Catholic World – Edmund Campion

Saint Edmund CampionIn the spring of 1580, Elizabeth being then queen of Great Britain, and England being in the midst of the turmoil which accompanied the final establishment of Protestantism as the religion of the realm, two expeditions set out from Rome, to restore the faith in the British isles. One consisted of two thousand armed soldiers, enlisted as a sort of crusaders, and animated by the papal blessing and the promise of indulgences, not to speak of the visions of worldly glory and profit which even soldiers who fight under consecrated banners are apt to find alluring. The other was composed of less than a score of missionaries, Jesuits, secular priests, and others, whose most enticing prospect was one of martyrdom. The soldiers were to land in Ireland and help the rebellion of the Geraldines. The missionaries were to penetrate in disguise into England, and exercise the ministry of the proscribed and persecuted faith in the secrecy of private houses and hidden chambers.

Looking at the history of those times in the light of subsequent experience, it seems hard to account for the policy which could imperil not only the lives of the missionaries, but the cause of the church, by complicating the peaceful embassy of the priests with the mission of war and insurrection. For it was no secret that the troops came from Rome, and that large subsidies from the Roman treasury were sent with them. Associated with them, too, went an eminent ecclesiastic. Dr. Saunders, with the functions of a legate. We must remember, however, that the accession of Elizabeth had never been popularly acquiesced in. Her legitimacy had never been generally acknowledged. Her reign thus far had been a series of rebellions. The party which opposed her had a fair title to the character of belligerents, and the continental powers which espoused their cause were only doing what, by the customs of the age, they had a perfect right to do. The pope had issued a bull, excommunicating the queen, absolving her subjects from their oath of allegiance, and even forbidding them to obey her; and although he had afterward so far modified the bull as to permit the English people to recognize her authority, rebus sic stantibus, “while things remained as they were,” he had never ceased, in conjunction with other European powers, to promote attempts in Ireland and elsewhere to overthrow her and place the Queen of Scots upon the throne. At this distance of time, with a line of successors to ratify Elizabeth’s title to the crown, and the fact of their failure arguing against the insurgents, it is easy to condemn the papal policy; but we must remember that affairs bore a different aspect then; that Elizabeth’s right to the throne was open to question; and that the Catholic faith which she was striving to suppress was still the faith of a large majority of the English people.

We have little to do, however, with this Irish expedition. It was a miserable failure, and its only effect was, to aggravate the sufferings of the Catholics and expose the missionaries to increased danger. Our purpose in this article is rather to trace the history of the more peaceful and strictly religious embassy, so far as it bore upon the life of the illustrious martyr from whom it derives its chief renown.

Edmund Campion, the son of a London bookseller, was born on the 25th of January, 1539, (O. S.,) the year which witnessed the commencement of the English persecution, of which he was destined to be a victim, and the solemn approval of the Society of Jesus, of which he was to be the first English martyr. At Saint John’s College, Oxford, where he was educated and obtained a fellowship, he was so much admired for his gift of speech and grace of eloquence, that young men imitated not only his phrases but his gait, and revered him as a second Cicero. It was the year after he obtained his fellowship that Queen Mary died and Elizabeth succeeded to the throne. The new sovereign allowed but a few weeks to pass before she manifested her preference for the Protestant doctrines; yet there was no attempt at first to force the heresy upon the university of Oxford, her Majesty wisely trusting to the insidious influences of time, persuasion, and high example to bring the students and professors over to her views. It is no great wonder, perhaps, that Campion, intoxicated by the incense of adulation and enervated by the worldly comfort of his position, shut his eyes to the dreadful gulf of heresy into which the English Church was drifting, and seemed hardly to realize the necessity which was being forced upon him of choosing between God and the queen. He was not required for some years to take any oath at variance with his fidelity to the church. So he gave up the study of theology, to which he had hitherto devoted himself, and applied his mind to secular learning. He was a layman, and controversy might be left to the priests. When he took his degree in 1564, he was induced to subscribe to the oath against the pope’s supremacy, and by the statutes of his college he was also compelled to resume the study of divinity; yet he still managed to stave off important questions and to confine his reading to the old settled dogmas which had no direct bearing upon the questions of the day.

