Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Campion, Edmund
undertake to maintain him at their common charges ‘to the study of learning.’ He was sent first to some London grammar school, and afterwards to Christ's Hospital. He always ‘bore away the game in all contentions of learning proposed by the schools of London,’ among which there appears to have been, at that period, a common concursus, as if they had formed a university. His ‘championship’ was acknowledged, and when Queen Mary, on her solemn entry into London, had to pass by St. Paul's School, Campion, as the representative of London scholarship, was brought from Newgate Street to make the requisite harangue. When Sir Thomas White founded St. John's College, Oxford, the Grocers' Company arranged with him to admit Campion as a scholar, ‘which he did most willingly, after he was informed of his towardliness and virtue.’ The company gave him an exhibition for his maintenance at the university. In 1557, when St. John's College was increased, Campion became junior fellow, for the founder had conceived a special affection for him. He was admitted to the degree of B.A. on 20 Nov. 1561 (Boase, Register of the Univ. of Oxford, i. 244). So greatly admired was he at Oxford for his grace of eloquence that young men imitated not only his phrases but his gait, and revered him as a second Cicero. He was chosen to deliver the oration at the reinterment at Oxford of Amy Robsart, the murdered wife of Robert Dudley, afterwards earl of Leicester, and the funeral discourse on Sir Thomas White, the founder of St. John's College, Oxford, and of Merchant Taylors' School, London (Foley, Records, vii. 112).
The change of religion effected soon after the accession of Queen Elizabeth was not immediately felt at Oxford, and no oath was required of Campion till he graduated as M.A. Wood relates that he ‘took the degree of master of arts in 1564, and was junior of the act celebrated on the 19 of Feb. the same year; at which time speaking one or more admirable orations, to the envy of his contemporaries, caused one of them [Tobie Mathew], who was afterwards an archbishop, to say that, rather than he would omit an opportunity to show his parts, and “dominare in una atque altera conciuncula,” did take the oath against the pope's supremacy, and against his conscience’ (Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 473). The precise date of his inception as M.A. is 19 Feb. 1564–5 (Boase, Register of the Univ. of Oxford, i. 144). Father Parsons says that Campion ‘was always a sound catholic in his heart, and utterly condemned all the form and substance of the queen and council's new religion; and yet the sugared words of the great folks, especially of the queen, joined with pregnant hopes of speedy and great preferments, so enticed him that he knew not which way to turn.’
In 1566 Queen Elizabeth visited Oxford, and Campion welcomed her in the name of the university. He was also respondent in a Latin disputation held before her majesty. The queen expressed her admiration of Campion's eloquence, and commended him particularly to Dudley, who willingly undertook to patronise the scholar. For four years from this time the Earl of Leicester showed him no little kindness, and Cecil also took great interest in him. Campion did not reside at Oxford long enough to take his doctor's degree, but he was made junior proctor (1568), and he supplicated for the degree of B.D. on 23 March 1568–9 (Boase, Register, i. 244). The problem of his life now was how he could remain in the established church and yet hold all the catholic doctrines. Edward Cheyney, bishop of Gloucester [q. v.], who had retained a good deal of the old faith, sympathised with Campion's aspirations and perplexities. Campion yielded to the bishop's persuasions and suffered himself to be ordained deacon, but almost immediately afterwards ‘he took a remorse of conscience and detestation of mind.’ On the termination of his proctorial office he left Oxford (1 Aug. 1569) and proceeded to Ireland. A project was then afoot for restoring the old Dublin University founded by Pope John XXI, but for some years extinct. The chief mover in this restoration was the recorder of Dublin and speaker of the House of Commons, James Stanihurst, the father of one of Campion's most distinguished pupils. In his house Campion remained for some time, leading a kind of monastic life, and waiting for the opening of the new university. 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 distrusted as a papist and orders were given for his arrest, but for two or three months he eluded the pursuit of the pursuivants, lurking in the houses of his friends, and working at a ‘History of Ireland,’ which is hardly so much a serious history as a pamphlet written to prove that education is the only means of taming the Irish. At last he escaped to England, disguised as a lacquey, and reached London in time to witness the trial of Dr. Storey, who was executed in June 1571. What he heard at this trial made him resolve to repair to the English college at Douay, where he made an open recantation of protestantism, completed his course of scholastic theology, was ordained sub-deacon, and eventually was promoted to the degree of B.D. (Diaries of the English College, Douay, 10). After the lapse of little more than a year he resolved to go on foot to Rome as a pilgrim, and to become a jesuit. He arrived there in the autumn of 1572, a few days before the death of St. Francis Borgia, third general of the Society of Jesus. A successor to the saint was not chosen till April 1573, and meanwhile Campion had to wait. He was the first postulant admitted by the new general, Father Mercurianus, and soon afterwards he was sent to Prague in Bohemia and Brünn in Moravia to pass his novitiate. In 1578 he was ordained deacon and priest by the archbishop of Prague.
