Saturday, July 8, 2017

Known and Unknown Martyrs in 1539

Along Old Kent Road, there was a spot called St. Thomas's Waterings or St. Thomas-a-Watering, where pilgrims to Canterbury, including Chaucer's crossed a stream on their way. It was therefore a well-travelled spot and thus a good place for executions and the display of traitors' remains. As British History Online notes:

This spot was in the old Tudor days the place of execution for the northern parts of Surrey; and here the Vicar of Wandsworth, his chaplain, and two other persons of his household, were hung, drawn, and quartered in 1539 for denying the supremacy of Henry VIII. in matters of faith.

And in another place, BHO names the Vicar:

In our account of the Old Kent Road (fn. 4) we have mentioned the fate of Griffith Clerke, Vicar of Wandsworth, his chaplain, and two other persons. They were hanged and quartered at St. Thomas a Waterings on the 8th of July, 1539, for denying the royal supremacy.

The old Catholic Encyclopedia has these details about those martyred on July 8, 1539, highlighting the Venerable Waire, and:

English friar and martyr, hanged, drawn, and quartered at St. Thomas Waterings in Camberwell (a brook at the second milestone on the Old Kent Road), 8 July, 1539. All authorities agree that there were four martyrs at this time and place, and all agree that one of them was the Vicar of Wandsworth, Surrey. It is certain that the name of the last was John Griffith, generally known as Ven. John Griffith Clarke, and that he was chaplain to Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter, who was executed, 9 December, 1538, or 9 January, 1538-39, and that he was also Rector of Dolton, Devon. Stow is the only person to mention "Friar Waire". Sander speaks of "a monk whose name was Mayer"; but he wrote in Latin and his work was printed abroad. It is clear that Waire was a friar, for both Wriothesley and Lord Lisle's servant, John Husee, speak of two friars as having suffered with Griffith. Of the two unnamed martyrs we know that one was a priest and Griffith's curate or chaplain at Wandsworth. The other was either a friar, as Wriothesley and Husee say, or one of Griffith's servants, as is asserted by Stow and Sander. It is possible that Friar Waire is to be identified with Thomas Wyre, one of the signatories to the surrender of the Franciscan friary of Dorchester, 30 September, 1538. However, it is uncertain to what order he belonged. If he was a Franciscan it is remarkable that his death is not recorded in the "Grey Friars' Chronicle", and that no mention is made of him in such English Franciscan martyrologists as Bouchier or Angelus a S. Francisco.

Venerable Waire and Venerable John Griffith Clarke are among those declared Venerable at the beginning of the Cause for the English Martyrs during the reign of Pope Gregory XIII. Just enough is known about them for them to be so honored, but:

though they all died heroically, their lives were so retired and obscure that there is generally but little known about them. It may, however, be remarked that, being educated in most cases in the same seminaries, engaged in the same work, and suffering under the same procedures and laws the details which we know about some of the more notable martyrs (of whom special biographies are given) are generally also true for the more obscure.

In the article about the English Reformation Martyrs for the Catholic Encyclopedia, author J.H. Pollen made these comments about the two known martyrs of July 8, 1539:

1539: Friar Waire, O.S.F., and John Griffith p. (generally known as Griffith Clarke), Vicar of Wandsworth, for supporting the papal legate, Cardinal Pole, drawn and quartered, (8 July) at St. Thomas Waterings.

In 1536, Reginald Pole, in exile, wrote "Pro ecclesiastic√¶ Unitatis defensione" (Defense of the Unity of the Church) to protest against Henry VIII's usurpation of the title of Supreme Head and Governor of the Church in England, making himself the Vicar of Christ. Soon after sending it to Henry, Pole was named a Cardinal by Pope Paul III and then Legate. He was involved in efforts to make the Pilgrimage of Grace more successful. His brothers and mother were arrested in connection with the Exeter Conspiracy; his brother Henry Pole, Baron Montagu was executed on January 9, 1539 and his mother remained under arrest until her beheading on May 28, 1541. If Venerables Waire and Griffith Clarke were accused of supporting Pole, the charges against them included not just denial of the Supremacy, but involvement in rebellion against the king. We don't know if they had been held in prison like the trio of Queen Katherine of Aragon's chaplains and counselors, Thomas Abel, Richard Fetherston, and Edward Powell, refusing to accept Henry VIII's new title, or if they had, like the great abbots of the monasteries of Reading, Glastonbury, and Colchester, taken the oath and then regretted it, hoping for a return to the unity of the Church under the Vicar of Christ. Either way, they were brave men, even in obscurity. May the same be known of us someday, however dimly.

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