The hamlet of Golden near Probus consists of little more than a farm and a Tudor manor house. Tucked away down a narrow dead-end road at first glance there seems little reason to visit. In fact, I was only drawn there by chance having seen a medieval ‘chapel’ marked on the OS map.
Stepping out of the car however I found myself immediately fascinated. I was very intrigued by this beautifully preserved 500 year old manor with its evocative name, by the peace and by the overwhelming sense that there was more to this quiet corner of Cornwall than meets the eye. And when I got home and did more research I realised that this unassuming place and the people that once lived here were in fact embroiled in one of the most dramatic and violent episodes of Tudor Cornish history.
I learnt that Golden Manor had been the home of Francis Tregian (pronounced Trudgian). A man who, when he died in exile in Portugal in 1608, was buried standing upright to, it is said, remind us how he stood up for the Catholic faith and against Queen Elizabeth I. I also discovered that Golden was the last hiding place of a saint, Cuthbert Mayne, the first Roman Catholic seminary priest to be executed by Elizabeth I. And the story, with all its twists and turns, just kept getting bigger!
To say that faith was a complicated issue during the Tudor era is a bit of an understatement.
From King Henry VIII’s break with the Pope and the formation of the Church of England, to the return to the Catholic religion under his daughter, Queen Mary (whose reign was also a bloody one) to the new laws introduced Queen Elizabeth that outlawed Catholicism, made her supreme Governor of the Church and church attendance compulsory. It is fair to say that to the ordinary folk it must have felt like the surety of their salvation, or damnation, was in a constant state of flux.
In the violent aftermath of the Cornish Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549 many ordinary people in Cornwall realised that they had little option but to adopt the new Protestant religion, at least outwardly. But behind closed doors it remained a different story. The passionate feelings that had led to rebellion in the first place didn’t just vanish.
However, if you happened to be wealthy Queen Elizabeth did allow a small concession, outlined by a new law in 1559. You could become a “recusant”, someone who could officially decline to attend Protestant worship, but in order to do so you must pay a fine for the privilege or face severe punishment. Those who did not conform risked forfeiting all their property and possessions to the Crown. But it was a path that many of the great Cornish family chose. The Arundells, for example, were deeply Catholic but cleverly steered themselves away from trouble, they just kept their feelings to themselves and paid the necessary fines.
The Cornish historian A.L. Rowse writes that there were many recusants in Cornwall during this time, made up of the upper levels of society – gentry, yeoman and townsman – basically anyone who could afford to pay the fines. It was said that there were more hidden Catholics in Cornwall than in the counties of Devon, Dorset and Somerset combined and for every recusant that was able to pay their way out of trouble there would have been many more less well off that were forced to simply hide their true beliefs and attend church.
But while Francis Tregian of Golden was certainly wealthy enough to pay the fines, he was not prepared to compromise his faith in any way. He and many others quite literally felt that their souls depended upon upholding the Catholic Faith and on celebrating Catholic Mass.
A clandestine way had to be found for them to do this.
The Trouble with Tregian
The Tregian family’s wealth came from tin and shipping. Both Francis Tregian’s father and grandfather had been merchants with their own ships. But Golden Manor had actually belonged to his grandmother, Jane Wolvedon. It had been her inheritance and it’s believed that the manor’s name is a corruption of the Wolvedon surname.
“The Tregians, though a new family, were amongst the richest in Cornwall. They had made a fifteenth century fortune in commerce, then married an heiress of the Wolvedon family who brought Golden with her, and now were possessed of a large number of goodly manors in the Roseland and in other parts of the country.”A.L. Rowse, Sir Richard Grenville, 1937
Francis was born in 1548, the son of John Tregian and Katherine Arundell, and the family were connected through marriage to nearly all of the most important families in Cornwall. There was one very influential family that the Tregians were not on good terms with however – the Grenvilles. And this feud was, in part, to be their downfall.
The Tregians were Catholic and the Grenvilles Protestant but that was not the only cause of the animosity. The story goes that Francis’ father John had been ‘romantically entangled’ with Richard Grenville’s sister Margaret but instead of marrying her he chose to wed Katherine Arundell. A rift formed between the two families which only worsened over the years. When Francis was appointed to the Cornish commission for piracy Richard was furious. It is said that because he was a seaman, he had wanted the role himself and there was perhaps more pressing reason. The Grenvilles were said to have indulged in a little privateering now and again, even falling foul of the law on occasions, it seems Richard didn’t relish the idea of Francis holding some kind of power over him and his family.
