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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 hanged.


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.

 

 

Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Baddesley Clinton, Knowle, Solihull, B93 0DD, UK

 

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