PARSONS (or Persons), ROBERT (1546–1610), English Jesuit and political agitator, son of a blacksmith, was born at Nether Stowey, Somerset, on the 24th of June 1546. The vicar of the parish gave him instruction and procured his entrance in 1563 as an exhibitioner to Balliol College, Oxford. He graduated B.A. in 1568, and M.A. in 1572. He was fellow, bursar and dean of his college, but in 1574 he resigned or was dismissed his fellowship and offices, for reasons which have been disputed, some alleging improprieties of conduct, and others suspected disloyalty. Soon after his resignation he went to London, and thence in June to Louvain, where he entered the Roman Catholic Church and spent some time in the company of Father William Good, a Jesuit. In July 1575 he entered the Jesuit Society at Rome. In 1580 he was selected, along with Edmund Campion, a former associate at Oxford, and others, to undertake a secret religious and political mission to England. The two emissaries engaged in political intrigue in England and on the Continent. In 1581 Campion was arrested, but Parsons made his escape to Rouen, whence he returned to Rome, where he continued to direct the English mission. In 1588 he went to Spain, where he remained for nine years, founding seminaries for the training of English priests at Valladolid, Lucar, Seville, Lisbon and St Omer. On the death of Cardinal Allen in 1594 he made strenuous efforts to be appointed his successor. He failed in this, but was made rector of the English college at Rome in 1597, and died there on the 18th of April 1610.
Parsons was the author of over 30 polemical writings, mostly tracts. Among the more important are Certayne Reasons why Catholiques refuse to goe to Church (Douai, 1580), A Christian Directorie guiding Men to their Saluation (London, 1583–1591, 2 parts), A Conference about the Next Succession to the Crowne of Ingland (1594), Treatise of the Three Conversions of England (1603–1604, 3 parts), an answer to Foxe’s Acts and Monuments. For portrait, see Gentleman’s Magazine, lxiv.