Two martyrs executed on April 3, 1601: Robert Middleton (1571-1601) was one of several English martyrs who applied to enter the Society of Jesus but were imprisoned before they could enter the novitiate. As a young man in York, England, Middleton belonged to the Church of England even though his family was Catholic. At some point he began to practice his Catholic religion and then traveled first to Rheims, France to study at the English College there, then moved to Seville and then finally to Rome which he reached in April 1597. He was ordained a priest Jan. 4, 1598 and then a few months later left for his native land.
Middleton was able to work as a priest for slightly more than two years before he was seized and interrogated on Sept. 30, 1600. He admitted being a priest but denied any subversive activity. His captors sent him to London and then brought him back to Lancaster where he had been arrested. He was condemned to death for having been ordained overseas and daring to return and exercise his priesthood. As punishment he was hanged until almost dead, then cut down and beheaded.
Blessed Thurstan Hunt: An English martyr (March, 1601), who belonged to the family seated at Carlton Hall, near Leeds, and had made his course of studies at Reims, 1583, 1584. Robert Middleton, his fellow-martyr, a nephew of Margaret Clitheroe, had also studied at Reims and at Rome, 1594-1598. In November, 1600, Middleton was arrested by chance near Preston, and an attempt to rescue him was made by four Catholics, of whom Hunt was one, but the attempt failed, and after a long and exciting tussle, Hunt was captured. They were then both treated with great inhumanity, and heavily ironed night and day until, by the order of the Privy Council, with their feet tied beneath their horses' bellies, they were carried in public disgrace up to London and back again to Lancaster, where they were condemned and executed for their priesthood. But the attempt to degrade them in public opinion failed. No one would let out his horse to drag them to the place of execution; they reconciled to the Church the felons condemned to die with them; their relics were eagerly carried off after their death; and a contemporary sang admiringly of
Hunt's hawtie corage staut,
With godlie zeale soe true,
Myld Middleton, O what tongue
Can halfe thy vertue showe!
They are listed among the Lancaster Martyrs and were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987.