Friday, 17 October 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 19.


After this long break we must allow Father Gerard to resume his narrative, and we will leave him to tell the story of his life in prison with as little interruption as possible.

"The pursuivant who knew me, kept me in his house two nights; either because those who were to examine me were hindered from doing so on the first day, or (as it struck me afterwards) because they wished first to examine my companion, Little John. I noticed the first night, that the room where I was locked up was not far from the ground ; and that it would be easy to let myself down from the window, by tearing up the bed-clothes and making a rope of them. I should have done so that very night, had I not heard some one stirring in the next room. I thought that he was put there to watch me and so it turned out. However, I meant to carry my plan out the night after, if the watchman went away; but my keeper forestalled me ; for to save the expense of a guard he put irons on my arms, which hindered me both from bringing my hands together and from separating them. Then in truth I was more at ease in mind, though less in body; for the thought of escape vanished, and there came in its place a feeling of joy that I had been vouchsafed this suffering for the sake of Christ, and I thanked the Lord for it as well as I could.

" Next day I was brought before the Commissioners, 1 at the head of whom was one who is now Lord Chancellor of the realm. He had been a Catholic, but went over to the other side, for he loved the things of this world.

" They first asked me my name and calling. I gave them the name I passed by; whereupon one called me by my true name, and said that I was a Jesuit. As I was aware that the pursuivant knew me, I answered that I would be frank and open in everything that belonged to myself, but would say nothing that could affect others. So I told them my name and calling, to wit that, though most unworthy, I was a priest of the Society of Jesus.

"' Who sent you into England ?' they asked.

"'The Superiors of the Society'

'"To what end?'

"'To bring back stray souls to their Creator'

'"No, no' said they, 'you were sent for matters of State, and to lure people from the obedience of the Queen to the obedience of the Pope'

"' As for matters of State' I replied, ' we are forbidden to have anything to say to them, as they do not belong to our Institute. This prohibition, indeed, extends to all the members of the Society; but on us missioners it is particularly enjoined in a special instruction. As for the obedience due to the Queen and the Pope, each is to be obeyed in that wherein they have jurisdiction ; and one obedience does not clash with the other, as England and all Christian realms have hitherto experienced'

"' How long have you been doing duty as a priest in this country ?'

"'About six years'

How and where did you land, and where have you lived since your landing ?'

"' I cannot in conscience answer any of these questions' I replied, 'especially the last, as it would bring mischief on others ; so I crave pardon for not satisfying your wishes.'

'"Nay' said they, 'it is just on these heads that we chiefly desire you to satisfy us, and we bid you in the Queen's name to do so.'

" ' I honour the Queen' said I, ' and will obey her and you in all that is lawful, but here you must hold me excused ; for were I to mention any person or place where I have been lodged, the innocent would have to suffer according to your laws, for the kind service they have done me. Such behaviour on my part would be against all justice and charity, and therefore I never will be guilty of it'

"' You shall do so by force, if not by good will.' "'I hope' I said, 'by the grace of God, it shall not be as you say. I beg you, therefore, to take this my answer, that neither now nor at any other time will I disclose what you demand of me.'

"Thereupon they wrote a warrant for my imprisonment, and gave it to the pursuivants, bidding them take me to prison. As we were leaving, he who is now Chancellor said that I must be kept in close confinement, as in cases of high treason. 'But tell the gaolers,' he added 'to treat him well on account of his birth.' It seems' however, that the head gaoler gave orders at variance with this humane recommendation, for I was lodged in a garret' where there was nothing but a bed, and no room to stand up straight, except just where the bed was. There was one window always open, through which foul air entered and rain fell on to my bed. The room door was so low, that I had to enter not on my feet, but on my knees, and even then I was forced to stoop. However, I reckoned this rather an advantage, inasmuch as it helped to keep out the stench (certainly no small one) that came from the privy close to my door, which was used by all the prisoners in that part of the house. I was often kept awake, or waked up, by the bad smell.

" In this place I passed two or three days of true repose. I felt no pain or anxiety of mind, and enjoyed, by the blessing of God, that peace which the world does not and cannot give. On the third or fourth day, I was taken for a second examination to the house of a magistrate called Young. He it was who had the management of all the searches and persecutions that the Catholics in the neighbourhood of London had to endure ; and it was to him that the traitor had given his information. Along with him was another, who had for many years conducted the examinations by torture, Topcliffe by name. He was a man of cruelty, athirst for the blood of the Catholics, and so crafty and cunning, that all the wily wit of his companion seemed abashed into silence by his presence; in fact, the justice spoke very little during the whole examination. I found the two of them alone, Young in a civilian's dress, Topcliffe with a sword by his side and in a Court dress. He was an old man, grown grey in wickedness. Young began questioning me as to my place of abode, and the Catholics that I knew. I answered that I neither could nor would make disclosures that would get any one into trouble, for reasons already stated. He turned then to Topcliffe and said : ' I told you how you would find him.'

