Monday, September 9, 2019

September 9, 1587: A Catholic Martyr from Scotland

Blessed George Douglas is one of the 85 Martyrs of England and Wales, executed on September 9, 1587. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and according to Volume 1 of the Lives of the English Martyrs, 1583-1588, edited by Edwin H. Burton, D.D. and J.H. Pollen, SJ, he was aided in his exile in France by Mary, Queen of Scots:

George Douglas was of the house of Douglas of Bongedward now Bonjedburgh, of which family the Earl of Angus was the head. He was born in Edinburgh somewhere about 1540, his father John Douglas being a burgess of that city. Archibald Douglas, "the Parson of Glasgow," was his kinsman and coeval ; they were companions as scholars under John Douglas, sometime Archbishop of St. Andrews.

From the earlier examination [in 1570-1571] we learn that George Douglas ''was sometime a 'graye Freer' [sic: Friar] in Edinborough [sic]". About the year 1556 he betook himself to France where he tarried six years, and was maintained upon the exhibition (or pension) of the Queen of Scots as long as he tarried there. He was meantime made priest at Notre Dame ''by the testimonial of the Queen of Scots."

Then, when Father Douglas had gone to England as a missionary priest, he wrote to his patron in 1570-1571 (she had been in Elizabeth I's "care" since 1568) and his letter brought him to the attention of the authorities (he had been serving as tutor in a couple of households):

This he did, and his Latin letter, which is not signed, is still preserved. The letter is little more than an expression of his gratitude to Mary 'because you nourished me in the bountiful academy of Paris," and of sympathetic consolation in her trials, "with the assistance of the divine grace, your sorrow will be turned into joy". But the letter was seized and brought to Francis Cave, a Justice, in whose judgment its writer "seemeth to myselyke the usage of the quene's majestic towardes the quene of Scottes, & also of our relligion used here in Inglond contrary to the honour of the quene's majestic & the laws of her realm". He accordingly examined Douglas, and sent the examination with the letter up to London to the Earl of Huntingdon, Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, with the suggestion that if he "confer with Mr. Secretary or some other of the Council, & peruse his letters, I think you will find that he deserves punishment". Meanwhile Cave detained Douglas in the jail.

Mary was held in South Yorkshire in 1570-1571. Evidently, Douglas was released. Burton and Pollen believe that the Father George Douglas described above with his connection to Mary, Queen of Scots, was the same Father George Douglas executed on September 9, 1587 in York:

This martyr's name is found in Wilson's Catalogue, the appendix to his English Martyrologe, published at St. Omer's in 1608, and is included in nearly all subsequent lists of the martyrs. What is known for certain concerning him is found in the Collectanea of Father Christopher Grene, S.J., who tells that he suffered at York on 9 September, 1587. The substance of what Father Grene had ascertained is as follows. At Ripon George Douglas fell into a discussion in which he asserted that the offspring of priests are illegitimate, and denied that the State bishops were real bishops. For this he was denounced, examined and imprisoned for about the space of a year. He was put in the stocks and then kept in irons in a dark dungeon. . . .

Finally tried, and refusing to accept Queen Elizabeth I as the supreme governor of the Church in England, he was condemned to death. Blessed George Douglas endured a horrific execution:

Commending himself unto God, he was cast off the ladder, and the sheriff commanded to cut the rope. The topman not being hasty, one of the bailiffs with his halbert burst the rope asunder, and the martyr fell on his back, and quickly sat up. Then came two butcherly slaves, the one took hold of his feet, and the other of the rope, and so strangling him, and trailing him to the fire, ripped him. He offered to put his hand to the place, and to rise up, but was held down for all his struggling. His tongue was heard to go. Thus cruelly this holy martyr died, and was executed for the profession of the Catholic faith, September 9, 1587. He is described as "a learned man, sharp in speech ; a stout champion, who handled Catholic controversy with much force. Marvellous stout, and zealous to suffer anything for Christ's sake."

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