THE DIARY OF A RECUSANT (1584)

Taken from an article written by E.M. Harting found in The Month : A Catholic Magazine. Vol. CXVIII. July-Dec. 1911

¶ It was towards the end of a day in autumn that I first saw the old farm house at Long Kirby, in that mountainous district still known as the Peak Forest. Grey stone wears a grave aspect on a grey day ; austere yet not melancholy. The yellowing tones given by growth of lichen turn to gold in a sudden line of light on the horizon.

¶ Long Kirby, the home of certain recusants in Elizabeth’s time, still wears a stern unyielding aspect. With the grey limestone hills spread all around, the house stands strangely isolated, though a broad high road now takes the place of what was once a track over the hills. It may be that the grey stone gives an impression of endurance ; so greatly is history engraven in the outward aspect of the house that one hardly needs to be told that it was here that people suffered and triumphed.

¶ I stood for some time in the stone-walled garden, bright with autumn flowers, before going indoors, where raftered ceilings, wainscotings and shutters of oak, mellowed to silver, shone in a sudden rift of light through the clouds. A tone of triumphant suffering shone out everywhere. Grey was turning to silver and yellow to gold. Over the high fireplace in the parlour I was arrested by a portrait. As I looked at the pictured face for the first time an impression was instantly conveyed that gave the key-note to the whole place. Here seemed to be the person in whom all this inarticulate suffering had centered. A woman, little more than a girl, with direct unfaltering eyes, with thin lips compressed and almost stern, yet quivering at the corners with a smile.

¶ On the dark background of the panel I read the words, “Mistress Margaret Ashton. 1583 aetate 25.”

¶ I have seen this picture many times, for I have gone often to Long Kirby. The house is furnished, but uninhabited ; only a caretaker keeps watch for the owner, who lives abroad. This old woman and I have become friends ; she told me, as we lifted down the framed portrait from over the mantelpiece, all that is known of the Ashtons—a family long since gone out of Derbyshire.

¶ “There be something written on the back,” she said.

¶ The low-ceilinged room was never well-lighted, and between us we carried the picture to the window. On the wooden panel, written in white chalk, we made out the words: “Only those who endure to the end shall be saved.” The solemn sentence stood out in uncompromising clearness, repeating and re-echoing again the whole spirit of the place.

¶ The further emphasis of this prevailing spirit culminated in a great discovery. I was at Long Kirby when the manuscript diary was found in which this long dead woman speaks. It was a few weeks after my first visit to the place. Autumn was deepening into winter, the wind sighed round the old house and sang sad music in the big chimneys ; the flowers in the garden were battered by the gales that raged over the moorlands, and the windows shook in their frames and the shutters creaked drearily.

¶ The old housekeeper found the hinges of one of the indoor shutters shaken to breaking-point, and it was necessary to have it repaired. I came that afternoon just as the village carpenter commenced his work.

¶ “This board here is loose,” I heard him say as I entered the room ; and the oak casement into which the shutter fitted vibrated to his vigorous rappings. He peered at the cracks that marked where the board was fitted, and silently brought a tool to work ; then the whole strip of wood leaned forward, and we who stood by caught sight of a roll of paper, yellow with age.

¶ For some seconds no one spoke. It was like the sudden disinterment of a corpse.

¶ The years that had passed since this paper had been hidden behind the shutter seemed a barrier to mere curiosity. When at length we took it up, we found that not only had time turned the written characters faint and dim, but the handwriting was that known as Elizabethan Court hand, and impossible for us to read.

¶ The date could be made out at the commencement as 1584, and from the frequent repetition of successive dates we judged the manuscript to be a diary. At the top of the first page the name of Margaret Ashton was clearly inscribed.

¶ Reverently we folded the paper, and I undertook to send it to an expert in the handwriting of the period, for a reliable transcription of the contents. After some weeks this was sent to me. I cannot well describe the feelings with which I turned the pages of Margaret Ashton’s diary, fearing to read what was not intended to be known, yet realizing that in the passing of time many changes are wrought, and here might be found a clue to matters of history that are glorious for all time.

¶I shall not transcribe the first entries in the diary ; they are but brief, and refer only to one person, Richard Ingham. In the frequent repetition of this name lies a whole world of romance.

Rd. Ingham came to-day. He stayed above an hour.

This day Richard came. I fear I seemed too glad to see him.

R. I. rode by at noon. He waited at the gate, and then I went out and spoke to him. He wore a new coat.

Richard has not been here but once this week. He does not know how much we miss him.

