Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Popish Plot and The Howard Family

The Howard family boasts two martyrs: St. Philip Howard who died in the Tower of London during Queen Elizabeth I's reign (denied the opportunity to see his son before he died unless he denied his Catholicism and professed to be a Protestant!) and his grandson, Blessed William Howard, who was beheaded on December 29, 1680 on Tower Hill.

William Howard was born on November 30, 1614, the son of Thomas Howard, who had conformed to the Church of England. William married Mary Stafford in a Catholic ceremony in 1637 and they had nine children. The Howard family, being Royalists, fled to the Netherlands during the English Civil War and returned to England with the Restoration of Charles II, being restored to his lands. Three of their daughters became nuns on the Continent and his wife died in 1692; James II had provided her with a pension.

He was accused by Titus Oates of being part of the non-existent Popish Plot and was tried by his peers in the House of Lords in Westminster Hall. One of his witnesses was arrested and died in jail. Howard was, of course, found guilty, attainted and his lands forfeit. The British Museum has a print that depicts his trial and execution.

He protested his innocence throughout the trial and on the scaffold:

Next he lift up his hands, standing up, and said. "I beseech Thee, God, not to avenge my innocent blood upon any man in the Whole kingdom ; no, not against those who by their perjuries have brought me here. For I profess before Almighty God that I never combined against the King's life, nor any body else, but whatever I did was only to procure liberty for the Romish religion. And, as for the Duke of York, I do here declare, upon my Salvation, I know of no design that he ever had against the King, but hath ever behaved himself, for ought I know, as a loving, loyal brother ought to do.
So now, upon my Salvation, I have said true all that I have said. And I pray God to have mercy upon my soul." . . .

After which he went round the scaffold and spake to the multitude thus, "I pray God, bless the King, and bless you all, especially the King's loyal subjects (such as I am myself) for I know you have a good and gracious King as ever reigned. God forgive me my sins, I forgive all the world, even those fellows that brought me here, and pray God to send them no worse punishment than to repent and tell the truth. And so, God bless you all."

And some replyed, "God have mercy upon your soul." Then a minister applyed himself, and said, "Sir; you did disown the indulgences of the Romish Church."

To which he answered, with a great passion.

"Sir ; what have you to do with my religion? Pray do not trouble me. However, I do say that the Church of Rome allows no indulgences for murder, lying, &c., and whatever I have said is true. What need you trouble yourself?"

Min. "Have you received no absolution?"

Answ. "I have received none at all. Sir, trouble not yourself, nor me."

Min. "You said that you never saw those witnesses."

Answ. "I never saw any of them but Dugdale, and that was at a time when I spoke to him about a footboy, or a foot match."

Then his man took off his periwig and upper coat, and with a pair of sizers (sic) cut off the collar of his masters shirt, after which, W.S. lyes down in a white satin waistcoat, a quilted sky-coloured silk cap, with lace turn 'd up, &c.

He gave his watch to a gentleman, crucifix to his page, his staff and paper to another.

Having fitted his neck to the block, rise up upon his knees and prayed to himself, then takes the block and embraced it, then 'his servants cut off more of the linen, in all which time he sent up short prayers, that Christ would receive his spirit. Then lying down and praying upon the block, the sheriff Cornish askt' of the headsman, in kindness to W.S., if he had given him any sign. He answered "No."
Whereupon W.S. rose up in a consternation and asked what they wanted. To which it was answered, "What sign will you give, Sir?"

Answ. "No sign at all. Take your own time. God's will be done."

Whereupon the executioner said, "I hope you forgive me?"

He made answer, "I do." Then lying down again, two of his servants came with a piece of black silk to receive the head. Then the headsman took the Axe in 'his hand, and after some pause gave the blow, Which was cleverly done, save the cutting off a little skin, which was cut off immediately with a knife. 

In 1824 his great-great-great grandson George William Jerningham requested Parliament to reverse the attainder against William Howard and restore the title Viscount Stafford, which he then inherited.

Pope Pius XI beatified William Howard in 1929.

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