‘Margaret was born in York about 1553, the fourth child of Thomas and Jane Middleton. She married John Clitherow, a widower, with two young sons, at St Martin-le-Grand in Coney Street on July 1st, 1571, and they settled in the Shambles, the traditional butchers’ district.
Margaret’s parents and husband had conformed to the new religion, but soon after her marriage Margaret asked for instruction and became a Catholic in 1574. Between 1577 and 1584 she was imprisoned for long periods for refusing to conform the the new religion. (Recusancy had been made a treasonable offence in 1576). When not in prison Margaret secretly instructed local children in the Catholic faith, sheltered priests and allowed Mass to be said in her home.
Her step-father, Henry May, became Lord Mayor of York on January 15th, 1586. In this office he pursued the policies of the Council of the North in rounding up and punishing recusants. As a result of a raid and search by the Sheriff’s men, and on the evidence of a twelve-year-old Flemish boy, Margaret was arrested.
She was put on trial at the Guild Hall March 14th, 1586 for harbouring priests and attending Mass. Asked what her plea was, she replied: “Having made no offence, I need no trial. I will be tried by none but God and your own consciences”. Condemned to death on March 15th she was held in prison on Ouse Bridge until March 25th, 1586, when she was taken to the Toll Booth where a door was laid on her and weights added. Her last words were: “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me”.
On 25th October 1970 Margaret was canonised together with 39 other martyrs of England and Wales’.
from a plaque erected in the Shrine of St Margaret Clitherow, York, 1986
commemorating the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of St Margaret Clitherow
Steadfast God, as we honour the fidelity in life and constancy in death of thy holy Martyrs Margaret Clitherow, Anne Line, and Margaret Ward: we pray thee to raise up in our day women of courage and resource to care for thy household the Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Ss Margaret Clitherow, Anne Line, and Margaret Ward, Martyrs, from Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon