Sunday, May 27, 2012
Four at Durham, May 27, 1590
"Divers beholders, when these martyrs were offered their pardons if they would go to church, said boldly that they would rather die themselves than any of them should relent, one saying (he had seven children) "I would to God they might all go the same way in making such confession" . . . When their heads were cut off and holden up, as the manner is, not one would say "God save the Queen" except the catch-polls themselves and a minister or two.
"Two Protestant spectators, Robert Maire and his wife Grace, were converted. The place at which they were executed was called Dryburn, and afterwards the legend sprung up that it was so called because the well out of which the water was drawn to boil their quarters suddenly dried up. The place however had this name before their deaths."
The note about the crowd not responding to the cry "Behold the head of a traitor" meant that these executions were not popular with the populace. Since the failure of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I's government had kept up a pretty good pace of executions. The people of Durham might have remembered the days of the Northern Rebellion when the former monks of Durham Abbey celebrated Mass in Durham Cathedral. Nancy Bilyeau, author of the historical novel The Crown, comments on one time when Elizabeth I reacted to the unpopularity of some executions, in the aftermath of the Babington Plot:
In fact, the embattled queen, no doubt frightened as well as enraged, ordered that the guilty Babington conspirators be executed in ways so horrible it would never be forgotten. And so the first ones were. But the crowd of spectators, presumably hardened to such sights, were sickened by the hellish castratings and disembowelings. When the queen heard of this, she ordered the next round of traitors be hanged until they were dead.
Elizabeth realized she had gone too far. It’s regrettable that she did not realize that more often.