Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blackwell, George
BLACKWELL, GEORGE (1545?–1613), archpriest, was born in Middlesex in or about 1545. A secular priest, in a controversial letter addressed to him, says: 'Your father was indeed a pewterer by Newgate in London, a man of honest occupation it is most true, but not the best neighbour to dwell by.' He was admitted scholar of Trinity College, Oxford, 27 May 1562, graduated B.A. in 1563, became probationer of his college in 1565, perpetual fellow in the following year, and M.A. in 1567. 'But his mind being more addicted to the catholic than to the reformed religion he left his fellowship and retired to Gloucester Hall for a time, where he was held in good repute by Edm. Rainolds and Thomas Allen, the two learned seniors' (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 122). Leaving the university he went over to the English college at Douay, where he was admitted in 1574, and being already far advanced in learning was ordained priest in 1575. He took the degree of B.D. the same year in the university of Douay, and returned to England upon the mission in November 1576.
As early as 1578 he was in prison (Douay Diaries, 147). To this occasion perhaps the secular priest already mentioned refers when he says: 'About twenty years since, to my remembrance, you were imprisoned in London: but your brother, being the bishop of London's register, procured your release very shortly after.' Blackwell lodged for seven or eight years in the house of Mrs. Meany in Westminster, and was constantly in fear of arrest and imprisonment. Once he owed his deliverance from impending danger to the intervention of the Countess of Arundel and Surrey, whose anonymous biographer informs us that he being forced for his own and the gentlewoman's security he liv'd with to hide himself in a secret place of the house when search was made after [him] by the hereticks: and being in great danger of being taken or famish'd by reason that all the catholicks of the house were carry'd away to prison, and heretick watchmen put into the house to keep it and hinder any from helping him. She haveing notice of his distress dealt so with the officer who had the principal charge of that business that after three dayes he was content two of her servants should come to that house at the time when the guard was chang'd, take Mr. Blackwell out of the hideing-place, and convey him away, as they speedily did, bringing him betwixt them, he not being able to go alone, to their lady's house, where, after some dayes for refreshing he had stay'd, she sent him safe to the place he desir'd to go' (Lives of Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, and of Anne Dacres, his wife, 216, 217). It would seem that he sometimes visited the continent, as he is said to have formed a personal acquaintance with Cardinal Bellarmin And other eminent writers, who give an excellent character of his learning and capacity which they discovered while he had occasion to reside in Rome (Dodd, Church Hist. ii. 380).
After the decease of Cardinal Allen the affairs of the English catholic clergy fell into a state of confusion, owing to the absence of any means of enforcing regular discipline. The petitions for the appointment of a bishop were not favourably received at Rome, but on 7 March 1597-8 Cardinal Cajetan, the protector of the English nation, addressed a letter to Blackwell, announcing to him the command of the pope, Clement VIII, that he should be archpriest over the secular clergy. Unlimited power was given to Blackwell to restrain or revoke the faculties of the clergy, to remove them from place to place at his pleasure, and to punish the refractory by deprivation or censures. The cardinal named six persons to be his assistants, and empowered him to appoint six others. 'The Jesuits,' the cardinal continues, ' neither have nor pretend to have any jurisdiction or authority over the clergy, or seek to disquiet them ; it seemeth, therefore, a manifest subtlety and deceit of the devil, complotted for the overthrow of the whole English cause, that any catholic should practice or stir up emulation against them.' This letter was accompanied by private instructions, which prohibited the archpriest and his twelve assistants from determining any matter of importance without advising with the superior of the Jesuits and some others of the order.
The appointment of Blackwell gave rise to serious and protracted dissensions among the clergy, which were secretly fomented by the English government (Foley, Records, i. 12 et seq.) Thirty-one secular priests, headed by Dr. Bishop, sent an appeal to Rome, and on 6 April 1599 the pope issued a bull, fully recognising and sanctioning the letter of Cardinal Cajetan, and the appointment of the archpriest and his acts, declaring the letter to have been valid from the first, and explicitly ordering it to be obeyed and its regulations to be complied with. The appellant priests at once submitted to the bull without any limitation. It was contended, however, that the actual submission of the appellants did not undo or atone for the criminality of their former appeal, and on this ground the archpriest and his adherents continued to treat them as schismatics. They again appealed to Rome, and the pope addressed to the archpriest a brief (17 Aug. 1601), recommending him to temper severity with mildness, and exhorting all parties to a general oblivion of the offence. This letter, however, did not entirely pacify the troubles ; the clergy sent a third deputation to Rome, and a second letter was addressed by the pope to the archpriest (6 Oct. 1602). His holiness blamed him for proceeding by suspension and censures against the appellant priests, and commanded him to communicate no business of his office to the provincial of the Society of Jesus, or to any members of the society in England, lest it should be a cause of animosity and discord between the society and the appellants ; and with the same view he revoked the contrary injunctions given by Cardinal Cajetan. Thus the matters in dispute were finally settled by papal authority.
