The trial of Cuthbert Mayne began on September 23rd 1577. Mayne had trained as a Catholic priest and came to Cornwall in 1575. At Golden, near Probus, he found a place in the house of Francis Tregian. The Tregians were originally tin merchants and shipowners in Truro and had acquired the estate at Golden through marriage. Marriage links also forged an alliance with the influential Arundell family of Lanherne.
Both the Arundells and the Tregians were prominent Catholic families. The Arundells had kept their heads down during the 1549 rising and afterwards. On Elizabeth I’s accession in 1558, the laws against those refusing to attend the Church of England, taking mass and generally being Catholics were re-imposed. But leniency was the name of the game and the Arundells and Tregians prospered. For a time.
However, in 1570 Pope Pius V decided to excommunicate Queen Elizabeth. Cornish families like the Arundells and Tregians now faced a dilemma. Did they support their monarch and give up their religion or stick with their religion and follow the pope? The authorities began to monitor their activities more closely as tensions rose between England and Catholic Spain. Religious differences also provided an opportunity for their opponents. A.L. Rowse argued that Richard Grenville in particular, ‘hot-tempered, determined, energetic, harsh’, was out for revenge against Tregian for the latter’s role in curbing privateering and because of personal jealousy. In the summer of 1577 Grenville, now Sheriff, descended on Golden with other magistrates and up to 100 men. Cuthbert Mayne and Francis Tregian were taken.
Mayne was accused and found guilty of high treason for his loyalty to the pope. In November of 1577 he was executed at the marketplace in the centre of Launceston. As a traitor he was hanged, before being drawn and quartered. Some claimed that he was cut down from the gibbet before he was unconscious, his head striking the scaffold and losing an eye on the way down. The butchery complete, his head was stuck on the castle gate at Launceston. His quarters were dispatched to decorate the towns of Barnstaple, where he had been born, Bodmin, Wadebridge and Tregony, the town nearest to Tregian’s house at Golden.
Meanwhile, Tregian stubbornly refused to renounce his religious views and come into line. For his pains he was imprisoned at first in Launceston Castle in deplorable conditions with other criminals but then in relatively comfortable lodgings in London. It was 28 years before he was released.