August 28, 1588 was busy day for executioners throughout London, as several new gibbets had been constructed. With the defeat or failure of the Spanish Armada, government officials sought to make quite an example.
According to most accounts of the Spanish Armada I've read, Catholics in England were opposed to a foreign invasion and helped with defense of their homeland with as much enthusiasm as any Anglicans. Catholics in exile, especially Cardinal William Allen and Father Robert Persons or Parsons had encouraged the effort, but not Catholics at home. Sir Thomas Arundell, First Baron of Wardour for example was known as a fervent Catholic and was even imprisoned for his faith in 1580. He gave 100 pounds to the government to assist in the defense of England against the Armada.
Nevertheless, here are those who suffered on August 28 in London at Tyburn, Mile End, Lincoln's Inn Field, Islesworth, Clerkenwell, and near the Theatre:
Blessed Hugh More or Moor, educated at Oxford (see below, under Blessed Robert Morton)
Blessed James Claxton:
James Claxton, of Yorkshire, England, journeyed to the continent to study for the priesthood, receiving his seminary education at the English College of Reims, France. Following his ordination, Father Claxton returned to England in 1582 to begin serving the country’s Catholic population persecuted by the Protestant regime of Queen Elizabeth I. Within three years of his return, he was arrested and imprisoned. In 1585, he was banished from England for being a priest. But determined not to abandon the English faithful, Father Claxton secretly re-entered the country. He was soon discovered by the Elizabethan authorities, who after capturing him put him on trial. Father Claxton was sentenced to death for being a priest and for defying the banishment order. Father Claxton suffered execution by drawing and quartering together with the young Minim friar (Blessed) Thomas Felton on August 28, 1588.
Blessed Robert Morton:
English priest and martyr, b. at Bawtry, Yorks, about 1548; executed in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, Wednesday, 28 August, 1588 (the catalogue probably compiled by Fr. John Gerard, S.J., and printed by Fr. Pollen, S.J., in "Cath. Rec. Soc. Publ.", V, 288-293, gives the date of the deaths of the Venerabiles Morton, Moor, Holford, Claxton, and Felton as 30 August, but this seems to be an error). He was the son of Robert Morton, and nephew of Dr. Nicholas Morton, was ordained deacon at Rome and priest at Reims in 1587, and condemned at Newgate 26 August merely for being a priest contrary to 27 Eliz., c. 2. At the same time and place suffered Hugh Moor, a layman, aged 25, of Grantham, Lincolnshire, and Gray's Inn, London, for having been reconciled to the Church by Fr. Thomas Stephenson, S.J. On the same day suffered (1) at Mile End, William Dean, a priest; and Henry Webley, a layman, born in the city of Gloucester; (2) near the Theatre, William Gunter, a priest, born at Raglan, Monmouthshire, educated at Reims; (3) at Clerkenwell, Thomas Holford, a priest, born at Aston, in Acton, Cheshire, educated at Reims, who was hanged only; and (4) between Brentford and Hounslow, Middlesex, James Claxton or Clarkson, a priest, born in Yorkshire and educated at Reims; and Thomas Felton, born at Bermondsey Abbey in 1567, son of B. John Felton, tonsured 1583 and about to be professed a Minim, who had suffered terrible tortures in prison. According to one account there also suffered on the same day at Holywell, London, one Richard Williams, a Welsh priest of Queen Mary's reign. Another, however, puts his death in 1592 or 1593. Fr. Pollen thinks his name occurs in this year in mistake for that of John Harrison, alias Symonds, a letter carrier, who was it seems executed at Tyburn, 5 October, 1588.
Blessed Thomas Felton, whose father, John Felton was executed for posting the Papal Bull excommunicating Elizabeth I after the Northern Rebellion (I talked about father and son martyrs on the Son Rise Morning Show earlier this month.)
Blessed Thomas Holford, formerly a Protestant schoolmaster:
Blessed Thomas Holford spent five fraught years working on the English Mission, in what were among the most dangerous of years, before he was finally caught after celebrating Mass at the home of St Swithin Wells in Holborn, London, and was hanged with five priests and eight lay Catholics on 28th August 1588 at nearby Clerkenwell.
