John Nelson (1534-February 3, 1578) was an English Jesuit martyr who was executed during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Nelson was from Skelton, near York. He was nearing 40 when he left for Douai in 1573 for training as a priest. Two of his four brothers would later follow him there to become priests. He was ordained at Binche in Hainaut by Monsignor Louis de Berlaymont, Archbishop of Cambrai, on June 11, 1576. The next November, he left for his mission, which appears to have been in London. He was arrested on December 1, 1578, "late in the evening as he was saying the Nocturne of the Matins for the next day following", and put in Newgate Prison.

When interrogated about a week or so later, he refused to take the oath recognizing the Queen's supremacy in spiritual matters, and was induced by the commissioners to declare the Queen a schismatic. Under the Legislation of 1571, this was high treason and punishable by death. He was condemned a few weeks later on Saturday February 1, 1578 and was confined after the trial in an underground dungeon in the Tower of London, the so called Pit of the Tower. While in prison he subsided on bread and water and was able to say Mass and confess.

On his execution day, he refused several Protestant ministers after meeting family members. Taken to Tyburn and was allowed to speak before the bystanders, who were mostly hostile in the historically Protestant London. He refused to ask pardon of the Queen and asked any Catholics in the crowd to pray with him as he recited several common prayers in Latin.

He was hung and cut down alive, then quartered. As the executioner plucked out his heart, his last words were reportedly "I forgive the queen and all the authors of my death.", though this may be apocryphal.

He was beatified on December 29, 1886 by Pope Leo XIII. The date and place of his admission to the Society of Jesus are unknown, but it was probably shortly before his arrest.


  • The most reliable compact source is Godfrey Anstruther, Seminary Priests, St Edmund's College, Ware, vol. 1, 1968, pp. 245–247.
  • This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.; heavily reworked and supplemented.

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