SAINT MARGARET CLITHEROW
Martyr for the Catholic Faith
under Queen Elizabeth I
A Book Review of St. Margaret Clitherow by Margaret T. Monro, TAN Books, 89 pp. with color cover and a black and white photo of the Saint's statue and two illustrations: $6.00. The book is privileged to carry both an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, 1945. The work was originally published a year later under the title Blessed Margaret Clitherow.
Tan Books well deserves its reputation for publishing Traditional Catholic gems at bargain prices and this biography by Margaret Monro is just one of those jewels. Once one begins to read the story of this English Martyr [one of the 40 English Martyrs], it is impossible to put down. Every Catholic who is suffering under the tyranny of the modern Church bureaucrat, especially if he loves the Roman Mass and finds himself the target of the peculiar kind of venom-----reserved for Catholics who will not abjure Tradition-----by the modernist with power and a lapsed conscience-----ought to own this inspiring biography. Here is a Saint who knows why God created her and how she must conduct herself in order to be saved, who loved God with her whole heart, her whole soul, her whole mind and her whole strength. Below are but a few pearls from and about "The Pearl of York":
"I am fully resolved in all things touching my Faith, which I ground upon Jesu Christ, and by Him I steadfastly believe to be saved . . . and by God's assistance I mean to live and die in the same Faith; for if an angel come from heaven, and preach any other doctrine than we have received, the Apostle biddeth us not believe him."------St. Margaret Clitherow, page 8.
"I die for the love of my Lord Jesu!"------St. Margaret Clitherow, page 83.
Among the the first converts of the missionary priests was Margaret Clitherow, for she was reconciled to the Church in 1574, the year of their arrival. And she was typical of the kind of convert they mostly made. For she belonged to the generation-----then in its twenties-----which had childhood memories of an all-Catholic England. Some say that as many as fifty thousand, the cream of the country's young manhood and young womanhood, thus swung back to the Church. The swing became even stronger after the first Jesuit mission of 1580-81.
This great youth movement filled the Government with alarm, for it was capturing the very people on whom its own success depended. Hence, the third ten years of Elizabeth's reign are filled with a savage endeavor to quell this movement among the young. A string of laws was passed, mounting in ferocity and culminating in the terrible statute of 1585 called "27 Elizabeth." And here, too, Margaret Clitherow was in the van. Though her case holds special features, hers was one of the earliest arrests under this statute.
Margaret Clitherow died in 1586. Two years later came the Armada, cutting Elizabeth's reign in two. To those who lived after, the first thirty years of her reign soon became unintelligible, if only because those who remembered Catholic England were dying out. Even today, when we talk about the Elizabethan Age, the pictures in our minds are generally taken from the years after the Armada. For instance, it was after the Armada, and in spite of the proved loyalty of Catholics, that the Government used against them the two weapons which really defeated them-----fines on a scale that beggared all but the wealthiest families, and a fully developed system of espionage. These were only beginning on a small scale in the lifetime of Margaret Clitherow. It is vital to remember that she belongs to those forgotten thirty years in which the English people laboriously awoke to the truth that, if they wanted to keep their Faith, they must be ready to pay a heavy price in suffering.
While many things contributed to that awakening, the last stab was given by a single incident-----the execution of Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, the beloved leader of the Rising in the North. He had escaped into Scotland but was handed back to his own government. In 1572, after two years in prison, his head was cut off. If the Government had executed him as a political offender, it would have been within its rights. It put itself in the wrong by offering him his life if he would abjure his religion. He refused, and that refusal, more than anything, crystallized the new attitude of the English Catholics. [pp. xv-vii.]
In 1572, the year after his marriage, John Clitherow was one of the men specially sworn in, in every parish, to keep a look out for "the late rebels and other evil-disposed persons suspected of Papistry." This was a small matter-----indeed, it is possible that he could have salved his conscience by saying that if this business could be kept in the hands of local men, they would be able to protect their Papist neighbors; for the citizens of York were very, very unwilling to put the law into force against the Catholics. More than in any other part of the country, the Government had to send special emissaries to the North to carry out its policy.
The year 1574, however, brought crisis to both husband and wife. She became a Catholic, he a chamberlain. This was an important piece of promotion, for a chamberlain of York was entitled to be addressed as "Mr." and took rank as a gentleman; all social distinctions were much more sharply defined then than now. And so, at the very time of her reconciliation to the Church, Margaret Clitherow had to see her husband take this decisive step into bondage to the powers of this world.
For the more he owed to the world, the harder would it become to break the net in which it held him. And every such promotion meant a fresh affirmation of his acceptance of the royal supremacy in religion.
