The Portal Archive August 2011 - Page 6

THE P RTAL August 2011 Page 6 Saint William A Recusant Martyr Freeman by Will Burton Queen Elizabeth I had been on the throne of England for 37 years when William Freeman was executed. The Spanish Armada was a recent memory of just ten years. But it was a terrible time for those who still held the old faith. Freeman had been born near York about 1558, the year Elizabeth became Queen. His parents were recusants. Conforming outwardly to the new religion, they nevertheless kept to the old ways at home. William went to Magdalen College, Oxford and was awarded a BA in 1581. Revolution of 1559 Elizabeth I’s response to the religious divisions created during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary was to reinstate the Church of England. At the time, her actions were called “The Revolution of 1559”. By this means she re- established the Church of England’s independence from Rome. The Queen took the title Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The Act of Uniformity of 1559 compelled the use of the Book of Common Prayer. On Saturday 25 February 1570 The Papal bull Regnans in Excelsis, was issued by Pope Pius V. It declared Elizabeth a heretic, and excommunicated her and any who obeyed her orders. None of this affected William Freeman very much. He carried on much as he had before. Outwardly conforming to the new ways, the family lived a different life at home. There, in secret, it was the old ways that were cherished. Witnessed martyrdom For some time William Freeman lived in London. It was while he was there that he saw the martyrdom of one Edward Stransham in 1586. Stansham died for the Faith. The whole scene impressed Freeman greatly. The example of Stransham impelled Freeman to leave England for France. He was ordained a Catholic priest at Reims in 1587. In 1589 he returned to England and worked in Worcestershire and Warwickshire. For six years he laboured away at his Mission. He had a wide circle of acquaintances and friends, some of whom were associates of one William Shakespeare. We do not have the space, or the competence, to go into the question of whether Shakespeare was himself a Catholic. He certainly would have met Freeman. He may have known of his religion. The net began to tighten It was in January 1596 when the net began to tighten around Freeman. He was at Stratford- upon-Avon engaged to tutor the son of a Mrs Heaths. A special commission was sent to the town. They searched Mrs Heaths’ house and found William Freeman. He was taken away and thrown into prison. Seven months he languished in gaol. When questioned, he denied his priesthood. On the other hand, he also refused friendly offers of help to escape. He said, he had no wish to miss the opportunity for martyrdom. betrayed As is so often the case in these matters, he was betrayed by a fellow prisoner. It was a capital offence merely to be a Catholic priest in England at this time. The Pope had excommunicated Elizabeth I. In response, the English government had declared all Catholic priests to be traitors. His priesthood discovered, he was sentenced to death by being hanged, drawn and quartered. He expressed a touching loyalty to his monarch and country, but was martyred at Warwick on Wednesday 13th August, 1595.