"Heroes of America Series,"

--William Penn,"

Part II

From Foxe's Book of Martyrs


William Penn's worthy and renowned uncle, George Penn, was well known to his nephew, so that his sufferings for the faith he had in Jesus, suffered in the Spanish Inquisition, did not go unheeded and surely greatly influenced his own character and career in living a Christian life in America.

We today know little about the Spanish Inquisition--what a terrible, truly demonic agency of persecution it was, employed by the Roman Catholic church to root out Christians and Muslim Moors, and Jews, then make them recant their religious beliefs and turn Roman Catholic--if they refused, they were imprisoned (their money, houses, and lands confiscated), tortured, and killed. It was done to tens of thousands of evangelical Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Begun by an arch-zealot of the Roman Church, it was designed to protect the Roman Catholic Church from unbelievers living secretly in its midst, and it grew to become a kind of religious KGB, spying on everybody, hounding all who did not come out openly in favor of Roman Catholicism, and committing all sorts of outrages and atrocities with the sanction and on the authority of special dictatorial Inquisitional courts which held no possibility of mercy for those charged and brought before it for trial and sentencing.

If possible, read Doestoevski's "The Grand Inquisitor," and the chilling depiction of a man dedicated to death and torture of "infidels" will be a haunting one for you, rendered by one of the world's greatest writers and delineators of twisted and tormented human psychology.

The horrific instruments of torture have been preserved, and it is said they inspired Hitler in his persecution and torture of the Jews of Germany. Horror films even of Hollywood today would not be able to picture adequately what actually went on in thousands of torture chambers run by the Spanish Inquisition (and the Inquisition had organizations in many other Roman Catholic countries as well, operating with the same merciless ferocity and disregard of all humane feeling and thinking).

Notwithstanding the record of this organization, George Penn was a merchant of means, and did not fear falling into the hands of the Inquisitors, as he married a Catholic lady of Antwerp and settled in the south of Spain. Probably, being a most cultured and civilized English gentleman (expecting to be treated accordingly by Spanish gentlemen of his station in life), he thought he was immune to persecution by virtue being married to a Catholic lady. He was dead wrong.

As an English Protestant, he was closedly scrutinized by the local Inquisitors, wherever he resided, in Sevuille, Cadiz, Malaga, and San Lucar.

Knowing he was being watched, he was careful not to give any offense. But he grew rich, being an industrious man of business, and this must have provoked the greed of the Inquisitors, for despite his blameless life they went after him with a secret warrant and broke into his home, carrying him away, while seizing all his wealth and possessions.

His Catholic wife was dragged off too, to a place he did not know, while George found himself in a completely dark dungeon eight feet in diameter. He was given a loaf of bread and a jug of water, then left alone. For seven days nothing else. Then another loaf of bread and jug of water. This went on until he was reduced to a skeleton.

He could not send any message out, or receive one. After a month masked Inquisitors came and seized him, stripped him naked, and tied him and gave him fifty merciless lashes with a powerful whip. Every month this flogging was repeated, until his whole body was one great festering sore. All this time he was told nothing of the charge against him. After three years he was brought to trial before seven judges, who accused him of various crimes and heresies--particularly accusing him of trying to seduce his Catholic wife from her Catholic faith.

He pleaded not guilty. But instead of producing witnesses, the judge ordered him tortured in the judges' presence until he confessed the truth of the charges. He was put on the rack and, after four hours of agonies suffered on it, he gave way and offered to confess the truth of the charges, thus giving up all his property to them since no convicted felon could hold his property from the confiscation of the state.

This did not satisfy the judges, who put him back on the rack, and added more tortures until he declared because of brutal force that he would live and die a Catholic, and would defend Roman Catholic faith at the risk of his life, against every enemy, to the end he would submit to be burnt to death if his confession proved untrue.

Once this oath was given by George Penn, he was cut down from the rack, and put on a hurdle and taken back to his dungeon.

When he could walk again, he was taken in a grand, solemn procession, accompanied by the judges and a vast multitude, and presented before everyone in the cathedral as prime evidence of the great mercy of the Holy Inquisition. His wife was taken from him and forcibly married to a Catholic man, and the whole of his estate, amounting to $12,000 pounds (which would make him a millionaire in today's money), was taken by the authorities. He was finally commanded to leave the country in three months, or he would be killed.

Everyone knew, especially the sentencing judges, that the moment he stepped forth from the cathedral he would be re-arrested, for the debts incurred either before or during the imprisonment and trial, debts he would now have no means of paying.

Yet the public humiliation of George Penn in the cathedral was witnessed by several English residents of Seville. They sent word to his brother, who was an admiral in the British Navy presently sailing at the head of a fleet in the English Channel. Instead of appealing to Lord Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan dictator ruling England after his overthrow of the English monarchy, which would have taken valuable time in Cromwell's bureaucracy to get resolved, he seized a Spanish nobleman, Juan de Urbino, then on his way to Flanders, where the nobleman held the post of secretary to the Spanish government.

He stripped his hostage naked, held him prisoner, and treated him with indignity. This act was indefensible in itself, but it had the calculated effect: The Spanish king took the clear meaning of this brutal act of George Penn's brother and soon released the wreck of a man named George Penn, and he was sent back to England.

Cromwell died before George Penn could be reimbursed for his monetary losses in Spain, but in the Restoration of the English Monarchy that followed under King Charles, George Penn was appointed envoy to the court of Spain [a terrific irony, and signalling a complete reversal of fortunes, meant no doubt to goad the Spanish to rage and remind them of their outrage against an innocent English citizen, and that England's king had shown all necessary and ample proofs that he had taken up George Penn's cause in so great a way].

This act of justice came too late, unfortunately. George Penn's body was so torn and his bones so dislocated, his health so ravaged by years of starvation, he died in London only a few weeks after receiving the royal appointment, leaving his claims of restitution as a legacy to his brother the admiral and his family.


"Heroes of America," Part III, William Penn

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