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The 16th Century English Martyr Named Thomas Whom You Probably Do Not Know

Does the following sound like a saint you know? His name was Thomas. He was an English nobleman who lived in the sixteenth century, he was married and had children. He was deeply influenced by his father. He was charged with treason, and he was martyred by the monarch because he remained steadfastly loyal to the Catholic Church and the pope.

It would not be surprising if you guessed that this is St. Thomas More. However, it is another Thomas who would have been about seven years old when More was executed.

The years after the so-called English Reformation were indeed tumultuous. Of course, it was not an easy time for Catholics, and many Catholics, including the nobility, were persecuted for staying true to the ancient faith. One of those who gave up his life for Christ and His Kingdom was Bl. Thomas Percy.

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The Pilgrimage of Grace

Thomas Percy (1528 - 1572) was born as the elder son to Sir Thomas and his wife Eleanor. When he was only eight years of age, his father was executed for his participation in 1536 in what was called the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The Pilgrimage of Grace was an uprising in protest to Henry VIII's separation of England from the Catholic Church, the King's dissolving of a large number of monasteries, and many of the anti-Catholic policies of the King's chief minister Thomas Cromwell.
The movement was filled with passion, but was poorly organized and lacked a clear vision. However, at one point, it was estimated that as many as 22,000 became involved in the uprising. Nonetheless, it was rather short-lived when Henry VIII threatened to take military action against the protesters. Cowed into submission, the protest fizzled. A number of the leaders, including Sir Thomas Percy, were arrested, tried for treason, and executed.

Under the Reign of Queen Mary

The consequences for the young Percy was that his brother Henry and he were taken from their mother and their home and placed with a Sir Thomas Tempest. Thomas remained with Tempest until he came of age in the year 1849 during the short reign of Edward VI. Through an Act of Parliament, Thomas Percy was restored to his position of firstborn and heir which paved the way for him to be knighted.
After Queen Mary I ascended the throne in 1553, Thomas had his ancestral property and honors fully restored to him. Under the Catholic monarchy of Mary, Thomas served as a member of parliament and earned the title Earl of Northumberland after he reconquered Scarborough Castle which had been taken by rebels.
By this time, Thomas had married Anne Somerset who was the daughter of the Earl of Worcester. They shared their common Catholic faith and raised their four girls and one boy to be faithful Catholics.

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The Tide Changes

The family's fortunes began to change when Elizabeth I succeeded Mary in 1558. Eventually, her reign became committed to reversing anything that Mary had done to support Catholics, and it was only because Thomas and his family lived out of the immediate area of London that it took a while for them to feel the persecution against Catholics.

Of course, Thomas was well-known for his fervent support of the Catholic Church. Despite that fact, Elizabeth awarded him the Order of the Garter in 1563. Then the rumors began that Elizabeth would be excommunicated which would make the situation very difficult for all Catholics in England. The Catholic nobility began to discussions in earnest of how to liberate Mary, Queen of Scots, in order to have her replace Elizabeth. Mary had a distant claim to the English throne as the descendant of Henry VIII's sister Margaret, Letters from some of the English nobility were sent to the pope for advice, but events came to a head before there was a reply.

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Another Failed Rebellion and Martyrdom

Taking a direct approach like his father, Thomas became involved in another uprising to restore Catholicism in England. In 1569, along with the Count of Westmoreland, Thomas attempted to take control of several areas in order to force the issue. They began with 700 knights and eventually grew to 6,000 strong as they occupied parts of the north of England. However, in the face of superior forces, the rebels retreated to Scotland.

In Scotland, Thomas was captured by a Scottish noble and held in prison for three years until he could be sold to the English government for two thousand pounds. Thomas was tried and convicted of treason and sentenced to death. On August 22, 1572, he was beheaded in York.
During his imprisonment by the English, he was offered the opportunity to be freed if he would denounce his Catholic faith. On each occasion in which Thomas was made this offer, he refused, and subsequently, he was denounced as a traitor for holding on to the Catholic faith and remaining loyal to a foreign power in the pope.

Thomas' deepest sorrow was that he was separated from his wife and children after he had been captured. Following his death, his wife and children were exiled to France where Anne died twenty-four years later. Thomas' youngest daughter Mary, whom it is likely that he never met because she was born after he had been captured, founded a Benedictine convent in Brussels, Belgium. Interestingly, the majority of the current Benedictine convents in England are descendants of that convent founded by the martyr's daughter--Mary Percy.

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