More than once I have heard surprise that Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher weren't canonized until 1935-400 years after their deaths. And, if you think about it, the 40 martyrs, at least some of them, waited longer. Why is this?
Several factors contributed. First the cause for sainthood usually starts in the diocese where the prospective saint lived or at least had strong connection to. The Faith was underground in England until sometime (I can't recall when the laws were repealed) in the 19th century-even if the formal persecution has stopped 100 years before. So they all got off to a late start.
Then of course there is the question of whether these Catholics died for the Faith or some political purpose. This was not always a straight forward judgement for the English martyrs. Some of the beatified may have been involved or in contact with (or could be perceived to be involved) with leaders of various "Catholic" rebellions which occurred during the persecutions, for example "Pilgrimage of Grace" and other Northern England uprisings-which may have arisen out of fervor for the Faith, but were armed rebellions. Members of these rebellions were often put to death for their rebellion regardless of their motivation.
Sorting all these things out for all the Catholics who were executed took quite a bit of time-and was the motiviation for Msgr. Ronald Knox's paper on the Theology of Martyrdom (offered in booklet form by Requiem Press ) where he explores this topic in a more general context.
Another point to consider is that because the Catholic view in England was being suppressed, it took some time to get the true story of what happened out to the general world. Especially for the first martyrs (Carthusians, More and Fisher.) This is why Dom Maurice Chauncy -an eyewitness to his Carthusian Brothers' martyrdom - wrote 4 separate accounts over the years while he was in refuge in Europe-to spread the word about what really happened in those early years. It wasn't clear early on that the English Church was breaking away permanently. Thus Thomas More and John Fisher also suffered under these clouds of doubt.
You begin, in 1880 through about 1935, to see many books starting to be published in England (some of whose covers/title pages appear on my first post of the day) about the English martyrs because up to that point, their lives were uncovered ground in books. A few more books (also pictured in my post of the day) appeared around the canonization of the 40 in 1970.
Very interesting and complicated stuff. Thanks to TS for prompting this expansion.
40 Martyrs of England and Wales ... pray for us!
Our Lady of Joyful Hope-Pray for us!