Another of the great Jesuit martyrs of the Elizabethan era, Henry Walpole was on his way to a legal career, which would have meant conformity and uniformity with the established Church of England. But he happened to attend the executions of St. Edmund Campion and his companions on December 1, 1581--and drops of the saint's blood fell on him. He abandoned the path to worldly success and left England. A poem, lamenting the death of one of the diamonds of England, is attributed to Walpole:
Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?
Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?
Why do I use my paper, ink and pen,
And call my wits to counsel what to say?
Such memories were made for mortal men;
I speak of Saints whose names cannot decay.
An Angel’s trump were fitter for to sound.
Their glorious death if such on earth were found.
That store of such were once on earth pursued,
The histories of ancient times record,
Whose constancy great tyrants’ rage subdued.
Through patient death, professing Christ the Lord:
As his Apostles perfect witness bare,
With many more that blessed Martyrs were.
Whose patience rare and most courageous mind,
With fame renowned perpetual shall endure,
By whose examples we may rightly find,
Of holy life and death a pattern pure.
That we therefore their virtues may embrace
Pray we to Christ to guide us with his grace.
William Byrd set this poem to music, and you may hear a performance of it here.
According to this blog, after studying for the priesthood on the Continent, becoming a Jesuit, and enduring imprisonment while serving English Catholics in the Spanish Netherlands, Walpole returned to England on December 4, 1593 and was betrayed and captured almost immediately.
One night of freedom in England was followed by 16 months of imprisonment. Walpole admitted during his first interrogation that he was a Jesuit and had come to England to convert people. He was transferred to York Castle for three months, and was permitted to leave the prison to discuss theology with Protestant visitors. Then he was transferred to the Tower of London at the end of February, 1594, so that the notorious priest-torturer Richard Topcliffe could wrest information from him.
Walpole was tortured brutally on the rack and was suspended by his wrists for hours, but Topcliffe stretched the tortures out over the course of a year to prevent an accidental death. Walpole endured torture 14 different times before being returned in 1595 to York to stand trial under the law that made it high treason for an Englishman simply to return home after receiving Holy Orders abroad. The man who had once aspired to be a lawyer defended himself ably, pointing out that the law only applied to priests who had not given themselves up to officials within three days of arrival. He himself had been arrested less than a day after landing in England, so he had not violated that law. The judges responded by demanding that he take the Oath of Supremacy, acknowledging the queen's complete authority in religion. He refused to do so and was convicted of high treason.
On April 7, Walpole was dragged out of York to be executed along with another priest who was killed first. Then the Jesuit climbed the ladder to the gallows and asked the onlookers to pray with him. After he finished the Our Father but before he could say the Hail Mary, the executioner pushed him away from the ladder; then he was taken down and dismembered. The Jesuits in England lost a promising young priest whom they had hoped would take the place of Father Southwell; they received another example of fidelity and courage.
The priest who died with St. Henry Walpole was Alexander Rawlins:
Alexander was born in Worcestershire, England, where he was jailed twice for his fervent Catholicism. In 1589 he went to the English seminary in Reims and was ordained there in 1590. Returning to England the following year (with another future martyr and saint, Father Edmund Gennings), Alexander was arrested. He was condemned to death and on April 7, 1595, and along with Henry Walpole was hanged, drawn, and quartered in York, England. He was beatified in 1929.
Saint Henry Walpole and Blessed Alexander Rawlins, pray for us.