|Forty Martyrs of England and Wales|
|Died||1535–1679, England and Wales|
|Venerated in||Catholic Church|
(England and Wales)
|Canonized||25 October 1970, Vatican City, by Pope Paul VI|
|Feast||4 May (England) 25 October (Wales)|
|Notable martyrs||Edmund Campion, S.J.|
The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales are a group of Catholic, lay and religious, men and women, executed between 1535 and 1679 for treason and related offences under various laws enacted by Parliament during the English Reformation. The individuals listed range from Carthusian monks who in 1535 declined to accept Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy, to seminary priests who were caught up in the alleged ‘Popish Plot’ against Charles II in 1679. Many were sentenced to death at show trials, or with no trial at all.
The first wave of executions came with the reign of King Henry VIII and involved persons who did not support the 1534 Act of Supremacy and dissolution of the monasteries. Carthusian John Houghton, and Bridgettine Richard Reynolds died at this time.
In 1570 Pope Pius V, in support of various rebellions in England and Ireland, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, absolving her Catholic subjects of their allegiance to her. The crown responded with more rigorous enforcement of various penal laws already enacted and passed new ones. 13 Eliz. c.1 made it high treason to affirm that the queen ought not to enjoy the Crown, or to declare her to be a heretic. "An act against Jesuits, seminary priests, and such other like disobedient persons", (27 Eliz.1, c. 2), the statute under which most of the English martyrs suffered, made it high treason for any Jesuit or any seminary priest to be in England at all, and a felony for any one to harbor or aid them. All but six of the forty had been hanged, drawn and quartered, many of them at Tyburn.
Following beatifications between 1886 and 1929, there were already numerous martyrs from England and Wales recognised with the rank of Blessed. The bishops of the province identified a list of 40 further names; reasons given for the choice of those particular names include a spread of social status, religious rank, geographical spread and the pre-existence of popular devotion. The list of names was submitted to Rome in December 1960. In the case of a martyr, a miracle is not required. For a martyr, the Pope has only to make a declaration of martyrdom, which is a certification that the Venerable gave his life voluntarily as a witness of the Faith or in an act of heroic charity for others.
The Archbishop of Westminster, then Cardinal William Godfrey, sent a description of 24 seemingly miraculous cases to the Sacred Congregation. Out of 20 candidate cases for recognition as answered prayers, the alleged cure of a young mother from a malignant tumor was selected as the clearest case. In light of the fact that Thomas More and John Fisher, belonging to the same group of Martyrs, had been canonized with a dispensation from miracles, Pope Paul VI, after discussions with the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints, considered that it was possible to proceed with the Canonization on the basis of one miracle.
In England, these martyrs were formerly commemorated within the Catholic Church by a feast day on 25 October, which is also the feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian, but they are now celebrated together with all the 284 canonized or beatified martyrs of the English Reformation on 4 May.
In Wales, the Catholic Church keeps 25 October as the feast of the Six Welsh Martyrs and their companions. The Welsh Martyrs are the priests Philip Evans and John Lloyd, John Jones, David Lewis, John Roberts, and the teacher Richard Gwyn. The companions are the 34 English Martyrs listed above. Wales continues to keep 4 May as a separate feast for the beatified martyrs of England and Wales.