On March 4, 1590, a Catholic priest and two laymen who had assisted him were executed in London. Father Christopher Bales was hanged, drawn and quartered on Fleet Street; Nicholas Horner was also hanged, drawn, and quartered, but at Smithfield, and Alexander Blake was hanged on Gray’s Inn Lane. Father Bales had just been ordained in March of 1587 and had been arrested soon after his arrival in England in November the next year. Richard Topcliffe, Elizabeth I’s unofficial but very active torturer of priests, supervised the questioning of Father Bales. He was finally tried and found guilty of violating the statute which made his presence as a Catholic priest in England an act of treason. He was then sentenced to the death meted out to traitors.Share
Father Bales asked a question after his sentencing:
This only do I want to know, whether St. Augustine sent hither by St. Gregory was a traitor or not." They answered that he was not . . . He answered them, "Why then do you condemn me to death as a traitor? I am sent hither by the same see: and for the same purpose as he was. Nothing is charged against me that could not also be charged against the saint.Judge Anderson answered for the Court that times had changed. Although there was a placard on display when he was executed that condemned him “For treason and favouring foreign invasion”, Father Bales told the spectators that his only treason was that he was a Catholic priest. He was about 26 years old.
The two laymen had been found guilty of the felony of aiding a traitorous Catholic priest. Alexander Blake had given Father Bales lodging at his home. The main evidence against Nicholas Horner was that he had made Bales a jerkin (a sleeveless jacket). Horner had been in trouble with the authorities before for aiding priests. During his imprisonment, one of his legs became infected and had to be amputated. He survived that ordeal and authorities released him. When he was arrested again because of his connection to Father Bales, the authorities had no mercy upon him. There are reports that Horner experienced a vision of a crown resting above his head. With this consolation he was able to bear his agonizing death at Smithfield. (Read more.)