St Edmund Campion’s Martyrdom

[Edmund Campion] was arraigned and indicted on 4 November 1581 at Westminster with treason -having conspired ‘to raise a sedition in the realm and dethrone the Queen.’ The trial was held on 20th November 1581.

Continuing from PART ONE:

[PART TWO] Trial and Martyrdom of St Edmund Campion

“The pleadings had taken about 3 hours and the jury of 9 consulted for nearly an hour. In this interval, a descendant of Sir Thomas More brought Campion a glass of beer to refresh him after his labours. Bartoli records:

‘I would not want to admit here what was, in a small deed, no small sign of Christian kindness shown by a nobleman of the house of Roper. Since Father Edmund had the joints of both his arms manhandled on the rack, and so lacked the strength to be able to bring his hands to his mouth, this nobleman came forward and, wanting the honour of giving him to drink with his own hands, held the cup to the other’s lips with such a beautiful act of reverence and love that even the Protestants blessed him for it.”

Simpson related the following incident:

“As the jury considered their verdict, there happened a thing which Catholics of the time, whose eyes were ever on the watch for divine signs, relate as a miracle. When Judge William Ayloff, ‘who, sitting to keep the place when the other judges retired, while the jury consulted about the condemnation of Father Campion and his company, and pulling off his glove, found all his hand and his seal of arms bloody, without any token of wrong, pricking, or hurt; and being dismayed therewith, wiping, it went not away, but still returned; he showed it to the gentlemen that sat before him, who can be witnesses of it till this day, and have some of them upon their faiths and credits avouched it to be true.”

Father Henry Walpole SJ wrote his recollections of the trial. He was a Protestant at the time of the trial:

“I was present during his arraignment in Court and indictment and stood near him when sentence was passed…On the second day, he, with seven companions, stood at the bar from eight in the morning till seven in the evening during which time the Queen’s solicitor and Attorney kept heaping up all their odious presumptions against them….It was really a wonder that men such as they…should have made such able answers to arguments on legal matters, and that, too, with an unassuming grace of manner which reflected much credit on their cause and themselves. Here indeed Our Lord’s promises were wonderfully fulfilled: ‘I will give you a mouth and wisdom; which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist and gainsay.’ [Lk 21:15]

Accordingly, in proof of all this, I may point to the conduct of Lord Chief Justice Wray. He addressed Campion with greater courtesy, calling him Master Campion, and afterwards taking someone to task for not speaking in his turn or to the point, said: ‘Look you, imitate the good example of Mr Campion.’ In fact he was, like Pilate, desirous of liberating him, but for fear of Caesar, upon the verdict of the jury, condemned him to death.’

…Never before or since did I listen to anyone with so much pleasure, and I am well assured from the testimony of others that his words and his bearing gave strength to the faithful who heard and saw him and converted many who were not blinded with passion and prejudice.’

At the close of the trial, the Lord Chief Justice inquired: “Campion and the rest, what can you say, why you should not die?

Campion replied: It was not our own death that ever we feared…The only thing that we have now to say is, that if our religion do make us traitors, we are worthy to be condemned, but otherwise are and have been as true subjects as ever the Queen had. In condemning us you condemn all your own ancestors-all the ancient priests, bishops and kings-all that was once the glory of England, the island of saints and the most devoted child of the See of Peter. For what have we taught, however you may qualify it with the odious name of treason, that they did not uniformly teach? To be condemned with these old lights-not of England only, but of the world-by their degenerate descendants, is both gladness and glory to us. God lives; posterity will live: their judgment is not so liable to corruption as that of those who are now going to sentence us to death.”

Simpson observed that “[h]is eloquence made his fellow prisoners confront with boldness the fate that hung over them. Cottam, on his return to the Tower, told Briscoe that now he was quite willing to die, after hearing Campion speak so gloriously.”

The sentence was pronounced straight away:

“Lord Chief Justice: You must go to the place from whence you came: [prison], there to remain until ye shall be drawn through the open city of London upon hurdles to the place of execution, and there be hanged and let down alive, and your privy parts cut off, and your entrails taken out and burnt in your sight; then your heads to be cut off, and your bodies to be divided into four parts, to be disposed of at her Majesty’s pleasure. And God have mercy on your souls.”

