Chronicles of the Irish Martyrs 1: John Trevers Part I

“The moment of my death is now close at hand, which will surely open for me the door to eternal life. Hence it behoves me not to use any ambiguous or obscure language for the purpose of concealing the truth....”

England, 1533.  On January 25th, King Henry the VIII was married privately to Anne Boleyn while Catherine (his legitimate wife) had appealed to Rome to confirm the validity of their marriage. 

Only seven months earlier, in May of 1532, Sir (and now Saint) Thomas More has been removed by the King from his position as Lord Chancellor because of his unwillingness to approve the illegitimate marriage. Two years later, in 1935, after a long period of imprisonment, he would be decapitated, at the orders of the King, and die a martyr of fidelity to the Church and to the Truth.

Henry the VIII anticipated the declaration of the Holy Father on the subject of his marriage and was already preparing numerous acts of parliament to be passed as soon as possible. After a 14 month evaluation of the marriage between Henry the VIII and Catherine of Spain, the Holy Father declared their marriage to be valid; therefore Henry the VIII could not marry Anne Boleyn. (But remember that he already did 14 months ago...) We probably all know this part of the story...Henry wasn’t happy with the decision and severs all ties with the Catholic Church and the Holy Father, declaring himself Head of the Church.

Acts of Parliament start to be passed and Henry declares that he should be accepted as the only supreme Head of the Church in England, with all the power belonging thereto. (These laws, and those that will follow, will be known as the Penal Laws.) A commission of Bishops and Doctors was appointed to declare the ‘articles of faith’ which all those under his reign should believe, all of which were approved and signed by Henry himself. Anyone teaching or maintaining opinions contrary to these articles would be punished. First offenses would mean 20 days imprisonment, later offenses banishment, confiscation of all goods, life imprisonment and death.

Henry the VIII would not let the ‘Gospel light that first dawned from Boleyn’s eyes’ be confined to the realm of his own kingdom in England, but was desirous that it should also be shed on the neighbouring isle of Ireland over which he held lordship. The man he found for the job was an English ex-monk by the name of William Brown. Brown had belonged to the Augustinian Order and had held several positions of responsibility within the order before he cast aside his vows and became a confirmed apostate. Brown had been a fervent supporter of the divorce between Henry and Catherine and the separation from Rome. Is it not fitting that he would become the first apostle for the new creed in Ireland?

The archbishop of Dublin had just been brutally murdered on his way to England, and the See was now vacant. Who better than Brown? Henry the VIII didn’t waste time in arranging all the necessary protocol and ordination to the Episcopate, appointing Brown as the new archbishop of Dublin. Needless to say that Rome had been out of the loop on this one; no one was informed nor was permission given from the Holy Father for the ordination. The Church of England, and now of Ireland, was now fully self-sufficient.

A commission was formed to carry out the King's desires: William Brown, Thomas Audley and William Brabazon. Thomas Audley had convinced Parliament to accept Henry’s antipapal policies and therefore was named Keeper of the Great Seal and Lord Chancellor to the King to replace Thomas More. And later it was Audley who presided the trials of Bishop John Fisher and Thomas More (both now saints), who had not approved of the marriage and Henry’s self-declaration as head of the Church. It was also Thomas Audley himself who ordered their execution. Historians write of him as ‘a politician without principals, completely subservient to the King's will.’ He would later work closely with Thomas Cromwell, the King's adviser and a prominent ringleader of the dissolution of the Catholic Faith in both England and Ireland. 

The third member of the commission, William Brabazon, was named by the King as Vice Treasurer for Ireland, and as such, would later oversee the closing and confiscation of all monasteries and their goods, according to the laws passed by the King. Later he would become Lord Justice, and amongst other things, help Henry the VIII change his title from ‘Lord’ to ‘King’ of Ireland.

This was the commission appointed to carry the King's wishes into effect in Ireland. ‘Having fallen absolutely from Rome in spiritual matter within his dominion of England, now it was his royal will and pleasure to have his subjects in Ireland to obey his commands as in England.’ (Letter from Crowell to Brown, Nov. 28th, 1535.) 

Yet in spite of the aid he had, Brown still did not find easy the task that was set before him. After receiving threats for his lack of efficiency, he writes back in response saying that he was finding much resistance from many priests and Bishops there in Ireland, especially the Bishop of Armagh, still faithful to the Catholic Faith and the Holy Father and unwilling to accept the King as Head of the Church. Brown went even further to say that ‘the common people of this isle are more zealous in their blindness than the saints and martyrs were in truth at the beginning of the Gospel.’ (What a compliment for Ireland.) And he asks for a parliament to be summoned to enact and enforce the laws of supremacy that the King wishes.

We are now in 1535. And it is in the middle of all this ‘ambiance’ that our first martyr come into the scene: Venerable John Travers. He is the first martyr of the Penal times who is known by name, though no doubt there were others before him whose name is only written in the Book of Life.

hna kelai

My name is Sister Kelai Maria, I am a Servant Sister of the Home of the Mother since 2007. I was born in Arizona (USA) but have also lived in Oregon, Alaska, Florida, Spain, and Ireland. I am a convert to the Catholic faith and found my vocation shortly after my conversion. Every day I thank Jesus that I am His and that I am a Servant Sister. All of eternity will not be enough to thank Him for saving me and for how much He has loved and loves me!