was not lost. Sledd was at once noted and expelled
from Catholic society before he had time to do
much more mischief. A report of the capture soon
reached the assembled priests, who broke up in
disorder." 1 They were saved by the constable's
quick-wittedness and the martyr's capture.
1 Simpson's Life of Campion, p. 128.
BLESSED ROBERT JOHNSON
Mr. Simpson's story is founded on the authority
of Father Bombino, 1 who took the greatest pains
in hunting up fresh details about the period he was
studying, but he is not always trustworthy in the
way he pieces his facts together. Father Persons 2
briefly recounts the incident of the constable
following the intended prisoner, but joins it with
the arrest of Orton, while no special details are
recounted about the capture of Johnson. Dr. Allen 3
dwells on Sledd's unwillingness to accompany the
constable, but the circumstances are different and
the arrest is again that of Orton. Both, as we
shall see, were arrested about the same time.
Upon the whole it would seem wise not to rely
implicitly on the details of the story, though the
substance is undoubtedly true.
Blessed Robert, we learn from a list of Catholic
prisoners among the State Papers, 4 was committed
to the " Compter in the Poultrie ... on the
I2th of July, 1580, upon my Lord Mayor his
commandment by John Smith officer," probably the
constable before mentioned, " and after his com-
mitting was examined before Mr. Dr. Hamonde, and
Mr. Norton, whose examination was sent to her
From this examination, a list of the matters
wherewith he could be charged was drawn up, and
this is still extant.
1 Vita Campiani, 1620, p. in.
2 Life of Campion, 1594, cap. 21 and 23.
3 Briefe Historic, 1582, Introduction, p. 6.
4 R.O. Domestic, Elizabeth, vol. cxl. n. 37; vol. cxlix. n. 81.
482 BLESSED ROBERT JOHNSON
Robert Johnson chargeable with :
" Going out of the realm for religion, and without
licence (In his answer to interrogatories i, 2, 3).
" That he cannot answer touching the lawfulness
of the oath of obedience to her Majesty (To interro-
" Making conscience to come to our common
prayer (To interrogatory 7).
" That he knoweth not whether that Bull of
Pius 5 were lawful or no (To interrogatory 24).
" Receipt of 50 crowns from the Pope's gift."
There is an obscurity in the second clause.
When on the scaffold Blessed Robert, like his com-
panions, acknowledged Elizabeth as his Queen r
while he refused her the title of supreme head.
But here he neither rejects the Royal Supremacy,
nor accepts the Queen as Sovereign. It is therefore
evidently reported wrongly. If we had the question
put to him, and his own answer, the obscurity
would doubtless be cleared up. Unfortunately both
of these are missing. Probably the question was
put in a hypothetical form, to which a direct
answer was impossible. Cottam and Kirby, it will
be seen, are reported to have answered in the
For some months we hear of no further pro-
ceedings, but on December the ist the Council
informed the Lieutenant of the Tower and other
commissioners, in terms very characteristic of the
1 R.O. Domestic, Elizabeth, vol. clx. n. 43.
BLESSED ROBERT JOHNSON 483
Tudor tyranny and without reference to any
offence committed, that " considering the number
of priests and Jesuits, as they be termed, to come
into this realm, and of other persons their con-
federates, her Majesty's meaning is to make example
of some of them by punishment to the terror of
others." So on December the 4th, Johnson
was sent to the Tower, together with the future
martyrs Sherwin, Cottam, and Kirby, and Johnson's
old companion, Henry Orton. About Christmas
they were joined by John Hart, Christopher Tomson,
James Bosgrave, priests, and by Thomas Briscoe
and John Nichols, who fell and caused much trouble
to the rest. Father John Hart, who was eventually
banished and joined the Jesuits, drew up a kind of
journal of their sufferings called the " Diary," or
Day book, of the Tower, which has been mentioned
many times. From this book, and from a letter
smuggled out of the Tower about the month of May, 1
we learn that Johnson was " most severely " racked
on December the I5th, and after that cast into a
"very deep cavern (specu), absolutely dark, and
shut in on all sides," probably the same as that
which Allen describes as " the grisely dongeon called
Whalesboure." 2 After this he was probably among
the prisoners who were dragged to the Protestant
sermons, but we know no details.
As we hear nothing more of our martyr after
May, 1580, we may conjecture that he, having
1 R.O. Domestic, Elizabeth, vol. cxlix. n. 61. Foley, Records S.J.
vol. ii. p. 160.
