The first one to be noted is Blessed David Gunston, here in this older article, called Venerable.
VEN. DAVID GONSON (GUNSTON), KNIGHT OF ST. JOHN
MARTYRED AT ST. THOMAS WATERINGS, SOUTHWARK, 12TH JULY, 1541.
At Malta, against the name of Sir David Gonson in the register of the Knights of St. John, a subsequent hand has written "The Good Knight": and there is little doubt that the comment was added to indicate the fact that he died in the cause of religion at the time when the Order was suppressed in England by Henry VIII. The Order of St. John of Jerusalem was a religious body, the members of which lived under the patronage of St. John Baptist _ and according to the rule of St. Augustine. It extended through the different nations of Europe, was divided into eight " tongues " (nations), and owned considerable property in each country. All the brethren were under the authority of the Grand Master who acknowledged the spiritual allegiance due by- himself and by all his brethren to the Pope. Their preoccupation was the defence of Christian Europe against the Turks. Henry VIII had his eye upon the possessions of the Order in England as early as 1527. Between the loss of Rhodes to the Turks in 1522 and the grant of Malta by the Emperor Charles V, in 1530, the head-quarters (Conventus) of the Knights had no permanent abode. Henry seized on this fact for an attempt to form the knights of the English tongue into a body, independent of the Grand Master, for the defence of Calais and district. The cost to the Crown of holding Calais was great, and Henry proposed that the English knights should form its permanent garrison and the revenues of their tongue finance his project. Many protests came from the Grand Master, but the danger was averted by Sir William Weston, Prior of the Order in England, who bought off the king by paying him a "benevolence" of 4,000 sterling, paid out of the Common Treasury. In 1530, Malta became the head-quarters of the Order, the island was converted into a fortress, and from it as a base the war galleys of the knights issued forth to harass the Turks. David Gonson was received into the English Auberge at Malta - on 20th October, 1533, and submitted his " proofs of nobility"; for each applicant for admission as a Knight of justice must produce proofs of gentle birth, of legitimacy, of good health, and of good character. David could prove his right to bear the arms of Gonson quartering Tussell, Walter, Beckett, Young and Colfax. He was the fourth son of William Gonson by his marriage with Bennet Walter, sister and heiress of John Walter. William Gonson was a Gentleman Usher of the King's Chamber and later became responsible for the naval administration of this country. In one contemporary record he is called Vice-Admiral and Paymaster of the Navy. He did at one time command ships but his principal work was covered by the later title " Treasurer of Marine Causes," and he is so described in the Gonson pedigree. David's eldest brother Benjamin was " Surveyor of all our Shippes" in 1546 and " Treasurer of Marine Causes " in 1549. Benjamin's Daughter Katherine married Sir John Hawkins, the famous sea captain. The name Gonson was pronounced as if Goonson, and was sometimes written Gunston. It is as Sir David Gunston that the knight is found in the list of English Martyrs. According to the regulations of the Order the first year was spent in the Auberge of the Tongue at Malta, during which period the knight was inured to the hardships of a soldier's life-" to learn frugality, discipline and benificence." This was followed by at least three years general service, and general service included a number of " caravans " or fixed periods of service aboard the galleys of the Order. Sir David remained at Malta from his reception in 1533 until 22nd April, 1540, except for two periods of absence, granted 2nd September; 1534 and 13th July, 1536: in 1536 he was still on caravan duty-. The discipline at Malta was very strict, and in 1535 a fracas with a fellow knight, Sir Philip Babington, led to a short term of imprisonment for Sir David and a loss of seniority-, a common punishment in the Order which affected the order of appointment to Commanderies. He was restored to his original place in the seniority list in 1,536. Presently we shall see Sir Philip Babington as the informer who sent Sir David to his Martyrdom. Meanwhile things were changing in England under Henry's religious policy. The king had declared himself Head of the Church in England and had repudiated its spiritual allegiance to the Pope. The suppression and spoliation of the Religious Orders followed, but the Knights of St. John were not at first included in the general ruin. In 1539, two knights of the English Tongue, Blessed Adrian Fortescue and Ven. Thomas Dingley, a nephew of Sir William Weston, Grand Prior of England, were martyred on Tower Hill for denying the Royal Supremacy. By Letters Patent 7th July, 1539, Henry reminded the knights of the English Tongue that he was a Protector of the Order : and it was his will that in future every appointment must be confirmed by him, and that he was to receive the first year's revenue of the office. By Section 4. he orders that in the granting of dignities and commanderies the authority of the Pope must be ignored ("shall not recognise, support or promote the jurisdiction, authority, rank or title of the Bishop of Rome ") The General Chapter raised its protest against this subversive constitution and declared it impossible for the Order to accept it. It was while the affairs of the Order were in this dangerous condition that Sir David Gonson obtained leave of absence (granted 22nd April, 1540) to proceed to England. The English State Papers contain a letter from Sir Giles Russell, Turcopolier, and three from Sir Nicholas Upton dated from Malta, April, 1540, and in all of them the recipients are told that Master Gunston is coming to England and will inform them how affairs stand at Malta. One letter of Sir Nicholas Upton contains the information "Sir Philip Babington has left the galeys . . . and forsoke the banner of your religion and without the licence of the Grand Master.” Before Gonson arrived home, Henry had determined to suppress the Order in England and confiscate its property. A servile parliament passed the necessary bill on 10th May, 1540. the reasons put forward for the suppression being " that the friars of the order drew large sums yearly out of the kingdom : they maintained the usurped power of the Church of Rome : they defamed and slandered the king and his subjects.' . . . . Thus fell that ancient and pious order, not without much scandal abroad both to the king and the government " (Lord Herbert). Sir David arrived in England, and on 8th October was accused of treason. The Privy Council minute of that date states " John Story who put in articles of treason against Davy Gunston, which seemed to depend on the sayings of one Philip Babington : commanded to appear on the seventeenth and bring Babington with him." On their evidence Gunston was arrested and confined in the Tower. He had no trial but was prosecuted b%- attainder in the Trinity term of 1541. This new form of procedure had been introduced by Henry- in 1539. Having asked the judges whether_ anyone could be attainted of treason in his absence without being called upon to defend himself, Henry was told that it was a very dangerous question, but that parliament could do anything and the attainder would be good in law. This was good enough for the Tudor tyrant : he had a servile parliament, thanks to Thomas Cromwell, and he acted at once on the judges' opinion. Henry no doubt thought it necessary to find a victim among the knights to stifle the agitation against his suppression of the Order. The General Chapter issued a strong protest and the Grand blaster wrote to Henry (15th September, 1540) declaring the impossibility of accepting the conditions. Two commanders, Enrico Pereyra and L. de Vallee, were sent as envoys to Henry to solicit the restoration of their rights, but in view of the imprisonment of Gunston and Tyrrell, and the execution of Fortescue and Dingley, they remained at the French Court until they could obtain a safe conduct from Henry. It is very doubtful whether they ever came to England. They were still at Fontainebleau in January, 1541. Sir David, as we have said, was condemned by a bill of attainder in the Trinity term of 1541. That he died for denying the Royal Supremacy of Henry in spiritual matters cannot be doubted. Fortunately the official statement of his offence and his sentence is preserved in the Public Record Office (Coram Rege de Termino Sanctae Trinitatis anno 33 Regis Henrici VIII, it. 130, rot xiii). The- document is in Latin except for the words said to have been spoken by Gonson, these. are in English. The accusation against him was-that while living in parts outside the kingdom, viz : from 10th July, 28 Henry VIII to 20th August, 31 Henry VIII, he persistently during that time, at Malta and elsewhere, publicly and distinctly, denied and opposed, falsely and traitorously, that the aforesaid King (Henry) was Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England1. That he had called the king a heretic1 and all those who upheld the patent of the king, heretics. Also that the afore- said David Gunston as part of his aforesaid wickedness against the duty of his allegiance, on 1st Ma}-, 29 Henry VIII, before and after, at Malta and at other places, did use, among other traitorous words, the following. "That no person might appeale unto the Byssope of Rome on earth under God and they that would maynteyn the appellation to the king for good were worse than Turks and Lutheryans." Wherefore, continues the document, David Gunston is to be handed to the King's Marshall, confined in the Marshalsea, and thence to be draw n to the usual place of execution, where he shall be hanged, out 'it down while still alive, be eviscerated, his body quartered and the quarters exhibited where the king pleases. Henry had forbidden any appeal to Rome by the "Act in Restraint of Appeals," 1533 and Gonson's words mean " No person is; allowed by the king to appeal to the Bishop of Rome, God's Vicar on earth and therefore supreme in spiritual matters." This Was an assertion of Papal Supremacy. " That they who maintain an appeal (in spiritual matters) to the king to be valid are worse than Turks and Lutherans." Not only a denial of the Royal Supremacy but by implication calling the king a heretic. Gonson after his condemnation was confined in the King's Bench prison, Southwark, whence on 12th July, 1541, he was dragged on a hurdle to St. Thomas Waterings, at the second milestone from the city, and there hanged, drawn and quartered. The Martyrologies and Catholic writers generally give the 1st July as the date of the execution. In this they follow Stow, who wrote in his Chronicles under the year 1541 : " The first of July .... Sir David Genson, Knight of Rhodes2 was drawn through Southwarke to St. Thomas of Waterings and there executed for the Supremacy." Stow wrote 40 years after the event. On the other hand Wriothesley, who was a contemporary of Gonson, has in his Chronicle-" 1541. The 12th daie of Julie, one of Mr. Gunston's Sonnes which was a Knight of Rodes, was drawen from the Kinges Bench to Sainct Thomas Wateringes and there hanged and quartered for treason." That Stow was wrong the following minute of the Privy Council is proof. " 7th July, 1541. Upon advertisement from the Lord Chancellor of the attainder of David Gunston . . . Tyrrell, and Robert Harvy, commissary of Calais, a letter was written to him that Tyrrell should be reprieved and the other two suffer at London."
1 Made treason by the Act of 1534 2 Although the knights had been at Malta since 1530 the old name "Knights of Rhodes" was still commonly used.