To make it yet harder for her to bear, both his brothers were making a firm stand. Of one, a draper, we know little save that he was a staunch Catholic. But the other brother, William, must have touched Margaret's life in some profoundly personal way, for she named a child after him. The baby born in the year of her reconciliation was a little girl, Anne-----and the only Anne in Margaret's story was a Mrs. Anne Tesh, a noted Catholic, who for some days shared Margaret's prison cell, and who clearly was a close friend. Quite possibly it was after her that little Anne Clitherow was named.
But two years later we get another clue. In 1576, a list of recusants [English Catholics who refused to attend the Protestant service] mentions that Margaret was in prison, and pregnant. Now, 1576 was in all probability the year in which her brother-in-law, William Clitherow, entered the College at Douay to study for the priesthood, for we hear of his ordination six years later. [pp. 12 and 13]
Her husband's personal kindness, however, did not at all lessen for Margaret the conflict of loyalties in which she was caught. These conflicts of loyalties are among the most painful trials to which human beings can be subjected. St. Thomas More named one when, on the scaffold, he said: "I die the King's good servant, but God's first." Every martyr of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could have echoed him, for their main conflict lay between the claims of God and of the Government. In the case of Margaret Clitherow, there was something further. Where St. Thomas More was the head of his family, Margaret was under the authority of her husband. She thus had to take into account her duty towards two earthly authorities, not only the civil government, but her husband as well. And naturally, it was the domestic conflict which was the more painful. Where More protested his loyalty to the King, Margaret protested her love for her husband. "Know you," she declared, "that I love him next unto God in this world. . . . If I have offended my husband in anything, but for my conscience [i.e., but for my religious duty], I ask God and him forgiveness."
That he obligingly turned his back for her convenience did not really comfort her. Part of her grief sprang from the fact that, to him, it should be only a question of convenience, not of principle. Besides, her frank, open nature found concealment abhorrent. What nerved her to hide things from him was the knowledge that her duty to God involved her husband in personal danger, if it became known that she had Mass said in his house. But she hated the need to keep him in the dark, and it was an abiding misery to her that he should be so blind to his highest good. Behind all her gaiety, she lived with a sword in her heart.
Because she felt all this so keenly, she tried to make it up to him by being, in all save her conscience, just as good a wife as she could be. Here she succeeded. John Clitherow was in the habit of saying that he could wish for no better wife, "except only for two faults, as he thought, and those were, because she fasted too much, and would not go with him to church." Since conscience forced her to go against him in matters of moment, the same conscience obliged her to see that he should have no cause of complaint over anything else. [pp. 15 and 16.]
When Margaret Clitherow was executed she was the same age as Christ, 33 and like our Savior she was stripped of her clothing. Her nakedness was actually a part of her sentence, one of the harshest of the 40 English Martyrs, of which but three were woman: she was put to death by being crushed under a large door loaded with heavy weights, most painful, most exceedingly painful. She was born on the Feast of the Annunciation, when Jesus was conceived in the Immaculate womb of Our Lady. In England at the time The Feast of the Annunciation was called Lady Day.
English law prescribed this form of execution because she would not plead; she did this for the sake of her four children [she had three born and one in her womb, it is thought] and her servants from being pressured to give evidence against her and thus save the jury from participating in sentencing her to death. In that case, if she had plead, it is thought she may not have received this form of execution.
St. Margaret was canonized in 1970 as one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.
I have provided but a small portion of the history of this great Saint of England, which is really the history of Catholics under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and in a much less severe, unbloody manner, our history as well: While Margaret Clitherow and her fellow Martyrs suffered under their own government, we endure a dry martyrdom, less at the hands of our American government [but that is coming, too], but by our fellow Catholics in the various chanceries and even on the parish level. Just try telling a modern Catholic about your love for the Roman Mass, and they move away as if you were a dread disease or an English "recusant".
Tears welled up on almost every page, and greater joy: Margaret Clitherow is not only "The Pearl of York", she is the glory of England and of the Church. At the end of the book is an exquisite prayer to St. Margaret, which I will not publish, please purchase this masterpiece for yourself and others. It is the sort of book traditional Catholics will want to re-read from time to time for edification and fortification in the coming days.
O St. Margaret, glory of England, the Church and the greater glory of God in His Saints, pray for us who are left behind.
This page is dedicated to Fr. Stephen Zigrang, Traditional priest, and American recusant.
With gratitude to God for St. Margaret,
Monro, and Tan Books,
The theme of the
graphic accessories is a blend of English ivy, lilies, and tiny
"pearl" blossoms, the lily being the traditional symbol of
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40 ENGLISH MARTYRS.
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Their Feast Day is October 25.
be precise, the complete name is The Forty Martyrs of England and
Wales, but in popular usage it has been shortened to the "40 English
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