The time came, at last, when the theological neutral ground had been thoroughly explored, and Campion turned to the Fathers. In their venerable company he seemed to grow more thoughtful and conscientious. The problem of his life now was not how he could postpone serious considerations, and shake off religious responsibility, but how he could reconcile true principles with false practice; how he could remain in the Established Church of England, and yet hold to all the old Catholic doctrines which the Establishment denied. His position, in fact, was almost identical with that of the modern Tractarians, and his college at Oxford was the home of a party which entertained nearly the same opinions. There was one of the Elizabethan bishops, Cheney of Gloucester, who, having retained a good deal of the orthodox faith, sympathized heartily with Campion’s aspirations and perplexities. He was the actual founder of the school represented in later times by Newman and Pusey, and he had fixed upon Campion to continue and perfect the work after he himself had passed away. The bishop persuaded our young scholar to take deacons’ orders, so that he might preach and obtain preferment. But the effect of this step upon Campion was such as Cheney little anticipated. Almost immediately troubles beset his mind. He found his new dignity odious and abominable. The idea of preferment became hateful to him. He wished rather to live as a simple layman, and in 1569 he resigned his appointments at the university and went to Dublin, where it seemed that a more agreeable career awaited him. A project was then afoot for restoring the old Dublin university founded by Pope John XXI., but for some years extinct. The principal mover in the matter was the Recorder of Dublin and Speaker of the House of Commons, James Stanihurst, a zealous Catholic, and the father of one of Campion’s pupils. In his house Campion received a generous welcome, and there he remained for a while, leading a kind of monastic life, and waiting for the opening of the new seminary, in which he hoped to find congenial employment. The scheme fell through, however, and the chief cause of its failure was the secret hostility of the government to Stanihurst, and the Lord-Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, who were most actively concerned in it, and to Campion, who was to have the principal share in its direction. Campion was not yet reconciled to the church, but he was already distrusted as a papist, and only saved from arrest by the protection of Sidney. Such protection, however, could not avail him long. The rebellion of some of the English Catholic nobles, the publication of the pope’s bull against Elizabeth which Felton had posted on the Bishop of London’s gates, and the designs of the king of Spain upon Ireland, had roused a persecution, and Campion was one of those especially designated to be arrested. The Lord-Deputy found means to warn him a few hours before the officers arrived, and he saved himself by flight. For two or three months he dodged the pursuivants about Ireland, lurking in the houses of his friends, and working, in the intervals of the pursuit, at a History of Ireland, which he had begun while lodging with Stanihurst. At last, seeing that he must soon be captured if he remained on the island, and fearing to compromise the friends who gave him shelter, he resolved to return to England, and accordingly, in the disguise of a lackey, took ship at the little port of Tredagh, near Dublin. The officers came on board to search for him, and questioned everybody on the vessel except the fugitive himself. They seized the manuscripts of his history, and then went away, cursing “the seditious villain Campion.” He reached England in time to witness the trial of Dr. Storey, who was executed for the faith in June, 1571. We are told nothing of the progress of his conversion after he left Oxford, but by this time it was complete, and he had resolved to repair to the English college at Douai, there to fit himself for more effective labors in the Catholic cause. In mid-channel the ship in which he had taken passage was overhauled by an English frigate, and Campion, having no passport, and being, moreover, suspected and denounced by his fellow-passengers as a papist, was taken off and carried back to Dover. The captain appropriated all his prisoner’s money, and then set out to conduct him to London. It was soon evident, however, that the officer cared more for the purse than the captive; and without a word being said on either side, Campion understood that he might run away provided he said nothing about the money. This was enough. He escaped in one direction while his guard pretended to pursue him in another; and having obtained a fresh supply of money from some of his friends, succeeded at last in making his escape over to France.

