There are two events to remember today. One is the execution of six Catholics--one laywoman, four laymen and one priest--in London as part of the English government's reaction to the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada. The other is the memorial of three female English Catholic martyrs, who were canonized among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970, but have this special day all to themselves on the liturgical calendar of the Dioceses of England and Wales (except that since today is Sunday, the memorial is not celebrated this year). They are featured in the right panel of Geoffrey Webb's reredos from the Martyrs' Chapel in St. James, Spanish Place: St. Margaret Ward holds the rope, St. Anne Line the widow is dressed in black, and St. Margaret Clitherow kneels on the door which crushed her when the weights were placed upon it.
The three women share the date of St. Margaret Ward's execution on August 30, 1588 as their memorial--she was part of a second group of martyrs after the failure of the Spanish Armada. She is a virgin martyr: she helped Father William Watson escape from Bridewell Prison. She visited him often enough that the jailer finally allowed her to enter without searching her, so she was able to smuggle in a rope. Father Watson injured himself unfortunately while escaping and was unable to retrieve the rope. Margaret found John Roche to help the injured priest once out of prison and both she and John were arrested; John because he had exchanged clothing with the priest and Margaret because the jailer figured out that she was the last person to visit Father Watson before he escaped. She was held in chains, hung up by her hands and scourged as the authorities attempted to force her to tell them where Father Watson went after escaping Bridewell prison. She refused, even though she acknowledged that she helped him. Offered a pardon for attending Church of England services, she again refused. The torture inflicted upon her left her partially paralysed and she had to be carried to Tyburn for hanging.
Also martyred that day were Blessed John Roche (who had assisted Margaret Ward in the escape of Father William Watson), three other laymen who had assisted priests, Blesseds Richard Lloyd, Richard Martin, and Edward Shelley, and one priest, Blessed Richard Leigh. The regime was certainly sending a message about laity who assisted Catholic priests.
Blessed Richard Leigh's entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia provides some details about the other laymen: English martyr, born in Cambridgeshire about 1561; died at Tyburn, 30 August, 1588. Ordained priest at Rome in February, 1586-7, he came on the mission the same year, was arrested in London, and banished. Returning he was committed to the Tower in June 1588, and was condemned at the Old Bailey for being a priest. With him suffered four laymen and a lady . . . Edward Shelley of Warminghurst, Sussex, and East Smithfield, London (son of Edward Shelley, of Warminghurst, a Master of the Household of the sovereign, and the settlor in "Shelley's case", and Joan, daughter of Paul Eden, of Penshurst, Kent), aged 50 or 60, who was already in the Clink for his religion in April, 1584 was condemned for keeping a book called "My Lord Leicester's Commonwealth" and for having assisted the [Blessed] William Dean [who had been executed on August 28, 1588]. He was apparently uncle by marriage to Benjamin Norton, afterwards one of the seven vicars of Dr. Richard Smith. Richard Martin, of Shropshire, was condemned for being in the company of the Ven. Robert Morton and paying sixpence for his supper. Richard Lloyd, better known as Flower (alias Fludd, alias Graye), a native of the Diocese of Bangor (Wales), aged about 21, younger brother of Father Owen Lloyd was condemned for entertaining a priest named William Horner, alias Forrest. John Roche (alias Neele), an Irish serving-man, and Margaret Ward, gentlewoman of Cheshire, were condemned for having assisted a priest named William Watson to escape from Bridewell.
I have also told the stories of St. Anne Line and St. Margaret Clitherow on this blog on the dates of their executions, here and here, respectively. May these three brave Catholic women martyrs--and all the brave men who suffered this day in 1588-- inspire us!