Kemble, John, St.
KEMBLE, JOHN, ST.
Priest, martyr, alias John Holland; b. Rhyd y Car Farm, St. Weonards, Herefordshire, England, 1599 or 1600; d. Hereford, Aug. 22, 1679. The Kembles were an old Wiltshire family. Sometime in the 1620s, John was smuggled abroad to the English College at Douai where he was ordained on Feb. 23, 1625. On June 4 he was sent home to his native district as a missionary. He made his headquarters at Pembridge Castle, the home first of his brother George, then of his nephew Captain Richard Kemble, who saved Charles II's life at the Battle of Worcester. With the help of the Jesuits, John established mission centers throughout Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. The persecution was less severe in the reign of Charles I than in that of James and he worked in comparative safety. Nevertheless, Monmouthshire headed the list of recusant convictions for the 29 counties of the southern division in the first 15 years of Charles I's reign. In 1649 John paid a visit to London, presumably on ecclesiastical business. He returned home and continued his missionary labors throughout the Commonwealth. He took no part in politics but ministered to the existing Catholics and converted many Protestants.
The storm broke in 1678, when Titus Oates revealed his "popish plot" (see oates plot). Everywhere priests were arrested and dragged up to London to confront Titus. Sometimes he fitted them into his "plot," sometimes he did not bother. The result was the same—execution. Kemble's friends urged him to hide, but he refused. Although over 80, he was arrested in November and taken to Hereford jail. His captor was Captain Scudamore, whose wife and children were Catholics and members of his flock. After three months' imprisonment, during which the prison governor sketched his portrait, John was brought to trial and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered as a seminary priest. On Apr. 23, 1679, he was sent with David lewis for examination by Oates. John was suffering from a malady that made riding particularly painful, but he was nevertheless strapped to a horse and brought up to London. There, neither Titus Oates nor his associate, Bedloes, was able to bring any charge against the two priests. They were offered life and liberty to disclose details of the nonexistent plot to no avail. On May 28 they were ordered back to their respective jails. When the undersheriff arrived to take John to execution on Aug. 22, the martyr asked for time to finish his prayers, and smoke a last pipe, and have a last drink. (Hence the expressions "Kemble pipe" and "Kemble cup" for the last pipe or drink of a sitting). At Widemarsh Common, before a huge crowd, John denied the plot and made a last profession of faith. He was allowed to hang till dead before they quartered him. He was beatified on Dec.15, 1929, and canonized by Paul VI on Oct. 25, 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
Feast: Aug. 22; Oct. 25 (Feast of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales); May 4 (Feast of the English Martyrs in England).
See Also: england, scotland, and wales, martyrs of.
Bibliography: r. challoner, Memoirs of Missionary Priests, ed. j. h. pollen (rev. ed. London 1924; repr. Farnborough 1969), 555–57. b. camm, Forgotten Shrines (St. Louis 1910). m. v. lovejoy, Blessed John Kemble (Postulation pamphlet; London 1960).
[g. fitz herbert]