He staid long enough at Douai to complete his course of scholastic theology and to be ordained sub-deacon. After the lapse of a little more than a year, he resolved to go to Rome with the purpose of becoming a Jesuit. His biographers generally attribute this determination to the remorse which he still felt on account of his Anglican deaconship; but Mr. Simpson is inclined to lay rather more stress upon a disagreement between Campion and Dr. Allen, the president of Douai College, upon political questions. The friendly and even affectionate relations of these two eminent men were never interrupted; but Dr. Allen had many opinions which his disciple could not share. Campion, devoted as he was to the church and the Holy See, was always loyally obedient to the civil powers of his native country, save when the laws were in conflict with his conscience. Allen, who had been many years in exile, was a devoted servant of Philip of Spain, and was thick in the plots for the overthrow of Elizabeth and the various schemes for foreign invasion. It is not impossible that a divergence of sentiment on some such point as this may have influenced Campion’s decision, if not wholly, at least in part. However it was, the two friends bade each other an affectionate farewell, and the future martyr, in the guise of a poor pilgrim, set out afoot for Rome. In shabby garments, dusty and footsore, he entered the holy city in the autumn of 1572, only a few days before the death of Saint Francis Borgia, third general of the Society of Jesus. A successor to the saint was not chosen until April, 1573, and meanwhile Campion had to wait. He was the first postulant admitted by the new general. Father Mercurianus, and soon afterward he was sent to Brünn in Moravia to pass his novitiate. In a letter which he wrote to his brethren there, after he had taken his vows, we find a pleasing picture of the humble and happy life which he spent in that retreat. “O dear walls!” he exclaims, “that once shut me up in your company! Pleasant recreation-room, where we talked so holily! Glorious kitchen, where the best friends—John and Charles, the two Stephens, Sallitzi, Finnit and George, Tobias and Gaspar—fight for the saucepans in holy humility and charity unfeigned! How often do I picture to myself one returning with his load from the farm, another from the market; one sweating stalwartly and merrily under a sack of rubbish, another under some other toil! I have been about a year in religion, in the world thirty-five; what a happy change if I could say I had been a year in the world, in religion thirty-five!”

There is something very touching and instructive in the record of his first years in the Society of Jesus; and the chroniclers of his order, who reckon it among the chief glories of the brotherhood in Bohemia that the English martyr received his religious training among them, and taught them at the same time by his illustrious example, have set down that record with careful and affectionate minuteness. How the man whom Oxford had revered as a guide was content in a moment to become the humblest of pupils; how he by whom the young nobility of England had set the fashion of their thought, their reading, their elocution, their very walk and manner, was happy in the privilege of being allowed to put on a dirty apron, roll up his sleeves, and scour saucepans in the scullery—these are the chief points in the story of his life at Brünn, and afterward at Prague, whither he was sent to teach rhetoric. It is a strange life to read about, yet it probably differed little from the ordinary life of his brethren in religion, and hundreds of Jesuit houses to-day exhibit no doubt the same model of industry, devotedness, and humility. For a certain number of hours daily he was in the class-room; when his pupils went to play, he went to wash dishes in the kitchen. He was called upon for poems, orations, and sacred dramas, to celebrate the college festivals; for funeral discourses on the death of great persons. He taught catechism to the children; he visited the hospitals and prisons; he preached; he heard confessions; he spent incredible pains in preparing the young Jesuits for the work of disputing successfully with heretics when they should be sent out to their various fields of duty. His brethren were amazed that any one man should have strength to carry so many burdens. He seems, however, to have borne up well under them. “About myself,” he writes to Father Parsons, “I would only have you know that from the day I arrived here I have been extremely well—in a perpetual bloom of health, and that I was never at any age less upset by literary work than now, when I work hardest. We know the reason. But, indeed, I have no time to be sick, if any illness wanted to take me.” It was while Campion was thus occupied at Prague, that Sir Philip Sidney, who had known him at Oxford, came over from England as ambassador. The young nobleman had many an interview with his old friend, and seems to have awakened in Campion a strong hope of his conversion—a prospect to which his friends and political associates were by no means blind; for they watched him so closely that the interviews between the ambassador and the Jesuit were not managed without a great deal of difficulty. Campion writes to one John Bavand, commending “this young man, so wonderfully beloved and admired by his countrymen,” to the earnest prayers of all good Catholics. He saw what an effect upon the faith in England the conversion of a nobleman of Sidney’s brilliant parts and distinguished position must have, and the re-establishment of the faith in his native island was something which he had especially at heart. His letters are full of anxiety on this score. He speaks of catching and subduing his recreant countrymen “by the prayers and tears at which they laugh;” but we find no political allusions, and it is plain enough that, in the various schemes for Catholic insurrections and for foreign invasions, he had neither share nor heart. He had been between five and six years at Prague when he was summoned to Rome to take part in the mission about to be sent forth for the conversion of England. The little band of heroes comprised Dr. Goldwell, Bishop of Saint Asaph, who had long been residing on the continent, several English secular priests, old men who had been in exile, and young men fresh from their studies, a few zealous laymen, and three Jesuits, Campion, Parsons, and a lay brother named Ralph Emerson. To assist them in their labors, collect alms for them, and find safe hiding-places, a Catholic Association had just been organized in England by George Gilbert, a young man of property, whom Father Parsons had converted in Rome the preceding year. The Jesuits were furnished with a paper of instructions for their guidance.

