English martyr, b. at Ghisburn, Yorkshire; executed at York, 24 September, 1589. His maternal uncle, William Horn, who signed for the Rectory of Cornwell, Oxfordshire, in 1559, sent him in 1573 to Trinity College, Oxford, where he became Fellow in 1579 and M.A. in 1580. There, convinced of the truth of Catholicism, he used his position to influence his pupils in that direction; but he delayed his reconciliation till 1582, when, with four other Trinity men (John Appletree, B.A., already a priest; William Warford, M.A. and Fellow, afterwards a Jesuit; Anthony Shirley, M.A. and Fellow, afterwards a priest; and John Fixer, B.A., afterwards a priest), he embarked from the Isle of Wight, and landed near Cherbourg, arriving at Reims, 2 November. Received into the Church five days later, he was ordained sub-deacon and deacon at Laon by the bishop, Valentine Douglas, 7 April, 1583, and priest at Reims by the Cardinal Archbishop de Guise, 24 September, and was sent on the mission 29 August, 1584. He effected the reconciliation of his parents and his uncle (the latter was living as a Catholic priest in 1593), and afterwards voluntarily immured himself in York Castle to help the prisoners there. He was condemned under 27 Elizabeth, c. 2, merely for being a priest. With him suffered a layman, Robert Hardesty, who had given him shelter.
Blesseds Spenser and Hardesty were among the 85 Martyrs of England and Wales beatified by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1987. During the homily at the beatification Mass (on the Feast of Christ the King), the pope spoke of the role of the laity in that era:
The twenty-two laymen in this group of martyrs shared to the full the same love of the Eucharist. They, too, repeatedly risked their lives, working together with their priests, assisting, protecting and sheltering them. Laymen and priests worked together; together they stood on the scaffold and together welcomed death. Many women, too, not included today in this group of martyrs, suffered for their faith and died in prison. They have earned our undying admiration and remembrance.
These martyrs gave their lives for their loyalty to the authority of the Successor of Peter, who alone is Pastor of the whole flock. They also gave their lives for the unity of the Church, since they shared the Church’s fait, unaltered down the ages, that the Successor of Peter has been given the task of serving and ensuring "the unity of the flock of Christ". He has been given by Christ the particular role of confirming the faith of his brethren. . . .
Seventeen years ago forty of the glorious company of martyrs were canonized. It was the prayer of the Church on that day that the blood of those martyrs would be a source of healing for the divisions between Christians. Today we may fittingly give thanks for the progress made in the intervening years towards fuller communion between Anglicans and Catholics. We rejoice in the deeper understanding, broader collaboration and common witness that have taken place through the power of God.
In the days of the martyrs whom we honour today, there were other Christians who died for their beliefs. We can all now appreciate and respect their sacrifice. Let us respond together to the great challenge which confronts those who would preach the Gospel in our age. Let us be bold and united in our profession of our common Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.