THE OATEN HILL MARTYRS

  • The Southwark Martyrs are eighteen priests and lay people who suffered for the Faith within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Southwark.
  • Three of them – John Stone, John Jones and John Rigby – were among the Forty Martyrs canonised by Pope Paul Vl in 1970; nine have been beatified (of whom these four were martyred at Oaten Hill, Canterbury),
    Blessed Edward Campion
    Blessed Christopher Buxton
    Blessed Robert Wilcox
    Blessed Robert Widmerpool
  • The causes of the remaining six await the discovery of further documentary evidence.

BLESSED EDWARD CAMPION

Edward Campion was the alias used by Father Gerard Edwards. He was born at Ludlow in Shropshire and studied at Oxford where he obtained a degree. This would indicate that he had subscribed to the new religion, since only those prepared to take the Oath of Supremacy, swearing on the Bible that the king was the rightful governor of the Church in England and so denying the authority of the Pope, could come down with a degree. He then became a servant to Gregory Fiennes, 8th Baron Dacres of the South. Baron Dacres was married to Anne Sackville, a member of a family with strong Catholic leanings. Gerard was reconciled to the Church at this time, and in February 1586 went to the English Seminary at Rheims. Here he adopted the name of Campion in order to associate himself more closely with St Edmund Campion, who had been martyred some years earlier. Because of his good education, his priestly training was shortened, and he was ordained in March 1587. A few days later he set sail for England, but after only a few weeks was arrested at Sittingbourne. He confessed he was a priest and boldly avowed that the religion now professed in England was heretical. He was then taken to London and imprisoned in the Marshalsea Prison in South London. Father Campion was examined again on 14th August,1588, and at the end of September he was sent to Canterbury for execution.

BLESSED CHRISTOPHER BUXTON

Christopher Buxton, a Derbyshire man, was born in 1562, and was educated at Tidewell Grammar School where one of his masters was Nicholas Garlick who was himself martyred for the Faith. In July 1582 Christopher arrived with two school-friends at Rheims. In 1584 he was sent to the English College in Rome where he was ordained on 26th October 1586. He had a lengthy and difficult journey across Europe, calling in at Rheims on his way to Dieppe. In September 1587 he crossed over to Kent, but was arrested there in November and taken to the Marshalsea prison. On 15th August 1588 Father Buxton was examined and then taken to Canterbury for trial and execution at the end of September. At his examination he admitted he was a priest.

BLESSED ROBERT WILCOX

Robert Wilcox was born in Chester in 1558 and entered the seminary at Rheims when he was twenty-five years old. He was ordained on 20th April 1585 and arrived in England on 7th june 1586. He was arrested almost immediately at Lydd in Kent, presumably where he landed. He, too, was sent to the Marshalsea where he was examined on 15th August 1588. Here he admitted he was a priest and was sent for trial with the others to Canterbury.

BLESSED ROBERT WIDMERPOOL

Robert Widmerpool was born in Nottinghamshire in 1560 and was at Oxford in 1578. There is no record that he graduated, an indication that he had remained a Catholic. A little later he obtained a post as a tutor with the Countess of Northumberland. In 1588 he was charged with hospitality towards priests and specifically with having introduced a priest into the house of the Countess. He was imprisoned in the Marshalsea, and was sent down with the others for trial and execution at Canterbury. It would seem that it was decided that the executions of Catholics should take place in significant local centres around London so that the example made by them would be felt as widely as possible.

The Martyrdom

  • We have no account of their trial, but some details of their execution at Oaten Hill have been preserved.
  • They were all hanged, drawn and quartered.
  • We know, too, that Robert Wilcox was the first to suffer. He told his companions to be of good heart. He was going to heaven before them, where he would would carry the tidings of their coming after him.
  • Edward Campion was next to die. We do not know what he said before his death, but it is on record that he refused a chance to escape from the Marshalsea, saying: I would gladly escape if I did not hope to suffer martyrdom.
  • Robert Widmerpool was probably the next to die. He kissed the ladder and the rope, and with the rope round his neck gave God hearty thanks for bringing him to so great a glory as that of dying for his faith in the same place where St Thomas of Canterbury had died for his.
  • Finally, Christopher Buxton was led to the scaffold. He was the youngest and was offered his life if he conformed to the new Church. Father Buxton replied: I would not purchase a corruptible life at such a rate, and, if I had one hundred lives, I would willingly lay them all down in defence of my faith. 

BLESSED EDWARD CAMPlON,
BLESSED CHRISTOPHER BUXTON,
BLESSED ROBERT WILCOX
AND BLESSED ROBERT WIDMERPOOL
WERE MARTYRED AT OATEN HILL,
CANTERBURY,
ON 1st OCTOBER 1588,
AND BEATIFIED BY POPE PIUS Xl IN 1929.