The Peal of York (2007)





Director:     Sr. Mary Elizabeth MICM. 

Starring:      Erin McFarland (Margaret Clitherow),  Mike McFarland (John Clitherow),  Jane McGuire (Ann Clitherow),  Anthony Fill (Henry May),  Ben Urban (Ralph Hurlestone),  Matthew Dion (Demund Bunney),  Tony Pliccio (Judge John Clench),   Matthew McNeal (Giles Wiggington),  Kathy Rock (Mrs. Yoward),  Gregory McNeal (Brian Stapleton),  Gregory McNeal (Sheriff Fawcett). 

Margaret Clitherow, first woman to die for her religious beliefs following the start of the Reformation



Spoiler Warning: 

Margaret Clitherow prays. 

Stapleton is the teacher of the village.  He says that the ancient church was disestablished by King Henry VIII.  The "old" church went underground.

Margaret's father tells his daughter that he doesn't understand her.  Why doesn't she go to church?  These are troubled times.  Engleby, a Jesuit priest, is a wanted man with a price on his head.  Margaret's daughter Ann comes to say good night to her grandfather.  Grandfather continues talking about religion.  He says there is a mystery woman who repeatedly goes to a certain place in the dead of the night.  Grandfather thinks that this mystery woman is most likely his daughter.  He tells his daughter that "they" are watching and that she has to be careful.  "They know who comes and goes." 

Ann speaks with teacher Stapleton.  She wants to learn French.  Stapleton says that would only be possible if she agreed to be tutored in Latin.  Ann will go along with that as long as she can learn French.  Stapleton tells her mother that her daughter has agreed to be tutored in Latin.  Ann doesn't like him boldly telling her mother, but mother is surprised and very pleased.  She had been trying to get her daughter to learn Latin. 

Margaret sends a message to someone.  The message is that Dr. Allen's patient is ill and confined to an upper room. 

Master Hurlestone, a member of the Council, tells John Clitherow to bring his wife to church.  John makes light of the issue.  He says:  "Catholics don't confess.  They're all saints."  But, he says, the Catholics are no better than the Protestants.  "The so-called gentry are out and out scoundrels."  These remarks make Margaret mad at her husband.  John talks to her in private and Margaret tells him that what he was saying was slander.  She adds:  "When you say these things, it drives a wedge between us." 

John tells her there is a rumor about the guild law.  Margaret thinks the Council is always busy passing laws.  At least, she believes, the Council can't harm him, but John says they can take his money.  And speaking of money, he tells Margaret that last year she cost him a fortune.  Margaret gives money to religious refugees.  He tells her that Will Testament now attends the English church.  They broke him, so he joined.  John tells his wife that he hopes they will leave Will Testament alone now and, hope to God, they leave Margaret alone.

Margaret gives some food to Mrs. Grey. 

Ann asks the teacher to come with her to the Shambles.  Stapleton says he cannot come. 

The alarm goes out.  Someone from the Council is coming to the Clitherrow house.  Stapleton says this means that Margaret is in danger.  He goes on to say that if they arrest Margaret, they arrest him.  Margaret urges him to go and completely avoid this possibility.  He goes. 

A Reverend Wiggington comes to the house.  He says he is stopping to pay his respects to Margaret.  He is in the area because he is on a personal errand that is also a religious matter.  Wiggington talks to Margaret about lost sheep.  Margaret says in this story:  "I am the lost sheep."  Wiggington asks her to come to church with him?  Margaret says no.  For her:  "There is only one church."  The reverend looks over her record and says that she has spend time in jail on three different occasions.  Wiggington says he's sympathetic to Margaret because he too "languished in prison", in his case for following the teaching of John Calvin.  Calvin, the reverend says, preaches that salvation is assured.  Margaret responds:  "I seek no new doctrine."  She grows weary of all the questions the reverend asks her and she tells him:  "No more questions.  Good night, Mr. Wiggington."

Margaret gives a big sigh. Her father comes in to tell her about a dispatch from London.  It is now a felony of death if one harbors a priest.  Margaret responds that his is a cruel law.  And she asks her father how could she break faith with these men?  "I cannot", she says. Dad says:  "Very well then, hang, hang, hang."  He has a question for his daughter:  "Do you think you can defy the Council forever?"   He warns his daughter that if she chooses to go down this road of hers, she will have to go alone.  "I can't protect you."

Guild Hall, City of York.  Hurlestone says to Mr. Bunney that they have a problem with a woman who shelters heretics.  And this goes on, despite the fact that virtually everyone warns her of the possible consequences. Hurlestone wants to make this woman conform.  One of their missions, after all, is to rid this country of Popery.  Bunney says the woman took this step on her own even though she has no learning.  Hurlestone has one key question for this woman.  Will she die for her faith?

Sheriff Fawcett searches the home of Margaret and find items used in Catholic religious ceremonies.  Someone says they should have gotten rid of the evidence.  Stapleton tells Margaret that the refugee Flemish boy "talked" to the Council.

Bunney tells Margaret that she had traitors in her house, therefore she has offended.  She also refuses to take the oath.  Furthermore, she does not accept the queen of England as head of the church.  He goes on to say that she "has been seduced by these Roman clerics."  Bunney also says that she has changed, that her opinions have become more extreme.  Bunney starts asking her to interpret certain key passages from the Bible.  Margaret again becomes weary and pleads that she cannot answer these hard questions.  So Bunney gets to the point:  "You shall be indicted." 

