Friday, 31 October 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 33.


GREAT HARROWDEN.
1598, 1599.

"I MENTIONED just now that one of my hostess' servants told a friend of his, but an enemy of ours, that I habitually resided at his mistress' house, and that at that particular time I was in such a house in London. How this house was searched, and how they seized my companion and my manuscripts, but missed me, I have related. The Council therefore, now knowing my residence in the country, issued a commission to some justices of the peace in that county to search this lady's house for a priest. It had in fact begun to be talked of in the county that she had taken this grand house in order that she might harbour priests there in larger numbers and with greater freedom, because it was more private; and in this people were not far wrong.

" Now at this time, that is, soon after my return from London, we had driven over to the new house to make arrangements for our removal thither, and with the special object of determining where to construct hiding-places. To this end we had Little John [Brother Nicholas Owen] with us, whom I have before mentioned as very clever at constructing these places, and whom Father Garnet had lent to us for a time for this purpose. Having made all the necessary arrangements, we left Little John behind, and Hugh Sheldon also to help him, who is now at Rome with Father Persons in the room of John Lilly. These two, whom we had always found most faithful, were to construct the hiding-places, and to be the only ones beside ourselves to know anything about them. The rest of us however returned the same day to our hostess' old house, and by the advice of one of the servants, God so disposing it, we came back a different way, as being easier for the carriage. Had we returned by the way we went, the searchers would have come early to the house where we were, and most probably catching us entirely unprepared would have found what they came to seek. The fact was that the road by which we went to the new house ran through a town, where some of the enemy were on the watch and had seen us pass: but not seeing us return, they concluded that we were spending the night at the new house, and went there the first thing in the morning to search.

" But the house was so large, that although they had a numerous body of followers, they were not able to surround it entirely, nor to watch all the outlets so narrowly, but what Little John managed to make off safely. Hugh Sheldon they caught, but could get nothing out of him : so they sent him afterwards to prison at Wisbech, and from thence later to some other prison in company with many priests, and at last in the same good company into exile [in 1605].

"When however the justices found that they were wrong, and that the lady had returned home the previous day, they retraced their steps and came as fast as their horses could carry them to the old house. They arrived at our dinner-hour, and being admitted by the carelessness of the porter, got into the hall before we had any warning. Now as the lady of the house was a little indisposed that morning, we were going to take our dinner in my room, viz. Father Percy, myself, and Master Roger Lee, who had been so rudely interrupted before. So when I heard who had come, that they were in the great hall, and that his lordship himself, who was indeed but a boy at that time, could not prevent them from intruding into his room, though he was also unwell, I made a pretty shrewd guess what they had come about, and snatching up such things as wanted hiding I made the best of my way to the hiding-place, together with Father Percy and Master Roger Lee. For it would not do for this latter to have been found here, especially as he had already been found in the house in London where I was known to have been, and would therefore have given good reason to think that I was here also. But we had to pass by the door of the room in which the enemy were as yet waiting, and exclaiming that they would wait no longer. Nay, one of the pursuivants opened the door and looked out; and some of the servants said afterwards that he must have seen me as I passed. But God certainly interposed ; for it was surely not to be expected from natural causes that men who had come eager to search the house at once, and were loudly declaring they would do so, should stay in a room where they were not locked in, just as long as was necessary for us to hide ourselves, and then come forth as if they had been let loose, intrude upon the lady of the house, and course through all the -rooms like bloodhounds after their prey. I cannot but think that this was the finger of God, Who would not that the good intentions of this lady should be so soon frustrated, but rather wished by so evident a display of His providence to confirm her in her determinations, and preserve her for many more good works.

"The authorities searched the house thoroughly the whole day, but found nothing. At last they retired disappointed, and wrote to the Council what they had done. We soon discovered who had done the mischief (for he had not done it secretly) and discharged him, but without unkindness. I gave out also that I should quit the place altogether, and for a time we practised particular caution in all points.

