The Howard family boasts two martyrs: St. Philip Howard who died in the Tower of London during Queen Elizabeth I's reign (denied the opportunity to see his son before he died unless he denied his Catholicism and professed to be a Protestant!) and his grandson, Blessed William Howard, who was beheaded on December 29, 1680 on Tower Hill.
William Howard was born on November 30, 1614, the son of Thomas Howard, who had conformed to the Church of England. William married Mary Stafford in a Catholic ceremony in 1637 and they had nine children. The Howard family, being Royalists, fled to the Netherlands during the English Civil War and returned to England with the Restoration of Charles II, being restored to his lands.
He was accused by Titus Oates of being part of the non-existent Popish Plot and was tried by his peers in the House of Lords in Westminster Hall. One of his witnesses was arrested and died in jail. Howard was, of course, found guilty, attainted and his lands forfeit. According to Archbishop Challoner, Blessed William Howard's speech before his execution moved the crowds to acknowledge his innocence and cry out that they believed him:
First, he protested in the presence of the eternal God, and upon his salvation, that he was entirely innocent of the treason laid to his charge. Then giving thanks to the Divine Majesty for the long time He had given him to prepare for death, he declared, that having well considered what could be the original cause of his having been so unjustly accused and condemned to death, he was convinced that it was no other than his religion, of which he said he had no reason to be ashamed, for that it taught nothing but the right worship of God and due subordination to the King, and the temporal laws of the kingdom. That he most firmly believed all the articles that the Catholic Church believes and teaches, as most consonant to the Word of God; and that with the same Catholic Church from his heart he detested all king-killing doctrine, that his principles were entirely loyal. And as for indulgences, dispensations, or pardons, pretended by the adversaries of the Church to be given to murder, rebel, lie, forswear, or commit any other crime whatsoever, he professed in the presence of God, and that without any equivocation or mental reservation whatsoever, that he was never taught any such thing, nor believed, nor practised any such thing. That if he had been really guilty of any of those crimes of which he was accused, he should have been worse than a fool, and his own self-murderer into the bargain, if he had not acknowledged his guilt, since by so doing he might have saved his life; ‘But had I a thousand lives,’ said he, ‘I would lose them all rather than falsely accuse either myself or any other whatsoever.’
Then again declaring his abhorrence of all treason and murder, and that to his knowledge he had never spoke to, or seen Oates, or Turberville till his trial, or ever spoke with Dugdale about any treasonable matters (whom nevertheless he heartily forgave, and all others that had any hand in his death), he concluded his speech as follows:— ‘I shall end with my hearty prayers for the happiness of his Majesty, that he may enjoy all the happiness in this world, and in the world to come, and govern his people according to the laws of God; and that the people may be sensible what a blessing God hath so miraculously given them, and obey him as they ought. I ask pardon with a prostrate heart of Almighty God for all the great offences I have committed against the Divine Majesty; and hope, through the merits and passion of Christ Jesus, to obtain everlasting happiness; into whose hands I commit my spirit, asking pardon of any person that I have done any wrong to, &c.
‘I beseech God not to revenge my innocent blood upon the nation, or on those that were the cause of it, with my last breath; I do with my last breath truly assert my innocency, and hope the omnipotent, all-seeing, just God will deal with me accordingly.’
He was all prepared, with his head on the block and the executioner hesitated--he asked the executioner why he delayed and the man answered that he was waiting for a sign. The martyr replied that he would give no sign; the headsman should take his time; HE was ready to die.
In 1824 his great-great-great grandson George William Jerningham requested Parliament to reverse the attainder against William Howard and restore the title Viscount Stafford, which he then inherited.