In response to the attempted invasion of England by Spain, from late August through October in 1588, the Elizabeth government arranged several executions of Catholic priests and/or laity in demonstration of the fate of traitors. In Chichester and in Canterbury on October 1, 1588, the government planned two more group executions of priests.
In Chichester, something unusual happened—one of the priests on the scaffold recanted and agreed to take the Oath of Supremacy. Four priests had been condemned to death on September 30, but one of the four had already taken the Oath of Supremacy after condemnation to avoid being hung, drawn, and quartered.
Father Edward James and Father Ralph Crockett had been arrested on April 19, 1586 and held in prison in London for more than two years without trial (from April 27, 1586). After the failure of the Spanish Armada, these imprisoned Catholic priests were prime targets of the English government for vengeance and punishment. Fr. James and Fr. Crockett were tried in Chichester along with Father John Oven and Father Francis Edwardes, found guilty and sentenced to death, but Fr. Oven took the Oath of Supremacy and was reprieved.
Then on October 1st, at Broyle Heath, Fr. Edwardes took the Oath of Supremacy and was reprieved--Fr. James and Fr. Crockett refused to recant and the butchery of their execution was carried out, after they first absolved each other on the scaffold. So often when we tell the story of the Catholic recusants and the Catholic priests of that recusant era, we emphasize the heroic faithfulness of those who suffered and died. This story reminds us that some who faced the crisis of life and death chose to recant their Catholic faith and avoid martyrdom.