2 Briefe Historic, Introduction, p. 19.
484 BLESSED ROBERT JOHNSON
established a character for courage, was left in
solitary confinement, while the torturers were
essaying the constancy of fresh captives.
At last his trial came on, Blessed Robert being
brought up with Blessed Edmund Campion and the
first batch of confessors on November the I4th
and i6th. The only attempt at evidence against
him appears to have been Eliot's story about
Blessed John Payne's treasonable proposal to him
at Ingatestone. " After which communication,"
says this notorious villain, "Pain, finding this
deponent not so conformable unto him as he hoped,
and receiving a bitter and flat refusal of his
ungracious proffer, conveyed himself away, and
was no more to be heard of. Whereupon this
Johnson, now arrived, came to the deponent and
enquired what was become of Pain, to whom he
answered that he knew not. Then, said Johnson,
' he is gone beyond the seas, fearing lest you would
discover his secrets ; and, therefore, I forewarn and
conjure you not to disclose anything that Pain hath
told you, for if you do, you stand in state of damna-
tion.' " The martyr could only reply : " I never in
my life had any such talk with him, nor uttered
any such speeches tending to any such matter." 1
He was sentenced to death with the rest of his
companions, but was not executed at that time, and
at the close of the year Hopton was anxious to be
rid of him. There is among the State Papers
a document 2 endorsed by Walsingham, " Lieut. 's
1 Cobbett's State Trials, vol. i. p. 1067.
a Foley, Records S.J. vol. iii. p. 291.
BLESSED ROBERT JOHNSON 485
note of certain priestes in his custody." Blessed
Robert is one of them. The Lieutenant adds, after
the list: "All these have bin prisoners above xi
monethes. Maye it therefore please your Hon rs
for the lessning of the Queene her Ma ies chardgis
that these persons maye be transfer d into some
other prison." 1 But no notice seems to have been
taken of this representation.
The martyr was one of those required in the
following May to answer the inquisitorial and
entangling questions of the Privy Council already
given. The holy confessors, having no opportunity
of consultation together, it was of course inevitable
that they should take different courses. We have
seen that Blessed John Shert refused all answer
except that he was a Catholic and swerved in no
point from the Catholic faith. Blessed Robert gives
some sort of answer to most of the questions, and
was evidently anxious not to court his own death.
His answer is as follows :
" Robert Johnson. To the first, he saith, he
"To the second, he cannot tell what power or
authoritie the Pope hath in the poynts named in
" To the third, he thinketh that the Pope hath
authoritie, in some cases, to authorize subjects to
take arms against their prince.
" To the fourth, he thinketh that the Pope, for
1 Letter from the Tower, R.O. Domestic, Elizabeth, vol. cxlix.
486 BLESSED ROBERT JOHNSON
some causes, may discharge subjects of their
allegiance and obedience to their natural prince.
" To the fifth, the answere to this article
dependeth upon the lawfulnesse of the cause, for
the which the Pope hath given sentence against her :
but if the cause was just, then he thinketh the
doctrine of Doctour Saunders and Doctour Bristowe
to be true. Whether the cause were just or not,
he taketh not upon him to judge.
" To the last, he saith that if such deprivation
and invasion should be made for temporal matter, he
would take part with her Maiestie, but if it were for
any matter of his faith, he thinketh he were then
bounde to take part with the Pope.
" ROBERT JOHNSON.
"JOHN POPHAM. DA. LEWIS.
"THOMAS EGERTON. JOHN HAMMOND." 1
However reserved the answer was, it was not of
a nature to obtain any indulgence at the hands of
England's rulers at that day, and a fortnight later
he stood ready at the spot where the blood of so
many martyrs had already been poured out, to
mingle his own with the stream. They made him
look on at the quartering of his companions. Then
he turned to the people and began by signing
himself with the Cross, saying aloud, In nomine
Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. After a momen-
tary interruption of the sheriff, he said, "I am a
1 Butler's Historical Memoirs, vol. i. p. 204, also Tierney-Dodd,
iii. p. xiii. (Appendix).
BLESSED ROBERT JOHNSON 487
Catholic, and am condemned for conspiring the
Queen's death at Rheims with the other company
who were condemned with me. I protest, that as
for some of them with whom I was condemned to
have conspired withal, I did never see them before
we met at the bar, neither did I ever write unto
them or receive letters from them ; and as for any
treasons I am not guilty in deed nor thought."
The sheriff here ordered his examination to be read
and his answers to the six articles ; an appeal to
the hostile judgment of the ignorant Protestant
crowd intended to counteract the general discredit
known to attach to the judicial sentence under
which the execution was legally being carried out.
