Margaret Clitheroe (also spelt Clitherow) was the first female Catholic martyr in the reign of Elizabeth I: a butcher's wife in York, who converted to Catholicism some time in the 1570's. Imprisoned several times for her conversion, for sheltering priests (including her husband's brother), and for permitting clandestine Masses to be celebrated on her property.

The government was determined that Catholicism should be stamped out in Yorkshire where it was especially strong. (In fact, Elizabeth tolerated some practising Catholics, such as the composer William Byrd, one of her personal favourites.) For a long time past, the Kings of England had appointed a special body called the Council of the North to carry out the royal policy in this remote area of the land. From the reports of government agents, it was clear that the north was solidly Catholic in sentiment, though not always in outward behavior. The change of religion had to be carried out largely by men who sent down (or up?) by the government for that purpose.

She was arrested and questioned, and put to death by Judge George Clinch when she refused to plead guilty or to stand trial before a jury; died March 25 1586 at the age of 33, pregnant with her fourth child. Her two sons were ordained as priests. Canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.

The sentence, technically known as "peine forte et dure", was pronounced thus:

You must return from whence you came, and there, in the lowest part of the prison, be stripped naked, laid down, your back on the ground, and as much weight laid upon you as you are able to bear, and so to continue for three days without meat or drink, and on the third day to be pressed to death, your hands and feet tied to posts, and a sharp stone under your back.


(Margaret Clitheroe)

GOD'S counsel cólumnar-severe
But chaptered in the chief of bliss
Had always doomed her down to this -
Pressed to death. He plants the year;
The weighty weeks without hands grow,
Heaved drum on drum; but hands also
Must deal with Margaret Clitheroe.

The very victim would prepare.
Like water soon to be sucked in
Will crisp itself or settle or spin
So she; one sees that here and there
She mends the ways she means to go.
The last thing Margaret's fingers sew
Is a shroud for Margaret Clitheroe.

The Christ-ed beauty of her mind
Her mould of features mated well.
She was admired. The spirit of hell
Being to her virtue clinching-blind
No wonder therefore was not slow
To the bargain of its hate to throw
The body of Margaret Clitheroe.

Great Thecla, the plumed passionflower,
Next Mary mother of maid and nun
 -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -
And every saint of bloody hour
And breath immortal thronged that show;
Heaven turned its starlight eyes below
To the murder of Margaret Clitheroe.

She was a woman, upright, outright;
Her will was bent at God. For that
Word went she should be crushed out flat
 -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -

Fawning fawning crocodiles
Days and days came round about
With tears to put her candle out;
They wound their winch of wicked smiles
To take her; while their tongues would go
God lighten your dark heart - but no,
Christ lived in Margaret Clitheroe.

She held her hands to, like in prayer;
They had them out and laid them wide
(Just like Jesus crucified);
They brought their hundredweights to bear.
Jews killed Jesus long ago
God's son; these (they did not know)
God's daughter Margaret Clitheroe.

When she felt the kill-weights crush
She told His name times-over three;
I suffer this she said  for Thee.
After that in perfect hush
For a quarter of an hour or so
She was with the choke of woe. -
It is over, Margaret Clitheroe.

She caught the crying of those Three,
The Immortals of the eternal ring,
The Utterer, Utterèd, Uttering,
And witness in her place would she.
She not considered whether or no
She pleased the Queen and Council. So
To the death with Margaret Clitheroe!

Within her womb the child was quick.
Small matter of that then! Let him smother
And wreck in ruins of his mother.
 -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)


This undated poem was found unfinished at Hopkins' death. It is unusual in his output as being mostly in straightforward everyday language, and for the continued repetition of Margaret's name reinforced by the triple rhyme. It may have been a deliberate attempt to write more popular, devotional poetry which would be acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church as Hopkins' usual, more involved and idiosyncratic, poems were not.
This poem is not to be found anywhere else on the WWW in its original form.

If you're feeling adventurous you could go to http://www.thru.sh where there appears to be an mp3 file of Hikaru Kitabayashi reading a "performing version" of the poem (the lacunae have been filled in by doggerel fitting the rhyme scheme). Hopkins clearly spent a lot of work on the existing parts of the poem; if he couldn't think of how to finish it, I'm certainly not going to try, or approve of anyone short of a genius trying, to do so. At your own risk.

Sources:
http://www.catholic-pages.com/dir/st_margaret_clitherow.asp
http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/saintm54.htm
http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/CLITHER.htm (This is a full and lengthy exposition of the story of her life and death.)

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