Thursday 20 May 2010

The notorious Richard Topcliffe - Queen Elizabeth's 'interrogator'

Richard Topcliffe, infamous hater of priests, torturer of many historical figures known and lesser known such as Jesuit Robert Southwell, John Gerard and Henry Garnet, Swithun Wells, Edmund Gennings and Polydore Plasden. 
Richard Topcliffe features in many films about the lives of the English Martyrs especially 28 year old priest Polydore Plasden who was tortured and eventually hanged at the infamous triple Tyburn tree despite the attempted intervention of Sir Walter Raleigh. He also hunted poet and priest St. Robert Southwell with a grim determination to see the young man executed for his missionary spirit.

Screenshot from our 2015 film about Saint Robert Southwell
Showing Richard Topcliff in the Tower of London
© Mary's Dowry Productions 2015

"A veteran in evil".

Richard Topcliffe also interrogated Ben Jonson in August 1597 in investigations into Jonson's suppressed play, The Isle of Dogs

Mary's Dowry Productions is a Catholic film production apostolate based in England. 
Selected films have been broadcast on SKY, BBC1 and EWTN. 
Many films featuring Topcliff are available on DVD through
In our films Queen Elizabeth's priest hunter, who oversaw the executions of the above Martyrs, as well as many others, is covered well.

 In 2007 Mary’s Dowry productions created a new form of film media to present the lives of the saints. Mary’s Dowry Productions recreates stunning silent visuals, informative, devotional narration, and original contemplative music that touches your spirit to draw you into a spiritual encounter with the saint. Watch with your spiritual eye, listen with your spiritual ear. Our films seek to offer a window into the lives of our saints. Using your spiritual senses we invite you to shut out the world, sit prayerfully and peacefully and go on a journey of faith, history and prayer with our Saints and Martyrs.
Richard Topcliffe on Wikipedia:
Richard Topcliffe (14 November 1531 – 1604) was a landowner and Member of Parliament during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. He became notorious as a priest-hunter and torturer and was often referred to as the Queen's principal "interrogator".

Topcliffe entered the service of the Queen's secretary, William Cecil in the 1570s, and worked for Sir Francis Walsingham and the Privy Council. However, he regarded his authority as deriving directly from the Queen.

Topcliffe was a fanatical persecutor of Catholics and the Catholic Church, and was involved in the interrogation and torture of many priests and laity, at a time when all Catholics were accused of actively seeking to overthrow the ruling Anglican establishment of England in order to return England to Catholicism.
Richard Topcliffe during the trial of St Robert Southwell
Screenshot from our film 'St. Robert Southwell'
© Mary's Dowry Productions 2015

Topcliffe gained a reputation as a sadistic torturer who frequently played mind games with prisoners under interrogation. He claimed that his own instruments and methods were better than the official ones, and was authorized to create a torture chamber in his home in London. He also involved himself directly in the execution of sentences of death upon Catholic recusants, which involved hanging, drawing and quartering.

Topcliffe arrested Polydore Plasden and Edmund Gennings during a secret Mass at St. Swithun Wells' house in Gray's Inn Lane. On the day of their execution, Richard Topcliffe rode first to the gallows especially erected outside Swithun's house, where he was so enraged by the 24 year old Fr. Edmund Gennings that he had the ladder turned quickly so that Gennings hung and then ordered the executioner to cut him down not a moment later so that when the executioner cut out Gennings' heart, Edmund was still alive.

 Swithun was cheerful as he stepped up to die for his faith and told Topcliffe to hurry up and that he should be ashamed to keep an old man waiting in his shirt in the cold. Topcliffe waited until he had seen Swithun hanged and then rode fast to Tyburn where Eustace White and Polydore were to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Sir Walter Raleigh insisted that Polydore Plasden hang until he was dead before he was disembowelled, but Eustace suffered the same fate as Edmund Gennings and was alive when they disembowelled him.

These Martyrs dealt face to face with a great persecutor of Catholicism in Elizabethan England and showed great courage and determination to the very end.
Individual films on these Martyrs are now available through Mary's Dowry Productions
(our online shop):

Our films seek to offer a spiritual encounter with our Saints and Martyrs in the context of history and faith.

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