" In consequence of this mishap it became impossible for us to remove to the new house. For those same justices, who were pestilent heretics, and several others in the same county, Puritans, declared they would never suffer her ladyship to live at peace if she came there, as her only object was to harbour priests. Being deterred therefore from that place, but not from her design, she set about fitting up her own present residence for the same purpose, and built us separate quarters close to the old chapel, which had been erected anciently by former barons of the family to hear mass in when the weather might make it unpleasant to go to the parish church. Here then she built a little wing of three stories for Father Percy and me. The place was exceedingly convenient, and so free from observation that from our rooms we could step out into the private garden, and thence through spacious walks into the fields, where we could mount our horses and ride whither we would.

" As we lived here safely and quietly, I frequently left Father Percy at home and made excursions to see if I could establish similar centres of operation among other families: and in this Father Roger Lee (to give him his present title) helped me not a little. He first took me to the house of a relation of his, who lived in princely splendour, and whose father was one of the Queen's Council. This young gentleman was a schismatic, that is, a Catholic by conviction, but conforming externally to the State religion; and there seemed no hope of getting him any further, for he contented himself with velleities, and was fearful of offending his father. His wife however, who was a heretic, had begun to listen with interest to Catholic doctrine, so that there was hope she might in time be brought into the Church. Their house was full of heretic servants, and there was a constant coming and going of heretic gentry either on business or on visit; it was therefore imperatively necessary that as I could only go there publicly I should well conceal my purpose.

"We paid a visit then to this house, and were made welcome, Master Lee for his own sake, as being much beloved, and I for his. On the first day I looked in vain for an opportunity of a conversation with the lady of the house, for there was always some one by. We were obliged to play at cards to pass the time, as those are wont to do who know not the eternal value of time, or at least care not for it. On the next day however, as the lady of the house stept aside once to the window to set her watch, I joined her there, and after talking a little about the watch, passed on to matters which I had more in view, saying I wished we took as much pains to set our souls in order as we did our watches. She looked up at me in pure surprise to hear such things from my lips; and as I saw I might never get a better opportunity than the present I began to open a little further, and told her that I had come there with Master Lee specially for her sake, hearing from him that she took interest in matters of religion ; and that I was ready to explain the Catholic doctrine to her, and satisfy all the doubts she could possibly have: moreover, that I could point out the way to a height of virtue which she had hitherto never dreamt of, for that in heresy she could neither find that way, nor any who made account of it. She was struck with what I said, and promised to find some opportunity for further conversation, when we might speak more fully on the matter. I gave her this hint of a higher virtue, because she had been represented to me, as she really was, as a lady of most earnest and conscientious character.

" She found the time according to her promise ; all her difficulties were removed, and she became a Catholic. After reconciling her to the Church, I made some other converts in the same house; then I got her a Catholic maid, and suggested that she should keep a priest always in the house, to which she gladly assented. This was a thing that might easily be managed, not indeed as it was in our house, where the whole household 1 was Catholic and knew us to be priests; but a priest could well live in the upper part of the house, from which all heretics might be kept away, especially now that some of the servants were Catholics. And indeed the accommodation was such that I do not know any place in England where a priest who wished to be private could live more conveniently. For he could have in the first place a fine room to himself, opening on a spacious corridor of some eighty paces which looked on a garden most expensively laid out: in this corridor moreover was a separate room which would serve excellently as a chapel, and another for his meals, with fire-places and every convenience. It was a pity, I said, that such a place had not a resident priest, where the mistress was a devout Catholic, and the master no enemy to religion. Her husband indeed made no difficulty of receiving priests ; nay, he sometimes came to hear me preach, and at last went as far as to be fond of dressing the altar with his own hands, and of saying the Breviary: yet with all this he still remains outside the Ark, liable to be swept off by the waters of the deluge when they break forth, for he presumes too much on an opportunity of doing penance before death. " The lady then readily fell in with my suggestion of having a priest in her house; so I brought thither Father Antony Hoskins, a man of great ability, who had lately come over from Spain, where he had spent ten years in the Society with remarkable success in his studies. Being placed there, he did a great deal of good on all sides, and remained with them almost up to the present time, when at length he has been removed and put to greater things. He did not, however, stay .constantly at home, for he is a man whom, when once known, many would wish to confer with, so that he was forced to go about at times. At present there is another Father in the house, a most devoted man. But the lady directs herself chiefly by Father Percy, who this very week addressed me a letter in the following words : ' Such a one' (meaning this lady of whom I have been speaking) ' is going on very well. She has offered her heart to Our Lady of Loretto, to serve her and her son for ever with all that she possesses; and in token of this she has had made a beautiful heart of gold, which she wishes to send to Loretto by the first opportunity. We desire, therefore, to hear from you by whom she can send this offering.' Thus he writes about this lady. In this way, then, by the grace of God, was this house, with its domestic church, established and confirmed in the faith."

