Blessed Robert Grissold (or Greswold)
was a native of Rowington, 2 miles from Baddesley Clinton. He was the son of
John and Isabel Grissold of Poundley End, Rowington. John was a weaver and he
and his wife had seven sons and one daughter. Robert is described in
contemporary documents as a ‘husbandman’, that is, of yeoman stock, and he was
the servant of a Mr Sheldon of Broadway in Worcestershire. Both Robert and his
brother John had a reverence for Catholic priests. John was the servant of Fr
Henry Garnet, S,J,, and was so badly racked after the Gunpowder Plot that it
was rumoured he was dead. It was probably in Mr Sheldon’s service that Robert
encountered John Sugar, who had been a clergyman of the Established Church but
had become a Catholic, studied at the English College, Douai, and was ordained
a priest on 21st April 1601. Having returned to England, he travelled on foot
throughout Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire, where he ministered
to the ‘poorer and meaner sort of Catholics.’ Robert accompanied the priest to
his old home, where news of the priest’s arrival was noised abroad.
On Sunday, 8th July 1603 a warrant was issued to search the house of a Catholic
dwelling in Rowington for the arrest of a Catholic priest who was rumoured to
be there. This was probably the house of William Skynner, Lord of the Manor or
Rowington, a Catholic who in 1592 had been in trouble for harbouring a priest.
On this occasion no priest was found and the searchers went to the house of
Robert, Henry and Ambrose Grissold, Robert’s three unmarried uncles, who kept
house together and were known to be Catholics. One of the searchers was Clement
Grissold, nephew of the three brothers and first cousin of Robert; he it was
who directed the search to the Grissold household. Again, no priest was found.
However, on the highway near Baddesley the search party encountered Robert and
John Sugar. It is possible that Fr Sugar had been saying Mass at Baddesley
Clinton House. Fr Sugar was arrested and Robert was offered the chance of
escaping by his cousin, but he refused to leave the priest. Both were
imprisoned in Warwick Gaol, where they languished for a year.
On 13th July 1604 John Sugar was arraigned for being a Catholic priest and was
condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The next day Robert was arraigned
and offered his freedom if he would conform and attend the services of the
Church of England. He refused and was condemned for felony, that is for being
in the company and assisting a Catholic priest, and he was sentenced to be
On 16th July both men were taken to the place of execution, known as Gallows
Hill. John Sugar was drawn on a hurdle. Robert was given the opportunity of not
following through the mud, but he replied, ‘I have not thus far followed him to
leave him now for a little mire.’ Fr Sugar was executed first. Seeing the
halter with which he was to be hanged lying on the ground, Robert went and
dipped it in John Sugar’s blood, and going up the ladder he said to the people,
‘Bear witness, good people, that I die here not for theft, nor for felony, but
for my conscience.’ Then he forgave his persecutors and the hangman, made an
act of contrition, and called on the name of Jesus. Lastly, he commended
himself into the hands of Almighty God and was turned off the ladder; he hanged
until he was quite dead. He was buried beneath the gallows, while the head and
quarters of John Sugar were set up on the gates of Warwick.
John Sugar was 42 years old and Robert Grissold about 29. They were beatified
by Pope John Paul II in 1987.