Felton, John (d.1570) (DNB00)

FELTON, JOHN (d. 1570), catholic layman, was descended from an ancient family in Norfolk. He was a gentleman of large property, and resided at Bermondsey Abbey, near Southwark, Surrey. His wife had been maid of honour to Queen Mary, who just before her death recommended her to Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, Elizabeth held her in great respect, for they had been friends and companions in childhood, and on this account Mrs. Felton was favoured with a special grant to keep a priest in her house. When Pius V published the bull of excommunication and deprivation against Elizabeth, Felton obtained copies of it from the Spanish ambassador's chaplain, who immediately left the kingdom. Felton published the bull in this country by affixing a copy to the gates of the Bishop of London's palace between two and three o'clock of the morning of 15 May 1570. The government, surprised at and alarmed by this daring deed, at once ordered a general search to be made in all suspected places, and another copy of the bull was discovered in the chambers of a student of Lincoln's Inn, who confessed, when put to the rack, that he had received it from Felton. The next day the lord mayor, the lord chief justice, and the two sheriffs of London, with five hundred halberdiers, surrounded Bermondsey Abbey early in the morning. Felton, guessing their errand, opened the doors and gave himself into their custody, frankly admitting that he had set up the bull. He was conveyed to the Tower, where he was placed on the rack, but he resolutely refused to make any further confession.

He was arraigned at Guildhall on 4 Aug. 1570, and on the 8th of the same month was drawn on a sledge to St. Paul's churchyard, where he was hanged in front of the episcopal palace. He said that he gloried in the deed, and proclaimed himself a martyr to the papal supremacy. Though he gave the queen no other title than that of the Pretender, he asked her pardon if he had injured her; and in token that he bore her no malice, he sent her a present, by the Earl of Essex, of a diamond ring, worth 400l., which he drew from his finger. His body was beheaded and quartered, ‘and carried to Newgate to be parboiled, and so set up, as the other rebels were.’

Felton was low of stature, and of a black complexion; naturally of a warm temper, and almost ungovernable where the interest of his religion was concerned. His plate and jewels, valued at 33,000l., were seized for the queen's use. He was beatified by decree of Pope Leo XIII, dated 29 Dec. 1886.

‘The End and Confession of John Felton, the Rank Traytor, who set up the traytorous Bull on the Bishop of Londons Gate. By J. Partridge,’ published at London, 1570, is reprinted in Morgan's ‘Phœnix Britannicus,’ p. 415, and in Howell's ‘State Trials,’ i. 1086. ‘The Arraignment & Execution of Iohn Felton, hanged and quartered for treason in Paules Churchyard; Aug. 8,’ in verse, 1570, 8vo, was licensed to Henry Bynneman (AMES, Typogr. Antiq. ed. Herbert, p. 970). Felton left a son Thomas (1567?–1588), who is separately noticed.

Manuscript account of Felton by his daughter, Mrs. Salisbury, quoted in Dodd's Church Hist. ii. 151; Kennett MS. 47, f. 68; Circagno's Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ Trophæa, pl. 30; Strype's Aylmer, p. 34; Strype's Annals, iii. Append. pp. 107, 198, fol.; Strype's Parker, p. [450] fol.; Sanders's Anglican Schism, p. 316; Camden's Annales (1635), p. 126; Bridgewater's Concertatio Ecclesiæ Catholicæ, ii. 42; Stow's Annales (1615), p. 667; Fuller's Church Hist. (Brewer), iv. 368; Yepes, Hist. de la Persecucion de Inglaterra, p. 289; Ames's Typogr. Antiq. (Herbert), pp. 931, 1039; Stanton's Menology, p. 386; Lingard's Hist. of England (1849), vi. 224; Tablet, 15 Jan. 1887, pp. 81, 82.]

T. C.