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Top British judge to give talk about St Edmund Campion

The earliest known portrait of St Edmund Campion, completed in the year after his death (Photo: Jesuit Institute)

A retired High Court judge will consider the trial of one of the most famous of the English Catholic martyrs in the context of human rights at a lecture in London next month.

Sir Michael Tugendhat, who until June last year served as the most senior “media judge” in England and Wales, will speak about trial of St Edmund Campion when he delivers the 14th Tyburn Lecture on Tuesday May 12.

St Edmund was martyred at Tyburn on December 1, 1581, just yards from Tyburn Convent, where Sir Michael will deliver his lecture.

The martyr had been described as “one of the diamonds of England ” by Lord Burghley, the Secretary of State of Queen Elizabeth I, before he abandoned his Anglican ministry, became a Catholic and one of the first Jesuit priests on the English Mission.

He was famous for his “Brag”, a paper in which he told Protestant divines that the Catholic Church would survive persecution in England, with Jesuits forming a league to “cheerfully carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed within your prisons”.

Following his capture in July 1581, St Edmund endured four months of torture in the Tower of London. His fingernails were torn out and he was racked so severely that he was unable to raise a hand to take the oath at his trial in Westminster Hall.

Along with 19 others he was charged with treason under an Act of 1351 that did not pertain to religion. The purpose was to send out the message that the priests were not condemned for their faith. Speaking for the group, St Edmund refuted the charge of treason during the trial, arguing that they were “as true subjects as ever the Queen had” and were condemned for their faith alone.

His arrival in England in 1580 corresponded with the most intense period of persecution of Catholics in England, when some 300 people died for their faith in the final two decades of Elizabeth’s reign – many of them at Tyburn – while many others suffered and died in prisons.

Before his retirement, Sir Michael Tugendhat was involved in a number of high-profile media cases. As a judge he dismissed a 2010 claim for super-injunction brought by England and Chelsea footballer John Terry and as a barrister he represented the actor Michael Douglas in his 2002 claim against Hello! magazine.