Clitherow, Margaret, Bl.

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The "pearl of York," English martyr; b. c. 1556; d. March 25, 1586 (feast, March 25). Her father, Thomas Middleton, was a prosperous chandler and sheriff of York. He died soon after his term of office (156465). In 1571 Margaret married John Clitherow, a rich and prominent butcher in York. Margaret had been brought up a Protestant; but John, although he conformed to the new faith, belonged to a Catholic family and had a brother who was a priest. Two or three years after her marriage, Margaret became a Catholic, although her husband, by then a chamberlain of York, was necessarily becoming more resolute in his Protestantism. By this time the Clitherows had two children, Henry and Anne; their third child, William, was born in prison during one of Margaret's internments for her faith. After her release she returned to her home, The Shambles, and her duties, looking after the butcher's shop and teaching her children. (She had taught herself to read in prison.) Soon, however, she decided that she was no longer qualified to teach her elder son, so she sent him abroad to Douai for a Catholic education and employed a tutor, Mr. Stapleton, for her two other children and those of her Catholic neighbors. Her husband turned a blind eye to this and to her other more dangerous practice of harboring priests.

Margaret, however, was becoming known as a fearless and outspoken Catholic. The government, perturbed by the persistence of the old faith in Yorkshire, urged the Council of the North to take strong measures and make an example of the leading Catholics. On March 10, 1586, the Council summoned John Clitherow to explain his son's absence abroad. While John was testifying, they sent a search party to his house. Stapleton escaped; there were no signs of any priests, vestments, or chalices. The Clitherow children revealed nothing when questioned, but a Flemish boy was frightened into betraying where the vestments were hidden. Margaret and her household were arrested. Charged with harboring priests and attending Mass, Margaret refused to plead, saying, "Having made no offence, I need no trial." Had she pleaded, her own children might have been forced to give evidence against her, and this she was determined to prevent. The punishment for refusing to plead was peine forte et dure, and reluctantly Judge Clinch pronounced it: "You must be stripped naked, laid down, your back upon the ground and as much weight laid up on you as you are able to bear and so to continue for three days and on the third day to be pressed to death." Margaret was not allowed to see her children again. In prison she sewed a loose shift, for she was determined not to die naked. On March 25 the sentence was carried out. She died within a quarter of an hour, but her body was left for six hours in the press.

Feast: March 25.

Bibliography: A contemporary memoir by her confessor, John Mush, appears in j. morris, ed., The Troubles of Our Catholic Forefathers Related by Themselves, 3 v. (London 187277). a. butler, The Lives of Saints, ed. h. thurston and d. attwater, 4 v. (New York, 1956). m. t. monro, Blessed Margaret Clitherow (New York 1947). j. gillow, A Literary and Biographical History or Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics from 1534 to the Present Time, 5 v. (LondonNew York 18851902; reprinted New York 1961).

[g. fitzherbert]