May 22 – Hanged for Printing a Book

May 22, 2014

Blessed James Duckett

Martyr, born at Gilfortrigs in the parish of Skelsmergh in Westmoreland, England, date uncertain, of an ancient family of that county; died 9 April, 1601.

Bookbinding workshop

He was a bookseller and publisher in London. His godfather was the well-known martyr James Leybourbe of Skelsmergh. He seems, however, to have been brought up a Protestant, for he was converted while an apprentice in London by reading a Catholic book lent him by a friend. Before he could be received into the Church, he was twice imprisoned for not attending the Protestant service, and was obliged to compound for his apprenticeship and leave his master. He was finally reconciled by a venerable priest named Weekes who was imprisoned in the Gatehouse at Westminster.

newgate cell

newgate cell

After two or three years he married a Catholic widow, but out of his twelve years of married life, no less than nine were spent in prison, owing to his zeal in propagating Catholic literature and his wonderful constancy in his new-found faith. His last apprehension was brought about by Peter Bullock, a bookbinder, who betrayed him in order to obtain his own release from prison. His house was searched on 4 March, 1601, Catholic books were found there, and Duckett was at once thrown into Newgate. At his trial, Bullock testified that he had bound various Catholic books for Duckett, which the martyr acknowledged to be true.

Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice of England

Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice of England

The jury found him not guilty, but Judge Popham at once stood up and bade them consider well what they did, for Duckett had had bound for him Bristowe’s “motives”, a controversial work peculiarly odious to Anglicans on account of its learning and cogency. The jury thereupon reversed its verdict and brought in the prisoner guilty of felony.

At the same time three priests, Page, Tichborne, and Watkinson were condemned to death. Bullock did not save himself by his treachery, for he was conveyed in the same cart as Duckett to Tyburn, where both were executed, 19 April, 1601.


There is an account, written by his son, the Prior of the English Carthusians at Nieuport (Flanders) of James Duckett’s martyrdom. On the way to Tyburn he was given a cup of wine; he drank, and desired his wife to drink to Peter Bullock, and freely to forgive him. At the gallows, his last thoughts were for his betrayer. He kissed him and implored him to die in the Catholic Faith.

He was beatified in 1929.

(Catholic Encyclopedia)

A sketch of one of the many hangings at the Newgate prison.

A sketch of one of the many hangings at the Newgate prison. Editorial Comment: —

Blessed James Puckett was a commoner. Could a king ennoble the family of a martyr like Blessed James Puckett? If he did, would the king be acting well?
Maybe so, maybe not. In some way though, Blessed Puckett deserves to be honored. Only a very noble heart can drink to the health of the person who betrayed him, and encourage the wife he is about to leave behind as a widow to do the same, urging her all the while to forgive the traitor for the love of God.


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