"Topcliffe looked frowningly at me and said: 'Do you know me ? I am Topcliffe, of whom I doubt not you have often heard.'

"He meant this to frighten me. To heighten the effect, he had laid his sword on the table near his hand, as though he were ready to use it on occasion. But he failed certainly, and caused me not the least alarm; and whereas I was wont to answer with deference on other occasions, this time I did quite the contrary, because I saw him making a show to scare me. Finding that he could get no other manner of reply from me than what I had given, he took a pen and wrote an artful and malicious form of examination.

"Here," says he, 'read this paper; I shall show it to the Privy Council, that they may see what a traitor you are to the realm, and how manifestly guilty.'

"The contents of the paper were as follows: 'The examinate was sent by the Pope and the Jesuit Persons, and coming through Belgium there had interviews with the Jesuit Holt and Sir William Stanley : thence he came into England, on a political errand, to beguile the Queen's subjects, and lure them from their obedience to their Sovereign. If, therefore, he will not disclose the places and persons with whom he has lived, it is presumed that he has done much mischief to the State, &c.'

" On reading this, I saw that I could not meet so many falsehoods with one single denial; and as I was desirous that he should show my way of answering to the Council I said that I also wished to answer in writing. Hereat Topcliffe was overjoyed, and cried out, ' Oh ! now you are a reasonable man': but he was disappointed. He had hoped to catch me in my words, or at least to find out my handwriting, so that some of the papers found in the houses of the Catholics might be proved to be mine. I foresaw this, and therefore wrote in a feigned hand as follows: ' I was sent by my Superiors. I never was in Belgium : I have not seen Father Holt since the time that I left Rome. I have not seen Sir William Stanley since he left England with the Earl of Leicester. I am forbidden to meddle with matters of State ; I never have done, and never will do so. I have tried to bring back souls to the knowledge and love of their Creator, and to make them show obedience to the laws of God and man; and I hold this last point to be a matter of conscience. I humbly crave that my refusal to answer anything concerning the persons that I know, may not be set down to contempt of authority ; seeing that God's commandment forces me to follow this course, and to act otherwise would be against charity and justice.'

" While I was writing this, the old man waxed wroth. He shook with passion, and would fain have snatched the paper from me.

" ' If you don't want me to write the truth' said I, ' I'll not write at all.'

" ' Nay' quoth he, ' write so and so, and I'll copy out what you have written.'

" ' I shall write what I please," I answered, ' and not what you please. Show what I have written to the Council, for I shall add nothing but my name.'

"This I signed so near the writing, that nothing could be put in between. The hot-tempered man, seeing himself disappointed, broke out into threats and blasphemies.

" ' I'll get you put into my power, and hang you in the air, and show you no mercy; and then I shall see what God will rescue you out of my hands.'

"From the abundance of his heart he poured forth these evil words; but by this he raised my hopes, just the opposite effect to what he wanted. Neither then nor since have I ever reckoned aught of a blasphemer; and in sooth I have found by experience, that God increases the confidence of His servants, when He allows strife to rise up against them. I gave, therefore, this short answer: ' You will be able to do nothing without the leave of God, Who never abandons those th&t hope in Him. The will of God be done.'

" Thereupon Young called the gaoler who had brought me, to take me back to prison. As he was leading me off, Topcliffe addressed him and bade him put irons on my legs. Both then fell a-chiding him for having brought me by himself, fearing perchance lest I should escape from his hands.

" When I had crept back to my little closet, my legs were garnished according to order. The man seemed grieved that put the fetters on. For my part, instead of grief, I felt very much joy, such is God's goodness to the most unworthy of His creatures. To pay the man for the kind turn that he had done me, I gave him some money for his job; and told him it was no punishment to suffer in so good a cause."

Father Garnet described this act of faith and courage in the following terms in a letter 4 to the General of the Society, which we translate from the Italian. " This father has always been very courageous, and when he was first taken, and the gaoler put very heavy irons on his legs, he gave him some money. The following day the gaoler, thinking that if he took off the irons doubtless he would give him more, took them off, but got nothing. After some days he came to put them on again, and received a reward, and then taking them off did not get a farthing. They went on playing thus with one another several times, but at last the gaoler, seeing that he did not give him anything for taking off his irons, left him for a long time in confinement, so that the great toe of one foot was for almost two years in great danger of mortification. So your Reverence sees that in these times the courage of true Christian soldiers is not wanting. May our Lord give him perseverance, and to those who follow him the grace to imitate him."

" Here I stayed," said Father Gerard, "upwards of three months. During the first month I made from memory, as well as I could, the Spiritual Exercises; giving four and sometimes five hours a day to meditation. God lavished His goodness on me throughout, and I had proof that He opens His bounteous hand to His servants most of all, when He has closed up the sources of earthly comfort to them.

" While I was quietly lodged in prison, without being brought out or undergoing any further examination for many days, they examined and put to the torture Richard Fulwood, whom the traitor had pointed out as my servant, and Little John, who had been taken with me. Unable, either by coaxing or bribery, to draw anything from them that would compromise others, they had recourse to threats and then to force: but the force of the Holy Ghost in them was too great to be overcome by men. They were both hung up for three hours together, having their arms fixed into iron rings, and their bodies hanging in the air; a torture which causes frightful pain and intolerable extension of the sinews. It was all to no purpose; no disclosure could be wrested from them that was hurtful to others; no rewards could entice, no threats or punishments force them, to discover where I or any of ours had been harboured, or to name any of our acquaintance or abettors.

" Here I ought not to pass over in silence God's great goodness and mercy to me, the most unworthy of all His servants. It was shown in this, that there was not a single traitor, either among those that were then seized in my house or in the house of the good gentleman, my entertainer; no, nor even among those that in the other persecutions, which by God's providence afterwards befell me, were imprisoned, tortured, and treated with the utmost cruelty. Not one of them, I say, ever yielded, but all by the grace of God held steadfast through everything. Those whom I used as companions, or the servants I entrusted with commissions to the gentlemen of my acquaintance, as they necessarily knew all my friends, would have been able to do very great mischief, and enrich themselves by ruining others: yet no one of them ever caused any harm either by word or deed, wittingly or unwittingly; nor, as far as I remember, did they ever give any one matter of complaint On many of them, God, in His goodness, poured the choicest gifts of His Holy Spirit.

"John Lasnet 5 the first that I had, died in Spain a lay-brother of the Society. The second that I had for some little while was Michael Walpole, who is now a priest of the Society and labouring in England. The third was [Ralph] Willis.6 He had a vocation, so I sent him to study in the Seminary at Rheims, where he went through his course of philosophy. His behaviour there was orderly, but afterwards at Rome he joined a turbulent party, thus returning evil for good. He was the only one of my helpmates that walked at all awry. He was, however, made priest, and sent into England. There he was seized, and condemned to death for the faith, and answered unflinchingly before the tribunal; but instead of losing his life, he was kept some time in prison; whence he effected his escape, and is still labouring in England.

" After him I had a godly man of the name of John Sutton, the brother of three priests, one of whom was a martyr, and another died in the Society. Father Garnet kept him in his house for many years, up to the time of his own arrest.

" The next that I had was Richard Fulwood, of whom I have spoken above. He managed to make his escape, and during my imprisonment was employed by Father Garnet until that Father's happy death. He managed nearly all his master's business with strangers, not without the knowledge of the persecutors, who offered a handsome sum for his capture, and were still more earnest about it after Father Garnet was taken. In fact they gave the poor man no peace until they drove him into banishment, where he yet remains, doing good service to our mission notwithstanding.

"After him I had John Lilly, a man well-known at Rome; he died lately in England, a lay-brother of the Society. Next came two other godly men, whom I did not take to keep, but merely as make-shifts, till I could get a man every way suited to my wants, and endowed with a religious spirit. I found one at length; and when I quitted England, I took him with me, and left him at St. Omers. There he was well grounded in Greek and Latin, and became a great favourite with all the fathers, who sent him into Spain with the highest recommendations. He still remains there, growing always in virtue and learning. Not long ago I had a letter from the Father Prefect of Studies, in which he tells me that he is the best student in his course.

" Such were the mercies of God vouchsafed to me His unworthy servant, in answer to my constant prayers. Many gentlemen entrust themselves and their interest to our servants' good faith no less than to ours; so that there could be no greater let or hindrance to our good work, than any treachery on their part: indeed the defection of such a one would be likely to cause the most frightful ruin among Catholics. For if one servant, and he neither a Catholic nor one of the household, like the traitor of whom I have spoken, made such havoc in his master's family, what mischief could a priest's servant do to the many persons of high rank, that had harboured him and his master! God has hitherto kept me free from the like betrayal.

"To return to my story. They could wrest nothing out of Little John and Fulwood; and none of my host's Catholic servants would make any avowal, or own that he knew me. Seeing that they could bring no witness against him, the heretics gradually lost the hope they had of seizing all his chattels and revenue.

