Edward Oldcorne
Edward Oldcorne; Nicholas Owen by Gaspar Bouttats.jpg
Edward Oldcorne and Nicholas Owen engraving
Born 1561
Died 7 April 1606
Red Hill, Worcester
Cause of death Hanged, drawn and quartered
Nationality English
Occupation Jesuit priest
Religion Roman Catholic
Parents John and Mary Oldcorne

Blessed Edward Oldcorne or Oldcorn alias Hall (b. 1561; executed 7 April 1606 at Red Hill, Worcester) was an English Jesuit priest. He was known to people who knew of the Gunpowder Plot to destroy the Parliament of England and kill King James I, and, although his involvement is unclear, he was caught up in the subsequent investigation. He is a Catholic martyr, and was beatified in 1929.

Early life

Oldcorne was born in York in 1561, the son of John Oldcorne, a bricklayer, and his wife Mary.[1] His father was a Protestant, and his mother a Catholic who had spent some time in prison due to her faith. He was educated at St Peter's School in York; school friends were John and Christopher Wright and Guy Fawkes .[2]

Oldcorne was educated as a doctor, but later decided to enter the priesthood. He went to the English College at Reims, then to Rome, where, after ordination, in 1587, he became a Jesuit in 1588.[3]

Next year he returned to England in the company of John Gerard. He worked chiefly in Worcestershire for seventeen years. He sometimes stayed with Thomas Abington, whose house at Hindlip Hall was adapted by Nicholas Owen to help conceal Catholic priests.[4] Abington's wife Mary was the sister of William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle;[1] Lord Monteagle was later to become a pivotal figure in the capture of the gunpowder plotters.[1]

From 1601 to 1605

On 3 November 1601, Oldcorne went on a pilgrimage to St Winefride's Well at Holywell in north Wales to obtain a cure for a cancer of the throat. The cancer cleared up and in 1605 about thirty people returned with him to give thanks for his recovery. Amongst this group were the priests Oswald Tesimond, Ralph Ashley, and Henry Garnet, as well as Nicholas Owen and John Gerard .

Also in the group was plotter Everard Digby and his wife, whose priest was Oldcorne. The timing of this second pilgrimage and the people involved later aroused suspicion. The government investigation used this gathering as circumstantial evidence to implicate some of those there in the plot.[1]

After the Plot

When the Gunpowder Plot was discovered, as a result of Lord Monteagle's letter, Oldcorne was at Hindlip Hall as this had been his base for fourteen years. The authorship of Monteagle's letter has been a significant problem to historians. One of the suspects put forward is Edward Oldcorne.[5] Oldcorne recounted later under interrogation that on the 8 November 1605 there arrived Tesimond from Robert Wintour's who told Mr (H)Abington and himself that "he brought them the worst news that they had ever heard, and they were all undone." Tesimond said that certain people had intended to blow up the parliament house but they had been discovered a few days before.[6]

In December, he was joined by Nicholas Owen, Garnet and Ashley who were hiding because they were under suspicion of involvement. Hindlip was searched in January but the four were not discovered, even though Garnet and Oldcorne were in one hiding place whilst the two lay brothers were in another. Their conditions were poor, and after eight days they surrendered.[1] It has been said that Bromley would have abandoned his search much earlier but he had information from Humphrey Littleton that Oldcorne and possibly Garnet were hiding there.[7]

Holt castle 850843 62546082

Holt Castle (in 2008), where Oldcorne was briefly held

Oldcorne was arrested with Henry Garnet[3] by Sir Henry Bromley and held briefly at the castle at Holt in Worcestershire before being taken to the Tower of London.

Despite torture being applied to Oldcorne, no evidence was found to connect him to the Gunpowder Plot. Some believe that he was executed just for his priesthood.[3] Others suppose that it may have been because he was notorious or because he had provided safe refuge through Father Jones for the plotters, Robert Wintour and Stephen Littleton for providing a hiding place for his superior Henry Garnet at Hindlip.[5] At his trial, Humphrey Littleton asked for his forgiveness and it was said that he believed he deserved to die for revealing his friend's whereabouts.[7] Two letters of his are at Stonyhurst, the second written from prison. On the day before his execution John Floyd, a fellow Jesuit, was arrested for trying to visit him.[8]

Oldcorne was executed at Red Hill, together with John Wintour, Humphrey Littleton and Ralph Ashley.[2] He was accompanied at his execution by Ashley, his servant. It is said that, as Oldcorne waited on the ladder to die, Ashley kissed his feet and said, "What a happy man am I to follow in the steps of my sweet father". Oldcorne died with the name of St Winifred on his lips.[1] When Ashley came to die he prayed and asked for forgiveness and noted that like Oldcorne he was dying for his religion and not for being a traitor. Oldcorne's portrait, painted after his death for the Gesù (This may mean the Society of Jesus), survived, as well as a number of his relics.[3] A particularly grisly relic is one of his eyes[9] which he lost when the executioner decapitated him: it is said that the force of the blow was so great that his eye flew out of its socket.[10] There is a secondary school, Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College, named in his honour, in Worcester.[11]


This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Edward Oldcorne. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Lives of the Saints By Alban Butler, Peter Doyle, ISBN 0860122530
  2. 2.0 2.1 accessed 6 July 2008
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Venerable Edward Oldcorne in the Catholic Encyclopedia, in Wikisource, accessed 4 July 2008
  4. 'Parishes: Hindlip', A History of the County of Worcester: volume 3 (1913), pp. 398-401. Date accessed: 06 July 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Gunpowder Plot and Lord Mounteagle's letter, By Henry Hawkes Spinks, Jr.
  6. Criminal Trials by David Jardine, 1846, accessed 6 July 2008
  7. 7.0 7.1 Humphrey Littleton, accessed 7 July 2008
  8. accessed 4 July 2008
  9. St. Xavier's church in Liverpool, list of items on display, accessed 7 July 2008
  10. Catholic report on Lancashire relics
  11. Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College, accessed 4 July 2008

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