Father Parsons was a younger man than Campion, and had been a shorter time than he in the Society; yet there were good reasons why he should be appointed the superior in the mission. He was not only zealous and devout, but he had a good knowledge of men and affairs, he was well versed in the ways of cities; he was adroit, versatile, and prudent; and he was somewhat familiar with the schemes of the pope and other Catholic powers against the government of Elizabeth. A knowledge of these secret designs would have been but a sorry safeguard had he fallen into the hands of the authorities of the crown, and the consciousness must have heightened his sense of the danger incurred in the expedition; but Parsons had all the courage of a martyr, though he did not win a martyr’s crown. The party left Rome on the 18th of April, 1580, and were not more than fairly started on their journey when the English Secretary, Walsingham received from his spies a full description of them and a list of their names.

Passing through Geneva, they resolved to have an interview with Theodore Beza; and the account of it gives a curious picture of the state of society in those times, and of the manner in which theological controversy mingled with the ordinary affairs of life. The travellers made no secret of their religion, though they disguised their persons and calling. Campion dressed himself as an Irish servant, waiting on Mr. John Pascal, a lay gentleman of their party, and the only one who failed in the final day of trial. Sherwin, one of the secular priests, used to relate with uncontrollable merriment how naturally Campion played his part. Beza, under one pretext or another, got rid of them as politely as possible, and promised to send to their inn an English scholar of his, the son of Sir George Hastings. Instead of young Hastings, there came his governor, Mr. Brown, and a young Englishman named Powell, and we have a strange account of the priests disputing hotly in the streets of Geneva with the two Protestants until almost midnight, and challenging Beza to a public controversy, with the proviso that he who was justly convicted in the opinion of indifferent judges should be burned alive in the market-place! Powell had known Campion at Oxford, so the soi-disant servant kept out of his sight, and when the former gentleman offered to accompany the missionaries a little way on their road next morning, Campion was sent forward in advance. But meeting on the road a minister studying his sermon, the temptation was too strong for the enthusiastic Jesuit, and he buckled with him at once. The rest of the party came up while they were still at it, hammer and tongs, and Powell recognized Campion, and saluted him with great affection. After that, the missionaries made a pilgrimage of eight or nine miles over difficult paths to Saint Clodovens in France, by way of penance for their curiosity.

