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Catholic Heroes… St. John Southwell, Blessed William Carter

July 4, 2017 saints No Comments


In 1964 a plaque was placed near the Marble Arch in London. It came to be known as the Tyburn Tree, listing the many Catholics who were hung in Tyburn for refusing to deny their faith. The plaque has been restored and rededicated, placed on one of the busiest intersections in Hyde Park.
This infamous place of execution began in 1196 in a village of Middlesex. It reached its peak of notoriety during the reigns of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I when anyone found guilty of practicing the Catholic faith was hung on the Tyburn Tree, then drawn and quartered. More than 350 men and women won the crown of martyrdom in this way.
Among them were well-known Catholics such as St. Edmund Campion, SJ, and John Fisher, a cardinal and bishop of Rochester. Two lesser known martyrs are Blessed William Carter and St. Robert Southwell — one a publisher and the other a priest and author.

Blessed William Carter

Blessed William Carter was born in 1548 in London. His father, John Carter, was a draper and Agnes was his mother. He must have received some education in language arts as he became a printer. Likewise, because of his staunch defense of the Catholic faith, his parents presumably were practicing Catholics.
In 1563, John Cawood, the queen’s printer, took Carter on as an apprentice on Candlemas Day. Later he served as a secretary to Nicholas Harpsfield, the last Catholic archdeacon of Canterbury. Harpsfield was later arrested for being loyal to the Catholic Church.
When Harpsfield died shortly thereafter, Carter married and then established a small printing press on Tower Hill. He fearlessly printed books defending the teachings of the Church as well as pamphlets encouraging Catholics to remain faithful.
In 1578, Carter was arrested for failure to attend the services of the Church of England as ordered by an act of Parliament. He was held in the Poultry Counter from September 23, 1578 to October 28, 1578.
Once again he was arrested in December 1979, for “not conforming himself in manners of religion.” He lingered in prison until he was released on bond in June 1581 because of overcrowding in the prisons.
The issue which led to his final arrest was the reprinting of A Treatise of Schisme by Dr. Gregory Martin. This popular publication sold 1,000 copies and was allegedly written by a traitor who was inciting Catholics to violence.
When the officers searched Carter’s home, they also found priests’ vestments and the sacred vessels used for the celebration of Mass. He was put in the Gatehouse and then was moved to the Tower of London in 1582.
While he was incarcerated in the Tower, Carter paid for his own meals until the summer of 1583. He was tortured on the rack and in various other ways as his jailers sought to get more information about the vestments, sacred vessels, and prayer books found in his home. Even worse, his wife died while he was in prison.
Finally, they tried him at the Old Bailey — England’s Central Criminal Court — on January 10, 1584. They accused him of printing treasonous materials such as Martin’s treatise, particularly citing the inflammatory words, that “pious Judith would slay Holofernes.”
The queen’s men claimed this was directed at the queen. The political situation at the time was dangerous with relations between Queen Elizabeth I of England and King Philip II of Spain, a Catholic monarch, being full of conflict. This rivalry reached its peak when King Philip sent the Spanish Armada to attack England.
While the jury was out, a priest who was also condemned heard Carter’s Confession. The jury deliberated for less than 15 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. The next day, William Carter’s sentence — to be hanged, drawn, and quartered — was carried out.
He was declared venerable on November 10, 1986 and beatified on November 22, 1987 by Pope St. John Paul II. His feast is on January 11.

St. Robert Southwell

Robert Southwell came from a family long associated with British royalty.
His grandfather, Sir Richard Southwell, was a courtier during the reign of King Henry VIII. The Earl of Surrey, Henry Howard, was executed on evidence provided by Sir Richard, leading to a rift between the families. However, it did not last, since Sir Richard’s grandson, Robert Southwell, became close friends with Philip Howard, the grandson of Henry.
Robert Southwell was born in Horsham, Norfolk, in 1561. His mother was descended from the Copley and Shelley families. Thus Robert, who became well known for his poems, was distantly related to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Despite the perilous times for Catholics, Robert was raised as one and when the time came he went to Douai at a young age to continue his education. There he was mentored by Leonard Lessius, an austere Jesuit who taught philosophy.
Robert then went to Paris, where he applied to enter the Jesuit novitiate, but was refused because he was only 17 at the time. Thus began his career as a poet. After being rejected by the novitiate, he poured out his disappointment in verse form.
Next he went to Rome where he once again applied to the Jesuits and was admitted on October 17, 1578. In 1580 he professed his simple vows. He completed his novitiate in Tournai and then returned to Rome to complete his studies.
In 1584, Robert was ordained and then assigned to be prefect of the English College. Two years later, he went to England with Fr. Henry Garnett and hid with the assistance of Lord Vaux of Harrowden as he served the Catholics.
Under the name of Cotton, he became chaplain to the Countess of Arundel where he became friends with her husband Philip Howard. He also met Lady Margaret Sackville, the earl’s half-sister.
When Lady Margaret died prematurely, Southwell wrote a poem to Philip in her honor, Triumphs over Death.
For six harrowing years Southwell lived a secret life as he pursued missionary work in London. He became a master of disguise, as he went from house to house. Although he adopted some pastimes of the wealthy to aid in his disguises, he never engaged in political discussion or domestic disputes. He lived simply and ate moderately.
In 1592 Anne Bellamy, the daughter of the Countess of Arundel, under torment betrayed Southwell and turned him in. He was arrested by Topcliffe who wrote to the queen about his conquest with pride, “I never did take so weighty a man — if he be rightly used.”
Southwell proved his heroic perseverance and fortitude when, after 13 torturous interrogations, he never wavered in his faith. For three years he survived in a dungeon crawling with rats and vermin and finally demanded that he be brought to trial or released. Thus, he was tried, found guilty, and died at Tyburn on February 21, 1595.
His poems were held in very high regard by many, including William Shakespeare. Southwell was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970. His feast is December 1.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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