Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Carthusians in Newgate Begin to Die

On June 6 in 1537, the slow agonizing deaths of the Carthusians held in Newgate Prison began with the laybrother, William Greenwood.  On June 8, deacon and choir monk John Davy died, on June 9 and 10, two more laybrothers, Robert Salt and Walter Pierson died, while choir monk Thomas Green died on the 10th--and then there is a gap until June 15.

What a sad duty their jailers had, checking each of the Carthusians daily for death from dehydration and starvation, taking one or two bodies away each day. The monks and laybrothers were bound to pillars, hand, foot and at the neck. As this website notes, they had survived for a time because of assistance from one of St. Thomas More's wards:

But Henry was bothered. He feared more rebellion from his intransigently Catholic people. Although he had not yet allowed the country to drift too far into heresy, the sensus catholicus of the people was outraged by his actions. He could not inflame such rage by another display of martyrdom. And so the Carthusians remained in Newgate. They remained, unfed and unattended. They were left to rot, and rot they did. Their names? John Davy, Thomas Green, Thomas Johnston and Richard Bere (choir monks) and William Greenwood, Robert Salt, Walter Peerson, Thomas Scryven, Thomas Reding, and Willam Horne (conversi, or brothers). Bound hand and foot, iron collars about their throats, they were chained to posts in a single cell and abandoned. Margaret Clement, the adopted daughter of St Thomas More, for a while managed to gain entrance to the cell (largely on account of the fact that her husband was physician to the King — and due to her disguise, as a milk-maid), and there fed them what food and water she could, and cleaned them for their own filth. This was discovered and she then attempted to find a way in from above, breaking through the roof of their cell and lowering food to their mouths. Eventually, too, this was not possible.

And so the good fathers and brothers died together in that dark and fetid place, one by one in prayerful silence, abandoned by Man but not by God. Greenwood, then Davy, then Salt; Peerson and Green upon the same day, mid-June; Scryven and Reding some days later. Somehow, Richard Bere (the nephew of a former Abbot of Glastonbury) survived until August 9th. Astonishingly, Thomas Johnson was still alive by September 20th, some sixteen weeks after his incarceration. He was removed to the Tower of London where he languished for a further two-and-a-half years before being martyred at Tyburn in the company of St Thomas More's son-in-law, Giles Heron, on 4th August 1540. These are all accounted Blessed by the Church. May they all pray for us who are unworthy of them.

The reason we know so much detail about their suffering at Newgate is that one of their fellow Carthusians, Maurice Chauncy, had taken the Oath of Supremacy and was still at large in England, although he soon went to Bruges.

He regretted taking the Oath and wrote several works on the fate of those who refused the oath--works that made the usually anti-Catholic James Anthony Froude sympathetic to them. Those works include: Historia aliquot nostri saeculi Martyrum in Anglia, etc. (Mainz, 1550, and Bruges, 1583); Commentariolus de vitae ratione et martyrio octodecim Cartusianorum qui in Anglia sub rege trucidati sunt (Ghent, 1608), a portion of which was reprinted; Vitae Martyrum Cartusianorum aliquot, qui Londini pro Unitate Ecclesiae adversus haereticos, etc. (Milan, 1606); see Historia aliquot martyrum Anglorum maxime octodecim Cartusianorum: sub Rege Henrico Octavo ob fidei confessionem et summi pontificis jura vindicanda interemptorum a V. Patre Domno Mauritio Chauncy conscripta; nunc ad exemplar primae editionis Moguntinae anno 1550 excusae a monachis Cartusiae S. Hugonis in Anglia denuo edita, Londini, 1888; G.W.S. Curtis (ed.), Maurice Chauncy, The Passion and Martyrdom of the Holy English Carthusian Fathers: A Short Narrative, SPCK, London, 1935.

Chauncy returned to England during the reign of Mary I and briefly revived the Carthusian Priory of Sheen, which had been surrendered in 1539. Upon Elizabeth I's accession, Chancy and the others fled to Louvain. Chauncy died on July 2, 1581, about age 72. He might have agreed with the line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "Cowards die many times before their deaths;/The valiant never taste of death but once."


  1. I do not understand how Anglicans/Episcopalians can remain so staunchly anti Catholic after learning how their schismatic church is founded on the blood of these Holy Martyrs. When i was considering Anglicanism I just bought into the 'good' propaganda that is out there. Although none of this played a part in my rejecting the Anglican Way and becoming Catholic, I am glad things worked out the way they did. So very sad.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Matthew M; I heard one former Anglican on Marcus Grodi's The Journey Home program say that he had not known about the bloody foundations of the Anglican church (he was born in South Africa, so there were some differences in education, of course). I think it's like the Cristeros period today in Mexico--it hasn't been taught in the public schools so "For Greater Glory" is really telling them something new! This horror of Henry VIII's cruelty and injustice to the Carthusians is just too much to fathom, and knowledge of it has been available since the nineteenth century, via Froude, in mainstream English history, so it's hard to excuse ignorance.

    1. lol,,usa different? catholics are just tolerated in usa..same as uk..

  3. I have had a fixation with Henry VIII since my early teens, as my Mother had numerous books & references to the Tudor Age & the genealogy of the Kings & Queens of England. Henry VIII was a wicked and unenlightened despot.
    Having been aware of reincarnation since toddlerhood, I've only recently acquired fascination with the Cathar's after randomly selecting 3 of the 4 dioceses to visit on my two week sortie into Bordeaux and the Langue- doc last November. I had no idea these were Cathar strongholds, but visited them as I seemed drawn to do. It was only later, on the flight home, I began to do some research and reading on the places I visited.
    What is at work here? Wonder if there are any descendants of Maurice Chancey/Chauncy? I'd certainly like to compare my Father's dna with his side of the family......perhaps I have inherited some genetic memory of the places this man lived and traveled and have been drawn to visit certain places. (Our genetic dna matches hail from Yorkshire, England. Other matches originate in the Pyrenees and Northern France as well as Burgundy. Our later colonial ancestors were Huguenots in Charleston, South Carolina. We have now been in Georgia for 200 years.
    Very happy to have stumbled my way to this post.