After considerable hesitation the Society of Jesus, at the instance of Dr. Allen, determined to take part in the English mission. Campion and Parsons were the two jesuits first chosen for this perilous undertaking, and various indulgences and faculties were granted to them by the pope. The band of missionaries that assembled in Rome comprised Dr. Goldwell, bishop of St. Asaph, several secular priests, a few laymen, the two jesuits Campion and Parsons, and a lay brother of the society named Ralph Emerson. To assist them in their labours a catholic association had been organised in England by George Gilbert, a young man of property, who had been converted by Father Parsons in Rome in 1579. At Rheims Dr. Goldwell was taken ill, and he was afterwards recalled by the pope. It was at this city that the rest of the party broke up, to find their way across to England by different routes. Campion, Parsons, and Emerson were to go by way of St. Omer, Calais, and Dover. Parsons crossed first, disguised as a captain returning from the Low Countries, and reached London without trouble. Campion and Emerson followed. They were arrested on landing at Dover (25 June 1580), and taken before the mayor, but they were dismissed after a short detention, and the next day were welcomed by the association in London, where Gilbert and the rest clothed and armed Campion like a gentleman and furnished him with a horse.
His preaching in the secret assemblies of catholics produced such an effect that the faithful and the wavering soon rushed to him in crowds. The government were informed of what was going on, and made every effort 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; and so, after a council had been held, the priests who were still at liberty went away to different parts of the kingdom.
At this period the catholics of England had been gradually divided into two bands: the temporisers or schismatics who kept the faith but frequented the churches, and the avowed catholics who braved fine and imprisonment and refused to go to church. The jesuits were sent to bid the former class to separate themselves from the communion of the protestants and to forbear going to their churches. They came to separate what the queen wanted to unite, and accordingly she issued her proclamations warning the people against them as enemies of herself and of church and state. The pursuit was much hotter after Campion than after any of his brethren. Once when the pursuivants came upon him suddenly at the house of a gentleman in Lancashire, 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. All this while he was engaged in writing his 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. A number of copies were got ready for the commencement at Oxford in June; and when the audience assembled in St. Mary's Church, they found the benches strewn with the books. The title-page of the treatise bore the imprint of Douay, but the government were not long in ascertaining, by the examination of experts, that the work had been done in England.
Campion had come 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 12 July, and after an affectionate farewell parted company, the one going to the north and the other back into the town.