Francis Tregian was famously charming and likeable, in fact, for a time he was very popular at the Court of Queen Elizabeth, despite making his pro-Catholic feelings quite clear to anyone who would listen. Like the cautious Arundells, who cleverly hid themselves away from prying eyes and ears in Cornwall, Francis could easily have stayed at his home at Golden and spent his days quietly avoiding attention but that was not his style. He had been raised a Catholic and like so many of his fellow Cornishmen was distressed by the religious changes brought in by his queen. Francis decided to risk everything for what he saw as his duty to promote Catholicism.
He tried to spread the word to anyone that would listen. And as a consequence his name first appeared on a list as an enemy of the Queen’s Act of Supremacy in 1571 when he was just 24 years old.
Francis’ privileged background, connections and winning personality seem to have kept him out of harm’s way for a while however and he was even noted as a favourite of the queen. He was said to have been witty, clever and fair-minded and she seems to have indulgently let him get away with his behaviour for the most part. That is until he rejected her offer to make him a Viscount. Rather boldly and foolishly he turned her offer down saying:
“To me it would be quite enough if the Faith, for the sake of which I came to court, should breathe more freely and recover.”
This was followed, rumour has it, by another perhaps even more fatal error.
It is said that Queen Elizabeth had grown more than a little fond of Francis and may have propositioned him to come to her bed chamber. Francis refused.
Elizabeth I was reportedly less than impressed by his rejection of her and Tregian was wise enough to make a hasty exit from Court to the secluded safety of Golden. But sadly this was not the end of it because rather than realise his lucky escape and retire quietly, rather than simply attend church without really believing in the services, or just paying the fines and becoming a recusant like so many other local aristocrats, Francis again refused to compromise his faith.
Francis Tregian decided to risk everything and commit treason.
“The religious ferment made him even more determined to support and strengthen his fellow Catholics in Cornwall. The only way to do that was to provide the Mass for the faithful on a regular basis. That would mean finding a priest with the faith and courage to come and live at Golden to carry out what had become an illegal and treasonable ceremony.”Raymond Francis Trudgian, 1998
And here enters Cuthbert Mayne.
A Catholic Priest at Golden
Cuthbert Mayne was a West Country man, born in Youlston in Devon in 1543. Like so many Catholic priests at that time he had been forced into exile on the Continent and completed his training at a college in Douai in Northern France. Mayne was ordained in 1575 and when he secretly returned to England, with objects of his forbidden faith hidden in his luggage and about his person, he ended up making his way to Cornwall.
Although later Cuthbert refused to reveal the names of his “certain friends” in Cornwall it is generally believed that the Arundells introduced him to the Tregian family of Golden Manor.
Francis was delighted to give Cuthbert a home at Golden and dressed him in the clothes of a Steward of the manor. This disguise, this new identity, gave Mayne the perfect excuse to move freely about central Cornwall on the pretext of carrying out errands for his rich landowning master. In reality he was visiting Catholic families, preaching and teaching the faith and holding Mass for the faithful, wherever and whenever he could.
Apparently Cornish Catholics came up with a scheme to allow them to signal that a service was to take place – their washing!
“The secret venues for this service were marked by placing sheets on the hedges at crossroads. The sight of ‘snow on the hedges’ meant that the Mass was being celebrated that day.”Raymond Francis Trudgian, 1998
All of this was of course completely illegal and carried heavy penalties. Cuthbert Mayne lived concealed in Francis Tregian’s household for about a year before disaster struck.
The Feast of Corpus Christi & the Raid at Golden
The 8th June 1577, the Feast of Corpus Christi, was meant to have been a day of celebration at Golden, instead it ended in violence and disaster for Francis Tregian and Cuthbert Mayne.
Religious tensions were running high across the nation, and it was well known that the Anglican religion was not as well received in the south-west as it had been in other parts of the country. It was said that an obstinate spirit remained from the Prayer Book Rebellion. Queen Elizabeth’s council therefore called for there to be stiffer punishments for those who were not seen to be fully embracing the religion. Tregian’s bold behaviour, his ill-advised snubbing of the Queen, could no longer be excused or ignored.
It is believed that Tregian and Mayne had been under observation for some time and suddenly Golden Manor was no longer the isolated and safe backwater. It was the focus of retribution.
Queen Elizabeth instructed her cousin Sir George Carey to deal with Tregian. A crime against the Crown meant the confiscation of all your assets and conveniently Carey’s reward would be the Cornishman’s extensive and wealthy estates. Carey immediately contacted the Sheriff of Cornwall, which just so happened to be Tregian’s old enemy, Richard Grenville.
