Saint of the Day – 7 April – Saint Henry Walpole SJ (1558–1595) Priest of the Society of Jesus, Martyr, Confessor, Poet, Lawyer. Born at Docking, Norfolk, in 1558 and died on 7 April 1595, aged 37, at York for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, by being hung, drawn and quatered.
Twenty-three-year-old Henry Walpole had attended the debates which St Edmund Campion held with the Anglican hierarchy and was among the bystanders at the execution of Fr Edmund Campion, when drops of the latter’s blood sprinkled his clothes. This moved Henry so deeply, his heart and soul were rent in suffering with St Edmund and he felt convinced that God was calling him to follow in St Edmund’s footsteps.
Henry was born at Docking, near Sandringham, Norfolk, the eldest son of Christopher Walpole, by Margery, heiress of Richard Beckham of Narford. He studied at the Norwich grammar school and later at Peterhouse, Cambridge, before moving to study law at Gray’s Inn, London.
But he was so inspired by Fr Campion’s Martyrdom, that he decided to give up law to become a Priest. At this time, Henry wrote a little book of poetry, honouring St Edmund Campion which was secretly printed and circulated in London. The authorities sought to discover the parties involved. The Printer, Henry’s friend, named Valenger, was fined and suffered the loss of his ears but did not betray Walpole, who was, nonetheless, under suspicion. Walpole fled London for his father’s home in Norfolk and from there, escaped to France.
He entered the English College at Rheims, in France in July, 1582 before going to the English College in Rome and entered the Society of Jesus on 4 February 1584. He completed his studies at Scots College at Pont-a-Mousson, France and was Ordained in Paris on 17 December 1588. He took up his first assignment as Chaplain to the English Catholic refugees serving in the Spanish army in the Low Countries.
Henry was imprisoned for a year in 1589 after he was captured by the Calvinists and then worked at the English Seminary in Valladolid, Spain. In 1593, he travelled to see King Philip II of Spain to obtain permission to found St Omers, now Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England and thus leave his duties in Spain.
As England’s southern ports were closed because of plague, Fr Walpole, together with his youngest brother, Thomas and an English soldier secured passage on a French vessel going to Scotland and then travelled to Yorkshire where the group separated. While resting at an inn that night, Fr Walpole was unexpectedly arrested on suspicion of being a Priest, being betrayed by a Scottish prisoner who who was paid for denouncing Henry. Fr Walpole’s capture was sorely felt by the Jesuits in England for they had hoped he could continue St Robert Southwell’s work after the latter had been imprisoned.
During his first interrogation Henry only admitted that he was a Jesuit Priest and that he had come to convert the English. He was transferred to York Castle and for three months, he was permitted to leave prison to discuss theology with Protestant visitors before he was transferred to the Salt Tower in the infamous Tower of London into the hands of the notorious Priest-Torturer Richard Topcliffe , who was hoping to extract information from him. regarding hiding Priests and Recusant Catholics.
Fr Walpole remained faithful and did not reveal anything despite being tortured brutally on the rack and was suspended by his wrists for hours over a period of one year to prevent premature death.
In the spring of 1595 he was sent back to York for trial, where he was joined by Blessed Alexander Rawlins, who was also awaiting trial. Both were tried on 3 April on the charge of being Catholic Priests. Henry, as a former lawyer, argued that the law only applied to Priests who had not given themselves up to officials within three days of arrival. He, himself, had been arrested less than a day after landing in England, therefore, he argued that he had not violated the law. The judges demanded that he take the Oath of Supremacy, acknowledging the Queen Elizabeth’s complete authority in religion. He refused to do so and was convicted of high treason. Both he and bL Rawlins were found guilty and condemned and on 7 April 1595 they were hanged, drawn and quartered. bL Rawlins died first; Walpole was allowed to hang until he was dead.
Henry was Beatified on 15 December 1929 by Pope Pius XI and Canonised in 1970, as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, who are celebrated collectively on 4 May.
Today, the gruesome Tower of London, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a tourist destination. However, its name for most, especially for Catholics, denotes imprisonment, horrific torture and the most crueldeaths. That was not its initial purpose. It was built to show the wealth and power of William the Conquerer. In actuality, few met their deaths within its walls but it did serve as a prison and a very dark torture chamber for many. Among those imprisoned and tortured in the Tower was our Saint today, St Henry Walpole.
On the second floor of the Salt Tower’s walls, are many carvings done by these Martyred men. In fact, St Henry carved his name in the wall as seen above. But another carving by one of our Martyrs, is extremely moving. This carving is an outline of a foot with a wound — a Foot of Jesus Christ pierced by iron nails to suspend Him on the Cross for our salvation. This image was common among these Priests. It was a source of courage and consolation as they awaited their own deaths in imitation of their Lord, their Saviour and their God. This image is regarded as a type of relic and those who visit sense its sorrowful holiness and pray before it in veneration.
ST EDMUND CAMPION HERE: