Memoirs of Missionary Priests and Other Catholics of Both Sexes That Have Suffered Death in England on Religious Accounts – Cuthbert Maine, Priest, 1677

Saint Cuthbert MayneArticle

He was the first missionary priest that suffered in England for religious matters, and the protoraartyr of Douay college, and all the seminaries. I have a short account of his life and death in English, published in 1582: I have also a more ample account of him in a Latin manuscript of Douay college. I shall present the reader with an abstract of the former, in the very words of the author, who was an intimate friend of Mr Maine; choosing rather to offend the ears with the old language of the writer, than, by new modelling the narration, to lessen its authority, or spoil its amiable simplicity. I shall here and there add some things out of the Latin manuscript, which, for distinction sake, I shall enclose within these marks “”

‘Cuthbert Maine was born in Barnstaple, “or rather in the parish of Yalston, three miles from Barnstaple,” in Devonshire. He had an old schismatical priest to his uncle, that was well beneficed; who being very desirous to leave his benefice to this his nephew, brought him up at school, and when he was eighteen or nineteen years old, got him made minister; at which time (as Mr Maine himself, with great sorrow and deep sighs, did often tell me) he knew neither what ministry nor religion meant. Being sent afterwards to Oxford, he heard his course of logic in Alborn-hall, and there proceeded bachelor of arts.

‘At that time Saint John’s college wanted some good fellow to play his part at the communion table; to play which part Mr Maine was invited and hired. In which college and function he lived many years, being of so mild a nature, and of such sweet behaviour, that the protestants did greatly love him, and the catholics did greatly pity him; insomuch that some dealing with him, and advertising him of the evil state he stood in, he was easily persuaded that “the new” doctrine was heretical, and, withal, was brought to lament and deplore his own miserable state and condition. And so being in heart and mind a persuaded catholic, “he unhappily, nevertheless,” continued yet in the same college for some years, and there proceeded master of arts.

‘Some of his familiar friends, “particularly Mr Gregory Martin and Mr Edmund Campion,” being already beyond the seas for their conscience, did often solicit him by letters to leave that function of the ministry, and invited him to come to Douay. One of these letters, by chance, fell into the hands of the bishop of London, who despatched a pursuivant straight to Oxford for Mr Maine and some others: the rest appeared and were sent to prison; but by chance Mr Maine was then in his country, and being advertised by his countrymen and friend, Mr Ford, (then fellow of Trinity college, in Oxford, and of late martyred) that there was process out for him, he took shipping on the coast of Cornwall, and so went to Douay, when the seminary there was but newly erected.

‘Here, “being taken into the church,” falling to divinity, and keeping the private exercises within the house diligently, and doing the public exercises in the school with commendation, after some years he proceeded bachelor of divinity, and was made priest And desirous partly to honour God in this sacred order, and to satisfy for that he had dishonoured him by taking the sacrilegious title of ministry; partly inflamed with zeal to save souls, he returned to England, “being sent by Dr Allen, afterwards cardinal, first president of Douay college,” together with Mr John Payne, who was since martyred, “where he arrived safely,” anno 1576. Mr Maine placed himself in his own country, with a catholic and virtuous gentleman, Mr Tregian, “of Volveden, or Golden, five miles from Truro, in Cornwall, passing in the neighbourhood for his steward.”

‘In the year 1577, in the month of June, the bishop of Exeter being in his visitation at Truro, was requested by “Mr Greenfield,” the sheriff of the county, and other busy men, to aid and assist them to search Mr Tregian’s house, where Mr Maine did lie. After some deliberation, it was concluded, that the sheriff and the bishop’s chancellor, with divers gentlemen and their servants, should take the matter in hand. As soon as they came to Mr Tregian’s house, the sheriff first spoke to him, saying, that he and his company were come to search for one Mr Bourne, who had committed a fault in London, and so fled into Cornwall, and was in his house, as he was informed. Mr Tregian answering, that he was not there, and swearing by his faith, that he did not know where he was; further telling him, that to have his house searched, he thought it great discourtesy; for that he was a gentleman, and that they had no commission from the queen. The sheriff being bold, for that he had a great company with him, swore by all the oaths that he could devise, that he would search his house, or else he would kill, or be killed, holding his hand upon his dagger, as if he would have stabbed it into the gentleman.

