▪Portraying the Martyrs

Central to Margaret Rope’s life was her conversion to the Roman Catholic religion, as we discussed in our last post; and she seems to have been particularly affected by the example of the Catholic martyrs who died for their faith in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1.
Roger Hall, who is an expert in the imagery of Marga’s windows, has written this account of how seriously Marga took the concept of proper research when depicting some of these figures from history in her works.
St John Fisher and St Thomas More, whom Margaret Rope portrayed several times, were famous in their lifetimes in the sixteenth century, so she could base her depictions of them on contemporary portraits.

However, most of the other martyrs of the time were otherwise ordinary people, and we have little idea of what they looked like. So, to portray them, she generally had to use her imagination, often drawing on likenesses of her own family and friends (often from memory).

But, for one martyr, ‘Blessed’ Thomas Holford, who appears in her Oxton Church windows, there is a contemporary detailed description, left for us by the Anglican Bishop of Chester, who questioned him when he was arrested in 1585…
Thomas Holford, priest, was a “tall, fat, strong man with black hair, a bald crown and a moustache, wearing a straw-coloured doublet trimmed in red, grey breeches underlaid with black taffeta, and yellow knitted socks”; and Margaret has clearly used this information in her window.
Just compare her image of Thomas Holford with that of Blessed Ralph Crocket. See photos (© Arthur Rope):

Martyrs in Oxton Church windows by Margaret Rope

Without a contemporary description of Crocket , she has to depict him in an idealised way, but Holford is clearly ‘real’.


Incidentally, soon after his questioning, Thomas Holford escaped – while on his way from Chester to London to stand trial. The journey then took several days, and early one morning while his guards were nursing hangovers(!), he slipped away and headed barefoot over gravel and through brambles to a friend’s house about 8 miles away.
This incident is illustrated in a vignette in the same window at Holy Name Church in Oxton.
However, he was eventually captured, tried and hanged in 1588 – ‘for treasonably coming into the realm as a priest’.
Roger Hall

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