John Payne was born at Peterborough in 1532. He was a man when he went to the English College at Douai in 1574, He served there as an accountant and was ordained as a priest by the Archbishop of Cambrai on April 7, 1576.
On April 24, 1576, he left for the English mission with Cuthbert Mayne, another priest. Mayne headed for his native South West England, Payne stayed with Anne, widow of Sir William Petre, and daughter of Sir William Browne. Sometimes he stayed with Lord Mayor of the City of London, in Essex. His house was a priest hole, for hiding. He also stayed in London. Payne passed as a steward of Lady Petre. Shortly after he arrived, he helped George Godsalve or Godsalf, revert back to Catholicism. Godsalve, was in the diocese of Bath. He had earned a degree at Oxford and had been ordained a deacon in the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary. Payne sent Godsalf to Douai, where he arrived on July 15, 1576, to prepare for the Catholic priesthood
Payne was arrested at Ingatestone and imprisoned early in 1577 but was soon released. He went back to Douai that November. From there he returned to Ingatestone before Christmas, 1579.
Early in July 1581, he and Godsalf were arrested in Warwickshire while staying on Lady Petre’s estate After being interrogated by Walsingham, they were committed to the Tower of London in July 14. Godsalve spent several years in prison, after which he was released from the Marshalsea in September 1585 and banished, dying in Paris in 1592.
Eliot earned a position in the Petre household and then embezzled money. He charmed a young woman and asked Father Payne to marry them. Father refused. Eliot then tried to take revenge on Father Payne.
Payne was racked on the Council’s orders on August 14, and again on October 31. On March 20, 1581/2 he was abruptly woken, taken from his cell half-dressed and delivered by the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Owen Hopton. Payne was indicted at Chelmsford on March 22 on a charge of treason for conspiring to murder the Queen and her leading officers and install Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne. Payne denied the charges. He affirmed his loyalty to the Queen in all that was lawful, and not against Catholicism or the Pope, He contested his honesty of Eliot. No attempt was made to corroborate Eliot. The guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion.
At his execution on Monday, April 2, nine months after his imprisonment, he was dragged from prison to the place of execution. He prayed on his knees for almost half an hour and then kissed the scaffold, made a profession of faith, and declared his innocence. Reinforcements had been sent from London to help the execution run smoothly. Lord Rich called upon him to repent of his treason, and Payne denied it again. A Protestant minister then shouted a claim that years ago Payne’s brother had admitted to him Payne’s treason. Payne said that his brother was and always had been an earnest Protestant but would never swear to such a thing. Payne asked that the brother, who lived there be brought, but he was not found in time and the execution continued. Payne’s turn came. The crowd had become so sympathetic to Payne that they hung on his feet to speed his death and prevented the infliction of the quartering until he was dead.
John Payne was one of the groups of prominent Catholic martyrs of the persecution who were later designated as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII, on December 29, 1886, and was canonized along with the other Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI on October 25, 1970.