Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 23.

Tower of London
1595 to 1597.

"On another occasion they examined me, and all the other Catholics that were confined in the same prison with me, in a public place called Guildhall, where Topcliffe and several other commissioners were present. When they had put their usual questions, and received from me the usual answers, they came to the point; intending, I imagine, to sound us all as to our feelings towards the State, or else to entrap us in some expressions about the State, that might be made matter of accusation. They asked me then, whether I acknowledged the Queen as the true governor and Queen of England.

" I answered, ' I do acknowledge her as such'

"' What,' said Topcliffe, ' in spite of Pius V.'s excommunication ?'

" I answered, ' I acknowledge her as our Queen, notwithstanding I know there is such an excommunication.'

"The fact was, I knew that the operation of that excommunication had been suspended for all in England by a declaration of the Pontiff, till such time as its execution became possible.

"Topcliffe proceeded: 'What would you do in case the Pope sent an army into England, asserting that the object was solely to bring back the kingdom to the Catholic religion, and protesting that there was no other way left of introducing the Catholic faith, and, moreover, commanding all in virtue of his Apostolical authority to aid his cause ? Whose side would you then take, the Pope's or the Queen's ?'

" I saw the man's malicious cunning, and that his aim was, that whichever way I answered I might injure myself, either in soul or body, and so I worded my reply thus: ' I am a true Catholic, and a true subject of the Queen. If, then, this were to happen, which is unlikely,„and which I think will never be the case, I would act as became a true Catholic and a true subject.'

"' Nay, nay' said he, ' answer positively and to the point.'

"'I have declared my mind,' said I, 'and no other answer will I make.'

" On this he flew into a most violent rage, and vomited out a torrent of curses, and ended by saying, ' You think you will creep to kiss the Cross this year; but before the time comes, I will take good care you do no such thing.'

" He meant to intimate, in the abundance of his charity, that he would take care I should go to Heaven by the rope before that time. But he had not been admitted into the secrets of God's sanctuary, and did not know my great unworthiness. Though God had permitted him to execute his malice on others, whom the Divine Wisdom knew to be worthy and well-prepared, as on Father Southwell, and others, whom he pursued to the death, yet no such great mercy of God came to me from his anger. Others, indeed, for whom a kingdom was prepared by the Father, were advanced to Heaven by our Lord Jesus through his means; but this heavenly gift was too great for an angry man to be allowed to bestow on me. However, he was really in some sort a prophet in uttering these words, though he meant them differently from the sense in which they were fulfilled.

"What I have mentioned happened about Christmas [1594]. In the following Lent 1 he himself was thrown into prison for disrespect to the members of the Queen's Council, on an occasion, if I mistake not, when he had pleaded too boldly in behalf of his only son, who had killed a man with his sword in the great hall of the Court of Queen's Bench. This took place about Passion Sunday. We then, who were in prison for the faith, seeing our enemy Aman about to be hanged on his own gibbet, began to lift up our heads, and to use what liberty we had a little more freely, and we admitted a greater number to the sacraments, and to assist at the services and holy rites of the Church. Thus it was that on Good Friday [1595] a large number of us were together in the room over mine - in fact, all the Catholics in the prison, and a number of others from without. I had gone through all the service, and said all the prayers appointed for the day, up to the point where the priest has to lay aside his shoes. I had put them off, and had knelt down, and was about to creep towards the Cross and make the triple adoration of it, when, just as I had moved two paces, the head gaoler came and knocked at the door of my room underneath, and as I did not answer from within he began to batter violently at the door and make a great noise. As soon as I heard it, I knew that the chief gaoler was there, because no other would have ventured to behave in that way to me: so I sent some one directly, to say that I would come without delay, and then, instead of going on with the adoration of the material cross, I hastened to the spiritual cross that God presented to me, and taking off the sacred vestments that I was wearing, I went down with speed, for fear the gaoler might come up after me, and find a number of others, who would have thus been brought into trouble. When he saw me, he said in a loud tone of voice, ' How comes it that I find you out of your room, when you ought to be kept strictly confined to it?'

"As I knew the nature of the man, I pretended in reply to be angry, that one who professed to be a friend should have come at such a time as that, when if ever we were bound to be busy at our prayers.

"' What' said he, ' you were at mass, were you ? I will go up and see'

" ' No such thing,' I said ; ' you seem to know very little of our ways: there is not a single mass said to-day throughout the whole Church. Go up if you like ; but understand that, if you do, neither I nor any one of the Catholics will ever pay anything for our rooms. You may put us all, if you like, in the common prison of the poor who do not pay. But you will be no gainer by that; whereas, if you act in a friendly way with us, and do not come upon us unawares in this manner, you will not find us ungrateful, as you have not found us hitherto.'

" He softened down a little at this, and then I said, ' What have you come for now, I pray ?'

" ' Surely,' said he, ' to greet you from Master Topcliffe.'

" ' From him ?' I said, ' and how is it that he and I are such great friends ? Is he not in such a prison ? He cannot do anything against me just now, I fancy.'

" ' No' said the gaoler, ' he cannot. But he really sends to greet you. When I visited him today, he asked me how you were. I replied that you were very well. ' But he does not bear his imprisonment' said Master Topcliffe, ' as patiently as I do mine. I would have you greet him then in my name, and tell him what I have said.'

So I have come now for the purpose of repeating his message to you.'

" ' Very well,' I replied. ' Now tell him from me, that by the grace of God I bear my imprisonment for the cause of the faith with cheerfulness, and I could wish his cause were the same.'

" Thereupon the gaoler went away, rating his servant, however, for not having kept me more closely confined. And thus Topcliffe really accomplished what he had promised, having checked me in the very act of adoration, although without thinking of what he said, and with another intent at the time. Thus was Saul among the prophets. However, he did not prevent my going up again and completing what I had begun.

"The man who had charge of my room would not do anything in our rooms without my leave. And after my first gaoler, who soon died, the others who succeeded were well disposed to oblige me. One of them, who had the gaolership by inheritance, I made a Catholic. He immediately gave up his post and sold the right of succession, and became the attendant of a Catholic gentleman, a friend of mine, and afterwards accompanied his son to Italy, and got a vocation to the religious state. At present he is a prisoner in the very prison where he had been my gaoler. The next who had the charge of me after him, being a married man with children, was kept by fear of poverty from becoming a Catholic ; but yet he was afterwards so attached to myself and all our friends, that he received us into his own house, and sometimes concealed there such Catholics as were more sorely pressed than others by the persecution. And when I was to be got out of the Tower of London, with serious risk to all who aided the enterprize, he himself in person was one of three who exposed themselves to such great danger. And although he was nearly drowned the first night of the attempt, he rowed the boat the next night as before, as I shall hereafter relate. For not long after what I just now mentioned, I was removed from that prison to the Tower of London : the occasion of which was the following.

"There was in the prison with me a certain priest, 2 to whom I had done many good services. When he first came to England, I had lodged him in an excellent house with some of my best friends ; I had made Catholics of his mother and only brother; I had secured him a number of friends when he was thrown into prison, and had made him considerable presents. I had always shown him affection, although, perceiving that he was not firm and steady in spirit, but rather hankered too much after freedom, I did not deal confidently with him, as with others in the prison, especially Brother Emerson and John Lilly. Nevertheless this good man, from some motive or other, procured my removal; whether in the desire and expectation that, if I were gone, all whom he saw coming to me would thenceforth come to him, or in order to curry favour with our enemies, and obtain liberty or some such boon for himself, is not certain. Be that as it may, he reported to our enemies, that he was standing by, when I handed a packet of letters dated from Rome and Brussels to a servant of Father Garnet's, of the name of Little John [Nicholas Owen], about whom I have before spoken. This latter, after having been arrested in my company, as I have related, and subjected to various examinations, but without disclosing anything, had been released for a sum of money which some Catholic gentlemen paid. For his services were indispensable to them and many others, as he was a first-rate hand at contriving priests' hiding-places. The priest then reported that I had given this man letters, and that I was in the habit of receiving letters from beyond the sea addressed both to my Superior and to myself.

"Acting on this information, the persecutors sent a Justice of the Peace to me one day, with two Queen's messengers, or pursuivants as they call them. These came up to my room on a sudden with the head-gaoler ; but by God's Providence they found no one with me at the time except two boys, whom I was instructing with intention to send them abroad : one of whom, if I remember right, escaped, the other they imprisoned for a time. But they found nothing else in my room that I was afraid of being seen; for I was accustomed to keep all my manuscripts and all other articles of importance in some holes made to hide things. All these holes were known to Brother Emerson; and so after my removal he took out everything, and among the rest a reliquary that I have with me now, and a store of money that I had in hand for the expenses of my house in town, of which I have before spoken, to the amount of thirteen hundred florins [130/.]. This money he sent to my Superior, who took charge of the house from that time till I was got out of prison.

" When these officials came in they began to question me ; and when the examination was over, which it soon was, as they could get nothing from me of what they wanted to know, they began to search the room all over,, to find letters or something else, that might serve their turn and injure me. While the Justice of the Peace was rummaging my books, one of the pursuivants searched my person, and opening my doublet, he discovered my hair-shirt. At first he did not know what it was, and said : 'What is this?'

"' A shirt,' I replied.

"' Ho, ho !' said he, ' it is a hair-shirt.' And he caught hold of it, and wanted to drag it off my body by force.

" This insolence of the varlet, to confess my imperfection honestly, excited me more than anything I have ever had to endure from my enemies, and I was within a little of thrusting him violently back; but I checked my-self by God's grace, and claimed the Justice's protection, who immediately made him give over. So they sought, but found nothing that they sought for in my room except myself; and me they took at once, and went straight to the Tower of London with me, and there handed me to the Governor, whose title is King's Lieutenant. He was a knight of the name of Barkeley. He conducted me at once to a large high tower of three stories, with a separate lock-up place in each, one of a number of different towers contained within the whole inclosure. He left me for the night in the lowest part, and committed the custody of my person to a servant in whom he placed great confidence. The servant brought a little straw at once, and throwing it down on the ground went away, fastening the door of my prison, and securing the upper door both with a great bolt and with iron bars. I recommended myself therefore to God, Who is wont to go down with His people into the pit, and Who never abandoned me in my bondage, as well as to the most Blessed Virgin, the Mother of Mercy, and to my Patron Saints and Guardian Angel; and after prayer I lay down with a calm mind on the straw, and slept very well that night [April 12, 1597].

