The son of William Mayne, Cuthbert Mayne was born at Youlston,
near Barnstaple in Devon, and was baptized on 20th March 1543/4,
"St Cuthbert's Day". His uncle was a priest who conformed to the
Church of England, and the family expected the good natured,
shallow Mayne would inherit his uncle's rich church. This uncle
paid his way to Barnstaple Grammar School, and he was ordained a
Protestant minister at the age of eighteen and instituted rector
of Huntshaw, near Torrington.
After ordination, Cuthbert Mayne
attended university, first at St Alban Hall, then at St John's
College, in Oxford, where he was made chaplain. He became B.A.
on 6th April 1566 and M.A. on 8 April 1570.
Whilst at Oxford, Cuthbert Mayne met Edmund Campion and other
Catholics, such as Gregory Martin, Humphrey Ely, Henry Shaw,
Thomas Bramston, Henry Holland, Jonas Meredith, Roland Russell,
and William Wiggs. At some point Cuthbert Mayne, too, became a Catholic.
Late in 1570, a letter addressed to him from Gregory Martin fell
into the hands of the Bishop of London, and officers arrested
him and the others mentioned in the letter. Being warned off by
Thomas Ford, Mayne evaded arrest by going to Cornwall and then,
in 1573, to the English College at Douai. Douai, in the
department of Nord, France, is on the River Scarpe, some twenty
miles south of Lille.
Mayne was ordained a priest at Douai in 1575 and on 7th February, the following year, he obtained the degree of Bachelor of
Theology of Douai University. Shortly afterwards, on 24th April
1576, he left for the English mission in the company of another
priest, John Payne. He soon took up his abode with Francis
Tregian, in the parish of Probus, Cornwall.
Elizabeth I's agents quickly became aware of Cuthbert Mayne's presence in
the area, and the authorities began a systematic search for him
in June 1576, when the Bishop of Exeter William Broadbridge came
to the area. High sheriff Sir Richard Grenville, a noted
anti-Catholic officer, conducted a raid on Tregian's house on
8th June 1577, during which the crown officers "bounced and beat
at the door" to Cuthbert Mayne's chamber.
The Manor House, Golden; the scene of St
Cuthbert's arrest on 8th June 1577 by Richard
Grenville, the Sheriff of Cornwall, once owned by the Cornishman Francis Tregian
who sheltered Cuthbert Mayne in his
window of Doomsdale dungeon
Mayne, was imprisoned
execution in Launceston Square.
On gaining entry, Grenville discovered a Catholic
devotional article, an Agnus Dei around Mayne's neck,
and took him into custody along with his books and
papers. Tregian suffered imprisonment and loss of
possessions for harbouring a Roman Catholic priest.
While awaiting trial at the circuit
assizes in September, Cuthbert Mayne was imprisoned in Launceston gaol,
being chained to his bedposts. The authorities sought a death
sentence but had difficulty in framing a treason indictment to
that end. At the opening of the trial on 23rd September 1577
there were five counts against him:
1. that he had obtained
from the Roman See a "faculty" (or bulla), containing absolution
of the Queen's subjects;
2. that he had published the same
3. that he had taught the ecclesiastical
authority of the Pope and denied the queen's ecclesiastical
supremacy while in prison;
4. that he had brought into the
kingdom an Agnus Dei and delivered it to Francis Tregian;
that he had celebrated Mass.
Mayne answered all counts. On the first and second counts, he
said that the supposed "faculty" was merely a copy printed at
Douai of an announcement of the Jubilee of 1575, and that its
application having expired with the end of the jubilee, he
certainly had not published it either at Golden or elsewhere. On
the third count, he said that he had asserted nothing definite
on the subject to the three illiterate witnesses who swore to
the contrary. On the fourth count, he said that the fact he was
wearing an Agnus Dei at the time of his arrest did not establish
that he had brought it into the kingdom or delivered it to
Tregian. On the fifth count, he said that the presence of a
Missal, a chalice, and vestments in his room did not establish
that he had said Mass.
The trial judge, Justice Sir Roger Manwood, directed the jury to
return a verdict of guilty, stating that, "where plain proofs
were wanting, strong presumptions ought to take place". The
circumstantial case, in other words, was to be sufficient to
prove the indictments. The jury found Mayne guilty of high
treason on all counts, and accordingly he was sentenced to be
hanged, drawn and quartered. Mayne responded, "Deo gratias".
With him had been arraigned Francis Tregian and eight other
laymen. The eight were sentenced to seizure of their goods and
life imprisonment, Tregian to die (in fact he spent 26 years in
After the sentencing, Judge Jeffries took exception to the
proceedings and referred the matter to the Privy Council. The
Council submitted the case to the whole bench of judges, which
was inclined to leniency on the grounds of the flimsiness of the
evidence. Nevertheless, the council ordered the execution to
proceed. On the night of 27th November Cuthbert Mayne's cell was reported
by his fellow prisoners to have become full of a "great light".
Before being brought to the place of execution, Cuthbert Mayne
was offered his life in return for a renunciation of his
religion and an acknowledgment of the supremacy of the queen as
head of the church. Declining both offers, he kissed a copy of
the Bible, declaring that, "the queen neither ever was, nor is,
nor ever shall be, the head of the church of England".
A special, high gibbet was erected in the marketplace at
Launceston, and Cuthbert Mayne was executed there on 30th November 1577.
He was not allowed to speak to the crowd, but only to say his
prayers quietly. Just as he was about to be hanged, he refused
to implicate his co-religionists. It is unclear if he died on
the gibbet. It has been said that he was cut down alive, but in
falling struck his head against the butcher's scaffold.
Although he was unconscious when being hanged, drawn, and
Relics of Cuthbert Mayne's body survive in various locations. He
was the first "seminary priest", the group of priests who were
trained not in England but in houses of studies on the
Continent. He was also one of the group of prominent Catholic
martyrs of the persecution who were later designated as the
Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
A plaque at Launceston Castle where
he was imprisoned for 5 months before
his public execution in Launceston Square.
There are many memorials to him in Launceston,
particularly this Catholic
Church named after him.
Mayne was beatified by Pope Leo XIII, by means
of a decree of 29th December 1886 and was canonized
along with the other Martyrs of England and Wales by
Pope Paul VI on 25th October 1970.
Martyrs of England and Wales
October 25th is the feast day of the forty martyrs of England
and Wales which honours the hundreds of British men and women
who died for their faith in wake of the dispute between the Pope
and King Henry VIII during the 16th century. Many loyal
Catholics were tortured and killed by the British state from
1535 to 1679.
In 1970, the Vatican selected 40 martyrs, men and women, lay and
religious, to represent the full group of about 300. Each martyr
has their own day of memorial, but they are all remembered as a
group on 4th May: the Feast of the English Martyrs.
The list of chosen martyrs:
Ambrose Edward Barlow