JOHN BOSTE was born at Dufton, near Appleby, in 1543, the son of NicholasBoste, landowner
of Dufton and Penrith. His mother was Janet Hutton, of Hutton Hall, Penrith, and
his grandmother was a Beaumont of Crogl in, both fervent Catholic families. John
was educated at Appleby Grammar School and Queen's College, Oxford, where he took
B.A. and M.A. degrees, and became a Fellow of his college in 1572. Two years later
he was back in Appleby, to become the first headmaster under the Charter of Queen
John held the headship for four years, and then returned to Oxford. He
had never lost his adherence to the Catholic faith, and the struggle of mind he went
through might be signified by a book found as late as 1970, in the ancient Bainbrigg
Library of Appleby Grammar School, on the sacrifice of the Mass, and the real presence~of
God in the Eucharist. This book, verified by Edgar Hinchcliffe in the Catalogue,
carries the only known signature, °J.Boostii, Iibei'. His allegiance was more open
in Oxford, where he attracted adverse attention, and he soon departed for Douai, in
France, where English candidates were trained as seminary priests.
England was then
a Protestant country, enforced by law, and Catholics were persecuted. John returned
to England to work as a priest. From the start he was a marked man, and was persistently
hunted. He travelled widely in the northern counties, and he and anyone sheltering
him, indeed anyone just hearing Mass, risked death. Nevertheless he maintained his
ministry for 12 years, which was a tribute both to his stamina and his faith, for
most of his fellow priests were taken within days of landing in Britain. It was said
of him that 'if he missed to say Mass one day, it was not his will'.
John was finally
taken in 1593, whilst celebrating Mass at Waterhouses in County Durham, betrayed
by Henry Ewbank, a fellow Applebeian, with w~~in he had shared rooms at Oxford, by
the then Vicar of Washington. Tne President of the Council of the North, Lord Hlintingdon,
was elated by his capure, saying, 'I have bagged the greatest stag in the forest'.
Lord Burleigh exhibited John to Queen Elizabeth, who had expressed a wish 'to see
this insolent fellow'.
Months of cruel imprisonment in the Tower of London followed.
He was racked 17 times, but betrayed no one, and he persisted in his devotion to
the Mass. Finally he was tried at Durham Assizes, and as he hung on the scaffold,
he was taunted with being a traitor to the Queen. Being a Catholic was far more a
political offence than a matter of faith. He replied, 'I never offended her. I take
it upon my oath I never went about to offend her'. He took upon himself the misunderstanding
when politics and religion were intertwined.
In the morning of 23rd July 1594, he
was sentenced and immediately hung, drawn and quartered. The speed of the execution
indicated the fear of public reaction, for a great crowd had assembled from all
over the North, including several hundred women all dressed in black.
400 years, the sacrifice of John Boste and his fellow sufferers was recognised, when
the Forty English and Welsh Martyrs were canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.