¶ The diary appears to have been originally kept as a calendar of these visits, and records not only the date but the exact hour of his arrival and departure. Sometimes the visit lasted over an hour, sometimes he only remained at the house for a few minutes on his way elsewhere ; but Margaret Ashton measured every moment that he was there. These visits were evidently of a most formal character ; once she confided to her diary that he had called her by her name. But her fears for his safety in those penal days were often expressed.

¶ As far as we can gather she was the daughter of a yeoman of good position in the Peak district. That the Ashtons were Catholics and determined recusants is evident, but from their position, both of family and homestead, they did not attract the malignant notice of the priest-hunters. Long Kirby was not in the tract of the fugitive priests who passed through England in secret, saying Mass and giving the Sacraments where possible. Until 1585 the system of persecution had included immense sums levied in fines, and in some cases the rack. Those Catholics who could afford to pay the fine enjoyed comparative liberty, but at any hour were subject to invasion and destruction of property. But the country about Long Kirby was, as Feme stated in his dispatch to Cecil, “difficult to search.” Nevertheless all Catholics who went from their homes “rode armed.”

¶ It was in the year 1584 that Margaret Ashton wrote :

It is Easter Day. My heart misgives me when I think how very long it is since any of us poor Catholics have seen a priest. We have had no Mass these many weary days, and have not received the Body of the Lord for nigh upon two years. We are starving.

Richard Ingham came this day. I fear me that he is no longer so brave a Catholic. He thinks no more of our great need for spiritual food. I do pray God not to try him over much.

What had been said that day in the parlour at Long Kirby we do not know. It may be only that her woman’s instinct told her that those lean years had done their work, and that Ingham was growing indifferent to his own needs.

¶ Then comes the following :

July 4, 1584. Richard Ingham rode over this fore noon. He seemed ill at ease, and then he told us that late last night a fugitive priest came, asking shelter, not telling his name. Would to God he had come to Long Kirby. I warrant me we could have housed him secretly and got him off. But Richard is half-hearted in this affair. I fear the worst.

July 5. Ingham came this morning; he asked to speak with me alone. His face was drawn and haggard. He asked for my help and counsel. I told him that most assuredly I would give all the help I could. Then he said,—and how it should have gladdened me to hear this:

“You know, Mistress Margaret, why I come, for at least you know I love you, though you cannot know how much. I am not a coward. I would die cheerfully in a fair quarrel, but to be caught like a rat and buried alive within the four walls of Derby prison! There is a heavy penalty for priest-harbouring—imprisonment for life—it would be easier to die.”

“Dear love,” I said, and caught his hands, “ it is easier to die than to betray God’s servant. It is easier to suffer torture and long imprisonment Be strong, hold up your head. The Queen’s men have not yet found us out. To-morrow we will have Mass. It will give us strength, and we shall have no more of these fears.”

July 6. We set out at sunrise for Ingham’s house. (Editor’s Note – It is significant that never once did she write the name of the house, nor give any hint of its direction.)

Walking by untrodden ways through the hills. Arrived we did knock thrice upon the side door and were admitted. None speaking any word. In the upper room right in the roof we found a table spread over with a linen cloth, and lights burning. Richard stood by the door to admit each one to confession, and there were many there. Later in the big room Mass was said. Richard Ingham served, and I did note with joy that he already looked a new man and held his head as one proud in the service of the Lord.

With beating hearts we saw the strange priest—his very name unknown to us standing before the altar of God. Time seemed a little thing beside these great mysteries which for hundreds of years have brought strength to faint hearts. We could have sung for joy.

The face of this priest will never pass from my remembrance if I live many years—though it may be that we shall all most happily suffer for this day’s work, and God grant it be so.

This priest was of most excellent countenance, strong, yet full of gentleness, and though some weeks unshorn of beard he bore himself with all the manner of a prince, and showed no sign of fear. We knew not his name nor whence he came, only from his papers that he was known to my Lord Bishop of Lincoln before he was committed to the Tower.

But for his voice and that of Master Ingham we did hear naught save the wind in the trees near the house, and once I did think a sound as of a horse galloping.

When we all drew near to receive the Bread of Life the very wind seemed hushed, but towards the end of Mass a clamour of voices broke out along the hill road, and a rattle of horses’ feet. Then we knew the Queen’s men had come, and all raised their heads to listen : all, that is, save the priest, who did not seem to hear.

Quietly he moved about the altar-table and read the final prayers with voice unshaken.

Richard too remained as one who heard nothing but the voice of the priest. Then loud blows fell upon the door below, and a voice called to us to open in the Queen’s name.

Mass being ended we all waited, and then Ingham went down and let the men come in, for they would have burst the door.