A trumped-up charge was invented and Golden Manor was surrounded by Grenville with eight or nine Justices of the Peace and over one hundred armed men. Grenville claimed that they were looking for an escaped prisoner called Anthony Bourne, despite the fact that the search for this man had been called off months before as he was believed to have left the country.
Pounding on the door, Grenville demanded to search the house and Tregian of course denied that he was hiding the man and demanded to see a Queen’s warrant. At this point it is said that Grenville, known to be hot-tempered, drew a knife and forced his way inside.
“The sheriff being very bold, because he has a great company with him, sware by al the oaths he could devise, that he would search [the] house or else he would kill or be killed, holding his hand upon his dagger as though he would stab it into the gentleman. This violence being used he had leave to search the house.”Cardinal William Allen, A brief History of the glorious Martyrdom of Twelve Reverend Priests, 1908
In his biography of Sir Richard Grenville Rowse suggests that the sheriff knew the arrangements of Golden Manor a little too well and that there may have been an informant within the household. As it was it seems that this raid came as a complete surprise to Francis Tregian. Cuthbert Mayne, who had moments earlier been walking in the gardens, made no attempt to run or look for a hiding place.
He was found in his room, in fact, it is said he simply opened the door to the soldiers. Grenville knew he had apprehended exactly who he was looking for and ripped open Mayne’s shirt to reveal the Agnus-Dei the priest had strung around his neck. (This forbidden Catholic pendant was made from the wax of an Easter candle that had been blessed by the Pope and impressed with the sign of the Lamb of God.) When they searched his room incriminating letters, papers and books were discovered, including a Papal Bull.
It was all Richard Grenville needed, in a matter of minutes he had found enough evidence to hang the priest and to destroy Tregian. Not satisfied with this Grenville also arrested 31 other recusants from some of Cornwall’s wealthiest families, including the Arundells. The dangerous spark lit at Golden was consuming all it touched.
Francis Tregian and Cuthbert Mayne were examined at Truro by Bishop Brainbridge of Exeter and while Tregian was allowed to return home after paying a surety of £2000 (about £500,000 in today’s money) Mayne was taken to Launceston. Richard Grenville paraded his prisoner through the streets of each village that they passed on their way to the notorious castle.
With heavy irons placed on his legs Mayne awaited trial in awful, squalid conditions. Several of Tregian’s servants and neighbours were arrested too and also held at Launceston. Richard Tremayne, Nicholas Roscarrock, John Kemp, Thomas Harris, John Williams, a schoolmaster, John Philips, John Hodge, John Humphreys, a farmer, all found themselves locked up for aiding and abetting Mayne.
The details of the trials of Cuthbert Mayne and Francis Tregian are too long and complicated to do proper justice to here, but I will try and cover the main points. Mayne’s trial began in Launceston in mid-September with judges Sir Roger Manwood and Sir John Jeffreys presiding. He was accused, amongst other charges, of publicly celebrating Mass, of promoting the authority of the Pope and of possessing and distributing Agnus-Deis.
However, the evidence was not all cut and dried and the judges and jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict. At this point Richard Grenville stood up in the court and harangued them until they all found Mayne guilty. A traitors death sentence was given.
“Mayne was to be drawn to a place to be hung until half dead. Then should his privy parts and entrails be ripped out and burnt in thy sight.”
There was then a delay of three months between the trial and the execution because some, Judge Jefferys in particular, expressed doubt and unease at the conviction. Finally a date was decided upon and Richard Grenville rushed to London to secure the warrant.
Cuthbert spent his remaining days praying and although he admitted coming from the continent to work for Tregian he never revealed the names of the friends who had helped him or where and when he had held Mass. He was given numerous chances to save himself if he would only implicate Francis Tregian and Sir John Arundell but he refused.
On 30th November 1577, Market Day in Launceston, Cuthbert Mayne was hung, drawn and quartered in front of a large crowd in the town square. His head was cut off and hung over the gate at Launceston Castle, then one quarter of his body was sent to Bodmin, the county town, one to Wadebridge, one to Barnstable, where he went to school, and the last to Tregony not far from Golden.
Richard Grenville was given a knighthood for his role in this painful episode of Cornish history.
The Fate of Francis Tregian
In September 1577, three months after the raid on Golden, while Mayne was still languishing in Launceston Castle, Francis Tregian was summoned before the Privy Council in London and charged with having a suspicious person in his home, of allowing Catholic practices to take place in his home and of recusancy. However, it was decided that his case should wait until after the verdict of Cuthbert Mayne’s trial had been decided upon in Cornwall, so Tregian was sent to Marshalsea Prison in Southwark. He was to remain there for the next nine months with no visitors and barely any food. Sir George Carey, who stood to gain so much, was quietly working to ensure he was never released.