Blessed Thomas was born in Acton, near Nantwich, into an affluent and well-known Cheshire family, most of whom lived in the vicinity of Holford Hall, near Lower Peover, Altrincham.
He was received into the Catholic faith by Father Richard Davis, a priest from Hereford, while serving as a resident tutor to the children of Sir James Scudamore of Holm Lacey, and on 15th August 1582 to train as a priest in Rheims. He was ordained the following April and arrived in London in the summer, narrowly escaping from a house raided by pursuivants.
He was captured when he returned to Nantwich two years later, however. Uncompromising replies under questioning by the Anglican Bishop of Chester led to him being returned to London for trial but escaped his escorts when they were wrestling with hangovers from the previous night.
The bishop left a description of Blessed Thomas as a “tall, black (haired), fat, strong man, the crown of his head bald, his beard marquessated (shaven except for a moustache)”.
The priest was almost caught a third time in 1586 when Sir Francis Walsingham raided London Catholic houses in the wake of the failed Babington plot to kill Queen Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots, narrowly making his escape from the home of Sir Richard Bellamy.
Blessed Thomas, who used the alias “Acton”, stayed away from London for a while after that episode but he returned in 1588 to buy clothes. He was spotted by pursuivants after the Mass in Holborn and trailed to the tailors and arrested.
Blessed William Dean, a former Protestant minister, he had been arrested and exiled and returned to England:
Born in Yorkshire, England, date uncertain, martyred 28 August, 1588. He studied at Reims and was ordained priest at Soissons, 21 December, 1581, together with the martyrs George Haydock and Robert Nutter. Their ordination coincided with the time that the news of Campion's martyrdom reached the college. Dean said his first Mass 9 January and left for England 25 January, 1581. He is called by Champney "a man distinguished by the soundness of his morals and learning". He was banished with a number of other priests in 1585, put ashore on the coast of Normandy, and threatened with death if he dared to go back to England. Nevertheless he quickly returned to his labours there and was again arrested, tried, and condemned for his priesthood, 22 August, 1588. The failure of the Spanish Armada, in spite of the loyalty manifested by English Catholics at that crisis, brought about a fierce persecution and some twenty-seven martyrs suffered that year. Six new gibbets were erected in London, it is said at Leicester's instigation, and Dean, who had been condemned with five other priests and four laymen, was the first to suffer on the gallows erected at Mile End. With him suffered a layman, the Blessed Henry Webley, for relieving and assisting him. At the martyrdom Dean tried to speak to the people, "but his mouth was stopped by some that were in the cart, in such a violent manner that they were like to have prevented the hangman of his wages".
Blessed William Gunter or Guntei, from Wales:
William Gunter, of Raglan, Wales, journeyed to Reims, France, to study for the priesthood. Following his ordination in March of 1587, he returned to Britain in July of the same year. He was soon arrested and imprisoned by the Elizabethan authorities. When questioned as to whether he had persuaded anyone to return to the Catholic faith, Father Gunter openly declared that he had, adding that he would do so again if he could. This "confession" was considered sufficient evidence for condemning him, and he was sentenced to death without a jury trial. When on August 28, 1588, Father Gunter was led out to be executed, he learned upon arriving at the gallows that Queen Elizabeth I had commuted his sentence from death by drawing and quartering to death by hanging. In response to this news, he observed, "It is fit it should be so; for I am not worthy to suffer so much as my brethren."
Blessed Henry Webley, a layman who had assisted Father William Dean (see above)
These martyrs are part of a group called the Martyrs of London of 1588. On August 30, the government repeated the process with another group of martyrs, including St. Margaret Ward. And then again in early October there would be more. All had been found guilty under the statutes that made the presence of a Catholic priest in England an act of treason and the assistance of a Catholic priest a felony. They were beatified either by Pope Leo XIII in 1896 or by Pope Pius XI in 1929.