Tuesday, 24 November 2009


In November of 1678, Fr David Lewis S J was living in a cottage adjoining the Blacksmith’s at Llantarnam. He had been living at Llantarnam Abbey with his Aunt, Lady Frances Morgan, but, with the turmoil fomented by the Oates’ Plot, he had moved out in an attempt to protect his relatives.

Fr Lewis continued to minister to the Catholics of the area. On Sunday, 17th November, early in the morning, he was preparing to celebrate Holy Mass when a party of six armed dragoons arrested him. William James, a lapsed Catholic and former servant of Fr Lewis, joined Roger Seys and William Bedloe in leading the dragoons to apprehend the Jesuit. For this despicable act of betrayal, James was paid the sum of £220 – the Government reward of £20 for the apprehension of a priest and the additional £200 offered by the arch priest hunter, John Arnold. The priest was to be taken to Monmouth Gaol but first the group stopped at the house of Charles Price at Llanfoist. Here, three Justices of the Peace, Charles Price, John Arnold and Thomas Lewis, awaited them.

At about 2 o’clock that afternoon, Fr David Lewis, mounted on horseback, was led away from Llanfoist by Arnold and his henchmen. Guarded by twelve armed men, the priest was then taken to his hometown, Abergavenny. It being Sunday, the streets of Abergavenny were swarming with people. The contingent entered the Golden Lion on Frogmore Street where, in a guarded upper room, Fr Lewis was examined by the Recorder of Abergavenny, William Jones. The avaricious and vengeful William James swore that he had seen Fr Lewis say Mass at least twenty times. Fr Lewis was asked if he had played any part in the Titus Oates Plot and the priest swore on oath that he had no knowledge of or part in any plot. Arnold, showing his contempt for all things Catholic, sarcastically remarked that with Catholics, it was no oath to swear on the Bible. Arnold and Price had previously appeared to be friends of Fr Lewis and, curiously, now treated him with a certain degree of courtesy, although Arnold was not above making course remarks to the priest, at one point calling him the “pretended bishop of Llandaff”. The four now adjourned to the dining room, a large room where they had supper together. Fr Lewis, committed on a charge of Treason, was given the choice of spending the night at the Golden Lion, in a guarded room, or of being the guest of John Arnold at his home in Llanvihangel. Arnold assured the priest that he would be “most civilly entertained”. David Lewis left the decision to the others and it was decided that he should spend the night at Llanvihangel Court.

Fr David Lewis and his captors left the Golden Lion at about 10 o’clock that night. It was a moonlit night and a large crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of the Jesuit prisoner as the party rode off into the night. Many in the crowd would have known Fr Lewis for he had grown up in the town and, as a priest, had ministered to the Catholics there. It would have been between 11 o’clock and midnight when the men reached Llanvihangel Court. Llanvihangel Court was a fine Elizabethan mansion that had been home to several generations of Arnolds. The defenceless priest spent the night here in a room guarded by two “strong men”.
(This recent photograph of Llanvihangel Court shows the main door of the house. This is not the original entrance. To the left of the window and at about the same height as the top of the window, one can clearly see in the brickwork where the original doorway was. On the night of his arrest, St David Lewis would have been brought in through this original doorway.)

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