ROBERT Bickerdike, born at 'Low Hall, Farnham near Knaresborough, of noble, family, was an apprentice in York, when he was accused of drinking in company with a priest, possibly St John Boste, and paying for the ale, which was interpreted as 'harbouring'.
Put on trial, and asked the hypothetical question: 'If the Pope or his agent, Philip of Spain, invaded England, whose part would you take?' he replied: 'If any such thing came to pass, I should do as God put it into my mind to do.'
This was sufficient for a conviction, but the jury refused to find him guilty. Being a recusant, he was not pleased, but incarcerated in the Kidcote, a cell on the parapet of the town bridge over the Ouse, and may have been there on June 3 1586, when Ven Francis Ingleby was executed, for at a second trial a clergyman's wife testified that when she called the martyr 'a traitorly thief', Bickerdike protested: `No thief, but as true as thou art.'
Despite a not guilty verdict, he was sent a prisoner to York Castle. England had become a country where to have 'dangerous thoughts' could cost a man his life. At a final trial, about August 1586, the original charges were revived; he was found guilty and put to death; from that day he has been commemorated as a martyr.
Priests had to live such secret lives, often under assumed names. The Ven Nicholas Woodfen was also known as Devereaux and Wheeler.
Born at Leominster, where he was one of the best scholars at the grammar school, he emigrated to Douai College for training and ordination. On returning to England, he reached London penniless, but met a school friend, staying with Lady Tresham while her husband was in prison for sending messages to the Queen pleading the Catholic cause, who introduted him to Lord Montagu's brother, through whom he obtained lodgings with Barton, a haberdasher in Fleet Street.
Wearing a lawyer's gown, he worked with St Swithin Wells, who taught music to law students, and after Well's martyrdom, ran a school in Wiltshire, but soon, having returned to London, was denounced, with B1 Thomas Alfield, by Thomas Dodwell, a former Rheims student.
Pursuivants followed him to the Treshams' house at Hoxton, but Sir Thomas, hiding him in a sealed room, persuaded the searchers that it must be kept locked to protect his son from undesirable servants. After this short respite, arrest and trial followed, and Woodfen was executed at Tyburn on January 21 1586 with B1 Edward Stransham.
Among the Tyburn martyrs of that year were Ven William Thompson, a Lancashire man, born about 1560 at Blackburn, and Ven Richard Sergeant (aliases Lea and Long), a native of Gloucestershire, who were put to death on April 20.
Both, after training at Douai College, were ordained and returned to work in the London area. Fr Thompson, who fortold his own martyrdom and that of St Anne Line was harboured according to a spy's report, by her brother, William Heigham, and by Sir John Arundell at Ely Place near Fleet Street.
He was eventually captured with Robert Bellamy at the Bellamy home near Harrow. (Bellamy later escaped to Germany via Scotland.) At the scaffold Fathers Thompson and Sergeant were offered pardon if they would deny the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, but with loud and cheerful voices they reaffirmed 'that the Pope was indeed the undoubted head of the Church.
John Shakespeare, a Catholic merchant of Stratford-on-Avon, was intrumental in appointing a headmaster of the Grammar School Simon Hunt, and entrusted the education of his son William to him, but in 1575 Hunt departed secretly for the Continent (later joining the Jesuits in Rome).
With him on this illegal journey went his seventeen-year old pupil Ven Robert Dibdale, son of a devout Catholic family, near neighbours of the Hathaways at Shottery. Having studied at Douai and visited Rome, Robert came to London.
Imprisoned for recusancy, he received gifts, including two cheeses, brought by the Stratford carrier, himself a recusant.
Unexpectedly released on orders from Lord Burghley (the Polonius of Shakespeare's Hamlet, where his endless schemings are perfectly described), Dibdale returned to Rheims, receiving ordination on March 31 1584.
Four months later he was chaplain in the household of Sir George Peckham at Denham, where he exorcised devils from three of the servants, said to be witches.
His arrest, and execution with Ven John Adams and Ven John Love, was the result of a plot by Anthony Tyrell, an apostate priest.
Fr Adams, a Dorset man, was a convert from Protestantism, who had also been ordained at Rheims. His first mission had been brief; imprisoned almost immediately, he had escaped and returned to Rheims, bringing with him a group of prospective students.
Entering London for the second time, he remained free for six months before being sent to the Marshalsea. London prisons were by then so full of captured priests that a large company of them, including Fr Adams, were taken by force to the coast of France and put ashore without food or money, but he returned almost at once and worked for a short time among the poor in Hampshire, before being apprehended at Winchester and sent to the Clink.
Fr John Love, a Londoner, studied for the priesthood in Douai College and the English College in Rome, where he was ordained. He reached London in 1584 and served there for two and a half years before being captured and taken to the Clink.
There he met the spy Tyrell, and was completely deceived by him, giving away, under the seal of confession, information that was very useful to the prosecution when he, Adams and Dibdale were brought to trial.
They were executed together, at Tyburn on October 8 1586;' their innocent blood, dripping from the hangman's hands, may have been seen by Dibdale's former school fellow William Shakespeare and remembered with horror when he came to write Macbeth.