Margaret is in jail again.  Mrs. Yoward is placed in the cell with her.  Yoward says that she's in here for money problems.  She owns 30 pounds to Mr. Richards.  Mrs. Yoward now asks Margaret why was she arrested?  She says she heard some talk and men were mentioning something about doctrine being the problem.     

John Clitherow comes in to visit.  He too was confined for awhile.  Mrs. Yoward moves elsewhere.  He tells his wife that he will be banished from the city until the trial of Margaret is over.  John says the children are safe.  The Council has already picked a jury.  Will Testament will be on the jury.  Margaret is upset that she might have be tried by a jury.  She says that the jury has to find her guilty in order to keep the Council happy.  She says she wants to be tried by people she doesn't know.  She also tells John that she needs his support.  Sheriff Fawcett comes in to say that it is time for John to go.  John protests that he just got here. He tells his wife that he will be going to Darlington. John starts to leave, while his wife tells him that he can't leave like this without a proper goodbye.  He comes back and Margaret hugs him. 

Margaret appears before the Council.  Hurlestone and Bunney  represent the Council and John Clench is the judge.  The jury is not present.  It has been sequestered.  One of the charges against Margaret is that she received a priest. The judge ask her if she is guilty of the offenses against her?  Referring to the jury and the Council she says:  "I will be tried by none but God."  Since she has rejected the legitimacy of the court, she is barred from having a trial by jury.  Margaret is so grateful for not having to be tried by a jury and this surprises the Council somewhat.  They ask if Margaret will put herself to the country?  She keeps saying she is only answerable to God.  The penalty of the law is death.

The judge discusses the case with Hurlestone and Bunney.  He says he can condemn her by the Queen's law.  If condemned, she will have weight put upon her for a period and on the third day she will be pressed to death.  They try to reason with Margaret. They ask her why she is just going to cast her life away?  And what about the impact on her own children and on her husband?  They indicate that they are very willing to exercise mercy. 

The three men discuss the case with each other.  Bunney says he considers Margaret a heretic.  Judge Clench says that he doesn't want to send Margaret to her death. 

Margaret's father comes to visit.  He tells her that she must bend on her stand.  She has to give them some symbolic act wherein mercy can be applied.  Margaret won't do it.  She asks her father if they would dispense with the oath for her?  Probably not.  Dad says:  "Then die like a common criminal."  Margaret defends Catholicism to her father, but he says that as far as he is concerned , this is suicide to throw her life away.  Dad is going to leave mad.  Margaret does not want him to leave this way, but her father tells her:  "You don't need me.  You have your faith."  He leaves.

Mrs. Yoward tells Margaret that she has lots of admirers.  Rev. Wigginton comes in and asks Margaret if she would like to hear a sermon.  Margaret says yes, but only if she can chose the preacher.  No, she can't.  So Margaret says no.  In her defense she says:  "I am no martyr, but I believe if I persevere, I will be saved."  She is now informed that the stay of execution will expire on Friday at 10 a.m.   She will then be put to death. 

Early in the morning the sheriff comes in.  It's time for Margaret to wake up.  Margaret asks Mrs. Yoward if she will come with her, but her friend says that she cannot watch her be killed.  The time of the carrying out of the sentence comes near.  She is told that she must confess that she dies because of treason.  She defiantly says:  "No, I die for the love of my Lord Jesus Christ."  She goes to her death. 

At home Ann cries for her mother.

Margaret Clitherow was executed March 25, 1586 at the age of 33.  She was buried by a dung hill.  Six weeks later her friends moved her grave and the location is still unknown.  John Clitherow remarried and became a prominent citizen of York.  Ann Clitherow was jailed for her religion.  In 1596 she fled to France and joined a convent.  She died in 1622.  Francis Engleby, the priest, was convicted of treason and executed. 


I found this short film to be interesting.  I felt very bad that they were going to kill Margaret Clitherow just because she was a Catholic in a land of Protestants.  Thank goodness for our separation of church and state. Modern viewers, except for religious bigots, naturally feel sympathetic to Margaret.  Why is it the business of the state what religion Margaret practices?  She was a good person and was later made a saint by the Catholic church.  And yet they killed her. 

I liked the film, but my wife was too bothered by the problems besetting the film to stick with it.  She went back to reading her book.  There are definitely problems with the film.  There are technical problems with the sound with noticeable gaps of lost sound.  The film at times appears choppy because of the nature of the film cutting.  Oh, and almost all the actors are very young, so a young daughter can look older than her teacher.  This does take a bit of overlooking.

It's an important film.  Religious intolerance is still a big problem in the world and religious bigotry should always be condemned.  So I overlook the many problems of the film and focus in on the fate of the determined Catholic Margaret Clitherow. 

(I recognize that Elizabeth Queen of England faced the possibility, probably remote, of the overthrow of Protestantism and the bringing back of Catholicism.  There were Catholics intent on killing the Queen and important Protestants.  In situations like these, many evils are committed and justified by those who feel threatened by a certain religion.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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