All the prisoners, says the reporter of the trial, after this judgment, stormed in countenance, crying, they were true and faithful subjects as ever the queen had any. Only Campion suppressed his affection, and cried aloud, in the words of the ancient hymn: ‘Te Deum laudamus, Te Dominum confitemur’ (‘We praise Thee as God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord’). Sherwin took up the song. ‘Haec est dies quam fecit Dominus, exultemus et laetemur in illa’ (‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and exult in it’: Ps 118:24). The rest expressed their contentment and joy, some in one phrase of Scripture, some in another. The multitude in the hall was visibly astonished and affected.”

It was the feast of Edmund’s patron, St Edmund, King of East Anglia, tortured to death on 20 November in the year 870 AD.

Four accounts say that, at this point, before being led out, Campion stopped to address the crowd, who listened in silence:

“You have heard us condemned as if we were guilty of lese majeste (crime against the sovereign), but how deserving is the case, consider for yourselves. If I had offended Her majesty in so many ways, never would she and the royal council have so bountifully offered me, not only life, but also liberty and an abundant living, if only I were to comply with them in matters of no great moment. In fact, the Lieutenant of the Tower, standing here next to me [Sir Owen Hopton], promised the same, and more, if I would attend Protestant church only once. Now, indeed, he would not have dared to promise such immense favours, nor would the rulers of England have permitted it, if they had established me as guilty of any such thing. Therefore gentlemen, it is not treason, but zeal for true religion, that has brought us to our condemnation to death.”

On 28th November, Campion’s sister visited him in the Tower to say that a life-long benefice had been offered to him if he would recant his religion.

After spending his last days in prayer, he was dragged with his fellow priests, Fathers Ralph Sherwin and Alexander Briant, to Tyburn, where the three were hanged, drawn and quartered on 1st December 1581. Campion was 41 years old.

Campion was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Richard Simpson’s biography of St Edmund Campion, originally published in 1867, and republished in 2010, ironically, is prefaced by George Cardinal Pell, who, at that time, was Archbishop of Sydney and who, at a later date, underwent his own persecution for his defence of politically unpopular and/or inconvenient doctrine.

In his preface, his Eminence related an extract from Evelyn Waugh’s biography of St Edmund, where he compared “the respective careers of Tobie Matthew and Edmund Campion. Tobie Matthew was a young fellow of Christ Church, Oxford and, like Campion, highly esteemed by Queen Elizabeth. With Elizabeth’s patronage:

‘…a splendid career lay before him. He became Canon of Christ Church four years later; in 1572, at the unusually early age of twenty-six, he was made president of St John’s…four years later he was Dean of Christ Church, later Vice-Chancellor; from there he turned to the greater world, became successively Dean and Bishop of Durham, and finally, Archbishop of York. He was a talkative little man, always eager to please, always ready with a neat, parsonic witticism; the best of good fellows, everywhere, except in his own family. When, on the Council of the North, he was most busy hunting down recusants, he was full of little jokes to beguile his colleagues. He was a great preacher…he married admirably, a widow of stout Protestant principles and unique place in the new clerical caste, which had sprung naturally from the system of married clergy; Frances Barlow, widow of Matthew Parker, Junior; she was notable in her generation as having a bishop for her father, an archbishop for her father-in-law, an archbishop for her husband, and four bishops for her brothers. Tobie Matthew died full of honours in 1628. There, but for the Grace of God, went Edmund Campion.

“Cardinal Pell observed: “It is my prayer that this biography of St Edmund Campion may help Catholics to appreciate the grit and heroism of our Saints, and inspire and challenge other Christians to understand more fully the reasons for the turmoil that led to their separation from the Catholic Church. It is also an invitation to reconsider the claims of the See of Peter, the divinely sustained Rock of stability in our marvellous world. After all, unity was, and still is today, the prayer of St Edmund Campion.”

Each year, on his feast day, the ropes used in his execution are placed on the altar of St Peter’s Church for Mass to celebrate his feast day.

A recording of Te Deum by the Choeur de l’Abbaye de Notre Dame d’Orval, is on this link:

(From ‘Venite Prandete’ on Facebook)

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