John Jones, Martyr – from The Rambler, January, 1859

John or Griffith Jones, alias Robert or Herbert Buckley, who afterwards assumed in religion the name of Godefridus Mauritius, was a gentleman of Clenock in Caernarvonshire. Like most Welshmen of his day, he appears to have adhered to the old fauth; if he was not an “old priest”, he must have been among the first “seminaries” sent over to England, for we find him in a list of priests committed prisoners to the Marshalsea before June 1582, and still remaining there March 3d, 1583. He is there called Robert Buckley, and may perhaps be identified with the Robertus Jonus, Sacerdos, who appears in the Catalogue of Bridgewater (1588), and previously in that of Nicholas Sanders in 1572. From this we might suppose him to be an old priest, ordained in Queen Mary’s days, if we bad nut direct testimony to the contrary in a document we have found, from which it will appear that he went abroad to be ordained priest in the first year of Elizabeth, like William Allen and others, who yet are not exactly to be classed with the “seminary priests”. His name still occurs among the Marshalsea prisoners in the list for 1584; in 1585 it is absent; while in a list made between April and October 1586 we find the name of Buckley among the “priests that have been prisoners, and that are out upon bond.” He did not long enjoy his liberty; either his bond was not renewed, or he was apprehended anew for a fresh exercise of sacerdotal functions, for we soon find him again prisoner in Wisbeach Castle, where, according to Bishop Challoner, he was confined in 1587. On regaining bis liberty, either by escape or banishment, about 1590, he left England, and became a conventual friar at Pontoise; and afterwards went to Rome, where he lived among the Observantines of the Ara Coeli. After a time he was sent back by his superiors to the English mission; and before leaving Rome he had an audience of Pope Clement VIII who embraced him and gave him his blessing, adding, “Go, for I believe you are a true religious of Saint Francis; and pray to God for me and His holy Church.” He must have reached London some time in 1593, and became an inmate of the house which was organised by Father John Gerard the Jesuit and placed under the superintendence of Mrs Anne Line, who was martyred in 1601 for harbouring priests. There Father Jones remained several months, labouring in London, and then went away from the city to look after another part ot the flock. He continued this missionary work till some time in 1596, when, as Father Garnet writes, “after this good religious had laboured bard for about three years in tilling the vineyard of Christ with no small profit he fell into the hands of the heretics, and was kept in prison about two years, during the latter part of which time he was treated with less rigour, and had a certain amount of libery: the quantity of good he did was incredible, through the great concourse of Catliolics that came to him. This state of things might have lasted some time, but Topcliffe the persecutor put an end to it.”

A spy had informed the priest-catcher that Jones, before his capture, had visited Mr Robert Barnes and Mrs Jane Wiseman – a Catholic lady who had two sons Jesuits; and that he had stayed two days with them in their prison, had said Masses for them, and received alms from them. For this Topcliffe had them all three arraigned for high treason in the King’s Bench Court at Westminster, July 1598. Mrs Wiseman refused the trial by jury, because she did not choose to let simple fellows damn themselves in ignorance by giving an unjust verdict against her, and was therefore condemned to the peine forte et dure, to wit, to be pressed to death with a heavy door over her and a sharp stone under her, as by statute provided in such cases. Jones refused to plead in like manner, with what results we shall learn better from the document which will be given below than from Father Garnet’s letter.

Suffice it to say at present that he was condemned, and on the 12th of July 1598 led out to the gallows at Saint Thomas Watering to be executed. Topcliffe and a great crowd were expecting him. He mounted the cart, and immediately declaured that he was innocent, and had never said a word or imagined a thought against the queen or commonwealth.

On this a gentleman who was there said with great earnestnesa to Topcliffe that an innocent man was going to be put to death. “Patience a while, sir,” said Topcliffe; “you shall soon see what manner of innocent he is.” Then, turning to Jones, “Tell me,” he said, “if the Pope excommunicated the queen, or tried to turn her out of her kingdom to encourage Papistry, what would you do, and what would you advise others to do?” Jones did not answer the question, but was busied partly in talking to the people, partly in prayer; and so Topcliffe took the occasion to fix the suspicion of treason upon him.

