Tuesday 31 January 2023

'One who was a an example to future generations': Blessed Francis Taylor


At the end of January 1621, a long period of imprisonment, impoverishment and humiliation finally came to an end for Francis Taylor (Tayler, Tailler), a once-prominent citizen of Dublin who had been involved in the capital city's civic, commercial and political life at the highest level.  Born around the year 1550 into a wealthy merchant family in Swords, County Dublin, the Taylors were one of the 'Old English' families of the Pale who remained loyal to the Catholic faith, a loyalty which would ultimately cost Francis his life. Although it would be another three and a half centuries before he would be officially beatified, the cause of Francis Taylor's martyrdom was first promoted a few years after his death by Cork martyrologist John Mullan (Joannes Molanus) in his Idea togatae constantiae published from exile in Paris in 1629. Sadly, he does not provide much biographical detail but does provide the testimony of contemporary witnesses to the character of the martyred man. Mullan's account was translated by Father Denis Murphy in his 1896 work Our Martyrs:

1621. Francis Tailler.

(From Molanus' Idea, p.96)

He passed several years in prison in Dublin, and endured in it all the hardships of cold and confinement. Broken down by sufferings, he exchanged this brief life for eternity, in the year 1621. We have the following testimony borne to his merits by the Archbishop and several of the leading clergy of the city: -

We, the undersigned, having been asked to declare what we know with certainty of the manner of life and of the death of Francis Tailler, senator of Dublin, and resolved to give to virtue the praise it deserves, and to all good men the honour due to them even after death, testify and declare from certain knowledge that the aforesaid Francis Tailler, senator of the City of Dublin, was by far the most respected of the senators of Dublin, and not only that he was of good repute and much honoured by all good men, but so faithful to God that though advanced in years, and respected for his virtue and constancy which was tested by various persecutions and imprisonment at the hands of the enemies of the Catholic Church, yet he could never be induced to swerve by a hair's breadth from the profession of the Catholic faith and obedience to the Church of Rome.  Wherefore, after an imprisonment of seven years, worn out by old age and the hardships of the prison, he died in the Castle of Dublin on January 30th, 1621. So we testify, and in proof of our good faith, we gladly subscribe our names and set our seals to the same.

Given in Dublin, in Ireland, August 17th, 1630.

Thomas Fleming, Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland.

Luke Rochfort, P.P. of St Audeon's.

 Patrick Cahill, Rector of St. Mary's Galtrim.

Fr. Dominic Nugent, of the Order of Preachers.

Henry Cusack, Superior of the Residence S.J., Dublin.

The second testimonial Mullan solicited mentions the various public offices once held by the martyr:

I wish to add my testimony to what is know by public report and spread abroad by the abundant testimony of many persons, and to show my respect for one who was an example to future generations, and whose memory we can never sufficiently commend. Francis Tayler was sprung from an ancient noble family both on the father's and the mother's side, and filled several public offices with great credit, as that of Mayor, Treasurer, and Senator, in fine, in the City of Dublin, the metropolis of Ireland.  But he was far more illustrious by his profession of the Catholic faith, to which he was very much attached all his life. He put the crown to this constancy and to his other great virtues by a glorious death after an imprisonment of seven years in the Castle of Dublin, on the 20th of January, 1621.

In testimony whereof I have set my name and seal to these presents.

Given in Paris, May 4th, 1631.

Thomas Mede, Protonotary of the Holy Roman Church, formerly Almoner of the Most Illustrious Cardinal de BĂ©rulle.

Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J. , Our Martyrs, (Dublin, 1896), pp. 260-261.

The surviving records confirm that Francis Taylor was indeed an active member of the local government of Dublin City, acting not only as Mayor and Treasurer but as an agent, presenting the city's concerns directly at the court of Queen Elizabeth:

 1st April, 1597.

Francis Taylor and William Gough, alderman, to be the city agents for exhibiting suits to the Queen, they to be ready to take shipping for England by 10th April.

Berry, Henry F. “Minute Book of the Corporation of Dublin, Known as the ‘Friday Book,' 1567-1611.” PRIA, vol. 30, 1912, pp. 477–514.

