Sunday, August 22, 2010

An 80-Year Old Victim of the Popish Plot

The Catholic Herald highlights the martyrdom of St. John Kemble, found guilty of conspiring against King Charles II in the non-existent Popish Plot.

St. John Kemble was butchered by another incompetent executioner (see the story of Blessed Hugh Green) in Hereford after serving Catholics in Monmouthshire for more that 50--fifty!--years. The Anglicans in the area respected him and he had dwelt unmolested in his brother's castle (Pembridge). He was betrayed by the husband of one of his parishioners.
He was taken to London, where nothing could be proved against him in connection with the Popish Plot (since Titus Oates had made the whole thing up and had perjured himself before Parliament!). Therefore, he was found guilty of the old Elizabethan statute against the presence of Catholic priests in England. (He was born near the end of Elizabeth's reign in 1599 of a recusant family and ordained in 1625, so he was certainly guilty and had been for a longtime).
On August 22, 1679 he suffered, forgiving his enemies and proclaiming that he died for the religion that had made England Christian! Before his death, he asked for time to finish his prayers and smoke his last pipe and imbibe a last cup of wine, shared by the undersheriff (who after all had not arrested him for the last fifty years!) . Evidently, this is still remembered in Herefordshire in the sayings "a Kemble pipe" and "a Kemble cup".
The famous stage family, including Sarah (Kemble) Siddons, are related to this great priest and martyr. He is buried in an Anglican churchyard and area Catholics make a pilgrimage to his grave each August 22nd. His left hand is preserved in the Catholic church in Hereford, St. Francis Xavier.


  1. I love the bit about his last pipe and cup; the man maintained his dignity until the end.

  2. That's true, Rich. Some accounts also indicate that he had to encourage the executioner to do his duty because of the latter's reluctance. Unfortunately, he did not do it well!