After this the persecutor produced a paper purporting to have been written by Mr Barnes, and containing certain words alleged to have been spoken by a possessed person during exorcism. Among other things, the energumen had said that it was useless to pray for the queen, and the priest had answered, “Wretch, you do not know what God has determined; even to the last moment of life there is time for repentance.” Now though Jones had never seen this paper, the contents of which did not concern him at all, yet Topciifie found it a useful means of exciting the people against him, as one who should say that the queen was a bad woman and one of the reprobate.

The hangman had forgotten to bring a rope with him, so the martyr was kept a whole hour waiting in the cart under the gallows; his time was occupied in answering various questions, and preaching to the people, amid interruptions of aU kinds. At last a horseman was heard galloping towards the place, and the excitement became intense when a voice cried out, “A reprieve, a reprieve!” When the man had galloped up, he was asked by a hundred anxious mouths whether it was so. “Ay, ay,” he answered, dangling the halter in the sight of the crowd, here it is.” When the time came to draw away the cart, the hangman whipped the horses; but they were held back by three or four stalwart fellows till the martyr had finished what he was saying. At last the oart was withdrawn, and the martyr rendered his soul to God.

Topcliffe, who this time was tender of Elizabeth’s reputation for mercy, did not ask to have the rope cut before the martyr was dead, He caused the quarters to be hung on poles in Saint George’s Fields, by the way-side on the roada to Newington and Lambeth, and the head to be stuck up over the pillory in Southwark. So far Father Garnet. Dr Champney, as quoted hy Challoner, adds that his head and quarters were afterwards removed by the Catholics, and that two young gentlemen were imprisoned for the deed. One of his fore-quarters found its way to the Franciscan convent at Pontoise, where he had made his religious profession. The gaps of this account may be partly filled up by the following document, which we found in a manuscript volume formerly belonging to the English Carthusians of Nieupoort, now, with a few other remains of their valuable collection, in the library of the University of Louvain:

In Anno Domini 1599

The third of July Master Jones was arraigned at King’s Bench bar in Westminster upon these points only, viz. For going over the seas, the first year of her majesty’s reign, and there being made a priest by authority done from the See of Rome, and returning back into England, contrary to a statute in that behalf made. And being urged for trial of this to put himself upon a jury, he absolutely refused, because he would not have [his] blood required at the handa of men ignorant in the law. The points of his judgment he directly confessed; yet kept himself from intermeddling in any manner of treason, directly or indirectly, any way belonging to the present state. Whereupon the lord chief justice answered that he was not charged with any matter of treason, neither was there any matter of treason to be objected against him more than [that] he was a priest and come into England; neither needed there any, for that he was thereby within the compass ofthe law by his own confession. Notwithstanding the whole bench pressed him again for to put himself upon the country; which he altogether refused, and referred himself and his cause to God and the bench, for that they made the laws, and therefore did know best the meaning of them. And thereupon the judgment was given by Justice Clynke, with the whole consent of the bench, that he should be drawn, hanged, and quartered, as in a case of high treason; which accordingly was executed the 12th of July following, being Wednesday, by seven of the clock in the morning, that few persons should see him.

His true name is said to be Gryffith Jones; he was known in England by the name of Bucle (Buckley) Harbert, and amongst his own brothers in Italy Godefride Moritius.