Through the treachery of George Eliot, formerly steward to Mr. Roper in Kent, and latterly a servant of the widow of Sir William Petre, Campion and two other priests were captured in a gentleman's house at Lyford in Berkshire (17 July 1581). Seven laymen were arrested at the same time. Campion and his companions were brought to London and committed to the Tower, making their entry into the city through 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 paper stuck in his hat, inscribed ‘Campion, the seditious jesuit.’ The governor of the Tower, Sir Owen Hopton, at first put Campion in the narrow dungeon known as ‘Little Ease.’ He remained there until the fourth day (25 July), when, with great secrecy, he was conducted to the house of the Earl of Leicester. There he was received by Leicester, the Earl of Bedford, and two secretaries of state, with all honour and courtesy. They told him they had sent for him to know the plain truth, why he and Parsons had come into England, and what commission they brought from Rome. He gave them a truthful account of all passages, and then answered their questions, one by one, with such readiness that he seemed to have convinced them his only purpose was the propagation of the catholic faith and the salvation of souls; so that, seeing, as they said, he had done ill with good intentions, they pitied him, especially the two earls, who had known and admired him in his youth in London and in Oxford. They told him that they found no fault with him, except that he was a papist—‘which,’ he replied, ‘is my greatest glory;’ but he spoke with such modesty and generosity that Dudley sent word to Hopton to give him better accommodation, and to treat him more amiably. Nothing more was known at the time concerning this interview; but at the trial it came out that the queen herself was present, that she asked Campion whether he thought her really queen of England; to which he replied that he acknowledged her highness not only as his queen, but also as his most lawful governess. Whereupon her majesty with great courtesy offered him his life, his liberty, riches, and honours; but under conditions which he could not in conscience accept (Simpson, Biography of Campion, 240, 296).
After this Hopton treated his prisoner less harshly, as he hoped to be able to induce him to recant, and reports were circulated among the public that the jesuit would shortly make a solemn retractation at St. Paul's Cross and burn his own book with his own hands. But Campion disdainfully rejected the proposal that he should go over to the protestant church, and when he had been a week in the Tower Hopton reverted to the severe method of treatment, with the consent of the privy council, who gave orders that Campion should be examined under torture. There is no authentic account of what he said on the first two occasions when he was placed upon the rack (30 July and 6 Aug.) It seems that he really revealed nothing of moment, and his biographer, Mr. Simpson, after a very minute examination of all the facts, arrives at the conclusion that Campion's confessions were merely his acknowledgment of the truth of matters which he perceived were already known to his examiners (Biography, 250). However, it was given out that he had betrayed his friends and divulged the names of the gentlemen who harboured him. A great many catholic gentlemen were arrested in various parts of the country, in consequence, it was alleged, of Campion's confessions. For a considerable time the report of Campion's weakness and even treachery was universally credited among catholics as well as protestants, but ultimately the suspicion that Campion's ‘confessions’ were forgeries was turned almost into a certainty by the constant refusal of the council to confront him with those whom he was said to have accused. On 29 Oct. the council gave instructions that Campion and others should again be ‘put into the rack,’ and this order was executed with all severity.
To make Campion appear intellectually contemptible, and to counteract the effect produced by his ‘Decem Rationes,’ the government deemed it expedient to grant his demand for a public disputation. Accordingly a number of the most able protestant divines, including Nowel, dean of St. Paul's, Dr. William Fulke, Roger Goaden, Dr. Walker, and William Charke, were appointed to meet him and discuss the chief points of controversy. They had all the time they wanted for preparation and free access to libraries, whereas Campion was not informed of the arrangement until an hour or two before the conference began. Then he was placed in the middle of the chapel in the Tower, without books, and without even a table to lean upon. The disputation was afterwards resumed in Hopton's hall, and four conferences were held altogether. Each day's conference began at eight and continued till eleven, and was renewed in the afternoon from two till five. A catholic who was present at the first conference has recorded that he noticed Campion's sickly face and his mental weariness—‘worn with the rack, his memory destroyed, and his force of mind almost extinguished.’ ‘Yet,’ he adds, ‘I heard Father Edmund reply to the subtleties of the adversaries so easily and readily, and bear so patiently all their contumely, abuse, derision, and jokes, that the greatest part of the audience, even the heretics who had persecuted him, admired him exceedingly.’ After the fourth discussion the council ordered the conferences to be discontinued. One of the converts made by Campion at the conferences was Philip Howard, earl of Arundel.