The gentleman, whose father was one of the Queen's Council, was evidently Sir Francis Fortescue of Salden, Knight of the Bath, eldest surviving son of Sir John Fortescue, 3 Master of the Wardrobe to Queen Elizabeth. 4 The lady of whom Father Gerard is here writing was therefore Grace, his wife, daughter of Sir John Manners, second son of Thomas, first Earl of Rutland. Father Roger Lee was first cousin to Sir Francis Fortescue, their mothers Cecily and Amicia being daughters and coheiresses of Sir Edmund Ashfield, knight, of Ewelm, in the county of Oxford. 5 The family of the Fortescues of Salden continued Catholic for generations.

" Master Roger also introduced me to some neighbours of his : among others to a gentleman of the Queen's court, 6 who had inherited a large estate, and had married a lady who was sole heiress to all her father's property [Mary Mulshaw, of Gothurst, in Buckinghamshire]. Not one of this family was a Catholic, nor even inclined to the Catholic faith. The wife's father, who was the head of the house, was a thorough heretic, and had his thoughts entirely occupied in hoarding money for his daughter, and increasing her revenues. His son-in-law devoted himself wholly to juvenile sports. When in London, he attended at Court, being one of the Queen's gentlemen pensioners; but in the country he spent almost his whole time in hunting and hawking. Hence it happened that Master Roger Lee, who was a neighbour of his, and fond of similar sports, often joined him on such occasions, and brought his falcons to hawk in company. We two therefore took advantage of this acquaintanceship, and I was introduced to this gentleman's house as a friend and intimate of Master Lee's. We made frequent visits there, and took every opportunity of speaking of Catholic doctrine and practice. I took care, however, that Master Lee should always speak more frequently and more earnestly than I, that no suspicion might arise about my real character. Indeed, so far was this gentleman from having the least suspicion about me, that he seriously asked Master Lee whether he thought I was a good match for his sister, whom he wished to see married well, and to a Catholic, for he looked on Catholics as good and honourable men.

"We had therefore, as I said, frequent converse on matters of salvation ; and the wife was the first to listen with any fruit, at a time when she was living in the country but her husband was up in town. Her parents were now dead, and she was mistress of the house, so that we were able to deal more directly with her. At last she came to the point of wishing to be a Catholic, and told me she should be glad to speak with a priest. I could scarce forbear a smile at this, knowing that she was already speaking with one ; I answered, however, that the thing might be managed, and that I would speak with Master Lee on the subject. ' In the meantime,' I added, ' I can teach you the way to examine your conscience, as I myself was taught to do it by an experienced priest.' So I told Master Roger that, as she was now determined and prepared, he might inform her of my being a priest. This he did, but she for some time refused to believe it, saying, 'How is it possible he can be a priest ? Has he not lived among us rather as a courtier ? Has he not played at cards with my husband, and played well too, which is impossible for those who are not accustomed to the game ? Has he not gone out hunting with my husband, and frequently in my hearing spoken of the hunt in proper terms, without tripping, which no one could do but one who has been trained to it ?' Many other things she adduced to show I could not be a priest: to all of which Master Lee replied, ' It is true that he said and did what you say ; and unless he had done so, how could he have gained entrance here, and conversed with you, and by his conversation brought you to the faith ? For if he had presented himself as a priest (which he would much prefer, were it feasible), how would your father, who was then living, have allowed his introduction, or you yourselves ?'

