Henry Morse

One of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales

Henry Morse was born in 1595, a Protestant in the English county of Suffolk, the son of Robert Morse, a minor landowner.  When he was 16, Henry went to study law at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and continued at Gray’s Inn, London. His father died in 1614, and he went to join his brother, William, who was studying to be a priest. Morse converted to Roman Catholicism at The English College, Douay. He returned to England to settle some financial arrangements and was arrested at Dover for refusing to take the Oath of allegiance and confined to Southwark jail.

Morse remained jailed with several other priests for four years until King James I of England ordered amnesty and banishment for about 100 priests.  King James did this to help arrange a Spanish marriage for his son Prince Charles. Morse returned to Douai in August 1618 and was sent to the English College in Rome to continue his studies. While there, he used the alias “Henry Claxon” to his from the King’s spies.  

He was ordained in Rome and left to return to England on June 19 June 1624. Morse was assigned to assist the Jesuits at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  Later that year there was an outbreak of plague. Morse and others helped nursed the sick. In 1625, he was arrested again and sent to the Newcastle jail and to York Castle.  While there he again tended the sick. He completed his novitiate under his fellow prisoner, Father John Robinson.  He took simple vows as a Jesuit. After three years in prison he was banished from the country.  He served as a missionary to the English and Irish soldiers attached to the Spanish army.

At the end of 1633, he returned to England. In 1635 plague returned on boats from Flanders. Morse himself became ill while nursing the sick, but recovered. After that he worked with John Southworth, raising funds for food and medicine. He was arrested yet again on February 27, 1636.  He was imprisoned in Newgate. On April 22, 1636, he was brought to court and charged with being a priest and having withdrawn the king’s subjects from their faith and allegiance. He was found guilty on the first count, not guilty on the second.  His sentence was deferred. On April 23, 1636, he made his solemn profession of the three vows to Father Edward Lusher. He was released on bail for 10,000 florins,  about $5,500 today, on June 20, 1637, at the insistence of Queen Henriette Maria. He voluntarily went into exile when the royal proclamation was issued ordering all priests to leave the country before April 7, 1641, and became a chaplain in the service of Spain.

In 1643 he returned to England; arrested after about a year and a half he was imprisoned at Durham and Newcastle and sent by sea to London. On January 30, he was brought to court again, and condemned to death for his previous conviction. On February 1, 1645, his hurdle was drawn by four horses.  The French ambassador attended with all his suite, so did the Count of Egmont, and the Portuguese Ambassador. Morse was allowed to hang until he was dead. At the quartering, the footmen of the French Ambassador and of the Count of Egmont dipped their handkerchiefs into Morse’s blood

Venerated from December 8, 1929, and beatified on December 15, 1929, he was named one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970.