When the minister who was reading came to the
fifth answer he falsified it, reading out that the
servant of God approved of the actions and writings
of Dr. Sander and Dr. Bristow. Blessed Robert
here protested : " My answer," he said, " was not
what you have read. I answered, and I still say, that
of the doings of Doctor Sander and Dr. Bristow I
am altogether ignorant, neither was I ever privy to
their facts ; and how then could I approve or dis-
allow them ? That was my answer at the time, and
I still say the same." When the answer to the
last article had been read, they asked what he had
to say to that. He replied that he was still of the
same mind and in that mind he would die. The
sheriff said his answer itself was treason, "but you
shall hear," he added, "what your own companion,
Munday, has to say against you." Munday was
called and drew nigh to the cart. " Munday," said
4 88 BLESSED ROBERT JOHNSON
the martyr, " didst thou ever know me beyond the
seas, or was I ever in thy company ? " "I was
never in your company," Munday replied, " nor
did I ever know you beyond the seas, but I was
privy to your most horrible treasons, whereof you
were most clearly convicted ; and this I say with
safe conscience. Why! were not sundry priests
sent from Avignon for that purpose ? I pray God
you may repent you thereof and that you may die a
good subject." " Munday, God give thee grace to
repent thee of thy deeds," the martyr said ; " truly
thou art a shrewd liar ! But there is no time now
to reason these matters with thee. Only I protest
before God I am not guilty of any treason."
Here the sheriff asked, " Dost thou acknowledge
the Queen for lawful Queen ? Repent thee, and
notwithstanding thy traitorous practices, we have
authority from the Queen to carry thee back."
" I do acknowledge her," Blessed Robert answered,
" as lawful as Queen Mary was. I can say no more
than to pray to God to give her grace that she may
now stay her hand from shedding of innocent
The dialogue went on: Sheriff. "Dost thou
acknowledge her supreme head of the Church in
Blessed Robert. " I acknowledge her to have as
full and great authority as ever Queen Mary had :
and more, with safety and conscience, I cannot give
Sheriff. "Thou art a traitor most obstinate."
Blessed Robert. " If I be traitor for maintaining
BLESSED ROBERT JOHNSON 489
this faith, then was King Henry and all the Kings
and Queens of this realm, heretofore, and all our
ancestors were traitors, for they maintained the
Sheriff. "What ! you will preach treason also if
we suffer you ? "
Blessed Robert. "I teach but the Catholic
Someone cried out, " What do you mean by the
Catholic religion ? "
" I mean," he said, "that religion of which the
Pope is the Supreme Pastor."
One of the ministers asked him whether St.
Athanasius was a Catholic, and what he held.
" I am not so well read in Athanasius to know all his
opinions," he answered. " What! " said the minister,
"have you not read Athanasius' Creed, Quicumque
vult salvus esse ? " The wearied confessor, with
the moment of his martyrdom at hand, was not
attending; his mind, no doubt, was elsewhere.
But the ignorant minister was not to be baulked
of exhibiting his controversial skill, and returned to
the charge, asking if he had not read the Athanasian
Creed. "Yes," he answered, "that I have, and I
believe it to be good and Catholic." " Well," urged
the minister, apparently proud of his advantage,
" in all that you cannot find the Pope once named."
"No," the patient martyr answered, "it is not
necessary the Pope should be named in everything
that appertaineth to the Catholic Faith."
At this moment the executioner put the rope
about his neck, but not even yet would they let him
have peace. For when they heard him praying in
Latin, they called to him to pray in English. He
said, " I pray that prayer which Christ taught, in a
language I well understand." " But we do not
understand it," said the sheriff. " I do think your
worship doth understand it," rejoined the confessor.
"If I do, others do not," said the sheriff. A minister
cried out, " Pray as Christ taught." " What ! "
said Blessed Robert, " do you think that Christ
taught in English ? "
And now at last the weary ordeal was over.
For a few moments the martyr was allowed in peace
to make his immediate preparation for his sacrifice,
which he did by the simple recitation in Latin of
the Pater, A ve, and Credo, and In maims tuas, Domine,
commendo spiritum meum, and then the cart was drawn
from beneath him, and in a few moments he was
with his happy companions in the ranks of the
white-robed army. E. S. K.