Walsingham and the other members of the privy council who wished to put him to death now resolved to exhibit him as a traitor. On 31 Oct. he was for the third time placed upon the rack, and tortured more cruelly than ever, but not a single incriminating word could be extorted from him. It was then 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 endeavoured to attach them to the obedience of the pope and the religion of the Roman church. It was seen, however, that this would be too plainly a religious prosecution. A plot was therefore forged, and a new indictment drawn up in which it was pretended that Campion, Allen, Morton, Parsons, and thirteen priests and others then in custody, had conspired together at Rome and Rheims to raise a sedition in the realm and dethrone the queen. On this charge Campion, Sherwin, and six others were arraigned at Westminster Hall on 12 Nov. When Campion was called upon, according to custom, to hold up his hand in pleading, his arms were so cruelly wounded by the rack that he could not do so without assistance. The trial was held on the 20th. The principal witnesses for the crown were George Eliot and three hired witnesses 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 were so admirable, that when the jury retired it was generally believed that the verdict must be one of acquittal. However, the prisoners were all found guilty. Hallam says that ‘the prosecution was as unfairly conducted, and supported by as slender evidence, as any, perhaps, that can be found in our books’ (Constitutional Hist. i. 146).
The lord chief justice Wray, addressing the prisoners, asked them what they could say why they should not die. Campion answered: ‘It is not our death that ever we feared. But we knew that we were not lords of own lives, and therefore for want of answer would not be guilty of our own deaths. The only thing that we have now to say is that if our religion do make us traitors we are worthy to be condemned; but otherwise are and have been true subjects as ever the queen had. In condemning us you condemn all your own ancestors—all the ancient priests, bishops, and kings—all that was once the glory of England, the island of saints and the most devoted child of the see of Peter. For what have we taught, however you may qualify it with the odious name of treason, that they did not uniformly teach? To be condemned with these old lights—not of England only, but of the world—by their degenerate descendants is both gladness and glory to us. God lives; posterity will live; their judgment is not so liable to corruption as that of those who are now going to sentence us to death.’ The prisoners were sentenced to be drawn, hanged, and quartered. Then Campion broke forth in a loud hymn of praise, ‘Te Deum laudamus,’ and Sherwin and others took up the song, ‘Hæc est dies quam fecit Dominus; exultemus et lætemur in illâ,’ and the rest expressed their contentment and joy, some in one phrase of scripture, some in another; whereby the multitudes in the hall were visibly astonished and affected. The few days that intervened between conviction and death were passed by the prisoners in fasting and other mortifications. The execution was appointed for 1 Dec. 1581. Campion, Sherwin, and Briant were to suffer together at Tyburn. At the place of execution Campion was subjected to a great deal of questioning respecting his alleged treason. Somebody asked him to pray for the queen. While he was doing so the cart was drawn away. Two of the prisoners, Bosgrave and Orton, were not executed.
‘All writers,’ observes Wood, ‘whether protestant or popish, say that he was a man of admirable parts, an eloquent orator, a subtle philosopher and disputant, and an exact preacher, whether in English or Latin tongue, of a sweet disposition, and a well-polished man. A certain writer (Dr. Thomas Fuller) saith, he was of a sweet nature, constantly carrying about him the charms of a plausible behaviour, of a fluent tongue, and good parts. And another (Richard Stanihurst), who was his most beloved friend, saith that he was upright in conscience, deep in judgment, and ripe in eloquence’ (Athenæ Oxon,, ed. Bliss, i. 475).
A minute bibliographical account of his works and of the numerous replies to them is given in the appendix to ‘Edmund Campion. A biography. By Richard Simpson’ (London, 1867, 8vo), an admirable and exhaustive work. The most ample and correct edition of the ‘Decem Rationes, et alia opuscula ejus selecta’ was published by P. Silvester Petra-Sancta at Antwerp, 1631, 12mo, pp. 460. Of the ‘History of Ireland,’ written in 1569, a manuscript copy, dated 1571, was given by Henry, duke of Norfolk, in 1678, to the library of the College of Arms, London. This work was first printed by Richard Stanihurst in Holinshed's ‘Chronicles,’ 1587; then by Sir James Ware in his ‘History of Ireland,’ 1633.
Campion's portrait has been engraved.[Life by Richard Simpson; and the authorities quoted above.]