Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Crichton, William (fl.1615)

CRICHTON, CREIGHTON, or CREITTON, WILLIAM (fl. 1615), jesuit, was a native of Scotland. When Nicholas de Gouda, the pope's legate, was engaged in a secret embassy to that country in 1561–2, all the ports were watched and guarded, and it was only by the extraordinary courage and ingenuity of John Hay and Crichton that de Gouda escaped unharmed. Crichton accompanied him to Antwerp and became a member of the Society of Jesus. He returned to Scotland in the beginning of Lent 1582, and was received into the house of Lord Seton, the only member of the royal council who remained constant to his religion. He also entered into correspondence with the Duke of Lennox, cousin and guardian of James VI, who was still a minor. It was not without great difficulty that he obtained an interview with Lennox, for he had to be introduced into the king's palace at night, and hidden during three days in a secret chamber. The duke promised that he would have the young king instructed in the catholic religion or else conveyed abroad in order to be able to embrace it with more freedom. To secure this object Crichton made some concessions on his side, chiefly of a pecuniary nature. The articles of this agreement were drawn up by Crichton and signed by the duke. Armed with this document Crichton proceeded to Paris, where the Duke of Guise—the king's relative—the archbishop of Glasgow, Father Tyrie, and other Scotchmen, all considered the catholic cause as good as gained. They therefore despatched Crichton to Rome and Parsons into Spain. The object of their mission was that they might secure the safety of the young king and of the Duke d'Aubigny, by assembling a strong military force to guard them, and that they might at the same time provide a catholic bride for the king. The pope subscribed four thousand gold crowns, the king of Spain twelve thousand. ‘But,’ says Crichton, ‘the plan, which might have been easily carried out in two months, was spread over two years, and so came to the knowledge of the English court.’ Elizabeth took alarm, and soon afterwards the Earl of Gowrie and the confederate lords seized the person of the young king.

In compliance with the pope's desire, and at the earnest request of the catholic nobility, Crichton was sent to Scotland again in 1584, and with him Father James Gordon; but their vessel was seized on the high seas by the admiral of Zeeland, acting for the protestants of Holland, who were in rebellion against their own sovereign (Thomas, Hist. Notes, pp. 409, 1084). Gordon was set at liberty, but Crichton and Ady, a secular priest, were condemned to die for the murder of the Prince of Orange, whose assassination was believed to have been the work of jesuits. A gallows was erected for the execution of Crichton, but at this juncture a treaty was concluded between the Dutch and the queen of England. Elizabeth on learning that Crichton was a prisoner at Ostend requested the negotiators of the treaty to have him given up to her, and sent a ship across to Ostend for the special purpose of conveying him to England. A ridiculous story was circulated that some papers which he tore in pieces were blown on board again, pieced together, and found to contain a proposal for the invasion of England by Spain and the Duke of Guise (Tytler, Hist. of Scotland, ed. 1864, iv. 95).

He was committed to the Tower on 16 Sept. 1584, and appears to have remained there till 1586. His liberation is attributed to a confession made by William Parry, who was executed for treason in 1584, and who said that when he consulted Crichton as to whether it was lawful to kill the queen he received an answer distinctly and strongly in the negative. After an examination on the subject Crichton wrote a letter to Secretary Walsingham, which was published by the queen's order. On being released he engaged in a conspiracy of catholics to raise a rebellion in England (1586). His ‘Reasons to show the easiness of the enterprise’ are printed by Strype (Annals, iii. 414, from Cotton. MS. Julius F. vi. 53; cf. Cotton MS. Galba C. x. f. 339 b). He arrived in Paris from London in May 1587.

With the advice of his councillors of state James sent Father Gordon and Crichton secretly to Rome in 1592 for the purpose of arranging with the pope the means of restoring the catholic religion in Scotland. Writing to Father Thomas Owens long afterwards, he says:—‘Our Kyng had so great feare of ye nombre of Catholiks, and ye puissance of Pope and Spaine, yt he offered libertie of Conscience, and sent me to Rome to deal for ye Popes favor and making of a Scottish Cardinal; as I did shaw ye Kyngs letters to F. Parsons’ (Gordon, Catholic Church in Scotland, p. 538). He also went to Spain, where he saw the king in the Escorial. Gordon accomplished the mission according to his instructions, and returned to Scotland with Crichton and the pope's legate, George Sampiretti. James afterwards changed his mind and resolved that the laws against catholics should be enforced (Acts of Parliament of Scotland, iv. 57, 59, 126–8). Eventually Crichton was compelled to leave Scotland (1595); he passed across to Flanders, and devoted all his energy to the foundation of the Scottish seminary at Douay (Forbes-Leith, Narratives of Scottish Catholics, pp. 222–6). He was living at Paris in 1615, and in a letter dated 14 July in that year he says: ‘Verum est ætatem me non gravare multum, quamvis anni abundant’ (Oliver, Jesuit Collections, p. 18). The date of his death has not been ascertained.

He is the author of:

  1. A letter to Sir Francis Walsingham concerning Parry's application to him, with this case of conscience, ‘Whether it were lawful to kill the queen,’ dated 20 Feb. 1584–5. Reprinted in Holinshed's ‘Chronicle,’ and in Morris's ‘Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers,’ series ii. 81, and translated into Italian in Bartoli, ‘Dell' istoria della compagnia di Giesu: l'Inghilterra,’ lib. iv. cap. x. p. 291.
  2. ‘De Missione Scotica puncta quædam notanda historiæ societatis servientia,’ manuscript in the archives of the Society of Jesus.
  3. ‘An Apology.’ This work, which was published in Flanders, is referred to in ‘A Discoverye of the Errors committed and Inivryes done to his Ma: off Scotlande and Nobilitye off the same realme, and Iohn Cecyll Pryest and D. off diuinitye, by a malitious Mythologie titled an Apologie, and compiled by William Criton Pryest and professed Iesuite, whose habits and behauioure, whose cote and conditions are as sutable, as Esav his handes, and Iacob his voice’ [1599].

[Authorities quoted above; also Forbes-Leith's Narratives of Scottish Catholics, pp. 78, 79, 181–3, 197, 198; Tanner's Societas Jesu Apostolorum Imitatrix, p. 105; Morris's Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers, ser. ii. 17, 18, 71–82; Strype's Annals, iii. 250, 452, iv. 104; Egerton MS. 2598, f. 199; Foley's Records, vii. 181; Rymer's Fœdera, ed. 1715, xvi. 190, 197, 226, 238, 239; Birch's Elizabeth, i. 109, 215.]

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