Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Oxford Catholic Martyrs of 1589

Today marks the 425th anniversary of the execution in Oxford of four Catholic Martyrs. They were two priests, George Nichols and Richard Yaxley, their courier Thomas Belson, a layman from a local gentry family and Humphrey Pritchard, the barman of the Catherine Wheel Inn where the others were arrested earlier in the year. It was at this that Humphrey Pritchard admitted to being a Catholic and was also detained. They were beatified in 1987.

The Catherine Wheel stood on the corner of Magdalen Street and Boad Street on a site now occupied by eighteenth century buildings of Balliol College. Inns appear to have been useful places for recusants to meet up - the Mitre in the High Street appears to have had a long-standing tradition of hosting secret Masses, and Catholic landlords, whilst John Gerard's account of meeting a Catholic in an inn in Norwich in 1588 also suggests the utility of an open house wherer you could come and go without suspicion.

The two priests were hung drawn and quartered, the two laymen were hanged. In recent years a memerial to them has been erected and dedicated near to the site of the gallows at Holywell.

Christine Kelly's book Blessed Thomas Belson: His Life and Times 1563-1589, written to mark his beatification, sets the story and in particular the part played by Thomas Belson as aly courier and agent in the context of recusant life at the time.

A previous posts about them can be viewed at Oxford Martyrs of 1589, and I give the account of their lives, capture and deaths at  Challoner's account of the Oxford martyrs, both from 2011, and also something about their modern commemoration in Oxford Martyrs memorial from 2010 and in Oxford LMS Pilgrimage from 2013.

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