The Popish Plot
Written and researched by Margaret nee Knight Sypniewski

Under Henry VIII Blessed Margaret Pole (1471/3-1541), the countess of Salisbury, was executed in the Tower of London for being a Catholic. Margaret was the daughter of George, the Duke of Clarence. This event occurred on May 27, 1541. Margaret Pole was the mother of Cardinal Pole. Margaret Pole carried a picture of the "Five Wounds of Our Lord" which was considered to show her affection for the men of Yorkshire who took up arms against the Protestant Reformers. She was the only woman, apart from Anne Boleyn, to have held a peerage title in her own right in the 16th century.

In John Kenyon's book The Popish Plot it states:

"In the seventeenth century the Englishman's attitude to Roman Catholicism was quite uncompromising. In the words of Andrew Marvell:

Popery is such a thing as cannot, but for want of a word to express it, be called a religion; nor is it to be mentioned with the civility which is otherwise decent to be used in speaking about the difference of human opinion about divine matters.'"

Lord Russell spoke to the House of Commons in 1679:

I despise such a ridiculous and nonsensical religion. A piece of wafer, broken betwixt a priest's fingers, to be our Savior! And what becomes of it when eaten, and taken down, you know.

Protestant hatred of Catholics was thought to be based upon fear. During the reign of Charles II, Spain, Italy, and France were still very powerful Catholic nations. There was the Ridolfi Plot of 1571 to depose Elizabeth I. There were assassinations associated with the names of Throckmorton and Babington, in the 1580's; and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. There was the Irish rebellion in 1641. They not only hated Catholics, but the Jesuits were at the top of their list. Mary I's reign did not make for good public relations for the Catholic cause. She only reigned from 1553-1558 and had burned nearly three hundred (300) men and women at the stake for not embracing Catholicism. "Bloody Mary" was not a popular ruler.

During Elizabeth I's reign, people were required to attend Anglican mass. Those who refused were guilty of recusancy. and upon conviction were required to pay a standing fine of 20 English pounds per month or one-third of the income of their estates, whichever the English government thought might bring higher revenues.

It was also a felony to attend Catholic mass (Act of 27 Elizabeth). It was a felony to possess vestments, pyxes, rosaries, missals, or anything considered a Catholic apparatus of devotion. Catholic priests were not allowed to enter the country. Laymen who sheltered priests were liable to the death penalty. Yet Elizabeth was known as "Good Queen Bess," in England.


One example of this was Margaret Clitherow (1553-1586). Margaret was the wife of a York butcher. She was executed in 1586. Her emblem was the door, which was used in her pressing.

Margaret's spiritual director was Mt. John Mush, a seminary priest who studied at the College in Douay, and in 1579 finished his studies in Rome, Italy. He knew Margaret for the last three or four years of her life. He was almost caught in her house when she was arrested, and he lived to write her story after her death. Then Margaret was arrested, for the second time, for giving shelter to a priest, her small son was forced to testify against her.

Margaret was married on July 1, 1571 (at age 15), and died March 25, 1586 (at age 33). Her family was one of the "Popish Recusants" of York.

Thomas and Jane Middleton were her well-to-do Protestant parents. Their children were Thomas Middleton, Robert Middleton, Alice, and Margaret (nee Middleton) Clitherow. (b. 1553). They were brought up Protestant, but the family was Catholic before the Reformation.

Thomas Middleton was a member of the Common Council of York. In 1564, he was made one of two sheriffs in York. Thomas died in 1567, when Margaret was age fourteen. Her mother married shortly after her father's death to Henry Maye, an Aldermann and the last Mayor of York.

Margaret became a Catholic again, when it was outlawed in England. Her husband was the ONLY Protestant in his family, so it is thought that the other members of his family, were the ones that influenced her conversion. Margaret left her father's Davygate estate where she was born. Her husband was hired to find papists. Margaret was arrested for allowing a priest into her home, and for refusing to attend Anglican services. Her children were William Clitherow (became a priest), Anne Clithrow, (who became a nun in the convent of Austin Canoness in Louvain, France), and Henry Clitherow who became a priest. She was thought to be pregnant when she was executed. After her death, John Clitherow, Margaret's husband, married a Protestant.

Margaret was first imprisoned for refusing to attend Anglican Church services. Margaret learned to read in prison and when she was first released she taught school.

On the day of her execution, Margaret was stripped naked, then she was pressed to death. Pressing was done because she refused to plead if she was innocent or guilty. Margaret Clitherow, Anne Lyne, and Margaret Ward were the three women put to death under Queen Elizabeth I.

Margaret's being pregnant should have delayed her punishment, until after the birth of her child. That was the policy, to spare the innocent child, however, (in her case) she was punished anyway. She was made naked (to humiliate her) in front of her killers. Then she was tied down by the wrists in the way of a Crucifixion. A sharp stone was placed under her back (the size of a man's fist). Then a door was put on top of her and eight hundred pounds of stones were added until the door could hold no more.

She shouted: "Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! Have mercy on me!"

As more or more weight was added she began to bleed and it took her about 15 minutes to die. Margaret's body was left in her cell from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. They buried her after dark in an unknown filthy place. Six weeks later her body was found by Catholics. Her body was mangled, from broken bones, but it was incorruptible, and was still fresh after six more days when she was embalmed and reburied in a secret holy place. Margaret Clitherow was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the "Forty Martyrs of England and Wales." Their feast is celebrated on October 25th. Margaret's feast is observed on March 25th.