" The next day I examined the place, for there was some light, though dim; and I found the name of Father Henry Walpole, of blessed memory 3 cut with a knife on the wall, and not far from there I found his oratory, which was a space where there had been a narrow window, now blocked up with stones. There he had written on either side with chalk the names of the different choirs of Angels, and on the top above the Cherubim and Seraphim the name of Mary Mother of God, and over that the name of Jesus, and over that again in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, the name of God. It was truly a great consolation to me, to find myself in this place, hallowed by the presence of so great and so devoted a martyr, the place too in which he was frequently tortured, to the number, as I have heard, of fourteen times. Probably they were unwilling to torture him in public and in the ordinary place, because they did it oftener than they would have it known. And I can well believe that he was racked that number of times, for he lost through it the proper use of his fingers. This I can vouch for from the following circumstances. He was carried back to York, to be executed in the place where he was taken on his first landing in England, and while in prison there he had a discussion with some ministers which he wrote out with his own hand. 4 A part of this writing was given to me, together with some meditations on the Passion of Christ, which he had written in prison before his own passion. These writings however I could scarcely read at all, not because they were written hastily, but because the hand of the writer could not form the letters. It seemed more like the first attempts of a child, than the handwriting of a scholar and a gentleman such as he was. Yet he used to be at Court before the death of Father Campion, 5 in whose honour he also wrote some beautiful verses in the English tongue, 6 declaring that he and many others had received the warmth of life from that blessed martyr's blood, and had been animated by it to follow the more perfect counsels of Christ.

"When therefore I found myself in Father Walpole's cell, I rejoiced exceedingly thereat: but I was not worthy to be the successor of such a man in his place of suffering. For on the day following my gaoler, either because he thought to do me a favour, or in consequence of his master's orders, brought me into the upper room, which was sufficiently large and commodious for a prisoner. I told him that I preferred to stay in the lower dungeon, and mentioned the reason, but as he showed himself opposed to this, I asked him to allow me to go there sometimes and pray. This he promised me, and in fact frequently permitted. Then he inquired of me if he could go for me anywhere to any friends of mine who would be willing to send me a bed. For it is the custom in this prison that a bed should not be provided, but that a prisoner should provide himself a bed and other furniture, which afterwards goes to the Lieutenant of the Tower, even though the prisoner should be liberated. I replied that I had no friends to whom I could send, except such as I left in the prison from which I had been brought: 7 these, perhaps, if he would call there, would give me a plain bed by way of alms. The gaoler therefore went to the Catholics detained in the Clink, who immediately sent me a bed such as they knew I wished for; that is, a mattrass stuffed with wool and feathers after the Italian fashion. They sent also a coat and some linen for me; and asked him always to come there for anything I wanted, and promised to give money or anything else, provided he brought a note signed by me of things I needed. They also gave him money at that time for himself, and besought him to treat me kindly."

1 " From the Marshalsea this Monday in Easter-week, 1595. The humble prisoner of her Majesty Rye. Topcliffe" to the Lords of the Privy Council, enclosing copies in his hand of two letters to the Queen, one dated the 15th of April^ 1595, the other "At the Marshalsea this Good or evil Friday, 1595." In the last-mentioned letter, Topcliffe wrote to Elizabeth: "In all prisons rejoicings; and it is like that the fresh dead bones of Father Southwell at Tyburn and Father Walpole at York, executed both since Shrovetide, will dance for joy." Brit. Mus., Harleian MSS., 6698, f. 184. The fullest and best account of Richard Topcliffe is to be found in Dr. Jessopp's One Generation of a Norfolk House, p. 78.

2 William Atkinson, the apostate priest, in a letter to Blackwell the arch-priest, dated April 9, 1602, said that he had been in prison with Father Gerard. Bartoli, Inghilterra, p. 416. This man dared to offer to poison the Earl of Tyrone in a sacred host. P.R.O., Domestic, Elizabeth, vol. ccli. n. 49.

3 Henry Walpole S.J. was executed at York, April 7, 1595, for his priesthood.

4 It was Father Walpole's custom to make notes of his conferences with ministers. In the Public Record Office {Domestic, Elizabeth, vol. ccxlviii. n. 51) there is an interesting record in his own hand of his discussions while he was in the custody of Outlaw the pursuivant, at York.

5 Edmund Campion S.J. suffered at Tyburn, December 1, 1581, for a pretended conspiracy at Rome and Rheims. The Act of Elizabeth (15S5), which made the mere presence of a priest in England high treason, had not yet been passed.

6 These are the verses commencing "Why do I use my paper, pen and ink?" mentioned supra, p. 158.

7 This was said of course, because it was dangerous to mention the names of any friends who were still at liberty. It could do no harm to mention those already in prison.