his right leg and right arm; but the watermen run in immediately to his assistance, and carried him away to their boat. Here he soon came to himself, and, feeling the cord, remembered his coat which he had left in the fall, which he desired one of the watermen to go and bring him. And when they were now advanced in their way, he bethought himself of the cord, and told the watermen, that if they did not return to fetch it, the poor gentlewoman that had given it him would certainly be put to trouble. But it was now too late; for the noise having alarmed the gaoler, and others in the neighbourhood, they came to the place, and finding the cord, immediately suspected what the matter was; and made what search they could to find the priest, but in vain; for the watermen, who had carried him off, took proper care to conceal him, and keep him safe, till he was cured: but God was pleased that, instead of one who thus escaped from prison, two others, upon this occasion, should meet with the crown of martyrdom, as we shall now see.

For the gaoler seeing the cord, and being convinced that no one but Mrs. Ward could have brought it to the prisoner, and having before found out where she lived, seat, early in the morning justices and constables to the house, who, rushing in, found her up, and just upon the point of going out, in order to change her lodgings. They immediately apprehended her, and carried her away to prison, where they loaded her with irons, and kept her m this manner for eight days. Dr. Champney and father Ribadaneira add, that they hung her up by the hands, and cruelly scourged her, which torments she bore with wonderful courage, saying, they were preludes of martyrdom with which, by the grace of God, she hoped she should be honoured.*

After eight days she was brought to the bar, where, being asked by the judges, if she was guilty of that treachery to the queen, and to the laws of the realm, of furnishing the means by which a traitor of a priest, as they were pleased to call him, had escaped from justice, she answered, with a cheerful countenance, in the affirmative: and that she never, in her life, had done any thing of which she less repented, than of the delivering that innocent lamb from the hands of those bloody wolves. They sought to terrify her by their threats, and to oblige her to confess where the priest was, but in vain; and therefore they proceeded to pronounce sentence of death upon her, as in cases of felony: but, withal, they told her, that the queen was merciful; and that if she would ask pardon of her majesty, and would promise to go to church, she should be set at liberty, otherwise she must look for nothing but certain death.

She answered, that as to the queen, she had never offended her majesty; and that it was not just to confess a fault, by asking pardon for it, where there was none: that as to what she had done in favouring the priest’s escape, she believed the queen herself, if she had the bowels of a woman, would have done as much, if she had known the ill treatment he underwent. That as to the going to their church, she had, for many years, been convinced that it was not lawful for her so to do, and that she found no reason now to change her mind, and would not act against her conscience; and therefore they might proceed, if they pleased, to the execution of the sentence pronounced against her; for that death, for such a cause, would be very welcome to her; and that she was willing to lay down not one life only, but many, if she had them, rather than betray her conscience, or act against her holy religion.

She was executed at Tyburn, August 30, 1588, showing to the end a wonderful constancy and alacrity; by which the spectators were much moved, and greatly edified.

Whilst these things were acting, Mr. Watson was under care in the waterman’s house, who, as soon as he was recovered, thought proper to withdraw farther from danger; and that he might be the better disguised, changed clothes with the waterman, who joyfully accepted the change, and put on, with great devotion, the clothes of one whom he regarded as a confessor of Christ. But not long after, walking in the streets, he met the gaoler, who took notice of the clothes, and caused him to be apprehended and carried before a justice of peace, where, being examined how he came by those clothes, he confessed the whole truth; upon which he was committed, prosecuted, and condemned: and making the same answers as Mrs. Ward had done, with regard to the begging the queen’s pardon, and going to church, he endured the same death with much spiritual joy in his soul, and a constancy which many admired, and were very much edified by it.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Women

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