Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tunstall, Thomas

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TUNSTALL or HELMES, THOMAS (d. 1616), Roman catholic martyr, was collaterally descended from the Tunstalls of Thurland Castle, who subsequently moved to Scargill, Yorkshire. The family remained staunch Roman catholics, and several of its members entered the Society of Jesus, adopting Scargill as their name (Douai Diaries, passim). Thomas was probably born at Kendal, being described in the Douai registers as ‘Carliolensis’ and ‘Kendallensis.’ He was matriculated under the name Helmes at Douai on 7 Oct. 1607, was ordained priest in 1609, and sent as missioner to England in 1610 (ib. pp. 19, 34, 287). He was a secular priest, not a jesuit, and subsequently made a vow to enter the Benedictine order. Shortly after his arrival in England he was arrested, and he spent four or five years in various prisons, the last of them being Wisbech Castle. From this he escaped by means of a rope, but cut his hands severely, and applied to the wife of Sir Hamo L'Estrange, who was skilled in dressing wounds. Her suspicions of his identity were raised, and she mentioned the matter to her husband, a justice of the peace, who ordered Tunstall's arrest. He was conveyed to Norwich to stand his trial at the quarter sessions, was condemned to death for high treason on the testimony of one witness who is said to have committed perjury, and on 13 July 1616 was hanged, drawn, and quartered on the gallows outside Magdalen Gates, Norwich. His head was, at his own request, placed over St. Bennet's gate. A portrait of Tunstall was given by Canon Raine to Stonyhurst College (Raine, Depositions from York Castle, p. 44). Two of Tunstall's nephews—William (1611–1681), rector of Ghent; and Thomas (1612–1641)—were well-known Jesuits (Foley, Records, vii. 784–5).

[Exemplar Literarum a quodam sacerdote collegii Anglorum Duaceni … de Martyriis quatuor eiusdem collegii, Douai, 1617; Histoire véritable du martyre de trois prestres du collège de Douay, Paris, 1617; Blomefield's Norfolk, iii. 366; Dod's Church Hist. ii. 382; Foley's Records S. J., v. 690–2, vii. 784–5; Challoner's Modern Brit. Martyrology, 1836, ii. 64–8.]

A. F. P.