Under James I, only twenty-five (25) Catholics were executed (20 were priests or lay brothers). Only one perished under Charles I's reign. Lord Aston was a wealthy Stafford landowner, and was Catholic for his entire life. He was greatly affronted by the charge of "suspected papist" in 1675. Apparently he attended Anglican services. This was done by many Catholics so as to retain their land. Thomas Eyre of Hassopp, Derbyshire was another Catholic who attended Anglican masses. He was even voted high sheriff in 1621. It was not until 1626 that he was turned in by his enemies for recusancy. When this happened they often turned their estates over to Protestant friends for safe keeping. However, many times these efforts backfired and they lost their lands to their "friends," who found it to their benefit to take the land as their own.

It was reported from Warwickshire that the recusant gentry was very high, well-armed, and had secret meetings. Edward Complin of Dorking bragged upon his Catholicism and told his neighbors they would returned to the fold soon. Many told the people that plague and fire was their punishment for turning on the true Roman Catholic faith.

In Dorchester Peculiar Court records on May 14, 1626, a Walter Bartholomew alias Martyn, was listed as a "Popish Recusant." (I can not be sure if this is the same Walter that was born on August 24, 1577 in Warborough. If so, Walter was the son of Richard(Rihard) Bartholomew alias Martyne). With the introduction of The Church of England, this family underwent many hardships. My own branch of the Bartholomew family tree attended Church in the parish of Dorchester in the Dorchester Abbey, located in Dorchester-on-the-Thames, Oxfordshire, England.

Photos of Places the Bartholomews lived

By the 1600's, England was dominated by the Anglican Church. Scotland was mostly Calvinism, while only Ireland remained Roman Catholic.

My branch of the Bartholomew family lived in Westhall Hill Manor House, in the parish of Fulbrooke, Oxfords for about 200 years. They built Bartholomew Chapel in St. John the Baptist's Church, on the Windrush River. This chapel was vandalized by Cromwell's men and Henry VIII. The various plaques have been restored.

Other recusant families were the Stonors of Stonor, they were the wealthiest Catholics in the south; and the Mildays of Ambroaden were the wealthiest Catholics in the north of Oxford County. These families and their relations held one-third of the freehold land in the county. No convictions were recorded in Oxford after the protests in 1675. And after the July 1677 law, not many of the Catholic lands were as yet taken. Even though many Catholics were killed in London.

To complicate matters, many blamed the London fire of 1666 on the Catholics, although there was no proof.

Robert Bartholomew (brother of my relative John Bartholomew), was Church Warden in Warborough in 1552, and he was buried in the Dorchester Churchyard. Warborough, in 1697, had a population of 594 residents and was located three miles north of Wallingford, an easy walk in those days. My direct-line relative, William Bartholomew was christened on February 7, 1567/8 in Warborough.

Thames Valley Papists (a book)

Many Catholic gentry asked for a pass from a Secretary of State and went abroad. In November 1678 the following gentry fled England:

In December 1678 even more fled:

On September 18, 1634, my ancestor William Bartholomew arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, on The Griffin. He was a Puritan. Some of his relatives joined him in America and others remained in England and are peerage to this day. William and his sister Mary were basically cut from their father's will because of their new religion. It is not clear if their father was a Catholic sympathizer when he died. He might have been a member of the Church of England by then.

There were "Forty Catholic Martyrs of England and Wales" during this time of Tudor reign. Their Feast Day is October 25th. We have the names of most of them:


Henry VIII persecuted Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists.



Mary released all Catholic prisoners in the Tower of London. Protestants are killed instead and so are some Catholics who do not share her views. In 1536, Mary I was given a ring signifying her obedience in the words of the virgin's song "The Magnificant."

Mary killed weavers, fullers, tailors, bricklayers, hosiers, brewers, tanners, and their wives. Instead of instilling love, Mary instilled hatred. Even Catholics thought the burnings were inhuman. Many Protestants sang their hymns until their lips burned, while at the stake. The ineptness of the burnings maimed but did not kill, so they decided to tie bags of gunpowder to their victims. The victims screams and prayers were heard until their death. This was an age of violence. John Rodgers died washing his hands in the flames. Lawrence Saunders said: "Welcome to the Cross of Christ! Welcome everlasting life!"

Mary I killed an estimated 400 Protestants, most of whom were the poor. Mary I dies on November 17, 1558.


Dr. Oglrthorpe against the law crowns Elizabeth as Queen Elizabeth I on January 15, 1559.
The excommunication and deposition of Elizabeth Tudor, daughter of Anne Boleyn, is carried out on February 25, 1570.

For twenty-six (26) years after the date, Elizabeth is haunted by the killing of Mary, Queen of Scots and the Catholics that her advisors told her to kill. She became very paranoid since her mother was taken from her as a child. Her advisors played on her fears. Even though Elizabeth I was a strong woman, she never led a "normal" life.

Queen Elizabeth I dies of infected tonsils at age 69 on March 24, 1603. Her last words were: "All my possessions for one moment of time."


James was named as Elizabeth I's successor in her will. She always felt bad that she was made to kill her cousin.


Erickson, Carroly. Bloody Mary. New York: St Martin's Press, 1978.

Kelly, Sean and Rosemary Rodgers. The Birthday Book of Saints. New York: Villard Books (a division of Randow House), 2001, 81.

Kenyon, John. The Popish Plot. London: Phoenix Press, 2000.

Monro, Margaret T. St Margaret Clitherow c 1553-1568. Rockford, IL.: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 2003.

Sanders, Rev. Dr. Nicholas. The Rise and Growth of Anglican Schism. Rockford, IL.: Tab Books and Publishers, Inc., 1988 (translated from the original Latin text (1585).

Walsh (editor), Michael. Butler's Lives of Saints

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