An accidental death

It is sometimes believed that English Catholics were only punished after the Reformation because they threatened national security: that those who were willing to live quiet, lawful lives would be left in peace. The martyrdom of Richard Herst shows that this is not the whole truth.

In 1628, the Bishop of Chester sent three men to arrest Herst, who was known to be one of Lancashire’s recusants. When they arrived at Herst’s farm, his wife and three others rushed over to defend him. A woman servant struck one of the men, Dewhurst, in the head. He ran away but, partly because he was dizzy from the blow, he fell and broke his leg. The wound turned bad and Dewhurst died a fortnight later.

Asked to apostatise

Clearly Herst was in no way responsible for the man’s death. But he was tried for murder – as the judge admitted – to make an example of him. He was offered a reprieve if he swore an oath repudiating Catholicism; he refused.

He was dragged over the ground to an Anglican church, but blocked his ears so that he would not hear false doctrine. “They have tortured my body,” he said, “but, thank God, they have not hurt my soul.”

Dying wishes

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection