Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

with a modest generosity

By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 11, 2008

An extraordinary on-line archive, The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, now makes available (and searchable) the records of London's main criminal court from 1674 through 1913. There's a staggering amount of material to play around in. Keyword "Romish" produced 102 records, including the following account of the 1674 condemnation of a Catholic priest.

At this Sessions of Oier and Terminer for the City of London, and County of Middlesex, holden at Justice-Hall in the Old-Bayly, begun the Ninth, and continued till the 12th of this Instant December, 1674. Several Bills being found by the Grand Jury, or Inquest. Amongst many others, two Indictments were exhibited against one William Burnet , by birth (as is said a Scotchman but educated at St. Omers, Dorway, or some other forraign Seminary) by the first he was charged to be a Romish Priest, having received orders beyond the Seas, and that contrary to the statute (in that case made and provided) he had presumed to come into England, and so incurred the Penalties of High Treason. By the second, he was indicted for perverting and seducing several of his Majesties good subjects, and reconciling them to the Church and See of Rome. The prosecution being grounded upon several statutes, as those of the 23. Eliz Cap.I. 3. Jac. Cap. 4. &c. whereby it is enacted.

"That to absolve, persuade, or withdraw any subject from their obedience to the King, or to reconcile them to the Pope; or to draw them to the Popish Religion, or move them to promise obedience to any other state, or procure, Counsel, or aid them that do it, shall be counted and punished as High Treason."

Upon the first of these Indictments no sufficient Evidence being produced, the Jury could not thereupon bring him in Guilty; as the second there was full proof that he had often endeavoured to reconcile divers of his Majesties Protestant subjects to the Romish Church, and had actually perverted several to embrace the Roman Catholique Religion, and assert and maintain the Popes supremacy in matters Ecclesiastical, &c.

Burnet doesn't back down from the charge of proselytizing (which took no small courage, given what was in store for him), but makes the point that the law forbade "perverting" the king's subjects, not from the C of E as such, but towards one particular confession -- i.e., the wrong he abetted was not the abandonment of Anglicanism but the embrace of popery:

To all which he had very little to object, only alleadged, that if it were a Crime so Capital him to persuade People to the Roman Catholique Religion, (which he was verily persuaded was the onely true one) then it must be the same offence in Quakers and other different persuasions, since they as well as he made it their endeavour to draw people from the Church of England to their particular party. But to this was easily answered, that the very Words of the Law had expressed the Roman Catholique religion or Popery, but no such thing of any other Faction, and that Recriminations were no excuse, much less Justification.

The last part of the record is quite moving:

Whereupon after a full hearing, Debating, and weighing of the matter, the Jury brought him in guilty of High Treason upon the last Indictment, and accordingly on Saturday he received sentence, To be Hang'd, Drawn, and Quartered; which he received with a modest Generosity, saying these words, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, &c.

In 1680, one Daniel McCarthy was convicted of treason as "as a Popish Priest or Jesuit":

Daniel Macarty an Irish man being Indicted upon the Statute of 27 Eliz. for having taken Order from the See of Rome, and coming over into England being Impeached by one Alice Turner who had formerly been his proselyte. And upon Information one Mr. Stiff a Constable in St. Giles's taking with him some other Neighbours, went to Apprehend him, and having entred the House where he was said to lodg, They found him Confessing a Sick Woman, who no sooner seeing them begin roughly to handle her Priest but cryed out, O what will you rob me of my Salvation.

That unnamed woman deserves admiration, even four centuries after the fact.

Upon search of him, They found about him a Petition to an Envoy, it being written in French, denoting that Daniel Macarte Priest, being in want since his release from the Gatehouse, desired his Charity; and farther a Purple Ribon with three Crosses upon it, with which all Popish Priests do usually give the Secrament with in private wearing it about his Neck with a large Chrystal Crucifix; a Letter in Order to the more efficacious carrying on the Plot; as likewise saying Mass and giving the Sacrament was proved by the said Alice Turner, not only at the Venetian Embassadors, but at Wild House, and confessing likewise to Dr. Oats the same, he was found Guilty of the said High Treason as a Popish Priest or Jesuit.

On the 21st of April McCarthy was condemned to die. There's quite a cloud of witnesses to be retrieved here.

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