Blessed Edward Burden: After studying at Oxford University’s Trinity College, Edward Burden, of County Durham, England, journeyed to the continent to prepare for the Catholic priesthood. He was ordained at Douai, France in 1584 and set out for England two years later. But after spending the following two years serving Catholics in Yorkshire, Father Burden was arrested by the Protestant Elizabethan authorities. While awaiting his fate in a York prison, he saw a fellow Catholic priest incarcerated with him, (Blessed) Robert Dalby, led away to be put on trial. Envious of the latter’s prospects of imminent martyrdom, Father Burden complained, “Shall I always lie here like a beast while my brother hastens to his reward? Truly, I am unworthy of such glory as to suffer for Christ.” But it was not long before Father Burden was himself tried and condemned to death for his priesthood. On November 29, 1588, he was executed by drawing and quartering at York.
Note: Father (Blessed) Robert Dalby was held in York Castle and not executed until after Blessed Edward Burden, on March 16, 1589, with Blessed John Amias. So Father Dalby's martyrdom was not as imminent as Father Burden thought!
Usually, the lay men and women who suffered execution for their faith during Elizabeth's reign were hanged until dead, found guilty of the felony of aiding and abetting a Jesuit or other priest, under the 1585 penal laws. These three lay martyrs, however, were sentenced to the same punishment as any other traitor, because they dared share their Catholic faith and attempt to persuade another Englishman to become a Catholic! This was not just a felony: this was treason!
On November 29, 1596, also in York, Blesseds George Errington, William Gibson, and William Knight (another layman, Blessed Henry Abbot had been condemned under the same charge, but his execution was delayed until March the following year) were hanged, drawn and quartered. They were victims of entrapment, according to Bishop Challoner:
A certain Protestant minister, for some misdemeanour put into York Castle, to reinstate himself in the favour of his superiors, insinuated himself into the good opinion of the Catholic prisoners, by pretending a deep sense of repentance, and a great desire of embracing the Catholic truth . . . So they directed him, after he was enlarged [released], to Mr. Henry Abbot, a zealous convert who lived in Holden in the same country, to procure a priest to reconcile him . . . Mr. Abbot carried him to Carlton to the house of Esquire Stapleton, but did not succeed in finding a priest. Soon after, the traitor having got enough to put them all in danger of the law, accused them to the magistrates . . . They confessed that they had explained to him the Catholic Faith, and upon this they were all found guilty and sentenced to die.
Blessed George Errington could also have been found guilty of the felony of aiding a Catholic priest (so might the others if they knew where to find a priest) because we know he was with St. John Boste at one time, who had suffered martyrdom in 1594. I presume they were in prison because of recusancy and not paying their fines.
The three who suffered on November 29, 1596 were all beatified by Pope John Paul II among the Eighty-five martyrs of England and Wales. Abbot was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI. Father Burden was also included among the Eighty-Five Martyrs of England and Wales. As Pope St. John Paul II said of the priests and laity among that 85 he beatified on the 22nd of November in 1987:
The priests among them wished only to feed their people with the Bread of Life and with the Word of the Gospel. To do so meant risking their lives. But for them this price was small compared to the riches they could bring to their people in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
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.