In desperation in October 1577 he wrote to his friend, Thomas Redcliffe, Earl of Sussex, asking to simply be allowed a fair trial. In his letter he blames Grenville for his terrible situation saying, “some good countryman of mine [is] overlabouring with envy and malice.” His pleas went unanswered.
All throughout his imprisonment and later during his trial Tregian was repeatedly told he could save himself if he would just agree to attend the established church with his family. He always refused. The end result was that by Spring 1579 Francis Tregian had been found guilty of all charges at Launceston Castle and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. He also forfeited all his lands and goods. Sir George Carey immediately rode to Cornwall, literally broke down the doors of Golden Manor in the middle of the night and turned Mary Tregian and their children out of the house with nothing.
FUN FACT: One of the treasures of the Kresen Kernow archive is the original document from Queen Elizabeth I granting Sir George Carey the manor of Golden (BU/864). It’s a beautiful document illuminated with a colourful portrait of the queen and a border of flowers and strawberries.
Francis Tregian spent the next 28 years in various prisons around London. His health suffered greatly due to the terrible conditions, while Mary tirelessly campaigned for his release, even petitioned the Queen herself. But Francis was never to see Cornwall or Golden again.
He was eventually given parole in 1601 but had to remain on a kind of house arrest in Chelsea. Then when Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 Tregian saw his chance and left England for the safety of Catholic Spain.
Burial in Lisbon
During much of his time in prison Francis had received money and gifts from King Philip III of Spain who had been moved by his fate and steadfastness to his Catholic faith. So when Francis arrived in Madrid the Spanish monarch arranged a triumphant parade for him through the streets in the Royal Coach. Philip then gifted Francis 60 gold pieces per month for the rest of his life and suggested that he live with the Jesuit fathers in St Roque in Lisbon (Portugal was then part of Spain) where the mild climate might improve his failing health.
Tregian lived quietly there, donating much of the money he received from the King to the local poor and refugees. He died on the 25th September 1608 aged 60. However, that is not quite the end of the story.
Francis had asked to be buried in St Roque church in Lisbon and his body was laid to rest there beneath the flagstone floor. When his coffin was uncovered 17 years later during another burial it was said that his body was entirely “uncorrupted”. This caused quite a stir and thousands of people came to catch a glimpse of the miracle and to lay flowers and light candles. For a while Tregian’s resting place became a site of pilgrimage.
The church authorities decided that Francis Tregian should be reburied, standing up, beneath the preacher’s chair of the marble pulpit “to remind the faithful how he stood up to his queen and for his faith through his long years of imprisonment”.
A plaque marks the spot to this day, it reads:
“Here stands the body of Master Francis Tregian, a very eminent English gentleman who – after the confiscation of his wealth and after having suffered much during the 28 years he spent in prison for defending the Catholic faith in England during the persecutions under Queen Elizabeth – died in this city of Lisbon with great fame for saintliness on December 25th, 1608 [sic]. On April 25th, 1625, after being buried for 17 years in this church of São Roque which belongs to the Society of Jesus, his body was found perfect and incorrupt and he was reburied here by the English Catholics resident in this city, on April 25th, 1626.”
You might be pleased to hear that after Sir George Carey seized Golden from the Tregians things did not go as he had planned. Much of the family’s property was owned jointly by Francis and his mother, Katherine, and over the years she repeatedly sued Carey for the return of her lands. He spent years in expensive litigation.
Eventually Francis and Mary’s son, also called Francis, was able to reclaim Golden in 1613. Sadly the family’s return was short-lived as he too was sent to Fleet prison for being a recusant and because of accusations that he had “borne arms against the friends of Queen Elizabeth”. He died in prison in 1618. Francis Tregian the Younger was a composer though and you can hear some of his music HERE
Cuthbert Mayne was canonised, along with forty other martyrs of England and Wales, by Pope Paul VI on 25 October 1970. A portion of his skull is still held at the Lanherne Convent in St Mawgan.
Golden is a private home and anyone wanting to see it must bear this is mind. All pictures I have included were taken from the public highway that passes the house or of Golden Chapel which also stands beside the road.
The chapel is a wonderful building, thought to date from the Medieval period. Today it is used a barn and although known as a chapel it’s thought that it may actually have been the Wolvedon’s family home until the ‘new’ manor was built in 1537. The upper hall would have been for domestic use while animals would have been kept below.
It is fascinating to think however that this building may have found a use in Cuthbert Mayne’s time at Golden perhaps as a meeting place for Cornwall’s frightened and persecuted Catholic recusants.