Sunday, April 1, 2012

Blessed John Bretton (April 1, 1598) and His Wife, Frances

According to this tremendous account of his life and death, the layman Blessed John Bretton was executed on April 1, 1598 after years of recuscancy "For words spoken out of Catholic Zeal" "because he was reconciled to the Roman Catholic Church," he "urged others to embrace the same religion" and he "denied the spiritual primacy of the Queen." His wife, Frances, survived him and continued their recusancy. Just some highlights:

John Bretton was executed at York on 1st April 1598 because of his faith, the culmination of many, many years of courage and steadfastness in the face of persecution, by both John Bretton and Frances, his wife. . . .

The earliest reference to the Recusancy of John and Frances Bretton occurs in Archbishop Sandys’ List of Yorkshire Recusants returned to the Privy Council in 1577, wherein they are stated to have “no Habilities (Wealth)” “and yet are the most obstinate and perverse”. This list was sent five years after the Earl of Huntingdon had begun his intense investigation and persecution of Catholics in Yorkshire, four years before the passing of the Act 23 Eliz. c1 which made “reconciliation” to the Catholic Church a capital crime. For many years, because of the persecution he was suffering through his Recusancy, John Bretton was forced to flee and hide. Altogether he seems to have been a fugitive from 1577 to 1593, when the Act 35 Eliz. c2 forced all recusants to return home and stay within five miles thereof on pain of the loss of all property. . . .

That the Brettons were regarded as amongst the more notorious recusants is shown by the fact that on 12th February, 1589, within a year of their first conviction, the Exchequer issued a Commission for the assessment and seizure to the use of the Queen of two thirds of their lands and all their goods and chattels in accordance with the Statute of 1586. The Memoranda Roll recording this Commission and the subsequent enquiries gives the text of the patent, signed for the Queen by Burghley, and the names of the Yorkshire Gentry thereby empowered. They included “John, Lord Darcye: Sir Thomas Fairfax: Sir Richard Malliverer: Sir George Savell, and eleven others” In fact only six people, Richard Wortley, William Wentworth, Thomas Wentworth, Robert Bradford, Henry Farrer and Michael Kaie did the work and had produced before them on 8th April 1589, not only details of John Bretton’s property, but also that of forty five other recusants whose names were included in the schedule, including Maud (Matilda) Wentworth, widow, who was Frances’ aunt by marriage and lived over the way at Bretton Hall, and Dorothy Wentworth, the wife of Maud’s son, Matthew, also living there. . . .

Read more here about how Frances struggled without his constancy and loyalty to the Faith:

One might be forgiven for hoping that, having had so much suffering in her life, culminating in her husband’s execution Frances Bretton would now be left in peace - but this was not to be. Within a month the Escheator was on her track. His very presence was proof that the family fortunes were in great jeopardy. In the midst of her grief, therefore she had to remind herself that it now devolved on her alone, as legal owner, to safeguard the livelihood of her children. To whom could she turn for advice ?

Her own kinsfolk, the Wentworths, one of the most powerful families in Yorkshire, doubtless watched events with interest, if not with sympathy. But, with one exception, (Michael of Woolley), all her male relatives appear to have been, at best, "Church Papists". One or two were strong and active supporters of the new religion. Tenacious of this world’s goods they must, as a whole, have been highly impatient with her rigid adherence to Catholic principle. Even her aunt, Maud Wentworth of Bretton Hall, after maintaining her recusancy for many years had, in her old age, publically conformed three years previously and thus preserved her property intact for her son, Matthew.

Although Frances herself finally submitted to the Archbishop of York and was pardoned of her previous recusancy for the sake of her own son, Luke, and his inheritance, she was was soon numberered among the recusants again, and died in the Catholic faith. Blessed John Bretton and Frances also had two other sons, Richard and Matthew, who became Catholic priests!

What remarkable steadfastness and love! In this Holy Week, the holiest time of the Christian year, it is indeed marvelous to meditate on men and women so willing to live their lives and give their lives for their Savior and His Church!

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