" She could not but admit the truth of this ; yet she found it hard to believe that it was so. ' I pray you,' she said, ' not to be angry with me, if I ask further whether any other Catholic knows him to be a priest but you.— Does so-and-so know him ?'

" * Yes,' he answered, ' and has often gone to confession to him.'

" Then she mentioned other names, and at last that of my hostess [Mrs. Vaux], who lived in the neighbourhood, but ten miles off.

"' Does she too know him as a priest, and deal with him as such ?'

"'Why,'  said Master Lee, 'she not only knows him as a priest, but has given herself, and all her household, and all that she has, to be directed by him, and takes no other guide but him.'

" Then at length she confessed herself satisfied. "'You will find him, however,'  added Master Lee, 'quite a different man when he has put off his present character.'

" This she acknowledged the next day, when she saw me in my cassock and other priestly garments, such as she had never before seen. She made a most careful confession, and came to have so great an opinion of my poor powers that she gave herself entirely to my direction, meditated great things, which indeed she carried out, and carries out still.

"When this matter was thus happily terminated, we all three consulted together, how we could induce her husband to enter also into St. Peter's net. Now it so happened that he had fallen sick in London, and his wife on hearing it determined to go and nurse him. We, however, went up before her, and, travelling more expeditiously, had time to deal with him before she came. I spoke to him of the uncertainty of life, and the certainty of misery, not only in this life but especially in the next, unless we provided against it; and I showed him that we have here no abiding city, but must look for one to come. As affliction oftentimes brings sense, so it happened in his case ; for we found but little difficulty in gaining his good-will. And as he was a man of solid sense and excellent heart, he laid a firm foundation from the beginning. He prepared himself well for confession after being taught the way; and when he learnt that I was a priest, he felt no such difficulty in believing it as his wife had done, because he had known similar cases; but he rather rejoiced at having found a confessor who had experience among persons of his rank of life, and with whom he could deal at all times without danger of its being known that he was dealing with a priest. After his reconciliation he began on his part to be anxious about his wife, and wished to consult with us how best to bring her to the Catholic religion. We smiled inwardly at this, but said nothing at that time, determining to wait till his wife came up to town, that we might witness how each loving soul would strive to win the other.

" Certainly they were a favoured pair. Both gave themselves wholly to God's service, and the husband afterwards sacrificed all his property, his liberty, nay, even his life for God's Church, as I shall relate hereafter. For this was that Sir Everard Digby, knight, of whom later on I should have had to say many things, if so much had not been already written and published about him and his companions. But never in any of these writings has justice been done to the sincerity of his intention, nor the circumstances properly set forth which would put his conduct in its true light.

After this they both came to see me at my residence in the country. But while there he was again taken ill, and that so violently and dangerously, that all the Oxford doctors despaired of his life. As, therefore, in all likelihood he had not long to live, he began to prepare himself earnestly for a good death, and his wife to think of a more perfect way of life. For some days she gave herself to learn the method of meditation, and to find out God's will with regard to her future life, how she might best direct it to His glory. To be brief, she came to this determination, that if her husband should die, she would devote herself entirely to good works, observe perpetual chastity and exact obedience ; that as for her property, which would be very extensive as they were without children, she would spend it all in pious uses according to my direction ; she would herself live where and in what style I judged best for the advancement of God's honour and the good of her own soul; and she added that her desire was to wear poor clothing wherever she might be, and observe all the rules of poverty. All this was to be while the persecution might last in England. If, however, it should cease, and England should become Catholic, then she would give her house (a very large and fine one), and all the property her father left her, for the foundation of a College of the Society: and this would have been amply sufficient for a first-rate foundation.

