CHAPTER ONE: An Excerpt from the Beginning of “The Recusant: A Life of St. Margaret of York”, written by Rev. Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese

The Past is Prologue

Below the fugitive moon, the moors of Yorkshire kept vigil.

The March air had an unusual sweetness about it. Springtime could be sensed in the nighttime warmth, pregnant with expectation. Buds had already been seen, ready to blossom. The townspeople spoke of this signaling the approaching miracle of grace. In the distance, an ominous counterpoint. Dogs barked and howled. The bright, shy moon sought the sanctuary of clouds.

Margaret stood on her toes to see the night outside her cell window. Filled with joy to overflowing, she languorously walked from the barred window as one in love. It was the eve of the Annunciation, when earth had been wedded to heaven. She sighed. Rather than having a million thoughts running through her mind, as she imagined would be the case on her last night of earthly life, she was haunted or, perhaps better said, comforted by the presence of her father, dead many years. His genial air, even when he complained of the gout, made her smile.

The old matron, Mrs. Yoward, who was ordered to spy on her throughout the night, had long since begun to snore outside her cell door.

Margaret walked to her pallet and picked up the white frock she herself had made to shield her nakedness at her execution. She removed her dress and in the pale moonlight, pouring in through the small window, she walked, nude, into the center of her cell. She put on her death smock. It was of the purest white linen and reached to the stone pavement. At the wrists were the white ribbons that were meant to be tied to the stakes driven into the ground to hold her in place. This was her own invention.

The moonlight, emerging from another passing cloud, intensified its beams on her. Like a bride prepared for her husband.

The coming horror had not registered fully. Her heart was full with a love that was inexplicable, harsh and inviting at the same time.

A moment of cutting pain swept through her. She touched her womb and held her breath tensely as she caressed in her mind’s eye the little child she carried.

Does she really have this obligation? Surely Judge Clench could have put this off till after she brought her child to term. It is a measure of the savage state to which things had fallen. This question of religion.

Elizabeth the Queen , who could have saved her and probably would have, was asleep, many miles to the south, ensconced in her bed and in her determination to settle once and for all this challenge. Civil War was to be avoided at all costs, even at the price of a few English lives.

Margaret thought of her Queen and prayed for her. But her thoughts kept returning to her husband and her children. The memory of their last embraces felt so real that she could feel their warmth. She remembered her husband John being removed from the courtroom because of his loud sobs. They told her later how he continued weeping outside like a woman. Poor, dear, clumsy, honest John.

Many were surprised and put off by all the trouble she was causing. It was highly unseemly for a woman to take such a stand. She should have obeyed her husband, her Church, her Queen. It was the curse of Eve, they said.

But it was the poor and simple people who began to talk of relics and to have ready in a prominent place in their homes the cloths which they would use to soak up some of her blood. They knew the price she was paying and grieved for their own lack of courage.

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