|Saint Robert Southwell|
On this day in 1595, Robert Southwell was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn, England. One source lists Blessed Thomas Pormort, who was hanged on February 20, 1592, as sharing this feast, though Pormort is among the eighty-five martyrs of England and Wales celebrated on May 4. Given the link of a common antagonist, I don't imagine that Father Southwell would mind sharing the feast with Father Pormort.
The link between Southwell and Pormort (other than Christ) is Richard Topcliffe, at one time a man so infamous that his name was eponymous for torture. He was a hunter of Roman Catholic priests in Elizabethan England, dedicated entirely to his work with disturbing enthusiasm. He was permitted by Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, to use his own house as a prison and torture chamber. Topcliffe bragged that he had a machine there which was more effective than the rack. He occasionally overstepped, being himself twice imprisoned for crimes, but his usefulness as a prosecutor of Papists always restored his freedom, privilege, and wealth.
|Newgate Prison: Sub Quo Limbo Erat|
Southwell was held for three years, racked at least ten times, and tortured incessantly. His family petitioned to advance the date of his trial so his suffering could end sooner. Following his conviction, he was placed in Limbo, the notorious dungeon for the condemned in Newgate Prison. Conditions there were vile; if Southwell had not been executed promptly, he surely would have died of disease, neglect, and abuse. In what passed for mercy in Elizabethan England, Southwell was hanged until dead before being drawn and quartered.
|HRH Elizabeth: legs, belly, breasts and all|
I always hope that someone like Richard Topcliffe would end his days in Newgate Prison, dying of tetanus while awaiting execution, but sadly, it doesn't work that way. He eventually lost favor and retired to the estates he had extorted from suspects and died the peaceful death of a country squire. The men like Topcliffe might tempt us to hope that Hell exists, but we would do well to remember that our notions of justice are imperfect, and in wishing that, we deliver ourselves to the Devil.