Thomas Woodhouse (1535-1573) was the first Jesuit to die in the conflict between pope and English crown, although he was only admitted to the Society just before his arrest. He was probably ordained a priest during the final year of the reign of Mary Tudor, the Catholic queen. He could not accept Elizabeth I who instituted religious reforms, including a non-Catholic prayer book after she became queen in 1558; even less could he abide the 1559 decree declaring her supreme in religious matters. So Woodhouse resigned his parish position in Lincolnshire in 1560 and became tutor to the children of a wealthy family in Wales. However, he resigned that post as well over religious differences. He continued to celebrate Mass when he could and was arrested on May 14, 1561, while at Mass. He was imprisoned in London's Fleet Prison for 12 years, but was able to develop an apostolate to other prisoners because of his warder's tolerance.
At some point in 1572 he wrote the Jesuit provincial in Paris because the English mission was not yet established, and asked to become a member of the Society. He was accepted, but in his enthusiasm wrote a letter to the queen's treasurer asking him to persuade to accept the pope's authority. Instead of doing what the priest asked, the treasurer, William Cecil, ordered him brought to trial on June 16, 1573 where he was found guilty of treason for speaking unfavorably of the queen. Three days later he was taken to Tyburn to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
He was among the 54 martyrs beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 as a secular priest because his application to the Jesuits and their acceptance of him was not known at the time. Bede Camm wrote about him in Lives of the English Martyrs (1914). He must have perplexed and exasperated the Elizabethan officials:
At length in April, 1573, he was arraigned at the Guildhall. He denied the authority of the judges, saying " they were not his judges, nor for his judges would he ever take them, being heretics and pre tending authority from her that could not give it them." He also protested against the competency of secular judges to try priests and spiritual causes, as the earlier Relation tells us, and was treated with the greatest indignity and contumely and held for a fool. He was found guilty of high treason and sentenced accordingly, but two months elapsed before his execution.
Before as after his condemnation he ever kept up the same bright, sweet demeanour, the same intrepidity, the same eager desire to suffer for his Master. When first a smith came to rivet irons on him he rewarded him with two shillings. When the same man afterwards came, on some occasion, to take them off, he stood waiting, cap in hand, after his work, hoping for a present, and at last said, "Sir, this day seven-night when I burdened you with irons, you rewarded me with two shillings: now that I have taken them away, for your more ease, I trust your worship will reward me much better." "No," said the martyr, "then I gave thee wages for laying irons on me, because I was sure to have my wages for bearing them; now, thou must have patience if thou lose thy wages, since thou hast with taking away mine irons taken also away those wages I have for carrying them. But come when you will to load me with irons, and if I have money thou shalt not go home with an empty purse."
When some one told him he was to be removed to the Tower to be racked, "No," said he, "I cannot believe that; but notwithstanding bring me true news here that it is so and thou shalt have a crown of gold for thy pains." From this answer it may be gathered that he had light from God about what was to happen to him: and so, again, the next day a servant brought him word it was reported through all London he should be put to death the next week, "No," he answered, "I shall not die these two months and more." And so it happened.
After his sentence he was not taken back to his old prison, but was committed to Newgate. On his way to the prison he was much ill-treated, "being tugged and lugged hither and thither, weak and sore laden with irons; insomuch as going up the stairs at Newgate, he fell down divers times on the stairs; and to one that seemed by his words to pity him, he answered with a smiling countenance that these troubles were sweet to him."Some one in the crowd gave him a blow on the face. "Would God," he said turning to him, "I might suffer ten times as much that thou might go free for the blow thou hast given me. I forgive thee and pray to God to forgive thee even as I would be forgiven."
At Newgate he was put into the place consecrated by the martyrdom of the Blessed Carthusian Fathers who had been starved to death five-and- thirty years before. The author of the "Relation of 1574" says it was the part of the prison appropriated to robbers, and a most dismal place. But after a time he was removed to another chamber, where a number of ministers were allowed access to him and disputed with him. Some of them he confuted, surprising those present by his learning; but when the Dean of St. Paul's came he severely rebuked him, and ended with the words, "Begone, Satan."
His behavior at his execution was also brave and resolute:
He was cut down alive, so that "he went between two from the gallows to the fire, near which he was spoiled, and came perfectly to himself before the hangman began to bowel him ; inasmuch as some have said he spoke when the hangman had his hand in his body seeking for his heart to pull it out."