Thursday, 7 June 2012


St David Lewis
In March 1679, having been caught up in the fabricated Popish Plot spawned by the evil Titus Oates, Fr David Lewis S J was convicted of being a Catholic priest and saying Mass.  At that time this was considered High Treason.  The punishment for High Treason was to be hanged, drawn and quartered.  Fr Lewis was returned to his cell in Usk Gaol to await his fate. 

In late April 1679 there was a great hullabaloo in Parliament.  Word had been received that there was a plot afoot to poison Oates and his fellow lowlife, Bedloe.  Once again, there was no plot but, as Canon J Barrett Davies tells us, “The Government had not been able to produce any evidence to lend substance to the inventions of Titus Oates, and no doubt they felt it was high time a real Catholic priest was implicated or the commonalty might become as sceptical about the Plot as His Majesty was already known to be”. 

The House of Lords Journal for 28th March 1704 records;

“23 rd April 1679, Upon report from the Lords Committees for Examinations, that their Lordships find it requisite that David Lewis, who hath been tried and condemned as a Popish Priest at the Assizes held for the County of Monmouth, and is now in Gaol there, may be brought to Town.  It is ordered that the Sheriff for the said County of Monmouth be, and is hereby required, to take care and give order for the speedy conveying of the said David Lewis in safety from the said Gaol, to be delivered into the Prison of Newgate; the charges of which service shall be allowed to the said Sheriff upon his Account in the Exchequer.
The like Order for Roger Hanslip, in the Gaol at Gloucester.
The like Order for John Kemble, in the Gaol at Hereford.
The like Order for Francis Johnson, alias Webb, in the Gaol at Worcester.”

Newgate Prison

So it came to pass that on 23rd April Fr David Lewis was ordered to be brought to London for questioning.   He was lodged in the disgusting hellhole that was Newgate Prison.  He was joined there by the three other priests, Fr John Kemble, Fr John Wall O F M (alias Francis Johnson) and Fr Roger Hanslip.   Fr Kemble, an eighty year old secular priest, and Fr Lewis were cousins.  John Wall* and David Lewis had been students together and were old friends. 

St John Kemble

The journey to London was a torturous one for the aged Fr Kemble who suffered from a complaint, possibly arthritis, which made riding practically impossible for him.  Dom Bede Camm says that he made the journey strapped like a pack on the horse.  The four priests were to be examined by Titus Oates and two other miscreants involved in the Plot.  In the House of Lords Journal for 23rd May 1679 we read:
“Oates, Bedloe and Dugdale to visit condemned priests to see if they are any of those whom they knew to be concerned in the (Popish) Plot.”  It continues; 

“ORDERED, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, that Mr Titus Oates, Mr William Bedloe and Mr Stephen Dugdale be and are hereby appointed to repair to the Prison of Newgate this afternoon, there to see and speak with David Lewis, Roger Hanslip, John Kemble and Francis Johnson, alias Webb, condemned Popish Priests, now prisoners there; and that the said Titus Oates, William Bedloe and Stephen Dugdale do attend the Lords Committees for examining matters relating to the discovery of the late horrid conspiracy tomorrow at nine of the clock in the forenoon to give the said Lords Committees an account whether they know that any of the said Popish Priests have been engaged in the said horrid conspiracy.”

The unholy trio of examiners could find nothing to implicate the priests in any plot and, although the three were ordered to report to the Lords Committees the next day, it appears that only Oates did so.  The priests were then questioned by Lord Shaftsbury who offered each of them life as well as rich rewards if they would reveal something of the Plot or renounce their Catholic faith. 
St John Wall
Shaftsbury had wasted his breath for the priests would neither lie nor apostatize!  On 18th July, John Wall stated in a letter, “I told them I would not buy my life at so dear a rate as to wrong my conscience”.  Fr Lewis, in his last speech on 27th August, said “Discover a plot I could not, for I knew of none, and conform I would not, for it was against my conscience”.

Despite the rigorous interrogation of the four priests, nothing was found to incriminate them.  Therefore, on 28th May, an order was issued to return them to their respective gaols.  Fr Kemble was permitted to walk for most of the journey back to Hereford – no mean feat for a man of eighty!  Not surprisingly, he was in very poor health after this ordeal.   By 9th June Fr Kemble and Fr Lewis were back in their respective gaols, Hereford and Usk.

John Wall was hanged, drawn and quartered at Red Hill near Worcester on 22nd August 1679.  On the same day, at Widemarsh Common, Hereford, Fr John Kemble was executed.  Less than a week later, on 27th August, Fr David Lewis was martyred at Usk, in Monmouthshire. 

As far as I can ascertain, Fr Roger Hanslip was reprieved.  If anyone knows differently, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

*While working on the English Mission, John Wall used several aliases, including Francis Johnson, Francis Webb and Francis Dromore.

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