Then we heard them call the priest’s name. And it was Nicholas Garlick.

We had long known of this holy man, for he was sometime master of Bishop Pursglove’s school at Tideswell, many miles southward from this place, and he was known to be full of learning and virtue. This then was he who with head lifted and eyes aflame waited without a tremor for his arrest.

I cannot write of what followed nor of the rough usage he got, but he bore it all right manfully like the brave gentleman he is.

Richard too was taken, and then at last I felt my heart would burst, and I did beg and pray of the Queen’s officer that he would take me too. But he pushed me away when I went forward, and even when I knelt to him he would not hear me.

And now here at Long Kirby I wait for tidings, while those two have gone to the foul fever den at Derby, there to stand their trial with other recusants.

And I know how heavy is the trial which I must bear alone. And yet to know that Richard Ingham did not fail, and will not, God helping him, and that he loves me, is enough for any woman’s happiness.

¶ Other entries follow telling of tears and sorrow and agonizing dread that Ingham was suffering cruelly in Derby Gaol.

¶ Oh, God ! [she wrote], surely I suffer more though I go free.

¶ Then the news came of Ingham’s banishment with Nicholas Garlick and seventy-two other priests and several gentlemen and yeomen out of England.

¶ Two months later and Father Garlick was once more in his native county, and with him came Richard Ingham. They came to Long Kirby, and Margaret Ashton was married to Ingham in the parlour of the old house in the Peak by Father Garlick.

¶ Of their future history nothing is known, but of the glorious death of Nicholas Garlick we have full knowledge.

¶ It is impossible for a Catholic to visit Tideswell now without in some degree understanding how the “ Cathedral Church” was a means of grace to Nicholas Garlick during his seven years’ head-mastership of Tideswell Grammar School.

¶ This building faces the north transept, so that each moment of his working-hours he saw the high pinnacled tower, the long line of roof, and the beautiful windows that must have reflected back some of the brightness which makes Tideswell Church “ one gallery of light and beauty.”

¶ It was during these seven years that he saw his friends and neighbours gradually deprived of all means of practising their religion. His was the true missionary spirit and he longed to be able to carry spiritual help into the wild district to the north of Tideswell, familiar to him from boyhood; where he could pass almost unnoticed through the dales and over the hills by tracks difficult to follow. His father was Forester of the High Peak, and he knew every inch of the way.

His life hitherto had been one of peace,

But his heart so burn’d

For Heaven, he turn’d

A Pilgrim and man of Strife.

¶ Three of his pupils went with him to Rheims, but owing to his learning and the great need for him in Derbyshire, he was the sooner ordained, and in 1583 was sent back there to work.

¶ It was no small thing to have educated and trained the youths of Derbyshire for seven years, but in the remaining five years of his life he was the support and strength of the recusants of the Peak. When search was made for them, those who were best known to the Queen’s men hid in the caves. Robert Eyre, a Justice of the Peace, whose brother was a Catholic, gave warning at the approach of danger. They were relieved by shepherds, who brought food and hid it among the rocks.

¶ “It is difficult to search in that country,” John Feme, the priest-hunter, wrote to Cecil, ”for the recusants keep scouts day and night, and they ride armed.”

¶ The fiery zeal of Nicholas Garlick could not be extinguished by banishment from England, and in two months he was back in Derbyshire at ten times greater risk than before.

¶ This man of peace continued on his way of pilgrimage and strife until July 12, 1588, when he was once more seized by the sheriff’s officers at the house of the Fitzherbert’s at Padley, on the north-east border of the county, together with another priest, Robert Ludlam.

¶ An old record of the time states that: “On July 23, 1588, Mr. Garlick and his companion were arraigned at the assizes, and without the least sign of fear or dismay professed themselves to be priests—greatly rejoicing at their calling.”

¶ Two days later they were drawn on hurdles to the place of execution, and it was arranged that a fellow-sufferer and a priest named Richard Sympson should suffer first.

¶ But to encourage him Mr. Garlick hastened to the ladder and kissing it ascended. As the fire of the cauldron was not ready, he addressed the multitude on their salvation, until he was pulled off the ladder. He was left hanging until about half-dead, and was then cut down, but having recovered his senses was then drawn and quartered. Mr. Sympson and Mr. Ludlam followed him.

¶ An eye-witness of the scene wrote that day:

July 25, 1588. Derby.

When Garlick did the ladder kiss

And Sympson after hie,

Methought that there St. Andrew was

Desirous for to die.

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  1. bgahwaypsc THE DIARY OF A RECUSANT (1584) | HUNTED CITY bgahwaypsc bgahwaypsc bgahwaypsc

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