Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blessed James Duckett, Layman Martyred for His Faith

James Duckett was an English Catholic layman and martyr (died 1601).

Born at Gilfortrigs in the parish of Skelsmergh in Westmorland at an unknown date, he became a bookseller and publisher in London. Brought up a Protestant, he was lent a Catholic book by a friend when serving his apprenticeship in London and decided to become a Catholic. Earlier he had twice been imprisoned for not attending the Protestant services, and was obliged to compound for his apprenticeship and leave his master.

He was received into the Catholic Church by an old priest named Weekes who was imprisoned in the Gatehouse at Westminster. Two or three years later, about 1590, he married a Catholic widow, but out of his twelve years of married life, nine were spent in prison for his new faith.

He was active in propagating Catholic literature. He was finally betrayed by Peter Bullock, a bookbinder, who acted in order to obtain his own release from prison. Duckett's house was searched on 4 March 1601 and Catholic books found. For this he was at once thrown into Newgate.

At the trial, Bullock testified that he had bound various Catholic books for Duckett and he admitted this, but denied other false accusations in a self-possessed manner. The jury found him not guilty; but the judge, Sir John Popham, the Lord Chief Justice, browbeat the jury, which reversed its verdict and Duckett was found guilty of felony. Despite the betrayal of Duckett, Bullock was taken to his death at Tyburn in the same cart as Duckett on 19 April 1601.

James Duckett's son was the John Duckett who later became Prior of the English Carthusians at Nieuwpoort in Flanders. He related that on the way to Tyburn his father was handed a cup of wine, which he drank, and told his wife to drink to Peter Bullock and to forgive him. When she declined, he chided her gently until she did. On arrival at Tyburn Tree James kissed and embraced Bullock, beseeching him to die in the Catholic faith, without success.

At the same trial three priests, Thomas Tichborne, Robert Watkinson, and Francis Page, were condemned to death. For some reason their execution was remanded to the following day.

James Duckett was beatified by Pope Pius XI on 15 December 1929.

From the accounts I've read, it's not completely clear what he was charged with and found guilty of--was it his conversion (which was an act of treason)? did he have some Papal documents? Catholic books were not in themselves illegal, but pointed to his being Catholic, probably attending Mass illegally, especially since he did not attend Church of England services. He was hung because he was a Catholic, not because of anything he did, at least anything produced as evidence in a court of law. That's why the judge had to browbeat the jury to find Blessed James Duckett guilty of a felony. What happened to Duckett's Catholic wife? She was now twice-widowed and might have been rounded up for recusancy. At least two other lay martyr's I've posted about (St. Swithun Wells, for example) left wives who endured grave troubles with the law because of their recusany. Mrs. Wells (her first name is unknown) died in prison after her death sentence was commuted.

More on the three priests--and several others--tomorrow. April 20 is a big day for executions and martyrs in Tudor England.


  1. Today, I found out that Ven. James Duckett is an ancestor of mine and I am trying to read all I can about him. I had not heard his name until now. What was his wife's name and what happened to her after James' execution? What happened to James' remains? Any accurate information gratefully accepted. Thankyou. EMMA.

    1. Hello Emma... I was always instructed that Blessed James and Blessed John are my ancestors, too! It was my Grandma on my father's side who worked it all out, so I am told. I would also love to know more about these two martyrs; I return to them often in my own prayer, and I am sorry there is so little that we know about them. If ever I hear anything else about them, I will promise to let you know... and perhaps you could do the same, with thanks?!
      Kind regards
      Stephen Duckett

  2. James and Emma, you might contact the Catholic Record Society:
    Perhaps they can assist you with how to find out more about your ancestors! God bless you!