Sir Adrian Fortesque was born in 1476 in Devonshire, England. His family was closely related to that of Anne Boleyn. He was a belted knight of blameless life, and a Knight of St. John of Jerusalem. During the difficult years of England’s apostasy from the Church under King Henry VIII, Sir Adrian carefully observed all his responsibilities to be faithful to the Catholic Church and serve the king. He was a man of political importance and was justice of the peace for the county of Oxford; he attended Queen Catherine of Aragon at her coronation. No doubt he was grieved by the havoc wreaked by his cousin, Anne. It was also about this time that he became a Dominican tertiary and began to set his affairs in order, recognizing the perilous times looming ahead.
He was arrested in 1534 and for some time confined to prison, though without notice of the charges, and no reason given for his eventual release. He promptly set about providing for his family of five children and watched with a sad heart as St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were executed.
Four years later, Sir Adrian was once again arrested. This time, the charges announced were “treason and sedition…and having most traitorously refused his allegiance to the crown.” A fine lie, but one that served his enemies’ purposes. Sir Adrian Fortescue was beheaded on July 9, 1539. He was honored from the day of his death as a martyr in England. The Knights of Malta kept that day as a feast for centuries and eventually petitioned for his beatification, which was granted in 1895.
Bl. Adrian Fortescue, pray for us.
Based in part on an excerpt of St. Dominic’s Family by Sr. Mary Jean Dorcy, O.P. (1964).