The Gloucester Martyrs

Introduction and background

Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death.  The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity.  He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine.  He endures death through an act of fortitude.  'Let me become the food of the beasts, through whom it will be given me to reach God.'  (St Ignatius of Antioch)

The Church has painstakingly collected the records of those who persevered to the end in witnessing to their faith.  These are the acts of the martyrs.  They form the archives of truth written in letters of blood.  (CCC2473/4)

In November 1987, to commemorate the beatification of five Gloucestershire Catholic martyrs, the Gloucestershire Catholic History Society published a booklet written by Patrick and Margaret Gethen.  This recounted what is known of Blessed Richard Sargeant, John Sandys, Stephen Rowsham, William Lampley and Henry Webley.

The booklet was republished in 2005.

Journal No 53 of the Gloucestershire Catholic History Society, published in October 2010, reproduced the original 1987 booklet with the addition of articles by Michael Bergen on Blessed Thomas Alfield and Venerable Thomas Webley.  These articles are reproduced here with the permission of the author.

The three statutes under which martyrs were charged are as follows:

The Statute of Treasons of 1351 (Edward III Stat.5, Cap.2)

The basic treason law of England.  Compassing or attempting the death of the King, or his heirs, is high treason according to this law.

Act to retain the Queen's Majesty's subject in due obedience (23 Eliz.I. Cap.1. 1581)

This Act made it high treason to reconcile or be reconciled to the Catholic Church or to induce others to be so reconciled, (persuading to popery).

Act against Jesuits, seminary priests and other such like disobedient persons (27 Eliz.I. Cap.2 1585)

This act made it high treason for a Catholic priest ordained abroad to come into or remain in the realm after 24th June 1559.  It made it felony for anyone to harbour or assist him.  The sentence for a priest was that he should be hanged, drawn and quartered, for a layman that he should be hanged.  Other charges were sometimes added.