‘This violence being used, he had leave to search the house. The first place they went to was Mr Maine’s chamber, which being fast shut, they bounced and beat at the door. Mr Maine came and opened it (being before in the garden, where he might have gone from them.) As soon as the sheriff came into the chamber, he took Mr Maine by the bosom, and said to him, What art thou? he answered, I am a man. Whereat, the sheriff being very hot, asked if he had a coat of mail under his doublet? and so unbiktoned it, and found an Agnus Dei case about his neck, which he took from him, and called him traitor and rebel, with many other opprobrious names.

‘They carried him, his books, papers and letters, to the bishops, who, when he had talked with him, and examined him about his religion, confessed that he was learned, and had gathered very good notes in his book, but no favour he showed him. Thence the sheriff carried him from one gentleman’s house to another, till he came to Launceston, where he was cruelly imprisoned, being chained to his bed posts, with a pair of great gives about his legs, and strict commandment given that no man should repair unto him.

‘Thus he remained in prison, from June to Michaelmas; at which time the judges came their circuit. The Earl of Bedford was also present at Mr Maine’s arraignment, and did deal most in the matter.’

“Several heads of accusation were exhibited against him at his trial, as,

“1st. That he had obtained from Rome a bull, containing matter of absolution of the queen’s subjects. This was no other than a printed copy of the bull ofjubilee of the foregoing year, which they had found amongst his papers.

“2dly. That he had published this bull at Golden, in the house of Mr Tregian.

“3dly. That he had maintained the usurped power of the bishop of Rome, and denied the queen’s supremacy.

“4thly. That he had brought into the kingdom an Jlgnus Dei, and delivered it to Mr Tregian.

“5thly. That he had said mass in Mr Tregian’s house.

“There were no sufficient proofs of any of these heads of the indictment. And as to the bull, it being only a printed copy of the grant of the jubilee of the past year, now of no force, and no ways procured from Rome by Mr Maine, but bought at a bookseller’s shop at Oouay, out of curiosity to see the form of it, it was very certain that the case was quite foreign both to the intent and to the words of the statute. Yet judge Manhood, who behaved himself very partially in the whole trial, directed the jury to bring him in guilty of the indictment, alledging, that where plain proofs were wanting, strong presumptions ought to take place; of which, according to his logic, they had a good store in the cause in hand, knowing the prisoner to be a popish priest, and an enemy of the queen’s religion.”

‘The jury that went upon him were chosen men for the purpose, and thought him worthy of death, whether there came any proof against him or no, because he was a catholic priest; such is their evangelical conscience. After the twelve had given their verdict, ‘guilty‘ “judge Manhood gave sentence on him, in the usual form, as in cases of high treason; which Mr Maine heard with a calm and cheerful countenance, and lifting up his hands and eyes to heaven, answered, Deo gratius, thanks be to God. He was to have been executed within fifteen days, but his execution was deferred until Saint Andrew’s day; upon what occasion I know not, says my author; but the Latin manuscript says the occasion was, that judge Jeffries being dissatisfied with the proceedings of his colleague; and the privy council, informed of all that had passed, they thought proper to have all the judges meet upon the matter; that, accordingly, they met, but disagreed in their sentiments, several of the older and wiser of them being of judge Jeffries’s opinion. However, such was the iniquity of the times, that the council concluded that the prisoner should be executed for a terror to the papists. My author says, the sheriff, who went to court, and was there made a knight for his late service in this cause, was the man that procured the dead warrant to be signed for Mr Maine’s execution, which he sent into the country, to the justices there.”

‘Three days before he was put to death, there came a serving-man unto him, and willed him to prepare for death; for, saith he, you are to be executed within these three days at the farthest. Which kind admonition, Mr Maine took very thankfully, and said to the servingman, that if he had any thing to give, he would rather bestow it upon him than on any other; for he had done more for him than ever any man did. After that advertisement he gave himself earnestly to prayer and contemplation until his death. The second night after he gave himself to these spiritual exercises, there was seen a great light in his chamber, between twelve and one of the clock, insomuch that some of the prisoners that lay in the next rooms, called unto him to know what it was (for they knew very well that he had neither fire nor candle.) He answered, desiring them to be quiet, for it did nothing appertain unto them.

