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On 4 May the Carthusian Order commemorates the martyrs John, Augustine and Robert and their companions. Today, 5 August, blessed William Horn, the last of these eighteen martyrs, is especially remembered.
The Martyrs of the Carthusian Order in England were victims of the persecutions under King Henry VIII. Henry banished Queen Catherine or Aragon from his court and married Anne Boleyn. Because of this, he was excommunicated. In 1534 however, Henry pushed through the Act of Supremacy, which made him Supreme Head of the Church of England. Those who remained loyal to the Pope were to be considered guilty of high treason. The Prior of the London Charterhouse, John Houghton, together with two other Carthusian Priors who happened to be in London at that time, Robert Lawrence of Beauvale and Augustine Webster of Axholme, went to see the king’s vicar, Thomas Cromwell, to ask to be excused from the unlawful oath of loyalty. In response, they were imprisoned in the Tower of London. They were tried, and the same royal official bullied the jury into declaring them guilty of high treason, for which the punishment was to be “hanged, drawn and quartered.” On May 4, 1535 they were martyred at Tyburn Tree.
Little more than a month later, three leading monks of the London house, Humphrey Middlemore, William Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate, were bound upright in chains for 13 days before being taken to die at Tyburn Tree on 19 June. And on 4 May 1536 Dom John Rochester and Dom James Walworth were taken to the Charterhouse of St. Michael in Hull in Yorkshire. Eventually, they were made an “example” of on 11 May 1537, when, condemned for refusing to sign the Act of Supremacy, they were hanged in chains from the York city battlements until dead.
On 18 May 1537 the remaining monks in the London Charterhouse were required to sign the Act of Supremacy. Some signed it, thinking that in doing so they could save the monastery. But ten monks refused and were sent on 29 May to Newgate Prison. Brother William Horn, the blessed martyr we commemorate today, was part of this last group of English Carthusian martyrs. They were chained standing and with their hands tied behind them to posts in the prison. All but William died from starvation between June and September 1537. This brother was destined to suffer more than all the others. When his nine companions were “clothed with white robes, with palms in their hands,” he was still languishing in Newgate. He was afterwards transferred to the Tower, where the severity of his treatment must have been somewhat moderated, for three years later he was still alive. Eventually he won his martyr’s crown by being “hanged, drawn and quartered” at Tyburn Tree on 4 August 1540.
By that time there were no more Carthusian monks at the London Charterhouse. The monks who had signed the Act of Supremacy had already been expelled. And the monastery, like the other religious houses in the rest of the Kingdom, had already been dissolved.
Let us pray:
All-powerful, ever-living God, you gave Blessed William Horn the courage to witness to the Gospel of Christ even to the point of giving his life for it. By his prayers help us to endure all suffering for love of you and to seek you with all our hearts, for you alone are the source of life. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
- Carthusian Diurnal (Grande Chartreuse 1985)
- Carthusian Saints (by a Carthusian Monk)
- Charterhouse in London: Monastery, Mansion, Hospital, School (Gerals Davies 1921)
- Henry VIII and the English Monasteries (Francis Aidan Gasquet 1893)
- Religious Houses: House of Carthusian monks
- The London Charterhouse: Its Monks and Martyrs (Lawrence Hendricks 1889)