Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Martyred Priest for Holy Thursday: St. John Payne

Executed on April 2, 1582, St. John Payne's story is perfect for Holy Thursday, since this the day of Holy Week dedicated to the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist:

St. John Payne was an English Catholic Priest and Martyr. He was born in Peterborough in 1532. He was a mature man when he went to the English College at Douai in 1574. The Archbishop of Cambrai ordained him a Priest on April 7, 1576. Shortly after being ordained, he left for the English mission with another Priest, Cuthbert Mayne. Mayne headed for his native South West England, and Payne headed for Essex. In early July 1851, he and another who had come to England were arrested in Warwickshire while staying at the estate of Lady Petre. It was through the efforts of George “Judas” Eliot, a known criminal, murderer, rapist and thief, who made a career out of denouncing Catholics and Priests for bounty. After being examined at Greenwich, they were committed to the Tower of London on July 14th. Eliot was a Catholic, and had been employed in positions of trust in the Petre household where he had embezzled sums of money. He enticed a young woman to marry him, and the approached Fr. Payne. When he refused, Elliot was determined to make his revenge, and a profit as well, by turning him in.

Fr. John Payne was indicted at Chelmsford on March 22, on a charge of treason for conspiring to murder the Queen and her leading officers. John denied the charges, and affirmed his loyalty to the Queen in all that was lawful; contesting the reliability of the murderer Eliot how had turned him in. No attempt was made to corroborate Eliot’s story, which had been well rehearsed. The guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion. 

Although the verdict was a foregone conclusion, authorities almost lost control of the execution:

At his execution, he was dragged from prison on a hurdle to the place of execution and first prayed on his knees for almost thirty minutes. He then kissed the scaffold, made a profession of faith, and publicly declared his innocence. He was called upon to repent of his treason, and again, Payne denied it. A Protestant minister shouted out that he knew of Payne’s treason, from his brother, years prior. Fr. Payne admitted that his brother was an earnest Protestant, but that he would never had said such a lie. Fr. Payne asked that his brother who was in the same vicinity, be brought in and asked. The execution proceeded and John Payne was at their mercy. What was supposed to be a smooth, quiet execution was anything but that. The crowd had become so sympathetic to John Payne that they hung on his feet to speed up his death and prevented the infliction of the quartering until he was dead.

St. Cuthbert Mayne, with whom St. John Payne returned to England is the protomartyr of the recusant era, executed for treason in 1577 on November 29. Mayne and Payne: They are both among the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.


  1. You might like to correct a transposition error in a date. St John Payne was arrested in July 1581 not 1851.