Imprisonment and Trial

A copy of the contemporary record of who was being held in the Tower. (click to enlarge)

A copy of the contemporary record of who was being held in the Tower

On the 14th November Ralph and seven of his friends were taken by boat to westminster Hall were the indictment for high treason was read before a grand jury. Ralph cried out:

“The plain reason for our standing here is religion not treason.”

He had no defence. Evidence was brought that he had refused to sear the Act of Supremacy, that he had confessed that he had returned to England with the intention of converting and reconciling its people with the Catholic Church and the See of Peter.

They were taken back to prison. Ralph was then transferred to the Tower of London on 4th December 1580 where he was reunited with his friends Nicholas Roscarrock, Luke Kirby, Robert Johnson and Thomas Cottam – all of whom would be martyred. Ralph was tortured on the rack and thrown repeatedly into the December snow, he was once kept on the rack for five days without food. All the whole he was subjected to a series of questions, who were his connections, why had the Pope sent them, who had sheltered them in England, where was Edmund Campion, and so on.

When it became clear that torture was not going to yield either a conversion to the authorised religion or any useful information Ralph’s brother John was brought in to try to persuade him to conform. Ralph told his brother that he’d had a vision of the cross in which he was at the foot of it gazing into the eyes of Christ.

Ralph Sherwin’s trial took place on Monday 20th November 1581. It was lengthy and we have it preserved, word for word, in a contemporary account of the trial. He spoke well in his own defence and that of his friends. False evidence was brought by Queen’s Council that by fireside at Douai, Ralph had said that,

“Were he in England he would achieve many things, that there was one Arundell in Cornwall who at an instant could levy great power and that if an army were to be sent to England the best landing would be at Saint Michael’s Mount.”

Ralph denied the accusation. After a final defence offered by Edmund Campion it took just one hour for each of them to be pronounced guilty of high treason, Lord Chief Justice Wray pronouncing these exact words:

“You must go to the place from whence you came, there to remain until you shall be drawn through the city of London upon hurdles to the place of execution, and there to be hanged and let down alive, your privy parts cut off and your entrails taken out and burned in your sight, then your heads to be cut off, your bodies divided into four parts to be disposed of at Her Majesty’s pleasure. And may God have mercy on your souls.”

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