Imatges de pàgina

whitemeat all his life-time, notwithstanding he was eighty years old and upwards.

And this, amongst other his virtues, to me seemed rare, that in all the time I knew his holy man, I could never hear him relate any passage, or speak of any subject, but it either began or ended with a memory of Almighty God's service, if his whole speech were not upon that theme ; insomuch, that it may truly be said of him, that his lamp of charity and love towards God, was ever burning, and that no blast of human commerce was able to blow it out, but still it blazed, and gave light to those whose lamps were extinguished, and many times lighted them again, by enkindling in their souls a devotion, whom if he found key-cold towards Almighty God's service, yet he left them with an ardent desire to serve God better than they had done formerly. This to my own confusion and his honour hath often happened to myself, and I have heard divers others affirm the same ; for the truth is, no man that would look fixedly upon him, and observe well his comportment, could go out of his company without much edification; so composed an aspect he had, so grave a speech, so religious a carriage, so incessant a zeal, that a man might see he had always God in his mind, and his own soul in his hand : Anima mea in manibus meis semper. As if every one of his thoughts, words, and deeds, had been a matter that concerned his soul's salvation, as in truth it was to him, and is to every one of us, if we reflect, (as he did,) well upon ourselves.

It was remarkable to see how soon Almighty God was pleased to make trial of this his servant's constancy. The holy man when he was sent in mission into England, for the conversion of souls, had the fortune, by contrary winds, to be landed in Scotland, as he was going to the northern part of England, and being upon suspicion apprehended for a priest, was cast into the dungeon, where, for three years together, he did not see the sun, yet in this desolate place he continued a zealous and constant professor of his faith, and a stout confessor. After three years durance, being released out of this dungeon, and coming into England, it was not long ere he was taken and put in prison again, insomuch that he had been in several prisons of the several counties of England ; and as I have been credibly told, of forty and odd years, that he was priest, he had been a prisoner about twenty of them at several times; and had been banished more than once or twice. Yet so the zeal of Almighty God had eaten up the man, that he would never leave exposing himself to danger of death for the gaining of souls to God's holy truth, and the catholic religion.

And it seems that he was by God's singular providence, ordained to die a martyr, who had lived so long so glorious a confessor. For some few days before he was taken and condemned to death, a nephew of his, and a priest, being careful of his old uncle, and solicitous how to secure him in these dangerous times, came above fifty miles on purpose, up to London, to convey his uncle into a private house in the country, where he might lie sheltered till the storm of persecution was blown over, which the parliament had newly raised, banishing, by pro

clamation, all jesuits, priests, and seminarists, menacing death to those that should be found in any of his majesty's dominions after the 7th of April, 1641. But no persuasion of the nephew, no entreaty of any other friend, could prevail with the holy man to retire himself, whom, Almighty God it seems, did more strongly persuade to stay in London, out of zeal to his many penitents which were there. And what belter proof that it was an holy instinct which made him stay, than that within few days after, the blessed martyr was dogged by a pursuivant, to his lodgings, and at eleven o'clock at night, was taken out of his bed, carried to prison, arraigned, condemned, and executed all within the space of eleven days. In brief, the remarkable virtues in this saint, were, profound humility, apostolical poverty, zeal of souls, holy simplicity, approved fortitude, and perfect charity.

The manner of his taking, imprisonment, arraignment, condemnation, and going to

execution. • He was apprehended on Thursday night, about midnight, being the 15th of July, 1641, in the house of one John Wollam, a nephew of his, and a poor catholic, by Thomas Mayhew, commonly called Mayo, a pursuivant, in virtue of a general warrant, under the hand of the speaker of the house of commons, and by this Mayo, was brought directly to the prison of Newgate, without any order from justice of peace, or other officer that had power to commit him, where he remained till the sessions following, which began at the Old Baily, within six days after his imprisonment, viz: Wednesday, the 21st of July.

• Upon Friday the 23d of July nexi ensuing, he was indicted and arraigned upon the statute of taking orders of priesthood by authority of the church of Rome. The evidence brought against him, was this Mayo aforesaid, who first professed himself to have been a Roman catholic about nineteen years past, then testified, that about the same time he had made his confession to this Mr. Ward, had absolution from him, heard his mass, and received the sacraments at his hands. And Sir Thomas Gardener, the recorder, demanding of Mayo, what ornaments Mr. Ward had on when he said mass, the impudent fellow, being ready at his lie, said, he had on an albe, a stole, a maniple, a vestment, and such other things as belong to a priest; but as it seems, the thing he affirmed, was false, so he could not tell the colour or quality of the vestments.

