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When Bloddy Mary died in 1558, her sister Elizabeth came to the throne and resumed Protestant reforms.. This prompted the Pope to declare that she was his enemy and that any Catholic to assassinate her would go straight to Heaven. In Elizabeth’s England, Catholics were not merely heretics, but traitors - probably in league with the arch-enemy Catholic Spain. From 1585, no Catholic priests were allowed in England.


The Babington Plot was organised by the Catholic Anthony Babington and his friends to remove Elizabeth from the throne and make the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots the Queen of England. But the plot was uncovered by Elizabeth’s spy- master Sir Francis Walsingham in 1586. First to be arrested was Father William Weston, a Jesuit Catholic Priest, whose efforts to convert Protestants included the exorcism of demons. He was held in a private house near The Clink from the beginning of August until mid-September, left to wonder what would become of him, while the interrogations, tortures, trials and executions of many of his friends took place. Weston was transferred to The Clink itself where, unbe-knownst to him, an agent of Lord Burghley named Anthony Tyrell attempted to gain evidence against him. Eventually Weston was interviewed by a clerk of the Privy Council, mostly about the exorcisms, but he was never brought to trial.

In January 1588 he was moved to Wisbech Castle, the prison for notable Catholics in Cambridgeshire, where he was kept in isolation for the first four years. 10 years later he was taken to the Tower and locked in solitary confinement for the next five years. He suffered from insomnia, headaches, increasing blindness, loneliness, and quite possibly also mental illness. In 1603 Weston was allowed to go into exile. He spent his final years living in Italy and Spain. He wrote an autobiography, describing his imprisonment, and died 1615.


The Jesuit Father John Gerard was arrested in 1594, and was held in The Clink before being taken to the Tower, where he refused to answer questions. Gerard was twice tortured by being hung in manacles, but he later escaped - by swinging along a rope across the moat! He is one of only 39 escapers over the Tower’s 900 year history, all the more remarkable, when we consider the strain his arms had been put to during his torture.

The most infamous torturer was Richard Topcliffe, a brute and a braggart, who entered Queen Elizabeth’s service in 1570 and was interrogating with a zeal that surpassed mere sadism for the rest of the century, torturing well into his sixties. He boasted that he kept at his house a torture engine of his own design that made the rack ‘seem like child’s play’. John Gerard described him as ‘old and hoary and a veteran in evil’.

Unofficial torture almost certainly took place in The Clink, but since torture without royal warrant was illegal, records were never made (let alone kept!). However, mistreatment that left no visible marks was considered torture, so sleep deprivation, stress positions, or extreme cold were widely used and a man like Topcliffe knew just how far he could bend what rules there were.

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