Born in Lancashire, 1550;
died at Sainte-Ménehould, Lorraine, 29 June, 1585.
Father Edward Rishton was the son of Ralph Rishton, of Ponthalgh2, although it is also said that he was probably a younger son of John Rishton of Dunkenhalgh and Dorothy Southworth1. Was there ever such a difference between father and son - one a profligate, even in those days of loose morals; the other a supreme example of the lengths a man will go in suffering torture for the faith he holds dear. He was, indeed, a martyr for the faith. Born in 1550, he became a student at Oxford from 1568 to 1572, entering Brazenose College, and took his B.A. on the 30th April, 1572.
Soon afterwards he went on the Continent and studied theology at the English College at Douai, entering October 1st, 1573; then went to Rheims, 1576, was ordained priest April 6th, 1577, and appointed to the English mission in 1580, under Father Campion. His career added a glory to his house and a fame to his name far exceeding any other in the annals of his family.
On St. John's Day, 1559, the saying of Mass in England was declared illegal. Death was the punishment of all priests who disregarded the law. Imprisonment and confiscation of their estates were the punishment of those who followed their ministrations. But no law could touch the devotion and fidelity to faith of the old Roman Catholic families of Lancashire.
So closely were they watched that no priest of their faith could be ordained in England, nor could a subject leave the country without the permission of the Sovereign. Roman Catholic families of standing, however, contrived to have their sons sent abroad to be educated at Douai, which had been founded by Cardinal Alien, a Lancashire man. The College at Douai was the predecessor of Stonyhurst, and provided for the English Roman Catholics education for their sons impossible to obtain in England. The little band of priests received their " marching orders " in March, 1580. The night before they commenced their journey to England, a father had written over the door of Campion's cell the words " Father Edmund Campion, martyr."
While a student he drew up and published a chart of ecclesiastical history, and was one of the two sent to Reims in November, 1576, to see if the college could be removed there. After his ordination at Cambrai (6 April, 1576) he was sent to Rome. In 1580 he returned to England, visiting Reims on the way, but was soon arrested. He was tried and condemned to death with Blessed Edmund Campion and others on 20 November, 1581, but was not executed, being left in prison, first in King's Bench, then in the Tower.
To show the difficulty of the task and the determination of these Englishmen, they had resort to the device of being brought across in barrels, and when their comrades were enabled to release them, after making the passage, they were " more dead than alive " from the rough handling they had undergone, as well as from the cramped condition of their bodies.
London became too hot for them, and being provided with horses, money, and changes of disguise, by the aid of the Catholic gentry, the various members of the band bade one another " good-bye." Each set out on his separate mission, full of danger and peril, accompanied by a trusted squire, who served as guide. They entered, for the most part, the homes of some trusted family, as acquaintance or kinsfolk of some person living in the house, and when that failed, as passers-by or friends of gentlemen who accompanied them. They had apartments in some retired part of the house, with a secret hiding place in case of need. Then, putting on their priest's dress, which they always carried, they had secret conference with the local Catholics as might conveniently come. Next morning they had Mass, and the Blessed Sacrament ready for such as wished to communicate, and after that an exhortation. They then departed to some other place, unless they were able to prolong their stay with safety.
Naturally, Father Rishton would make his way into Lancashire to carry on his work in the district he knew so well. He would be of the utmost assistance to his leader, Father Campion, when he paid his visit to Lancashire. When Father Campion reached Lancashire he preached assiduously, people of high station passing the night in barns to secure a place to hear his morning sermons. All appear to have been attracted not so much by his wonderful eloquence as by the earnestness of the man.
While staying at one place in Lancashire, the pursuivants were on their track, and they would have seized Father Campion if a maid servant, in a pretended fit of anger, had not pushed him in a miry pond. The mud served as an effective disguise. When Father Campion returned to the south, Edward Rishton remained behind to minister to the people in the district. There were numerous influential families of the old faith : Towneley's of Towneley, Southworths of Samlesbury, Walmsleys of Dunkenhalgh, Grimshaw's of Clayton Hall, Birtwistles of Huncoat Hall, and Rishtons of Ponthalgh and Mickleheys. Spies abounded everywhere, and the notorious Sledd, the informer, seems to have given a description of Father Rishton to the authorities soon after his arrival in England, while on a visit to one of the homesteads. He was seized and imprisoned in the Gatehouse prison of the Tower of London. He was led there with his arms pinioned behind his back, and his hands tied, his feet being fastened beneath his horse's belly. In this fashion he was dragged along, with several others, through the streets of- London, an object of scorn until the fatal Tower received its victim.