We have said that Parsons was privy to some of the political expeditions against England; but he had no knowledge of the one which set out about the same time that he did, and the news, which he learned on his arrival at Rheims, filled him with dismay. The queen had issued a proclamation which plainly indicated a purpose to proceed against the Catholics with increased severity, and the peril of the undertaking had become greater than ever. It does not appear, however, that one of the company faltered. Dr. Goldwell had been obliged to turn back and defer his voyage—which, indeed, he never made at all; but others joined the mission, and among them was a fourth Jesuit, Father Thomas Cottam. At Rheims, the party broke up to find their way across to England by different routes. Campion, Parsons, and Brother Ralph Emerson were to go by way of Saint Omer, Calais, and Dover. Parsons crossed first, disguised as a soldier returning from the Low Countries, and in his captain’s uniform passed inspection so easily and was so well treated by the searcher at Dover that he bespoke that officer’s courtesy for his friend, “Mr. Edmunds, a diamond-merchant,” who was shortly to follow him. He reached London without trouble; but his dress was outlandish, and people were unusually fearful and suspicious, so he was turned away from the inns. He knew of a Catholic gentleman, however, who was held in the Marshalsea prison for his faith, and he applied to see him. Through him he was brought into communication with George Gilbert and the Catholic Association, who had apartments in the house of the chief pursuivant, where up to this time, thanks in part to the connivance of influential friends, they had managed to have a daily celebration of Mass.

Father Parsons had induced the friendly searcher at Dover to send over a letter for him to “Mr. Edmunds,” at Saint Omer, bidding him make haste to London with his diamonds, and Campion, as soon as he received it, set out with Brother Ralph. But, in the mean time, the English officers had grown more strict; the searcher had been reprimanded for letting certain persons pass who were supposed to be priests; and there was a report, moreover, that a brother of Dr. Allen was coming over, and his description agreed pretty well with Campion’s appearance. The two Jesuits were accordingly arrested and taken before the mayor; but they were dismissed after a short detention, and the next day were welcomed by the association in London.

This pious club was such an admirable illustration of the truth that the salvation of souls is not the exclusive duty or privilege of the priesthood that we may spare a moment from our survey of Campion’s life to glance at its history and character. The missionary career is open to all. Members of religious orders, secular priests, men of the world, soldiers, lawyers, shop-keepers, doctors, laborers, farmers, the beggars on the street, the fashionable lady in her carriage—we can all do something for the advancement of the great cause; and if we only knew how to systematize our efforts, how to economize our zeal, the Catholic Association of Campion’s day is an evidence of the enormous service we might render to the church. The founder of the association, George Gilbert, had been anxious, immediately after his conversion, to expend his first fervor in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; but Father Parsons persuaded him rather to return to England and spend his money there in advancing the Catholic cause. He drew together a number of young men of his own rank in life and with somewhat of his own spirit. They hired rooms together; they bribed officers whose vigilance they could not elude; they gave shelter to priests; they furnished places for the celebration of Mass; they kept the Catholics in communication with each other; they supplied the missionaries with money; and they organized the tours which the priests made through the country. The Catholics were beset with spies, and the government held out strong inducements to weak brethren to betray their pastors. It was necessary, therefore, that the priests should be extremely cautious to whom they trusted themselves; and since they could not carry credentials, it was necessary, too, that the gentlemen who harbored them should be quite sure whom they were receiving. This perfect intelligence could only be obtained by a thorough organization of the Catholic gentry; and it was not the least part of the duty of the association to see that, whenever a priest travelled, some one should be with him as at once an endorser and a guide. It was their part, likewise, to undertake the preliminary work of converting heretics. In those fearful times a doubting Protestant could not be admitted to see a priest until he had given some evidence of the sincerity of his search after truth. The members of the club took him in hand first, and brought him to the priest when they felt it to be safe.

When Campion reached the asylum of their rooms in London, Parsons had already gone on a tour in the country, leaving word for his companion to await his return. There was a great desire among the Catholics who had learned of the arrival of the missionaries to hear the famous preacher with whose eloquence years ago Oxford had resounded, but it was no easy matter to find a place where he might speak in safety. At last, arrangements were made for a sermon in the servants’ hall of a private house, and there, while trusty gentlemen watched all the avenues of approach, Campion delivered a discourse with which all the Catholic circles of London were soon ringing. The faithful and the wavering rushed to him in crowds. The government got wind of what was going on, and redoubled their exertions to entrap him. Several priests were captured, and many Catholics were thrown into prison. The danger of remaining in London soon became too pressing to be disregarded. So, after a council had been held, several questions of discipline settled, and each man’s special work assigned, the priests all went away to different parts of the kingdom.

