In 1509, a young Henry VIII ascends the English throne. His accession is seen by many as a golden age, and the situation of the life of the Church poised for a spiritual renaissance. Sadly, it was not to be. Henry would break from Rome, establishing the legacy of English Protestantism which would sweep away the old faith in its wake.
The sons of St. Francis, however, were not idle nor lax at this pivotal point in history. Rather, they offered up a heroic witness to the Catholic faith in what was once Mary’s dowry, and from laity to priests would shed their blood for timeless Catholic truth. This is the story of their witness in the first century of Protestantism in England, where the friars tenaciously hung on until the dissolution of the province after 1688.
Fr. Steck, compiles numerous sources together to weave the fabric that is the history of the Franciscan martyrs of England. He begins with the foundation of the order in England, its auspicious position in the early years of Henry VIII, and the coming of the storm under the later years of Henry, through the lives of Thomas More and Katherine of Aragon, both of whom were Franciscan tertiaries. From there he traces the martyrs under Elizabeth and under the Stuarts, until the period of the “Glorious Revolution” in 1688.
This work has been completely re-typeset in conformity with the original, and is not a facsimile reprint.
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UNDER THE TUDORS 1509-1603
CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTORY
Fr. William of England, a disciple of St. Francis—The first Franciscans arrive in England: Fr. Agnellus of Pisa and his eight companions—The first friaries: Canterbury, London, Oxford, Northampton, Cambridge—Marvelous expansion of the province—Character of the English Franciscans—Two remarkable features regarding the development of the province—Influence with the masses—In the service of State and Church—In the field of letters. 1
CHAPTER II: CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Early reign of Henry VIII—Religious conditions in England—Attitude toward papal supremacy—The king, a dutiful child of the Church—The reform movement in the Order of St. Francis—Its bearing on the Province of England—The king well disposed toward the Franciscans. 29
CHAPTER III: FIRST RUMBLINGS OF THE STORM
Henry seeks divorce from Catherine of Aragon—He repudiates her and marries Anne Boleyn—The Franciscans and the king’s “secret affair”—Fr. William Peyto publicly rebukes the king and his court—Fr. John Elstow and Dr. Curwin—The two friars before the king—Banished. 37
CHAPTER IV OUTBREAK OP THE STORM
Henry’s divorce and the question of papal supremacy—The crisis—The king usurps spiritual supremacy over the Church in England—Meets with opposition from the Franciscans—Contemplates rigorous measures against them—A favorable opportunity—Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent—Her revelations and the king’s divorce—Two of her adherents: FF. Richard Risby and Hugh Rich—The “public penance”—The two friars defend the Pope’s spiritual supremacy—Accused of high treason—The first martyrs for the faith. 47
CHAPTER V RAGING OF THE STORM, 1534-1536
Franciscans continue to oppose the king’s divorce and his usurped supremacy—Fr. Pecock’s sermon—First step toward the suppression of their province—Cromwell, vicegerent and vicar general—Hilsey and Browne, “grand visitors” of all mendicant friars—Their instructions—They visit the Franciscans at Richmond and Greenwich—Visitation of Southampton—Loyalty of the friars—All Franciscans arrested and imprisoned—Their friaries in the hands of the king—Subsequent lot of the ejected friars—Some released from prison and banished—Many succumb to the hardships of prison life. 55
CHAPTER VI: RAGING OF THE STORM (CONT.), 1536-1538
Disaffection among the people—The Pilgrimage of Grace—Share of the Franciscans in the northern rising—Renewed hostilities against them—Three Franciscan martyrs: Ven. Antony Brookby, Ven. Thomas Cort, Ven. Thomas Belchiam. 69
CHAPTER VII: ST. THOMAS MORE, FRANCISCAN TERTIARY
Early youth — At Oxford — Professional studies — With the Carthusians — More’s public and private life — The impending storm — He resigns the chancellorship — Poverty and distress at Chelsea — Efforts of Anne Boleyn and Cromwell to ruin the ex-chancellor—Measures of the king against him — More rejects the Acts of Succession and Supremacy — In the Tower — His loyalty put to severe tests—Brought to trial — Found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death — His last days in prison — Beheaded on Tower Hill. 79
CHAPTER VIII: CATHERINE OF ARAGON, FRANCISCAN TERTIARY
The Spanish princess—Departure for England—Sudden death of Prince Arthur, her consort—She marries his brother Henry—Eighteen years of marital happiness—The king’s infidelity—The divorce question—Catherine and the papal commission—Before the ecclesiastical court at Blackfriars—The queen’s appeal to Rome admitted—Henry retaliates—Catherine insulted and disowned—Her secluded life at the More—At Buckden—At Kimbolton Castle—Bodily and mental suffering—Royal supremacy—Within sight of the scaffold—Her last illness and violent death—An estimate of her character. 105
CHAPTER IX: BLESSED JOHN FOREST, O.F.M.
