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Feast Day: The English Martyrs

Updated: May 5, 2023

The English Martyrs were a group of Catholics who were persecuted and executed for their faith during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in England, between 1535 and 1680. The term "English Martyrs" is generally used to refer to those who suffered under the English Reformation, which was a period of religious and political upheaval in England.

The English Reformation began in the 16th century under the reign of King Henry VIII, who wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. When the Pope refused to grant him an annulment, Henry declared himself the head of the Church in England, breaking away from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.



Under Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, the persecution of Catholics continued. Elizabeth wanted to establish the Church of England as the official religion of the country and saw the Catholic Church as a threat to her rule. Catholics who refused to renounce their faith and acknowledge the authority of the English monarch as the head of the Church of England were viewed as traitors and were punished severely.


Many of the English Martyrs were priests or members of religious orders who had been trained and ordained in other countries, such as Spain or Italy, where Catholicism was still the dominant religion. They returned to England to minister to Catholics in secret, risking their lives to celebrate Mass and provide the sacraments to their fellow believers.

The English Martyrs include both lay people and members of the clergy. Some of the well-known martyrs include St. Thomas More, a lawyer and politician who served as Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII and was executed for refusing to recognise Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn; St. John Fisher, a bishop who refused to acknowledge Henry VIII as the head of the Church in England and was beheaded for treason; and St. Edmund Campion, a Jesuit priest who was executed for his missionary work in England.


The Catholic Church canonised many of these martyrs, recognising them as saints and examples of heroic faithfulness to their beliefs. The feast day of the English Martyrs is celebrated on 4th May.

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