‘At the day of his execution many justices and gentlemen came to see him, and brought with them two ministers, who did dispute with him, whom he confuted in every point; but the justices and gentlemen, who were blind judges, would hear nothing of that; but they affirmed that the ministers were much better learned than he. Although they confess he died very stoutly, whereat they did much marvel, telling the ignorant people, that he could avouch no scripture for his opinion, which was most untrue; for 1 know by the report of honest men that were present, that he did confirm every point in question with testimonies of scriptures and fathers; and that abundantly.’

“It was upon this occasion, (according to the Latin manuscript) that his life was offered him, if he would renounce his religion; which when he refused to do, they pressed him at least to swear upon the bible, that the queen was the supreme head of the church of England, assuring him of his life if he would do this; but if he refused it, he must then be hanged, drawn and quartered, according to sentence. Upon this” ‘he took the bible into his hands, made the sign of the cross upon it, kissed it; and said, the queen neither ever was, nor is, nor ever shall be, the head of the church of England.’

‘He was to be drawn a quarter of a mile to the place of execution, and when he was to be laid on the sledge, some of the justices moved the sheriff’s deputy, that he would cause him to have his head laid over the car,, that it might be dashed against the stones in drawing; and Mr Maine offered himself that it might be so, but the sheriff’s duputy would not suffer it.

‘When he came to the place of execution, “which was the market-place of the town, where they had on purpose erected a gibbet of unusual height, being taken off the sledge,” he kneeled down and prayed; when he was on the ladder, and the, rope about his neck, he would have spoken to the people, but the justices would not suffer him, but bid him say his prayers, which he did very devoutly. And as the hangman was about to turn the ladder, one of the justices spoke to him in this manner: Now villian and traitor, thou knowest that thou shalt die, and therefore tell us whether Mr Tregian and Sir John Arundel did know of these things which thou art condemned for; and also what thou dost know by them? Mr Maine answered him very mildly: I know nothing of Mr Tregian and Sir John Arundel, but that they are good and godly gentlemen; and as for the things I am condemned for, they were only known to me, and to no other. Then he was cast off the ladder saying, in manus tuas, etc, and knocking his breast.

‘Some of the gentlemen would have had him cut down strait way, that they might have had him quartered alive; but the sheriffs deputy would not, but let him hang till he was dead.’ The Latin manuscript says, “he was, indeed, cut down alive, but falling from the beam, which was of an unusual height, with his head upon the side of the scaffold, on which he was to be quartered, he was by that means almost quite killed; and therefore but little sensible of the ensuing butchery. His quarters were disposed of, one to Bodwin, one to Tregny, one to Barnstable, and the fourth to remain at Launceston castle: his head was set upon a pole at Wadebridge, a noted highway. The hangman, who embrued his hands in his innocent blood, in less than a month’s time became mad, and soon after miserably expired. And it is particularly remarked, that not one of those whom Mr Maine reconciled to the church, could ever be induced to renounce the catholic truth, which they had learned from so good a master. Mr Tregian, the gendeman who had entertained him, lost his estate, which was very considerable, for his religion, and was condemned to perpetual imprisonment; and several of his neighbours and servants were cast in a pre* munire as abettors and accomplices of Mr Maine: Sir John Arundel was also persecuted and cast into prison upon this occasion.

“Mr Maine suffered at Launceston, in Cornwall, 29 November 1577, of whom, thus writes Mr Stow, in his chronicle of this year:” – Cuthbert Maine was drawn, hanged, and quartered at Launceston, in Cornwall, for preferring Roman power.’

The persons that were condemned with Mr Maine, and cast in a premunire, were Richard Tremayne, gentleman, John Kemp, gentleman, Richard Hoar, gentleman, Thomas Harris, gentleman, John Williams, M. A. John Philips, yeoman, John Hodges, yeoman, and James Humphreys, yeoman; all neighbours or servants to Mr Tregian.

MLA Citation

  • Bishop Richard Challoner. “Cuthbert Maine, Priest, 1677”. Memoirs of Missionary Priests and Other Catholics of Both Sexes That Have Suffered Death in England on Religious Accounts, 1839. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 April 2015. Web. 11 December 2016. <>