Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Briant, Alexander

BRIANT, ALEXANDER (1553–1581), Jesuit, was born in Somersetshire in 1553, and in 1574 became a member of Hart Hall, Oxford. Having been converted to the catholic religion, he passed over to the English college of Douay, which shortly afterwards removed to Rheims; was ordained priest in 1578, and was sent back to the English mission in 1579. He laboured in his native county, where he reconciled the father of Robert Parsons, the Jesuit, to the catholic church. His career was very brief. He was seized by a party of pursuivants who were really in search of Father Parsons, on 28 April 1581, and carried off to the Compter prison in London, whence he was transferred to the Tower. Cardinal Allen says 'he was tormented with needles thrust under his nails, racked also otherwise in cruel sort, and specially by two whole days and nights with famine, which they did attribute to obstinacy, but indeed (sustained in Christ's quarrel) it was most honourable constancy' (Modest Defence of English Catholicks, 11). Briant was also subjected to the horrible torture of the instrument nicknamed 'the scavenger's daughter.' Norton, the rack-master, who boasted that he would stretch Briant a foot longer than God had made him, was afterwards called to account by his employers for his excessive cruelty. From his cell Briant addressed a letter to the Jesuit fathers in England begging the favour of admission to the society, and his request was acceded to. On 16 Nov. 1581 he was tried in the queen's bench at Westminster, with six other priests, and condemned to death for high treason under the 27th of Elizabeth. He suffered at Tyburn with Father Edmund Campion and the Rev. Ralph Sherwin, on 1 Dec. 1581. He was a young man of singular beauty, and behaved with great intrepidity at the execution. 'His quarters were hanged up for a time in public places' (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 480). There is an engraved portrait of him. His letter to the English Jesuits is printed in Foley's 'Records,' iv. 355-358.

[Aquepontanus, Concert. Eccl. Cathol. in Anglia (1589-94), ii. 72, 74, iii. 407; Challoner's Missionary Priests (1741), i. 63-69; Oliver's Collections S. J.; Foley's Records, iv. 343-67, vii. 84; Simpson's Life of Campion; Granger's Biog. Hist, of England (1824), i. 274; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), i. 479; Dodd's Church Hist. ii. 114; Bromley's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, 34; Hist, del glorioso Martirio di diciotto Sacerdoti (1585), 111; Diaries of Douay College; Letters and Memorials of Cardinal Allen, 95, 107; Howell's State Trials; Bartoli, Dell' Istoria della Compagnia di Giesu, L' Inghilterra, 151, 228-230; Tanner's Societas Jesu usque ad sanguinis et vitæ profusionem militans, 14; Morus, Historia Missionis Anglicanæ Soc. Jesu, 104 et seq.]

T. C.