Houghton, John, St.

views updated


Carthusian martyr; b. Essex, England, ca. 1487; d. Tyburn (London), May 4, 1535. He received the LL.B. degree at Cambridge in 1506. To avoid the marriage planned by his parents, who were of minor gentry, he left home to live with a secular priest who trained him for ordination. In about 1514 he entered the London Charter-house, then governed by the Irish Prior Tynbygh. There he served for seven years as sacristan, and for four years as procurator. In May 1531 he was elected prior of Beauvale in Nottinghamshire, but returned to London in November to succeed the deceased Prior Batemanson. In the next year he was chosen by the chapter general to be covisitator of the English province.

During his visitation of Mountgrace Priory in Yorkshire occurred an incident said to presage his future martyrdom. The traveling clothes of both visitators were left to dry, and Houghton's were found pecked and torn by birds, whereas his companion's were untouched. The details of his interior life and external administration attest to his reputation for holiness, austerity, zeal for the Divine Office, love of books, enlightened handling of his subjects. He is said to have had the gift of tears. His confessor was the martyr, Bl. William exmew.

In April 1534 Houghton with his procurator, Bl. Humphrey middlemore, was imprisoned in the Tower for a month for refusing to swear to the Act of Succession, which denied the validity of henry viii's marriage to catherine of aragon. They were persuaded to take the oath with the reservation "as far as it was lawful." On February 15, 1535, the king announced his title of supreme head of the English Church. After being advised by Father Fewterer, confessor general of the Bridgettines of Syon, that he must die rather than accept this title (advice that this counselor did not himself keep), Houghton convened his monks and warned them of the danger.

At the beginning of April, accompanied by St. Robert lawrence and St. Augustine webster, priors of Beauvale and Axholme, he called upon Thomas Cromwell for a form of the oath that would be acceptable in conscience. Instead of being granted their request, they were imprisoned in the Tower together with St. Richard reynolds, a Bridgettine of Syon. On April 20 they were examined by royal commissioners and sent to trial in Westminster Hall. They pleaded not guilty since they had not seditiously opposed the king's supremacy. A hesitant jury after two days and pressure from Cromwell found them guilty. On May 4, accompanied by Bl. John haile, the aged vicar of Isleworth, and seen from a window by Thomas more and his daughter, Margaret Roper, these protomartyrs were placed on hurdles, dragged to Tyburn, where they were hanged, cut down while alive, eviscerated, and quartered. As the executioner groped for his heart, Houghton was heard by a spectator, Anthony Rescius, OP, to say, "Good Jesu, what will ye do with my heart?" Houghton was canonized by Paul VI on October 25, 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Feast: Oct. 25 (Feast of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales); May 4 (Feast of the English Martyrs in England).

Bibliography: Contemporary accounts by m. chauncy, "De B.B. Martyribus Carthusiensibus in Anglia," ed. f. van ortroy, Analecta Bollandiana 14 (1895) 268283; "Martyrum Monachorum Carthusianorum in Anglia Passio minor," ed. f. van ortroy, ibid., 22 (1903) 5178; Passion and Martyrdom of the Holy English Carthusian Fathers, tr. a. f. radcliffe (New York 1936). l. hendriks, London Charterhouse, Its Monks and Its Martyrs (London 1889). e. m. thompson, The Carthusian Order in England (New York 1930). l. e. whatmore, Blessed Carthusian Martyrs (London 1962). El Beato Juan Houghton, 1487-1535 (Madrid 1965).

[l. e. whatmore]