" Sometimes they would bring me up for examination, when they had anything new against me. Once they called me to try on a suit of clothes, which had been found in my host's house, and which the traitor said were mine. I put them on and they were just a fit, for the truth was that they had been made for me; however I would not own them, nor admit them to be mine. Hereupon Young flew into a passion, calling me a headstrong and unreasonable man. He was so barefaced as to add: ' How much more sensible is Southwell, who after long wilfulness is now ready to conform, and wishes to treat with some man of learning.'

"' Nay' I answered, ' I will never believe that Father Southwell wishes to treat with any one from any wavering in his faith, or to learn what to believe from a heretic; but he might perchance challenge any heretic to dispute with him that dared, as Father Campion did, and as many others would do if you would let them, and appoint proper umpires.'

"Then Young seizing hold of the book and kissing it, cried: ' I swear upon this book that Southwell has offered to treat, with a view of embracing our religion'

"' I do not believe he ever did so' said I.

"'What' said an officer of the court, 'do you not believe his oath ?'

"'No' was my reply, 'I neither can nor will believe him; for I have a better opinion of Father Southwell's firmness than of his truthfulness; since perhaps he thinks that he is allowed to make this statement to beguile me.'

"' No such thing' said Young: ' but are you ready to conform if he has done so ?' To conform in the Protestant sense, means to embrace their deformed religion.

"' Certainly not' I answered ; ' for if I keep myself free from heresy and heretical meetings, it is not because he or any man on earth does the same; but because to act otherwise would be to deny Christ, by denying His faith, which may be done by deed as well as by word. This is what our Lord forbade under pain of a heavier punishment than man can inflict, when He said, " He that shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father Who is in Heaven."'

"To this the heretic answered not a word, save that I was stiff-necked, (a name that was applicable rather to himself,) and bade them take me back to prison.

"Another time I was sent for to be confronted with three witnesses, servants of a certain nobleman named Lord Henry Seymour, son of the Duke of Somerset They were heretics, and avouched that on a certain day I had dined with their mistress and her sister, whilst they among others waited at table. The two sisters were daughters of the Earl of Northumberland. One of them was a devout Catholic, and had come to London a little before my imprisonment, to get my help in passing over to Belgium, there to consecrate herself to God. She was staying at the house of her sister, the wife of the aforesaid lord. She wanted to bring back this sister to the Catholic faith, which the latter had abandoned after her good father's death. I dined with them on the day the witnesses mentioned. It was in Lent; and they told how their mistress ate meat, while the Lady Mary and I ate nothing but fish. Young flung this charge in jny teeth with an air of triumph, as though I could not help acknowledging it, and thereby disclosing some of my acquaintances. I answered that I did not know the men whom he had brought up.

"' But we know you,' said they, ' to be the same that was at such a place on such a day.'

"' You wrong your mistress' said I, ' in saying so. I, however, will not so wrong her.'

" ' What a barefaced fellow you are!' exclaimed Young.

"' Doubtless' I answered, ' were these men's statement true: as for me, I cannot speak positively in the matter, for reasons that I have often alleged : let them look to the truth and justice of what they say.'

" Young then, in a rage, remanded me to prison."

Honorarios arbitros seu examinatores.— MS. Sir Thomas Egerton, afterwards Lord Ellesmere and Viscount Brackley, was Attorney General at this date, 1594, and Lord Chancellor in 1609, when this was written. That this persecutor had been a Catholic is an interesting fact which his biographers have passed over in silence.

2 Father Gerard was first confined in the Counter, as he tells us later. Father Garnet in one of his letters speaks of the Counter a sa very evil prison and without comfort. There were in London three prisons of this name : the Counter a part of the parish church of St. Margaret in Southwark; the Counter in the Poultry, " some four houses west from the parish church of St Mildred"; and the New Counter in Wood Street removed from Bread Street in 1555. Stow's Survey of London, ed. Thoms, pp, 131.

3 Even the gentle Father Southwell could not but show his estimate of this reprobate man. We translate the following from Father More's History of the English Province, lib. v. n. 15.—"Though he readily answered the questions of others, yet if Topcliffe interposed he never deigned him a reply; and when asked the cause of this, he answered : * Because I have found by experience that the man is not open to reason.' "

4 Stonyhurst MSS., Angl. A. vol. ii. p. 27; Father Grene's Collectan. P. vol. ii. p. 604.

5 Dr. Oliver seems to have read "Larnet."

6 The MS. has "Lillus." The true name is given us in John Frank's examination.