John Payne was a native of the Diocese of Peterborough, but the date of his birth remains unknown. There has been some speculation about his early life, but his first association with Essex seems to have been as a steward to the Shelley family of Stondon Hall. He was ordained at Cambrai on April 7th 1576 and left for England shortly afterwards with St. Cuthbert Mayne.
He acted as chaplain and steward to Lady Petre at Ingatestone Hall and also ministered to catholics in the district. He worked further afield too and is known to have taken lodgings in London. A successful pastor, he was brought to the attention of the authorities and was imprisoned during the winter of 1576-77.
On July 2nd 1581, John Payne celebrated Mass at the house of William Moore at Haddon, Oxfordshire. Amongst the worshippers was George Elliott, the notorious informer. A few days later, Payne was arrested in Warwickshire. On July 4th, he was examined by Lord Walsingham at Greenwich and was committed to the Tower of London. He was subsequently charged under the Statute of Treasons (1352) for having plotted against the life of the Queen. Elliott claimed that Payne had tried to enlist his support. Payne was tortured twice whilst in the Tower, but refused to admit the accusations made against him.
On the night of March 20th 1582, John Payne was taken to Colchester Castle to await trial at Chelmsford Assizes. On March 29th, he was taken to court and charged with treason. A verdict of guilt was returned on the afternoon of March 30th.
Our Icon of Saint John Payne
created by Sister Aloysius McVeigh.
Following several unsuccessful attempts to secure a confession of guilt, John Payne was executed at Chelmsford on April 2nd 1582 - one of 127 priests put to death during the reign of Elizabeth I. He was one of the English and Welsh Martyrs beatified by Pope Leo XIII on December 29th 1886. The process was again resumed under Pope Pius XI in 1923 and Blessed John Payne was included in a smaller group of 40 martyrs proposed by the Bishops of England and Wales and approved by Rome in 1960. The Forty Martyrs were canonised by Pope Paul VI in October 1970.