"This was her resolution, but God had otherwise arranged, and for that time happily. For when all the Oxford doctors gave up Sir Everard's case as hopeless, I who loved him much did not lose heart, but without his knowledge I sent for a certain Cambridge doctor, a Catholic, and a man of much learning and experience, whom I had known to cure cases abandoned by other physicians. On his arrival at our house, where Sir Everard Digby then was with his wife, after telling him all about the patient, I got him to examine the sick man himself and learn from him all about his habit of body and general constitution. Then I asked him if he thought there was any hope. He answered, ' If Sir Everard will venture to put himself entirely in my hands, I have good hopes, with the help of God, of bringing him round.'

" The patient on hearing this said to me, ' Since this doctor is known to your reverence, and is chosen by you, I give myself willingly into his hands.'

"By this doctor, then, he was cured beyond all expectation, and so completely restored to perfect health, that there was not a more robust or stalwart man in a thousand. He was a most devoted friend to me, just as if he had been my twin brother. And this name of brother we always used in writing to each other. How greatly he was attached to me may be seen from the following incident. Once when I had gone to a certain house to assist a soul in agony, he got to learn that I was in great danger there. Upon this he at first expressed a terrible distress, and then immediately said to his wife, that if I should be taken, he was resolved to watch the roads by which I should be carried prisoner to London, and take with him a sufficient number of friends and servants to rescue me by force from those who had me in custody ; and if he should miss me on the road, he would accomplish my release one way or another, even though he should spend his whole fortune in the venture. Such, then, was his attachment to me at that time, and this he retained always in the same—nay, rather in an increased—degree, to the end of his life, as he showed by the way he spoke of me when pleading for his life before the public court. At this time, however, as I said, he was restored to health ; and he and his wife got together a little domestic church after the pattern of one in our house, and built a chapel with a sacristy, furnishing it with costly and beautiful vestments, and obtained a priest of the Society for their chaplain, who remained with them to Sir Everard's death.

"What was done by this family was done by others also. For many of the Catholic gentry coming to our house, and seeing the arrangements and manner of life, followed the example themselves, establishing a sort of congregation in each of their houses, providing handsome altar furniture, making convenient arrangements for the residence of priests, and showing especial respect and reverence to them.

" Among those who came to this determination was a certain lady resident near Oxford, whose husband was indeed a Catholic, but overmuch devoted to worldly pursuits. She, however, gave herself to be ruled and directed by me as far as she could, having such a husband. I often visited them, and was always welcomed by both ; and there I established one of our Fathers, Edward Walpole, whom I mentioned at an early part of this narrative as having left a large patrimony for the sake of following Christ our Lord, in the first year of my residence in England.

" There was another lady also who had a similar wish : she was a relative of my hostess, and she also resided in the county of Oxford. Her husband was a knight of very large property, who hoped to be created a baron, and still hopes for it. This lady came on a visit to our house, and wished to learn the way of meditating, which I taught her; but as her husband was a heretic it was impossible for her to have a priest in her house, as she greatly wished. She took, however, the resolution of supporting a priest, who should come to her at convenient times. She resolved also to give an hour daily to meditation, and one or two hours daily to spiritual reading, when she had no guests in the house; also to make a general confession every six months, a practice which was followed also by all those of whom I have just spoken, and by many others whom it is impossible for me to mention individually. On her coming to me every six months for her general confession, I found that she had never omitted her hour of meditation, nor her daily examination of conscience, except on one occasion when her husband insisted on her staying with the guests. Yet she had a large and busy household to superintend, and a continual coming and going of guests.

"It happened on one occasion when I was in this lady's house, and was sitting with her after dinner, the servants having gone down to get their own dinner, that suddenly a guest was shown up who had just arrived. This was an Oxford Doctor of Divinity, a heretic of some note and a persecutor of Catholics ; his name was Dr. Abbot. He had just before this published a book against Father Southwell, who had been executed, and Father Gerard, who had escaped from the Tower, because these two had defended the doctrine of equivocation, which he chose to impugn. After this publication the good man had been made Dean of Winchester, a post which brought him in a yearly income of eight thousand florins [800/.]. This man, then, as I said, was shown up, and entered the dining-room, dressed in a sort of silk soutane coming down to his knees, as is the manner of their chief ministers. We were in appearance sitting at cards, though when the servants had all left the room we had laid the cards down to attend to better things. Hearing, however, this gentleman announced, we resumed our game, so that he found us playing, with a good sum of money on the table.

