St Margaret Clitherow (1556-1586) was pressed to death at York for harbouring priests and furthering the celebration of the Mass. Her hideous fate shamefully illustrates the wanton barbarity of Elizabethan Catholic persecution.
Margaret was born a Protestant, the daughter of Thomas Middleton, sometime sheriff of York. In 1571 she married John Clitherow, a well-to-do grazier and butcher. She worked hard in her husband’s business, and was much loved for her ready humour and wit.
Crushed to death
Though her husband never declared himself a Catholic, his brother was a priest. Margaret converted in 1574, after which she was frequently imprisoned for her faith. Then in 1586 the authorities determined to destroy her. There was little hard evidence to serve their purpose. Margaret, however, refused to plead – “having made no offence, I need no trial” – which provided the excuse for inflicting peine forte et dure. “God be thanked,” she responded, “I am not worthy of so good a death as this.”
It took her a quarter of an hour to die, coolly observed by the city’s officials. Let it be recorded that a Puritan preacher named Wigginton bravely if vainly interceded for her.
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