• There were two more, who pretended to give evidence against him, that he was a Roman priest; but the one of them said so little to the purpose, that it was not worth the noting, and so he who gave me this relation, being present at the bar, doth not remember what it was, but affirms it was nothing to the purpose. The other witness, testified, that about seven years since, he had apprehended Mr. Ward, carried him to the Gatehouse, and took from him a spiritual book, wherein were his faculties from the see of Rome.

• After these eviden given in by the three witnesses, the recorder asked Mr. Ward, and bid him answer directly, whether he was a priest or no ? He answered, no man was bound io accuse himself, but re

quired that it should be proved against him, if they desired to know the truth thereos, and then professed openly before the bench, that what Mayo had testified was most false ; whereupon the recorder demanded of him, if at least, those faculties which had been taken about him, were his ; and he answered, he knew of no such thing.

• Nevertheless, upon these evidences, the jury found him guilty; and the same day, in the afternoon, when the judges had dined, he was sent for from the prison, to the bar, where the recorder pronounced sentence of death against him, in the usual manner.

• After this sentence, he was brought back to Newgate, whither, he went most cheerfully, and there, prepared himself for his death, which was to be upon Monday following, being the 26th of July, 1641. And it was wonderful to see with what alacrity of countenance and speech, he resigned himself unto the holy will of Almighty God, professing an ardent desire to suffer for his sake, and declaring, that if any one should attempt to procure his reprieve or pardon, he would hinder it, if he could.

• Upon Sunday, which was the day before he died, he desired conference with a priest in the same prison, which lasted for some hours, and was sometimes interrupted with tears of joy, both in the one, and in the other; in which tears, the holy martyr expressed his hearty desire of suffering for his blessed Saviour's sake, and so prettily intermingled his joy with sighs, as if his humility had told him he was not worthy of so great a crown of his unworthy labours, as was this of martyrdom, and ever expressed a fear to be deprived of his highest hopes, out of an unworthiness which he conceived in himself of so great an honour. And to all such as came that day to visit him, he expressed signs of an excessive joy, that he had lived so long as to come to this desired end.

• The 26th of July 1641, which was the day of his suffering, being Monday, he said mass very early in the morning, with great devotion and comfort, administered the holy sacrament to some lay catholics, which were his fellow-prisoners and after thanksgiving, communicated to the priest that was with him the day before, certain things, which he desired should be executed after his death ; and gave him some money, to be distributed amongst the poor catholics in prison, as also, a twenty-shilling piece to give to Mr. Johnson, the master keeper of Newgate, whom he willed him to thank for his kind usage towards him.

• And it was noted by all who came this morning to him, especially by the priest, that his countenance, which was ever grave, was at this instant more than ordinarily gracious and sweet, as if it had received an outward beauty from the inward grace which was then, no doubt, abundant in his soul. And as the priest and devout catholics who were with him in his chamber, had newly done preparing him for his journey to the gallows, by putting him on a clean cap, band, and cuffs, which were points of great finery in him that affected a contemptible attire, (though then as going to his wedding, and so he was content to put on vestes nuptiales,) instantly, one of the keepers of the prison knocked at the door, to know if he was ready, for that the sledge was

come for him ; whereat the blessed man, as if he had listened for the glad tidings, made answer himself, with a cheerful voice, saying, Yes, I am ready. And within a short time after, another of the keepers came for him, and told him, he must go a little about by the leads, because though he had favour shown him not to be lodged, after his condemnation, in the common dungeon, yet now that he was to go to execution, he must pass the ordinary way through the common jail to the sledge.

• The holy man obeyed readily, following the keeper, as if he had been his good angel ; and when he came up to the leads, was stayed there a pretty while, because the rest of the prisoners that were to suffer as malefactors the same day, were in the chapel, through which he was to pass, receiving their communion, as the custom is: the martyr being told as much, smiled, and passing through the chapel, said, Is this their chapel? And here the keeper, whose name was Meares, was to deliver him to another keeper, called Snelling, whose office it was to carry the prisoner down to the sledge. And this Meares, taking his leave of the holy man, said to him, Sir, I hope we shall one day meet in heaven : whereunto the good man answered, No, in truth shall we not, unless you become a catholic, and this truth I am now ready to seal with my blood.