For some time after this Blackwell exercised his authority as archpriest without opposition ; but he eventually got entangled in a controversy of another kind, and drew upon himself the censures of the holy see. In 1606 the government of King James I im-posed on catholics a new oath, which was to be the test of their civil allegiance. The wording of the oath was entrusted to Archbishop Bancroft, who, with the assistance of Sir Christopher Perkins, a 'renegade Jesuit,' so framed it as to give to the designs of the ministry the desired effect, 'which was first to divide the catholics about the lawfulness of the oath ; secondly, to expose them to daily prosecutions in case of refusal, and, in consequence of this, to misrepresent them as disaffected persons, and of unsound principles in regard of civil government' (Dodd, Church Hist. ii. 366). Blackwell told his clergy by a circular letter, dated 22 July 1606, that it was his holiness's pleasure that they should behave themselves peaceably with regard to all civil matters. 'Sua sanctitas nullo modo probat, tales tractatus agitari inter catholicos: imo jubet, ut hujusmodi cogitationes deponantur.' Previously, on 28 Nov. 1605, he had written a similar letter to the catholic laity. At several meetings of the secular and regular clergy, convened to consider the oath, Blackwell advised them to take it. Cardinal Bellarmin wrote to him an admonitory letter on this subject, to which he replied. Being apprehended near Clerkenwell on 24 June 1607, he was committed prisoner to the Gatehouse in Westminster, and thence was removed to the Clink prison in Southwark, where he was frequently examined upon several articles, especially concerning the oath of allegiance. In fine, he took the oath, and several of the clergy and laity followed his example, notwithstanding the fact that the oath had twice been formally condemned by Pope Paul V in 1606 and 1607. Blackwell's conversion being despaired of, the sovereign pontiff deprived him of the office of archpriest in 1608, and appointed George Birket [q. v.] to supply his place.
Blackwell died on 12 Jan. 1612-13, persisting to the last in his approbation of the oath. On being taken suddenly ill some priests attended him, and he assured them that he deemed it to be a lawful oath, and that in taking it he had done nothing contrary to conscience (Widdrington, Disputatio Theologica de Juramento Fidelitatis, 393-5).
A large number of books were published against him, chiefly by Watson, Colleton, Dr. Bishop, Dr. Champney, and other catholic divines. The principal other works relating to the controversies in which he was engaged are: 1. 'The Hope of Peace, by laying open such doubts and manifest untruthes as are devulged by the Archpriest in his letter or answere to the Bookes which were published by the priestes,' Frankfort, 1601, 4to. 2. 'Mr. George Blackwel (made by Pope Clement 8, Archpriest of England), his Answeres vpon sundry his Examinations: together with his Approbation and taking of the Oath of Allegeance: and his Letter written to his assistants and brethren, moouing them not onely to take the said Oath, but to aduise all Romish Catholikes so to doe,' London, 1607, 4to. 3. 'A large Examination taken at Lambeth, according to his Maiesties direction, point by point, of M. George Blakwell, made Archpriest of England, by pope Clement 8. Vpon occasion of a certaine answere of his, without the priuitie of the State, to a Letter lately sent vnto him from Cardinall Bellarmine, blaming him for taking the Oath of Allegeance. Together with the Cardinals Letter, and M. Blakwels said answere vnto it. Also M. Blakwels Letter to the Romish Catholickes in England, as well Ecclesiasticall as Lay,' London, 1607, 4to; also printed in French at Amsterdam, 1609. 4. 'In Georgium Blackvellum Angliæ Archipresbyterum a Clemente Papa Octavo designatum Quaestio bipartita: Cuius Actio prior Archipresbyteri iusiurandum de Fidelitate prestitum, Altera eiusdem iuramenti Assertionem, contra Cardinalis Bellarmini Literas, continet,' London, 1609, 4to. 5. 'Relatio compendiosa turbarum quas Iesuitæ Angli, vna cum D. Georgio Blackwello Archipresbytero, Sacerdotibus Seminariorum populoq; Catholico cõciuêre ob schismatis & aliorum criminum inuidiam illis iniuriosè impactam sacro sanctæ inquisitionis officio exhibita, vt rerum veritate cognitâ ab integerrimis eiusdem iudicibus lites & causæ discutiantur et terminentur,' Rouen, 4to.
[Dodd's Church Hist. (1737), ii. 251-65, 366, 380, also Tierney's edit. iv. 70 et seq., App. 110. 142, 147, 148, 157, v. 8, 12; Wood's Athen. Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 122, Fasti, i. 162, 179; Berington's Memoirs of Panzani; Ullathorne's Hist. of the Restoration of the Cath. Hierarchy, 7; Flanagan's Hist. of the Church in England, ii. 265-69, 299, 301; Anatomie of Popish Tyrannie (1603), 177; Diaries of the English College, Douay; Morris's Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers, 2nd ser. 23, 153, 154, 3rd ser. 116; MS. Harl. 6809, art. 190; MS. Lansd. 983 f. 123; MS. Cotton. Titus B. vii. 468; MS. Addit. 30, 662 f. 726.; Butler's Hist. Memoirs of the English Catholics (1822), ii. 204 et seq. 254; Lingard's Hist. of England (1849), vii. 91-95; Foley'& Records; Calendars of State Papers.]