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Almost all of what is known about Felton's background comes from the narrative of his daughter, Frances Salisbury. The manuscript that holds her story has a blank where his age should be, but it does say that he was a wealthy man of Norfolk ancestry, who lived at Bermondsey Abbey near Southwark. He "was a man of stature little and of complexion black". His wife had been a playmate of Elizabeth I, a maid-of-honour to Queen Mary and the widow of one of Mary's auditors (a legal official of the papal court). He was the father of Blessed Thomas Felton.
Felton was arrested for fixing a copy of Pope Pius V's Bull Regnans in Excelsis ("reigning on high"), excommunicating Queen Elizabeth, to the gates of the Bishop of London's palace near St. Paul's. This was a significant act of treason as the document, which released Elizabeth's subjects from their allegiance, needed to be promulgated in England before it could take legal effect. The deed brought about the end of the previous policy of tolerance towards those Catholics who were content occasionally to attend their parish church while keeping their true beliefs to themselves. The reaction seemed soon to be justified: it was the publication in England of Pius's exhortation that gave the impetus to the Ridolfi plot, in which the Duke of Norfolk was to kidnap or murder Queen Elizabeth, install Mary Queen of Scots on the throne and then become de facto king by marrying her.
The law records say that the act was committed around eleven at night on 24 May 1570, but Salisbury claims it happened between two and three in the morning of the following day, the Feast of Corpus Christi. Felton had received the bulls in Calais and given one to a friend, William Mellowes of Lincoln's Inn. This copy was discovered on 25 May and after being racked, Mellowes implicated Felton, who was arrested on 26 May. Felton immediately confessed and glorified in his deed, but was still racked as the authorities were seeking, through his testimony, to implicate Guerau de Spes, the Ambassador of Spain, in the action. He was condemned on 4 August and executed by hanging four days later in St. Paul's Churchyard, London. He was cut down alive, and his daughter says that he uttered the holy name of Jesus once or twice when the hangman had his heart in his hand. He was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.
- Lock, Julian (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: John Felton. Oxford University Press.
- ↑ Starkey, David (2000). Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne. London: Harper Collins. p. 320. ISBN 0-0601-8497-3.
- ↑ Haynes, Alan (2004). Walsingham: Elizabethan Spymaster and Statesman. Stroud, England: Sutton Publishing. p. 13. ISBN 0-7509-3122-1.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Jardine, David (1837). A Reading on the Use of Torture in the Criminal Law of England. London: Baldwin and Cradock. p. 78.