Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Blessed Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland
Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland by Steven van der Meulen, 1566AD
On 22 August 1572, at York, England, Blessed Thomas Percy, the 7th Earl of Northumberland was beheaded for his involvement in the 1569 "Rising in the North" and his adherence to the Roman Catholic Faith during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603).
Percy was, of course, descended from an old and renowned English family (he was a direct descendant of the famous Henry "Hotspur" Percy of the days of King Henry IV), but his loyalty remained with the Catholic Church when, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, England turned in a definitively Protestant direction. Notably, his father, Sir Thomas Percy, had been a participant in the "Pilgrimage of Grace" during the reign of Henry VIII, and had been executed, as well, back in 1537. Blessed Thomas, then, was not the first in his line to suffer for his adherence to Catholicism. The family titles and estates lost under Henry VIII, were regained under Queen Mary. That was not to last, however.
In November 1569 a rebellion rose in Durham in resistance to the Protestant program of Queen Elizabeth, and in favor of Mary, Queen of Scots under the Catholic leadership of Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmoreland and Blessed Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland – this was known as the “Rising in the North.”
They commanded about 4,500 men, and even had Mass said publicly! Their success was to be rather short-lived. The rising was dispersed by superior English numbers and a force under the Earl of Sussex. In the aftermath, some 600-800 were executed, with Westmoreland going into exile in Flanders and Northumberland captured in Scotland, by James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, only to be returned to England and executed at York in 1572.
It is worth noting that it was that year of 1570 that Pope St. Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I with the bull Regnans in Excelsis. The saintly pontiff certainly hoped to give force and support to the efforts of men like Blessed Thomas Percy, but this bull came too late to help the Rising in the North, and, arguably, only worsened the situation of Catholics in England. You can read the full text of the bull here: Pope St. Pius V: Regnans in Excelsis
Blessed Thomas Percy was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1895. His feast is kept as a local traditional feast in these dioceses of northern England on 26 August, and he is mentioned on the revised martyrology on 22 August, the anniversary of his death.
May we pray with the traditional collect of his feast:
"O Lord, we beseech Thee, pour down upon us the spirit of constancy and fortitude wherewith Thou strengthened Thy blessed martyr Thomas in the defense of the Catholic Faith: so that, filled therewith, we, who rejoice on earth for his triumphant martyrdom, may deserve to be partakers of his glory in Heaven."
For more on Blessed Thomas Percy, you might consult:
Catholic Saints Info: Blessed Thomas Percy
The Home of Blessed Thomas Percy, Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, England
["Alnwick Castle 02" by Phil Thomas - originally posted to Flickr as the castle. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons]
For information on the ancestoral home of the Percy family, Alnwick Castle (made famous now by Downton Abbey, it seems, as "Brancaster Castle"), you might visit this site: Alnwick Castle: History