The pursuit was much hotter after Campion than after any of his brethren, and it was intensified by the imprudence of a Catholic layman who had allowed a document entrusted to his care by the missionary, to be made public. This was a paper drawn up by Campion on the eve of the separation of their little company, setting forth the reasons of their coming to England, and inviting the Protestants to a public conference. It was intended to be used only in case he should be arrested; but Thomas Pounde, to whom, for greater surety, he had given a copy, thought it too good to be kept entirely secret, and thus it soon came to the hands of the government. This, of course, increased their anxiety to capture a man whom, by his personal influence, his eloquence, and his still brilliant reputation at Oxford, they felt to be especially dangerous. Proclamation followed proclamation; the pursuivants were unceasing in activity; spies were sent into every quarter of the kingdom; some of the Catholics themselves were corrupted; watchers were set about the houses of the principal Catholic gentlemen. Many a time was the Mass or the sermon interrupted by the coming of the officers and the priest compelled to take refuge in the woods. Once, when the pursuivants came upon him suddenly at the house of a private gentleman, a maid-servant, to make them think he was merely one of the retainers, affected to be angry with him and pushed him into a pond. The disguise was effectual, and the good father escaped.

All this while he was engaged in writing his famous book against the Protestants, known as the Decem Rationes. It was finished about Easter, 1581, and sent to London for the approval of Parsons, who had a private printing-press in a hidden place, whereat he had already published certain writings of his own. By great efforts a number of copies were got ready for the commencement at Oxford in June; and when the audience assembled at the exercises, they found the benches strewed with the books, to the reading of which they gave far more attention than to the performances of the students. The title-page bore the imprint of Douai, but the government was not long in ascertaining by the examination of experts that the work had been done in England.

Campion had gone to London while his book was passing through the press, to superintend the correction of the sheets; but the danger was now so imminent that Parsons ordered him away into Norfolk, in company with Brother Ralph Emerson. The two fathers rode out of the city together at daylight on the 12th of July, and, after an affectionate farewell, parted company, the one going to the north, the other back into the town.

The Judas who was to betray him, however, was on the alert. This was one George Eliot, formerly steward to Mr. Roper in Kent, and latterly a servant of the widow of Sir William Petre. He was a Catholic, but a man of bad character, and had been for some time a paid informer to the Earl of Leicester. How he knew of Campion’s visit to Lyford is not certain; but he had been looking for him at several Catholic houses in the neighborhood, and on the 16th, armed with a warrant and attended by a pursuivant in disguise, he presented himself at the gate just as Mass was about to begin, and applied for admission. One of the servants knew him for a Catholic, but little suspected his real character; so with much ado he got leave to pass in, having first sent off the pursuivant to a magistrate for a posse comitatus. He heard the Mass, he heard Campion’s sermon; but he was afraid to make the arrest until the magistrate arrived. As soon as the service was over, he hurried off. The company—comprising some sixty persons besides the members of the household—were at dinner when word was brought that the place was surrounded by armed men. After a long search, Campion and three other priests were found concealed in a closet, and taken prisoners.

The prisoners were carried up to London and committed to the Tower, making their entrance into the city through the midst of a hooting mob, Campion leading the procession with his elbows tied behind him, his hands tied in front, his feet fastened under his horse’s belly, and a placard on his hat, inscribed “Campion, the seditious Jesuit.” The governor, Sir Owen Hopton, at first placed Campion in the narrow dungeon known as “Little-ease,” in which one could neither stand nor lie at length. He remained there until the fourth day, when, with great secrecy, he was conducted to Leicester’s house, and courteously received by the earl and several other persons of mark, and shortly found himself in the presence of the queen. He gave a truthful account of his motives in coming to England; he satisfied Elizabeth, as it would appear, of his loyalty; and could he have accepted the conditions proposed to him, he might have been dismissed with honors and riches. As it was, Hopton received orders to treat him more leniently. It was now the purpose of the government to coax him into compliance.

