Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Something to remember, when we look ahead with dread at the dark days that are obviously coming, is that England has been an anti-Catholic police state before. Totalitarianism is not unknown to the English.

In 1585 came further anti-Catholic legislation, prompted by the Throckmorton and Parry plots. Any priest ordained during the Queen Elizabeth's reign was to leave the country within forty days. Any who disobeyed, or who re-entered England, would automatically be guilty of high treason. [that 'wondrous' Elizabethan Settlement that did so much to 'reconcile' Anglicans and Catholics, again...] Any lay person who 'willingly and wittingly' sheltered a priest was liable to the death penalty. Anyone who sent money to English colleges and seminaries abroad could lose their goods and suffer imprisonment. Parents sending their children abroad without a license could incur heavy fines. Failure to give information on the whereabouts of priests could result in fines and unlimited imprisonment. But, if a missionary priest took the Oath of Supremacy within three days of landing in England, his 'treason' would be pardoned.

Fr Gregory Gunnes was arrested at Henley-on-Thames that summer. He had been ordained towards the end of Queen Mary's reign but for nearly twenty years had been an Anglican parson. In the late 1570s he had abandoned his ministry at Yelford near Witney and had since become a vagrant. At some stage he had been reconciled to the Catholic church.

At the Bell Inn, Henley Fr Gunnes fell into conversation with a member of Sir Francis Knolly's household and betrayed himself by praising Fr Edmund Campion. He was arrested and found to be carrying two consecrated Communion wafers [sic]. He was sent to the Marshalsea jail at Southwark.

That autumn the already outlawed Sir Francis Englefield was attainted and convicted of high treason by Parliament. The Privy Council had learned that he had advised Philip II of Spain to invade England. All Englefield's possessions and estates were forfeited to the Crown, which had already sequestrated them. However, having foreseen such problems, the Catholic lawyer Edmund Plowden had arranged the conveyance of the titles in all Sir Francis Englefield's estates and manors to the latter's brother, John. John Englefield had since died, leaving the titles to his young son Francis, who until recently had been Edmund Plowden's ward.

The estates and manors in question included Englefield, Tidmarsh, Tilehurst, Sindlesham, Brimpton, Speenhamland, Hartridge, Ilsley and South Moreton in Berkshire, and Lashbrook, Dunsden, Exlade and Shiplake in Oxfordshire. The conveyance of Sir Francis Englefield's estates drafted by Edmund Plowden included a provision whereby Sir Francis could reclaim the estates if he delivered a gold ring to their holder. This was now the Crown and it was quite unacceptable to the Queen that the seized lands of an attainted traitor could be reclaimed. But Edmund Plowden had done his work well and it was to take eight years of legal wrangling to resolve the situation.

Edmund Plowden died eight months before Sir Francis Englefield's attainder. He was buried in the Temple Church, London, where there is a memorial to him. There is also a bust of him in the Middle Temple Hall.

It was probably Plowden's guardianship of the younger Francis Englefield that enabled the lawyer to lease Shiplake Court from the Crown following its sequestration. After his death there seems to have been no difficulty in renewing the royal lease. Shiplake Court was subsequently occupied by Plowden's Catholic nephew Andrew Blunden, who held a joint interest in the property with Plowden's two sons. There is a bust of Blunden in Shiplake parish church.

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