• After this, he encountered with a woman, prisoner in that place, whom he understood to be allied to Sir Philip Knevet: her, he exhorted to become a catholic, and to lead a virtuous life, using many effectual speeches to that purpose.

• It was now about eight o'clock in the morning, when the holy mar tyr being laid on his back upon the sledge, was drawn from the prison, by four horses, to Tyburn? but as he passed up Holborn, he cast a special eye upon such houses as he had acquaintance in, and with a cheerful countenance, as well as he could, his hands being pinioned, he gave them his benediction.

• As he was going to execution, 'a penitent of his went by him bitterly weeping ; to whom the martyr spoke, saying, Why weep you, child? The party answered, for you, sir : when instantly the martyr said, Weep not for my death, for I can yet live if I please; but it is my joy to die for this cause, and, therefore, you have no reason to weep.

* And to another he said, with signs of great joy, that he was infinitely happy to be able to lay down that life voluntarily now, which, by course of nature, he could not hope to keep one month longer.

of his Comportment at Tyburn.-When he came to the place of execution, the sheriff of Middlesex, whose office is to attend in such cases, spake unto the holy man, asking him if he had any thing to say before he died? Whereupon he answered immediately, that he had to declare to all the world the cause of his death, which was purely the point of religion ; for he was innocent of any crime that could deserve death: moreover, he said, Mr. Sheriff, I give you and all this company 10 understand, that whereas I am condemned, and brought hither to die for being a Romish priest; even that hath not been proved against me; so I have received hard usage in this sentence; nevertheless, I shall here do you, and all those that had a hand in my death, this right at

[ocr errors]

least, to declare that which was never proved, viz. : that I am a Romish priest, and have been so about forty years, God be praised for it. And since I am condemned for being such, Mr. Sheriff, I here make profession to all those that are here present, that I do not only die willingly for this cause, but think myself infinitely happy, and honoured highly therein, since it is to die for my Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Here the sheriff asked him, óf what religious order he was? who answered, I am of the apostles' order, I give God thanks for it; and I do rejoice to receive that superabundant reward of my poor labours, which the holy apostles of our blessed Saviour received of theirs, though mine have been far inferior and less than theirs were. Hereunto the sheriff replied, saying, You die, not for point of religion, but for seducing the king's liege subjects. To this, the holy martyr.answered, he had seduced none, but reduced or converted many, the which he was glad of, and did wish he could not only have converted more, but even all England; because there was no other saving faith than that of the Roman catholic church; and as for this faith, I die, myself, most willingly, so I say unto you all, that will hope for salvation, you must die in the same faith at least, if not for it. The sheriff seeing the good Eleazar so stout in this point, was willing to divert him from it, and asked him what his true name was, whether it were Ward, or not; and whether he was any thing allied to the bishop of Gloucester? To which he answered, that his true name was not Ward, but William Webster; and for the bishop, he was not allied to him, and so fell upon the profession of his faith again, saying, Mr. Sheriff, I have no relation to that bishop, but have ever professed this religion which I now die for; and if I had a thousand lives, I should most willingly lose them all for the same cause. Here the sheriff, being willing that he should do any thing, rather than inculcate so much to the people the profession of the Roman faith, interrupted him again, and said, Mr. Webster, have you any prayers to say? The blessed man told him, I have said my prayers already : but this sufficed not the sheriff, who fearing he would fall upon the former subject, asked him the second time, have you any more prayers to say? To this, the saint answered, yes, Mr. Sheriff, and if it please you to give me leave I shall say them; when instantly he fell upon his knees, and made a quarter of an hour's silent prayer with a grave, composed countenance ; and when the sheriff saw the good man stir, either supposing he had done his prayers, or not being willing to give him any longer time, he said unto him, with a loud voice, Mr. Webster, have you any thing else now to say ? To which demand, the martyr answered, Yes, Mr. Sheriff, I have this to say more, that I pray heartily to God to bless the king and queen, the royal issue, and state, and all the people of this realm ; and, Mr. Sheriff, I would bequeath some small tokens ere l.die, amongst poor catholics; but I can see none of them here. With that, the people cried out, give it to the hangman that he may favour you ; at which, the saint smiled, saying, Alas! alas ! he favour ine! see the fire and faggots, the halter and the gallows, what favour can he do me? Nor do I desire to lose the merit of suffering in this cause ; which said, he gave unto the sheriff forty shillings, beseeching him to distribute that

« AnteriorContinua »