Birth and parentage—Enters the Franciscan Order—Doctor of Oxford—Provincial of England—Espouses the queen’s cause—Fr. Richard Lyst, traitor and spy—Blessed Forest and the king—Attempt to remove Forest from the provincialship—Staunch defender of papal supremacy—Imprisoned, tried, condemned to death—Martyrdom delayed—With the Conventuals in London Entrapped in the confessional—Before the Privy Council—Once more in Newgate—Tried for heresy—Sentenced to die at the stake—His alleged submission—Drawn on a hurdle to Smithfield—The friars and the bishop—Dreadful torture and death. 137
CHAPTER X: DEATH AND DESTRUCTION, 1538-1547
Renewed measures against the Franciscans—Three martyrs: FF. Antony Brown, John Waire, and Hemmysley—The Conventual friars—Their poverty—During the first years of the religious upheaval—The royal visitors—Wholesale robbery and vandalism—Subsequent lot of the Conventual houses and of the ejected friars. 169
CHAPTER XI: DIVINE RETRIBUTION, 1547-1558
Last days of Henry VIII—Remorse and despair—His death—The prophecy of Fr. Peyto fulfilled—Reign of Edward VI—Efforts to introduce Lutheranism—Further confiscation and spoliation of religious houses—The “Funus Scoti et Scotistarum” at Oxford—Reign of Mary the Catholic—England reunited with the Church of Rome—Franciscans again at Greenwich, London, and Southampton—Their activity and influence—Death of the queen. 185
CHAPTER XII: UNDER THE LAST TUDOR, 1558-1603
Queen Elizabeth’s perfidy—Excommunicated by the Pope—The persecution against Catholics revived—Queen Elizabeth and the Franciscans—The friars expelled and banished—One of the exiles, a martyr—Franciscans in England during Elizabeth’s reign—Fr. John Storrens martyred in 1572—Venerable Godfrey Buckley, O.F.M.—At first a secular priest—Joins the Franciscans in Rome—On the English mission—Seized and imprisoned—Tried and condemned to death for being a priest—His martyrdom. 197
UNDER THE STUARTS 1603-1649
CHAPTER I: THE SECOND ENGLISH PROVINCE
Its founder: Fr. John Gennings—His remarkable conversion from Protestantism—Priest and missionary in England—He enters the Franciscan Order—First steps toward the restoration of the English Province—Action of the general chapter in its behalf—A friary at Douai in Flanders—The province canonically established—Fr. John Gennings, the first provincial—Franciscan missions in England—Extent of the province before 1649—Character of the friars—Their activity against Protestantism. 219
CHAPTER II: VEN. WILLIAM WARD, FRANCISCAN TERTIARY
Troublous reign of Charles I—Puritan animosity against “Papists”—William Ward, a Protestant at Oxford—Returns to the old faith—Ordained priest—Seized on his return to England—Three years in prison—Thirty years of unceasing toil and hardship—A true follower of St. Francis—In Newgate for being a priest—Sentenced to death—Martyred at Tyburn. 237
CHAPTER III: FR. CHRISTOPHER COLMAN, O. F. M.
Of Catholic parentage—Student at the Jesuit College in Douai—Returns to England—The Catholic gentleman—Joins the Franciscans in Douai—Ordained priest—Summoned to England—Arrested and released—Missionary labors—The persecution revived—Fr. Christopher one of the first to he seized—In Newgate—Condemned to death—Execution delayed and prevented by the war—Sufferings and death in prison.
CHAPTER IV: VENERABLE JOHN BAPTIST BULLAKER, O.F.M.
Studies with the Jesuits at Saint-Omer and at Valladolid—Desires to become a Franciscan—Enters the Order—Novitiate and years of study—Joins the English Province—Departs for England—Arrested and imprisoned at Plymouth—In Exeter jail—Before the judges—Conveyed to London for trial—Liberated—Twelve years of missionary labors—Betrayed and captured while saying Mass—Court proceedings against him—Tried for being a priest—Condemned to death—Martyrdom at Tyburn. 257
CHAPTER V: VENERABLE PAUL HEATH, O.F.M.
Of Protestant parentage—Student at Cambridge—Religious doubts—Conversion—Enters the Franciscan Order at Douai—Novitiate and years of study—Esteemed by the brethren—The scholar—The priest—The religious—Eager to join the English missionaries—Permission finally granted—Arrives in London—In Compter prison—Before the mayor and the commissioners of parliament—In Newgate—Before the judges—Sentenced to death—Martyred at Tyburn. 277
CHAPTER VI: VENERABLE FRANCIS BEL, O.F.M.
Of wealthy Catholic parents—Student at Saint-Omer and at Valladolid—Ordained priest—Seeks admission into the Franciscan Order—Novitiate and profession—Summoned to the English Province—Priestly zeal in Flanders—Provincial of Scotland—Missionary in England—His character—Arrested as royal spy—Suspected of being a priest—Conveyed to London for trial—Before the commissioners of parliament—In Newgate—His trial—Guilty of treason—Condemned to death—Last days in Newgate—Drawn to Tyburn—Martyrdom.
CHAPTER VII: VENERABLE MARTIN WOODCOCK, O.F.M.
His Protestant father and Catholic mother—He embraces the old faith—Student at Saint-Omer and at Rome—Joins the Capuchins in Paris—Dismissed from the Order—Serious doubts regarding his vocation—Received into the Franciscan Order at Douai—Ordained priest—Longs to joint the missionaries in England—Permission at last granted—Arrested on arriving in England—Sufferings in prison—Before the judges—Sentenced to death for being a priest—Martyrdom. 315
CHAPTER VIII: CONCLUSION
Franciscans in prison during the Commonwealth—Early reign of Charles II—Peace and prosperity—Death of Fr. John Gennings—Activity and influence of the friars—The Maryland Mission—Franciscans and the Titus Oates Plot—Two martyrs: Ven. John Wall and Ven. Charles Mahoney—Four die in prison—Ominous signs—Fall of King James II—Franciscans forced to flee from the continent—Many of their number seized and imprisoned—Peace restored—The province at the height of prosperity—Two Franciscans die in prison: FF. Paul Atkinson and Germanus Holmes—Decline of the province—Subversive State laws—The French Revolution—Franciscans flee to England—Their number gradually decreases—The province canonically dissolved. 327