St. John Boste

One may be forgiven for thinking that all English martyrs were called John! This is not entirely the case but we do have something of a run of them at this time of year.

John Boste (or Boast), also termed by the Lord Huntingdon “the greatest stag of the north” eluded capture for ten years, ministering during some of the most difficult of penal times: the 1580s & 90s.

Born in Cumbria in the 1540s, he was an academic, being a fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford from 1572, although later resigning his fellowship around the time of becoming a Catholic. He was also made headmaster of his former school: Appleby Grammar School. He fled to Rheims and was ordained priest in 1581.

On returning to the English mission, he arrived first in East Anglia, before going to London and posing as the servant of Lord Montacute, and then returning to his native Cumbria, where, for the next ten years, he ministered in secret to recusant Catholics in that area. He travelled from house to house in the company of John Speed, a layman, who was also to be caught and martyred in 1594. Fr. Boste was known to the authorities, but skillfully evaded capture until, in 1593, he was betrayed by Francis Egglesfield whilst leaving the Waterhouse on the Egglesfield estate.

Egglesfield asked for a blessing as Boste was leaving the house, which Boste willingly gave, not realising this was the signal to the Militia. He retreated into the house, before being found in a priest hole behind the fireplace. He was then handed over to Richard Topcliffe for interrogation and torture in the Tower of London, before being returned to Durham for the July Assizes, where he faced trial and condemnation. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

An eye witness account states that he was “resolute, bold, joyful, and pleasant” throughout his torture, trial and execution. He publicly absolved Bl. George Swalwel, who had recanted his faith out of fear, and who then returned and suffered martyrdom for the faith.

He announced that he was not a traitor, saying: “My function is to invade souls, not to meddle in temporal invasions”, and going up the steps of the scaffold, he recited the Angelus, and was martyred with great brutality; being cut down from the gallows semi-conscious, and hacked as he stood.

He was martyred on this day in 1594, at the age of 50.