Here Edward Rishton remained, having tasted the horrors of the rack, until Tuesday, November 14th, 1581, when he was brought to trial in Westminster Hall. This grand old hall, the scene of some of the greatest trials in English history, saw Fathers Campion, Cottam, Bosgrave, Sherwin, Kirby, Johnson, and Edward Rishton, along with Ortor, a layman, brought before the grand jury. When the indictment was read, Father Campion, the spokesman for the party, protested before God and His Holy Angels their innocence of any treason. When called upon to plead, one of them had to hold up their leader's arm, made helpless by the rack. Four others who had been captured were added to their number the next day. On the 20th November they were all condemned to death.
When the hideous sentence was pronounced, the prisoners made the oaken rafters ring with a jubilant Te Deum, and the chorus of praise and joy that arose from the dock astounded and touched the vast throng assembled in the hall. All the condemned were executed, " hanged, drawn and quartered " at Tyburn, with the exception of four, among whom was Edward Rishton. He remained in prison in the Tower of London for four years. Here he wrote a diary which is still extant, and is a valuable source of information. He describes the sufferings of his fellow-prisoners, notably of the Blessed Thomas Cottam and Alex. Bryant.
" Suddenly, one day in 1584 "-to quote from his own words-" expecting nothing of the sort, we were, by the Queen's orders, commanded to be put on board ship at the Tower Stairs and carried over to France. We were compelled against our will to land on the coast of Normandy, and not long afterwards fifty others followed us into exile. We were all expressly threatened with the pains of death if ever we returned to our own country."
On 21 January he was exiled with several others, being sent under escort as far as Abbeville, whence he made his way to Reims, arriving on 3 March. Shortly afterwards, at the suggestion of Father Persons, he completed Sander's imperfect "Origin and Growth of the Anglican Schism". With the intention of taking his doctorate in divinity he proceeded to the University of Pont-à-Mousson in Lorraine, but the plague broke out, and though he went to Saint-Ménehould to escape the infection, he died of it and was buried there.
Edward Rishton died in exile of fever at Pont-a-Morrison, in 1585, on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, after having-endured terrible sufferings for the faith of the Church he held so dear, William Rishton, a younger brother of Ralph, went to live on the estate of Micklehey, in Rishton, but after the death of his brother's sons, without issue, he became heir to the principal estate of Ponthalgh. He died in 1589, and from an indenture dated January 11th of that year it may be gathered that among other things concerning the estates " there are means for the reparation of the Manor house, called Ponthalgh, and the mill called Ponthalgh Mill."
Dodd in error ascribes his death to 1586, in which mistake he has been followed by the writer in the "Dictionary of National Biography" and others. After his death the book on the schism was published by Father Persons, and subsequent editions included two tracts attributed to Rishton, the one a diary of an anonymous priest in the Tower (1580-5), which was probably the work of Father John Hart, S. J.; the other a list of martyrs with later additions by Persons.
Recent publication of the "Tower Bills" makes it certain that Rishton did not write the diary, and his only other known works are a tract on the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism (Douai, 1575) and "Profession of his faith made manifest and confirmed by twenty-one reasons".
William was succeeded by his son Ralph, who died in 1624. He in turn was succeeded by his eldest son, William, who recorded his pedigree in 1664, and had twelve children. He was living in Preston in 1678, he and his son being" outburgesses in 1662 and 1682. The Walmsleys of Dunkenhalgh purchased the estates in 1659, and the name of Richard Walmsley, of Ponthalgh, occurs in the Hearth Tax returns of 1681. It would appear that the Rishtons finally left Ponthalgh for Preston, on account of the part they took on the King's side in the Civil War, when they compounded for their estates and eventually had to part with them.
2 Rishton Parish Church Jubilee 1927 by Carlton Noble.