December 21st : Venerable Thomas Bedingfeld ,SJ


Born: 1617
Died: Dec 21, 1678
Declared Venerable in 1886

Thomas Bedingfeld, whose family name was Downes, was born in Norfolk, England at a time when Titus Oates and Israel Tonge were plotting to destroy the Jesuits out of hatred for the Society. He went to study at the English College in Saint-Omer, Flanders when he was about thirteen as it was impossible for him to receive a Catholic education in England at that time. In 1636, he went to the English College in Valladolid, Spain but returned to Flanders a year later to enter the Society in 1639 when he was twenty-two years old. After his noviate in Watten, Thomas went to Liege for his philosophy and later to Pont-a-Mousson in Lorraine for his theology. He was ordained in 1645 in Watten where he was treasurer for several years. Later he was assigned as the minister of the college in Liege, and later as spiritual father and vice-rector in Ghent. Then, he became his province’s procurator in Brussels before returning to England in 1670, twenty-five years after his ordination.

Fr Thomas used his mother’s name Bedingfeld in England. He was assigned as chaplain and confessor to the Duke of York, King Charles II’s Catholic brother. At Windsor Castle, Fr Bedingfeld received a packet of five forged letters sent supposedly from the Jesuit provincial and other London Jesuits but in actual fact sent by Oates and Tonge. The letters contained information that the king’s assassination should be carried out at the first convenient opportunity and that this information should be kept from the Duke. The evil Oates and Tonge had arranged for these forged letters to be intercepted and thus the “popish plot” was made public.

When Fr Bedingfeld first saw these letters at the Windsor Post Office which were addressed to him, he took them and was surprised that the letters were poorly written in an unfamiliar hand. He knew they could not have been written by his superior and fellow Jesuits. He realized immediately that they were false and took them to the Duke, who in turn, passed them to the King who acknowledged that he had heard of the plot but assured the Duke that the letters were forgeries and that Fr Bedingfeld had no hand in the scheme. Fr Bedingfeld later took them to his provincial, Fr Thomas Whitbread who immediately sensed that a new persecution of the Society was imminent and his fear was founded.

King Charles however yielded to popular fury and parliamentary pressure and allowed the 61-year old priest to be arrested and taken to Gatehouse prison on November 3, 1678 and to be interrogated by the Privy Council. Fr Bedingfeld’s health was already poor and it was aggravated by the unhygienic prison conditions. He died on December 21, 1678 before the trial commenced. Fr Thomas Bedingfeld was declared Venerable by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.