Failing to shake his constancy, the next thing was to destroy his reputation. It was given out that he was on the point of recanting; that he had betrayed his friends; that he had divulged the names of the gentlemen who harbored him. To give color to these charges, a great many Catholics were arrested, in consequence, it was said, of Campion’s confession. For a while these infamous charges, fortified with plausible confirmation, were generally believed; but it was soon ascertained that the betrayal had been wrung from some of Campion’s companions on the rack. To render the missionary contemptible, it was thought necessary to answer his challenge for a public disputation in some way or another, and a large number of the most eminent Anglican divines were appointed to meet him in a public hall and discuss the chief points of controversy. They had all the time they wanted to prepare, free access to libraries, and every possible favor. Campion was not informed of the arrangement until two hours before the assembly opened. Then, with his limbs still smarting from the torment of the rack, he was placed in the middle of the room, without books, without even a table to lean upon, with no assistance whatever, except the assistance of heaven. The dispute continued several days. It was distinguished, as might have been supposed, by gross unfairness and bad language on the part of the Protestants, while Campion conciliated all honest-minded listeners, not only by the acuteness of his answers, but by his mild and affectionate spirit. Though he had been educated to a familiarity with dialectics, and lived in a day when controversy was an almost universal passion, he was far from being a disputatious man, and the odium theologicum had no place in his warm and tender heart. With all the advantage given to the Protestant side, it was evident that the Catholics were profiting by the conferences, and the government abruptly closed them. But it was too late. Campion’s fame was restored; the slanders against him had been refuted; and the popular enthusiasm broke forth in ballads, of which Mr. Simpson gives a sample.

Nothing remained now but to try him for treason. It was first proposed to indict him for having on a certain day in Oxfordshire traitorously pretended to have power to absolve her majesty’s subjects from their allegiance, and endeavored to attach them to the obedience of the pope and the faith of the Roman church; but this was too plainly a religious prosecution. A plot was therefore forged, which it was pretended that Campion, Allen, Morton, Parsons, and fourteen priests and others then in custody, had concerted at Rome and Rheims to dethrone the queen and raise a civil war. On this charge Campion, Sherwin, Cottam, and five others, were arraigned at Westminster Hall on the 14th of November. When Campion was called upon, according to custom, to hold up his hands in pleading, his arms were so cruelly wounded by the rack that he could not lift them without assistance. The trial took place on the 20th. The principal witnesses for the crown were George Eliot and three hired wretches named Munday, Sledd, and Caddy, who pretended to have observed the meetings of the conspirators at Rome; but their testimony was so weak, and the answers of Campion so admirable, that when the jury retired it was generally believed in court that the verdict must be one of acquittal. Court and jury, however, had been bought beforehand. The prisoners were all found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Then Campion broke forth in a loud hymn of praise, “Te Deum laudamus” and Sherwin and others took up the song, until the multitude were visibly affected.

After he had been remanded to the Tower, the traitor Eliot came to his cell, and Campion received him so sweetly, forgiving his offence, and offering to provide for him an asylum with a Catholic noble in Germany, whither he might escape from the odium and danger which haunted him at home, that the keeper, who witnessed the interview was induced by it to become a Catholic. The few days which intervened between conviction and death were passed by the holy man in fasting and other mortifications. The execution was appointed for the 29th of November. Campion, Sherwin, and Briant were to suffer together. At the execution Campion was interrupted by a long dialogue respecting his alleged treason, and subjected to a great deal of questioning. Somebody asked him to pray for the queen. While he was doing so, the cart was drawn away, amid the tears and groans of the multitude, and his body left dangling in the air.

So ended the good fight. Sherwin and Briant met their fate with like joy and constancy, and many another good priest and devoted layman trod afterward in the same awful but glorious path. And as it has been since the days of Saint Stephen, the blood of the martyrs proved the seed of the church. Henry Walpole estimated that no fewer than ten thousand persons were converted by the spectacle of Champion’s death. That is probably an exaggeration; but it is certain that the execution had a marked effect upon the progress of the faith in England, and covered the Anglican clergy with an odium from which they were long in recovering.

About This Article

This article was taken from The Catholic World magazine, volume 7, published from April to September 1868. The original file is part of produced by Don Kostuch from scans available at