The execution of two priests and three laymen at a specially built gallows at Gray's Inn Road on December 10, 1591 drew a crowd and some special spectators: Richard Topcliffe was there, as was Sir Walter Raleigh, one of Elizabeth I's favorite courtiers.
These priests were being execution simply because they were English subjects who had gone to the Continent to study and be ordained and had returned to England. Parliament had passed a new law in 1584, 27 Elizabeth Cap 2 (Act Against Jesuits, Seminary Priests and Other Such Disobedient Subjects). Unless these returning priests were willing to leave England within 40 days of arrival or accept the queen's supremacy over the Church in England, they were considered traitors. Anyone who harbored these recusant priests, the "other such disobedient subjects", were guilty of a felony: thus Saint Swithun Wells, and the Blesseds John Mason and Sidney Hodgson were hanged to death as felons that day.
But the presence of Richard Topcliffe (as demonstrated by his dialogue with Saint Swithun Wells described last week) and Sir Walter Raleigh also made these executions notable. Their presence also made a difference in the way the two priests suffered their executions.
He was 28 years old.
Father Gennings was not so fortunate in his conversation with Topcliffe. As the website of the Dominicans in England and Scotland recounts:
“If to return to England a Priest, or to say Mass be a Popish treason, then I confess I am a traitor. But I think not so. And therefore I acknowledge myself guilty of those things, not with repentance, but with an open protestation of inward joy.” Topcliffe, the notorious priest-hunter, was enraged with the attitude of St Edmund Gennings. He then ordered that Edmund be hanged and immediately cut down. When the hangman began his butchery, St Edmund was still alive when his heart was ripped from his chest. With his last breath he cried out, Saint Gregory: Pray for me. The hangman swore, “Zounds! See, his heart is in my hand, and yet Gregory is in his mouth. O egregious Papist!”.
Caraman's entry for Gennings in The Other Face supplies the detail that he was cut down so quickly from the gallows that he was standing up and had to be toppled down by the hangman to begin the torture.
He was 24 years old.
Saint Edmund Gennings, pray for us.
Saint Polydore Plasden, pray for us.