AUTHORITIES. Brief eHistorie,io8 in, Concertatio,8g 91,
and others given for his companions. In Father Persons' first
or draft Life of Campion he alludes to Blessed Robert having
made the Exercises in terms worth quoting: "Jonsonus Roma
exercitia spiritualia apud me fecerat, homo doctissimus (soe
I read it, or els it may be sanctissimus) postea martyr." The
parenthesis in English is added by Father Christopher Grene,
who has preserved the passage for us in his transcript, Collec-
tanea P, fol. 150 (Stonyhurst). Father Bombino's account of
Johnson's arrest may have arisen from another passage in
this same draft life.
RELICS. The only relics known to exist are the corporal
at Stonyhurst used by the five martyrs, and the pieces of skin,
already described, of which it is uncertain, whether they
belong to him or to Blessed Thomas Ford or to Blessed
THE BLESSED WILLIAM FILBY,
Tyburn, 30 May, 1582.
Two days after the martyrdom of the Blessed
Thomas Ford, John Shert, and Robert Johnson, four
more of the glorious band were dragged on hurdles
from the Tower to Tyburn for execution.
The first of these to win his crown was a young
man not yet twenty-seven years old. Born in
Oxfordshire, William Filby was early sent to the
University, where he entered Lincoln College. 1 He
did not take his degree, but in order to embrace
the Faith left all that was dear to him, and on
the i2th of October, 1579, was admitted to the
Seminary at Rheims, having made the journey
from Oxford with Edward James, a future martyr,
who was bound for the College at Rome. 2
1 Philbye, William, Oxoniensis, of Lincoln College, matriculated
in 1575. Described as plebai filius, at. 15. (Boase, Register of the
University of Oxford, II. ii. 67.)
a The examination of Yen. Edward James. (R.O. Domestic,
Elizabeth, vol. clxxxviii. 46.)
49 2 BLESSED WILLIAM FILBY
Dodd records that Filby's characteristics were
" a singular piety and mildness of temper." He was
ordained subdeacon on the 2ist of February, 1581,
and on the following March the 25th, being Holy
Saturday, with twelve others, several of whom
were afterwards martyrs, was made priest by
the Bishop of Chalons, in the Cathedral of Rheims.
He said his first Mass on April the 3rd, and pro-
bably left for England a few days later, as most
of the companions of his ordination did, though
in his case no record is entered in the College
His missionary career was a brief one. On
Thursday, July the 2Oth, about three months after
his return to England as a priest, Edmund Campion,
Thomas Ford, and the rest of the party seized at
Lyford, halted at Henley on their way to London.
Blessed William resided in that town or in its neigh-
bourhood ; l he had been at Rheims when Blessed
Edmund Campion stopped there on his way from
Rome in 1580, and thrilled the hearts of the
students with his ardent words. He could not resist
the chance of seeing and speaking to him now as he
passed. Two or three nights before, he had dreamed
that his body was ripped open and his bowels torn
out, and the terror of his dream caused him to cry
out so loudly that the whole house was raised. But
the impression made on him had not been enough
to teach him caution, and as he approached and
1 Perhaps at Stonor, where the Catholic colony was not broken
up till the next month. In his indictment, however, he is described
as "nuper de London."
BLESSED WILLIAM F1LBY 493
attempted to speak to Campion, he was seized and
added to the company of prisoners. 1
There is nothing to show whether he suffered
torture in the Tower, and he was removed to the
Marshalsea after less than a month's imprisonment
there. 2 But he was back again before the trial in
November, and the Tower Bills record that he
remained there till his execution.
He was indicted with the second division of the
martyrs on Thursday, November the i6th, and with
the rest received sentence of death on the i7th.
The joy with which his approaching martyrdom
filled him, and which he could not conceal, brought
on him additional suffering. Hart's " Diary," on
November the 22nd, says, "William Filby, because
he appeared after his condemnation to death more
cheerful and firm than usual, was loaded with iron
manacles to the day of his death." He was also
deprived of his bedding, and did not recover it, as
we shall learn from a letter of Blessed Luke Kirby,
until the middle of January.
His reported answers to the "six articles" of
the Council in the following May, are firm and
1 This is Father Bombino's account in 1618, but the Briefe
Historic (1582), followed by the Concertatio, &c., says that he was
intercepted while riding to Lyford, and dreamed of martyrdom on
his way to London.
2 The Council Order of August 14, 1581, for the torture of
Campion, Ford, and Collington, orders " Mr. Lieutenant to receive
Philby and Jacob unto the prison of the Marshalsea." (Dasent,
Acts of the Privy Council, vol. xiii. p. 170. Cf. Jardine, On the use of
Torture, p. 88.)
