Illustrated Catholic Family Annual – Father Robert Southwell, SJ

illustration of Father Robert Southwell, SJ, artist unknown, published in the Illustrated Catholic Family Annual, 1873Article

Robert Southwell was born in Norfolk in the year 1562. At the age of fifteen, he was sent to Paris for education, and afterwards to the English college at Douay. He went to Rome, and was received into the Society of Jesus on 17 October 1578, in his seventeenth year. Having finished his novitiate and studies, he was made prefect of English studies in the English College at Rome. In 1584, he was sent upon the English mission, and there labored with great success in the conversion of many souls, amongst them several persons of distinction, till 1592, when he was betrayed and arrested in a gentleman’s house in Uxenden, within seven miles of London, and was committed to the Tower, after undergoing torture at the hands of Cecil’s arch-fiend, Topcliffe. At the end of a month, he was brought out in such a wretched condition that his father presented a petition to Queen Elizabeth, asking that, if his son had committed any crime against the laws by which he deserved death, he might suffer it; and if not, as he was a gentleman, he hoped her majesty would be pleased to order better treatment of him. After this, he was placed in better lodgings.

He was kept in prison three years, and several times was cruelly racked, till at length they concluded to execute him. It is said that, in answer to a letter of Father Southwell’s asking to be brought to trial to answer for himself, Cecil replied: “If he was in so much haste to be hanged, he should have his desire.”

Some days before his execution, he was removed from the Tower to Newgate, and there put into the hole called Limbo, from whence he was brought out to suffer, on account of his priesthood, 22 February 1595, having been condemned but the day before.

Father Southwell’s poetry has been praised by Ben Jonson end others, and several editions of his works, in whole and in part, have been published at different times, but more for private than for general circulation. His poetry throughout breathes the spirit of thorough piety and religion. A volume of his Meditations remained in manuscript until 1873 when it has been given to the public in a beautiful volume by Burns, Oates & Co., London.

MLA Citation

  • “Father Robert Southwell, SJ”. Illustrated Catholic Family Annual, 1873. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 January 2017. Web. 23 October 2020. <>