Master Jones being drawn to Saint Thomas Watering’s on an hurdle, and there set on ground, kneeling down at the feet of the gallows, a little praying, and after standing up, did begin to clear Master Barnes and Mistress Wiseman, saying that he did take there upon his salvation that neither of them both did ever give him one penny in silver: where pausing, as if he would enter into some other matter, he was mged by Topclifie, who said, ‘But gold they did give you;’ then he, replying directly, said, ‘Nor yet gold.’ Then being charged for saying of Mass at his chamber in their presence, he protested that he said no Mass there in their presence. Then Topcliffe (exclaiming) said, ‘No, for they were public prayers; for that there was no superaltare.’ ‘There is no such things, Master Topcliffe; neither did I say any public prayers at all in their hearing.’ Then being charged for private prayers, he confetaed with, thanks to Almighty God for that grace that he said such short and secret prayers as he had ever used after he was newly risen; and so he said he would do as long as he lived, ‘do you, Master Topcliffe, what you will.’ Then being interrupted by the under-marshal and Topcliffe, [he] kneeled down again to his private devotions, and was enforced to endure most vile slandering, blaspheming, and lying of Topcliffe concerning an exorcism, et caetera. After a quarter of an hour, or thereabonts, he was helped np into the cart by Topcliffe, to speak and answer to divers absurd questions concerning the queen, the state, and the realm; wheretinto he directly answered, with protestation, that he never to that hour wished more hurt to the queen, the state, or the realm, than he did at that very instant to his own soul: and further he protested that he was free from all treason, either in act, word, or thought, as he had done before to the lord chief-justice and the rest of the bench at the bar; repeating that the lord chief-juatice openly declared, in the presence of an hundred persons at the least, that there was no matter of treason objected against him more than that he was a priest and of the order of Saint Francis. And the under-marshal said that it was true; and then he proceeded to his former speech, which was that he daily prayed for the prosperity of her majesty, and so he did then publicly desire with all humility Almighty God to grant her grace, and preserve her both of body and soul, and that she might live and be His fruitful servant. Then Topcliffe charging him and all other priests and Catholics of disloyalty towards her majesty, and that they would willingly kill her if they could, he presently answered, that he assuredly believed that both he himself with all other priests and Catholics would be more ready to suHer much more for the good of the queen than Master Topclitfe would; further he told him, with great resolution, that his cruelty only hath been sufficient to make her odious to all the priests in Christendom. Whereat Topcliffe railing most impudently and perseveringly, then he prayed with great seal in a loud voice, saying, ‘Sweet Jesus, have mercy upon my soul,’ repeating this invocation only so long and as often as they would suffer him; but the under-marshal saying in derision that he did forget our Blessed Lady, then he spake somewhat loud, both in the way of answering and of prayers, saying, ‘Blessed Queen of heaven, be my advocate and pray for me now and ever;’ and then, praying as before, ‘Sweet Jesus,’ he with hands lifted up as he might, being bound with cords, desiring all Catholics being present to say one Credo and pray for him; then Topcliffe railing again most barbarously and bitterly, saying, if they would not give him leave to speak, that they would not interrupt him in his prayers, for that he did come thither to suffer death for his conscience and his priesthood only, according as the judgment was given upon him; recommending his soul to Almighty God with an unchangeable courage and countenance. The cart was taken away; which being done, he suffered death moet constantly, hanging until he was altogether dead, the which was often required of the whole multitude. So was he quartered, and his head set upon a pole over against the pillory in Southwark; which remained there two days, with so cheerful and smiling a countenance as when he lived, so that it was great marvel to all beholders, so that many did come to see it, that the officers did take it off, and scratched his face with the nails of their hands and other instruments, disfiguring it, and so put gunpowder to make it deformed, and set it up then again; but in short time it was taken away and kept as a relic: and fixed his four quarters on four several trees adjoining to the highway; and one of the four quarters did bleed freshly within two days that it was hanged; but all was taken away in short time.

Deo Gratias

We have no means of determining the authorship of this fragment. Father Garnet promised either himself to write the life of the martyr when he had more time, or to get it written by a Franciscan priest, “a great servant of God, who goes about working with us; and who, after a very long and perilous journey, was taken by the heretics, but effected his escape in a manner that evinced great coolness and courage, and is now in safety.” But the foregoing piece does not seem to be the fragment of a biography, but a description of a single incident by an eye-witness. Such accounts of martyrdoms used to be sent round in manuscript to the different English convents of the Continent, where they were sometimes copied into one of their books. The present fragment occurs in a book that consists chiefly of sermons, and translations from various spiritual writers, in fact, just where we should least have expected to find it.

We owe what we know of this Franciscan martyr to the zeal of the Jesuit Father Garnet, and to the piety of some solitary Carthusian who took the pains to copy the fragment we have printed. It is refreshing to find an instance of fraternal feeling reigning among in orders and ranks in the Church. For, as Father Garnet says in the opening of the letter to Acquaviva, of which we have made so much use, “those events which shed a lustre on the religious” (we might say in general the Christian) “life, although divided among different families, are yet in a certain way common to all. And for me, I can have no greater pleasure than to take every opportunity of serving the members of other orders, and so to keep alive the love which should exist among those devoted to Christ.”