Forty Martyrs of England and Wales

The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales are a group of Catholic, lay and religious, men and women, executed between 1535 and 1679 for treason and related offences under various laws enacted by Parliament during the English Reformation. The individuals listed range from Carthusian monks who in 1535 declined to accept Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy, to seminary priests who were caught up in the alleged ‘Popish Plot’ against Charles II in 1679. Many were sentenced to death at show trials, or with no trial at all.

Forty Martyrs of England and Wales
Died1535–1679, England and Wales
Venerated inCatholic Church
(England and Wales)
Canonized25 October 1970, Vatican City, by Pope Paul VI
Feast4 May (England) 25 October (Wales)
Notable martyrsEdmund Campion, S.J.


The first wave of executions came with the reign of King Henry VIII and involved persons who did not support the 1534 Act of Supremacy and dissolution of the monasteries.[1] Carthusian John Houghton, and Bridgettine Richard Reynolds died at this time.

In 1570 Pope Pius V, in support of various rebellions in England and Ireland, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, absolving her Catholic subjects of their allegiance to her. The crown responded with more rigorous enforcement of various penal laws already enacted and passed new ones. 13 Eliz. c.1 made it high treason to affirm that the queen ought not to enjoy the Crown, or to declare her to be a heretic. "An act against Jesuits, seminary priests, and such other like disobedient persons", (27 Eliz.1, c. 2), the statute under which most of the English martyrs suffered, made it high treason for any Jesuit or any seminary priest to be in England at all, and a felony for any one to harbor or aid them.[2] All but six of the forty had been hanged, drawn and quartered, many of them at Tyburn.[3]

The martyrs

Canonization process

Following beatifications between 1886 and 1929, there were already numerous martyrs from England and Wales recognised with the rank of Blessed. The bishops of the province identified a list of 40 further names; reasons given for the choice of those particular names include a spread of social status, religious rank, geographical spread and the pre-existence of popular devotion. The list of names was submitted to Rome in December 1960. In the case of a martyr, a miracle is not required. For a martyr, the Pope has only to make a declaration of martyrdom, which is a certification that the Venerable gave his life voluntarily as a witness of the Faith or in an act of heroic charity for others.

The Archbishop of Westminster, then Cardinal William Godfrey, sent a description of 24 seemingly miraculous cases to the Sacred Congregation. Out of 20 candidate cases for recognition as answered prayers, the alleged cure of a young mother from a malignant tumor was selected as the clearest case. In light of the fact that Thomas More and John Fisher, belonging to the same group of Martyrs, had been canonized with a dispensation from miracles, Pope Paul VI, after discussions with the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints, considered that it was possible to proceed with the Canonization on the basis of one miracle.[4]

Pope Paul VI granted permission for the whole group of 40 names to be recognised as saints on the strength of this one miracle. The canonization ceremony took place in Rome on 25 October 1970.[5]

Liturgical feast day

In England, these martyrs were formerly commemorated within the Catholic Church by a feast day on 25 October, which is also the feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian, but they are now celebrated together with all the 284 canonized or beatified martyrs of the English Reformation on 4 May.[6]

In Wales, the Catholic Church keeps 25 October as the feast of the Six Welsh Martyrs and their companions. The Welsh Martyrs are the priests Philip Evans and John Lloyd, John Jones, David Lewis, John Roberts, and the teacher Richard Gwyn.[7] The companions are the 34 English Martyrs listed above. Wales continues to keep 4 May as a separate feast for the beatified martyrs of England and Wales.[8]

See also


  1. Duffy, Patrick. "The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales", Catholic Ireland, 25 October 2012
  2. Burton, Edwin, Edward D'Alton, and Jarvis Kelley. "Penal Laws." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 3 February 2019 This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. Atherstone, A. (2011). The Canonisation of the Forty English Martyrs: An Ecumenical Dilemma. Recusant History, 30(4), 573-587. doi:10.1017/S0034193200013194
  4. Molinari S.J.,, Paolo. "Canonization of Forty English and Welsh Martyrs", L'Osservatore Romano, 29 October 1970
  5. Malcolm Pullan (2008). The Lives and Times of Forty Martyrs of England and Wales 1535–1680. Athena Press. pp. xvii–xxii. ISBN 978-1-84748-258-7. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  6. National Calendar for England, Liturgy Office for England and Wales, accessed 31 July 2011
  7. National Calendar for Wales, Liturgy Office for England and Wales, accessed 31 July 2011
  8. Ordo for Wales Archived 30 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Diocese of Menevia, accessed 11 August 2011

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Penal Laws". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.

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