" I may here mention, that when I played thus with Catholics, with the view of maintaining among a mixed company the character in which I appeared, I always agreed that each one should have his money back afterwards, but should say an Ave Maria for each piece that was returned to him. It was on these terms that I frequently played with my brother Digby and other Catholics, where it appeared necessary, so that the bystanders thought we were playing for money, and were in hot earnest over it.

" So also this minister never conceived the slightest suspicion of me, but after the first courtesies began to talk at a pretty pace : for this is the only thing those chattering ministers can do, who possess no solid knowledge, but by the persuasive words of human wisdom lead souls astray, and subvert houses, teaching things which are not convenient. So he, after much frivolous talk, began to tell us the latest news from London ; how a certain Puritan had thrown himself down from the steeple of a church, having left it in writing that he knew himself to be secure of his eternal salvation. About this writing, however, the learned Doctor said nothing, but I had heard the particulars myself from another quarter.

" ' Wretched man !' said I, ' what could induce him thus to destroy body and soul by one and the same act ?'

"' Sir,'  said the Doctor, learnedly enough and magisterially, 'we must not judge any man.'

"' True,' I replied, ' it is just possible that as he was falling he repented of his sin, inter pontem et fontem, as they say: but this is extremely improbable, since the last act of the man of which we have any means of judging was a mortal sin and deserving of damnation.'

"'But,' said the Doctor, 'we cannot know whether this was such a sin.'

'"Nay,' I replied, 'this is not left to our judgment; it is God's own verdict, when He forbids us under pain of Hell to kill anyone, a prohibition which applies especially to the killing of ourselves, for charity begins from oneself.'

"The good Doctor being here caught, said no more on this point, but turned the subject, and said smiling, ' Gentlemen must not dispute on theological matters.'

"' True,' said I, ' we do not make profession of knowing theology; but at least we ought to know the law of God, though our profession is to play at cards.'

"The lady with whom I was playing, hearing him speak to me in this way, could scarce keep her countenance, thinking within herself what he would have said if he had known who it was he was answering. The Doctor, however, did not stay much longer. Whether he departed sooner than he at first intended, I know not; but I know that we much preferred his room to his company.'

The lady, in whose house Father Gerard met Dr. Abbot, must have been Agnes Lady Wenman, wife of Sir Richard Wenman, of Thame Park, not far from Oxford. Sir Richard was knighted in 1596 for his conduct at Cadiz, and attained the object of his ambition very long after this was written, for he was made a peer of Ireland in 1628 as Baron and Viscount Wenman. Agnes his wife came of a Catholic family, being the daughter of Sir George Fermor of Easton Neston in Northamptonshire.

1 Later on we shall come across two good specimens of the men of this household, Richard Richardson the butler and Francis Swetnam in the bakehouse.

2 He became Vice-prefect of the English Mission, residing in that capacity at Madrid. Troubles, Second Series, p. 281.

3 Troubles, First Series, p. 144.

4 Sir John died December 23, 1607, set. 76. Lipscomb's History of Bucks, 1847, vol. iii. p. 430.

5 Visitations 0f Oxford, Harl. Soc. 187 1, vol. v. p. 168.

6 In the margin of the MS. is written "Digbӕus," in the same hand as the text.

7 George Abbot was appointed Dean of Winton in 1599; in 1609 Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, from which in about a month he was translated to London, and thence in 1611 to Canterbury. In July 1621 as he was shooting at a deer with a crossbow, he shot the keeper, for which King James gave him a dispensation. In 1627 he was sequestered from his office, and his metropolitan jurisdiction put into commission, but about a year after he was restored. He died at Croydon, August 4, 1633, set. 71.