What Mullen's account, however, does not explain are the circumstances in which this highly-regarded city father ended his days in prison. The imprisonment of Blessed Francis Taylor took place in the context of a deteriorating political situation for Dublin's Old English Catholic elite. As we have seen above, by the end of the sixteenth century Francis Taylor was acting as the city agent, representing the Irish capital in person at the court of Elizabeth I. His Catholicism then was clearly not a barrier to his moving in political circles at the highest level. He was not associated with violent resistance to the English crown, but was rather its loyal servant. Yet his ability to navigate the swiftly-turning tide of intolerance towards those who refused to conform to the new state religion was becoming increasingly compromised. The death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 initially led Catholics to believe that the reign of the new monarch, James I, son of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, would herald a new era of toleration. Ten years later it was apparent that these hopes were futile. The government made clear its determination to quash Catholic resistance by holding a parliament which would introduce anti-Catholic measures and ensure that the Irish capital would reflect the Protestant religious ethos the state had embraced, even if so many of its leading Old English citizens had not. In 1612 it reinforced the message with the public execution of Bishop Conor O'Devany O.F.M. along with secular priest Father Patrick O'Loughran on charges of treason. This brutal event and the show trial which had preceded it were intended to send a message to the city's Catholic elite: the days of the authorities tolerating their unwillingness to accept the religious settlement were over.  From now on recusancy would have consequences.  However, this strategy backfired spectacularly and rather than being cowed into submission by the executions, the resolve of Dublin's Catholics was strengthened. Contemporary observers noted that the streets of the capital were lined with people watching as the priest and the bishop were being dragged off to the scaffold, but this was no common mob, for we are told that the crowds included many of the leading families of the Pale. It is more than likely that respected city father, Francis Taylor, was among them. 

The executions of Bishop O'Devany and Father O'Loughran marked a turning point for the Dublin Catholic elite. I am sure that a politician as experienced and skilful as Francis Taylor would have recognized that he was running out of room to manoeuvre. The community, however, made one last show of defiance. The Dublin Catholics took advantage of the absence of the Mayor of the city on April 20, 1613 to call the election of two members to represent the city and chose Francis Taylor and fellow-Catholic Thomas Allen. Mayor Sir James Carroll returned the next day and was not amused by this fait accompli, knowing that it would incur the wrath of his political masters who were determined to secure a Protestant majority in the new parliament. They had already created new boroughs, dominated not by the Old English but by the New, Protestant incomers who had been granted confiscated Irish lands. He therefore ordered the election to be re-run, but this time with the electorate widened to include residents of the borough who were not native-born. One contemporary English observer recorded that this decision sparked a riot, as the Dublin Catholics forcibly ejected all Englishmen from the city hall and would not allow anyone who did not represent their community to speak. The proceedings had to be abandoned and Mayor Carroll faced the ire of Lord Deputy Chichester, who ordered him to reconvene at an open-air venue at Hoggen Green and invite all the citizens resident in the borough, whatever their origins, to attend. Despite the protests of the Catholic electors that their earlier election of Francis Taylor and Thomas Allen had been valid, the outcome was that two Protestant candidates were chosen to replace them. Subsequent legal challenges to this result were ignored and Francis Taylor was thus denied the opportunity to represent Dublin in the new parliament.

The clock was now ticking for Blessed Francis and for his ability to continue to operate in the world of politics. As Doctor Colm Lennon, who authored the official report on Francis Taylor, submitted as part of the beatification process, notes:

Francis Taylor's Catholicism was not mentioned in any official record until the time of his election when he was referred to by Sir Robert Jacob on 26 May [1613] as a 'most Spanish and seditious schismatique'. 

C. Lennon, The Lords of Dublin in the Age of Reformation (Irish Academic Press, 1989), 202.

This description seems very wide of the mark. Francis Taylor was a conservative figure who was not involved in any kind of armed insurrection of the type that the adjective 'Spanish' would appear to imply. There is no evidence that he was intriguing with members of the Spanish court or asking for an invasion force to be sent to Ireland to restore him and his community to their traditional place in society. His real crime was not 'sedition' but recusancy. 

The exact sequence of events which followed is difficult to reconstruct, thanks to gaps in the historical record. Colm Lennon speculates that the government may have moved against him in 1614, possibly meting out a large fine. What is known from the records is that Francis Taylor was elected as treasurer for the last time in 1615.  Two years later he was petitioning to be excused certain debts and arrears because of his 'present troubles', 'weake habillitye' and 'distressed estate'. He makes no reference to his former lands and properties in his will dated January 4, 1621 and indicates that his wife was now residing in their son's house in High Street. His stand for Catholicism had cost him not just his career as a politician but also his former status as a man of substance. By the end of January 1621 it would also cost him his life. 

It is not known exactly when the arrest of Francis Taylor took place and surviving accounts suggest a number of different dates. Whilst the government wished to be rid of this able opponent, they had learnt the lessons from the 1612 public execution of Bishop O'Devany. It was therefore more expedient to remove the threat of Francis Taylor by imprisoning rather than killing him. By the start of 1621, when he drew up his will, he was dying and his life came to an end either on the 29th or on the 30th of January. He had requested in his will that he be buried in Saint Audoen's church in Dublin, the city he had served so faithfully and capably for many years.

It is clear from the witness testimony gathered by Mullan that the sacrifices Francis Taylor made for the sake of his faith were not forgotten by those who had known him. He was a man who preferred to lose everything - career, social position, wealth, liberty and life itself- for the sake of conscience.

Francis Taylor is Number 122 on the 1918 Official List of Irish Martyrs whose names were submitted to Rome for official consideration. On September 27, 1992 he was one of the seventeen Irish martyrs beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II.


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