I've railed in previous posts about the brutal persecution of Catholics by Protestants in England. I haven't given equal time to Protestant martyrs at the hands of Catholics, mostly because the sources I look at don't include them. I certainly think their martyrdom is every bit as valid.
What I am pleased to include today is a good example of mercy by the Establishment, in this case the English Crown. John Roberts, born of Welsh ancestry in 1577, was raised Protestant but converted to Catholicism while studying abroad. He was ordained in Spain, and then entered England in 1603 to minister to Catholics. He was arrested and exiled. That's right. Not beheaded. Not burned at the stake. Not drawn and quartered. Just exiled.
He sneaked (yeah, I don't say snuck) back into London in 1604, working with plague victims. Apparently he must have performed someone's last rites (extreme unction) in Latin because he got busted again. This time he was sentenced to: EXILE. In 1605, he was back again, and got caught in the dragnet that followed the Gunpowder Plot. You know, remember, remember the fifth of November... They gaffled up Papists by the bushel following this treasonous attempt to blow up Parliament. You can well imagine the anti-Catholic hysteria following something like that, so the British courts threw him in prison for seven months before... exiling him again.
He was back again in 1607, and again sent to prison. He escaped and spent a year working in London before getting busted again. This time he was sentenced to execution, and by this point, I can't blame them much. True, he just wanted to volunteer to comfort the poor, the sick, and the dying, but how many chances do you have to give a guy?
Apparently at least one more. The French ambassador made a case for clemency, and so once more, Father John was exiled. Well, you can't keep a good man down -- unless you hang him, or burn him at the stake, or maybe behead him. John was back in England a few months later, busted shortly after, and subsequently convicted of priesthood. In the range of "special crimes" (think Alice's Restaurant), priesthood rank down there with littering and creating a nuisance, but the penalty was somewhat more than a fifty dollar fine and having to pick up the garbage. On December 10, 1610, John and a fellow priest named Thomas Somers were hanged, drawn, and quartered. I don't know how many chances Tommy Sommy got, but I'd have a hard time arguing that Johnny Rob didn't get his share of warnings.