Clitherow, Margaret (1556–1586)

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Clitherow, Margaret (15561586)

A Catholic martyr who lived and died in the northern English city of York, sometimes referred to as the Pearl of York. She was the daughter of Thomas Middleton, a chandler who would become the sheriff of York in 1564. She was raised as a Protestant, marrying a prosperous butcher, John Clitherow, who was a devout Protestant but whose close brother was Catholic. Margaret converted to Catholicism at the age of eighteen. During the reign of Elizabeth I, England was returning to the Protestant Anglican church established under Elizabeth's father Henry VIII. Strict laws enforcing attendance at the Anglican parishes landed her in prison for two years for her defiance. She made her home a center of Catholic resistance to the religious laws and Protestant domination. She took in Catholic priests and held secret Masses in hidden chambers in her home, and sent her own son abroad to a Catholic school.

In the meantime the English government had passed laws banning priests from the realm, and against protecting any Catholic or taking part in Catholic fasts, prayers, confessions, or religious ceremonies on penalty of death. In 1586, her husband John Clitherow was summoned to appear before the magistrates of York to explain his wife's activities; during the investigation hiding places in her home were found, along with the robes of Catholic priests. Margaret was arrested and charged with harboring fugitive priests and attending a Catholic Mass. On refusing to plead her case or call any witnesses in her defense, in order to spare her children and servants, she was sentenced to be crushed to death. The sentence was carried out on March 25, 1586. Her happy bearing and refusal to confess to any crime at the place of her execution made her into one of the most prominent martyrs of Catholicism.

See Also: Catholicism; Elizabeth I; England