Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors – Blessed Margaret Clitheroe, 1586

Saint Margaret ClitherowArticle

Wife of John Clitheroe, sometime Sheriff of York, she was thirty years of age, and already married, when a growing dissatisfaction with the Protestant religion led her, after due inquiry, to embrace the faith. During the following twelve years of her Catholic life her house was a refuge for priests, whom she received at her own peril and unknown to her husband. With this help she brought up her children in the faith and her eldest son for the priesthood. She managed to hear Mass almost daily, communicated twice a week, and fasted rigorously. For her persistent recusancy she was repeatedly cast into prison, even for two years together and more, but her sufferings only increased her fervour. “Were it not,” she said, “for her husband and child she would rather stay there always, apart from the world with God.” Still, when at liberty she was most attentive to the care of her house, and with her servant took part herself in the humblest menial work. She was exposed to much ill-usage even from Catholics, who misjudged and censured her, but her constancy and patience never failed. Her husband said she had only two faults, fasting too much and refusing to go to Church.

Forbidden to see husband or child, pestered by successive ministers, and herself charged with gross immorality, Margaret learnt at length, on 24 March, that she was to die on the morrow, that year Good Friday. She had prepared herself for this by fasting and prayer, but she begged for a maid to be with her during the night, for “though death is my comfort,” she said, “the flesh is frail,” but as no one could be admitted the keeper’s wife sat with her for a while. The first hours of the night Margaret passed on her knees in prayer, clothed in a linen habit made by herself for her passion. At three she rose and laid herself flat on the stones for a quarter of an hour, then rested on her bed. At eight the Sheriffs called, and with them she walked barefoot, going along through the crowd to the Tolbooth. There turning from the ministers she knelt and prayed by herself. Forced to undress, she laid herself on the ground clothed only in the linen habit, her face covered with a handkerchief, her hands outstretched and bound as if on a cross. The weighted door was laid on her; at the first crushing pain she cried, “Jesu, Mercy,” and after a quarter of an hour passed to her God.

On 10 March 1586, when she had been at liberty some eighteen months, her husband was summoned before the Council at York, and in his absence his house was searched. The priest there in hiding escaped, but Margaret and her children were taken prisoners. Enraged at their failure the searchers stripped a Flemish boy of twelve years, staying in the house, and threatened him with rods till he showed them the priest’s chamber, and where the Church stuff was kept. At her trial, lest her children might be forced by evidence to be guilty of her blood, she refused to plead, giving as a reason how ever that she had committed no offence. Two chalices were therefore produced and religious pictures, and two ruffians clad themselves in the priestly vestments and began playing the fool, pulling and hauling themselves before the judges, while one, holding up a piece of bread, said to the martyr, “Behold the God in whom thou believest.” At her second examination she again refused to plead, saying that there was no evidence against her save that of children, whom you can make say anything for a rod or an apple. The judge urged her to demand a jury, but in vain, and on her refusal she was sentenced to be pressed to death.

MLA Citation

  • Father Henry Sebastian Bowden. “Blessed Margaret Clitheroe, 1586”. Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors, 1910. CatholicSaints.Info. 24 April 2019. Web. 4 August 2021. <>