494 BLESSED WILLIAM FILBY
" William Filbee, his answere. 1
" William Filbee. To the first, he saith, the
Pope hath authentic to depose any prince ; and
such sentences, when they be promulgated, ought
to be obeyed by the subjects of any prince. But
touching the bull of Pius Quintus, he can say
nothing ; but if it was such as it is affirmed to be,
he doth allow it and saith it ought to be obeyed.
" To the second, he saith, it is a hard question,
and therefore he cannot answer it ; but upon
further advertisement, he answereth as to the first.
" To the third, he knoweth not what to say
"To the fourth he sayeth that so long as her
Majestie remaineth Queen, the Pope hath no
authoritie to warrant her subjects to take arms
against her or to disobey her. But if he should
depose her, then' he might discharge them of their
allegiance and obedience to her Majestie.
" To the fifth he saith he will not meddle with
the doctrine of doctour Saunders and doctour
" To the last, when this case happeneth, then,
he sayeth, he will answere ; and if he had been in
Ireland when doctour Saunders was there, he
would have done as a priest should have done,
that is, to pray that the right may have place.
" WILLIAM FILBEE.
"JOHN POPHAM. DA. LEWIS.
"THOMAS EGERTON. JOHN HAMMOND."
1 Tierney-Dodd, iii. p. xii. (Appendix).
BLESSED WILLIAM FILBY 495
When the great day of his sacrifice arrived he
managed to shave his tonsure, to show how greatly
he honoured his priesthood, and also contrived to
make a small cross of wood to hold in his hand
at the time of his consummation.
Munday gives us the following details as to the
passage to Tyburn :
" On the Wednesday following, which was the
thirty day of May, in the same manner as I
have before expressed, Luke Kirby, William Filby,
Thomas Cottam, and Laurence Richardson were
committed from the Tower of London to the place
of execution, and, as the others were on the Monday
before, associated and accompanied with divers
learned and godly Preachers, even so were these,
as to say Master Charke, Master Herne and divers
others, who all the way applied such godly and
Christian persuasions unto them (as had not the
Child of perdition so marvellously blinded them)
were of force to have won them into grace and
mercy. The speeches they used to them by the
way were needless here to set down, for that they
did specially concern causes to root out that wicked
opinion in them, and to establish a sound and
perfect faith in place thereof, but even as it was
in the others, so it did agree in them."
On arriving at Tyburn with his companions, he
" being the youngest," was, as has been said, taken
first from the hurdle and placed in the cart under
the gallows. He began by making the sign of the
496 BLESSED WILLIAM FILBY
Cross, saying aloud : " In nomine Patris, et Filii, et
Spiritus Sancti, Amen," and then to the officers;
" Let me see my brethren," and looking towards
the others, who still lay on the ground bound to
their hurdles, he held forth his hands to them, and
said, " Pray for me." Then addressing the crowd,
he said : " I am a Catholic, and I protest before
Almighty God, that I am innocent of all these
matters whereof I am condemned ; and I hope to
be saved by the merits and death of our Saviour
Jesus Christ, beseeching Him to have mercy on me
and forgive me mine offences."
At this point a proclamation was read for
keeping the peace, ending with " God save the
Queen," to which the martyr said, " Amen."
The bystanders asked him for what Queen he
prayed, under the impression that the hopes of
Catholics must be fixed upon the captive Queen of
Scots. He answered, " For Queen Elizabeth,
beseeching God to send her a long and quiet
reign, to His good will, and make her His servant,
and preserve her from her enemies." Richard
Topcliffe, who about this time began to take a
prominent part amongst the most cruel agents of
the persecution, called out to him to say " God
save her from the Pope," to which he answered,
" He is not her enemy." Thereupon the minister
of St. Andrew's in Holborn said, " Note that he saith
the Pope is not the Queen's enemy." At this
moment one of the sheriff's men standing in the
cart with the martyr caught sight of the little wooden
cross which he held partly concealed in his hand-
BLESSED WILLIAM FILBY
kerchief. 1 The man snatched it from hinrand held
it up to the mockery of the crowd, repeating several
times, " Oh, what a villainous traitor is this that
hath a cross!" some of the people taking up the
same cry. The holy priest smiled at them, and
made no answer. He was no more ashamed, says
the author of the Briefe Historic, of this his Saviour's
banner, than of his crown, which he had made shift
The notorious minister Charke, 2 who had been
rebuked by Father Persons in his Censure,
attacked the martyr, accusing him of disobedience
to his natural sovereign in receiving Orders from