James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown (eds), The Poems of Robert Southwell, S.J.

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The death of Robert Southwell at Tyburn on 21 February (O.S.) 1595 was at once the end of his work as Mission priest and the beginning of a wider public interest in his literary achievement. His life in the Society of Jesus had been dedicated to the Roman Catholic cause in England; the prose and poetry he wrote in English had been undertaken in order to further his work as priest. During the last years of the sixteenth century and the first decades of the seventeenth his reputation was based on his work as a lyric poet whose songs expressed a depth of religious love attested to by his death as a martyr for his faith.

Southwell's original intention for his poetry is no longer to be clearly distinguished. The order of the lyrics was distorted in the first attempts to make up popular volumes of religious verse, issued anonymously so that it should not betray its Jesuit origin, and the text of the poems at many points was corrupted as a result of faulty or ignorant copying, or over-assiduous editing. In the task of restoration the part played by the poems in his missionary endeavour must constantly be kept in mind. Beneath the musical cadences of the lyrics lies an undeviating didactic intention; the conventional diction is given a new relevance, and traditional motifs a deeper significance. It is necessary to read them with knowledge of the years of preparation for his work on the Mission, and with some understanding of the pressure under which he lived in the short period he served, from the landing at the beginning of July 1586 to his arrest in June 1592.

Southwell's recent biographers have acknowledged the close relationship between the poems and his work on the Mission. Professor Pierre Janelle speaks of Southwell's 'apostolate of letters', and the phrase is echoed in the work of his latest biographer, Father Christopher Devlin, S.J. What is now known of the details of Southwell's life has been carefully assembled from autobiographical documents and letters, and from less trustworthy materials supplied by his earliest biographers. Among this material documents from his early life abroad contain indications of experience formative in pg xvihis growth as a poet, and the records of the years of missionary activity tell of conditions of living which had a shaping influence on the poems as they were written.


Father Devlin's account of Southwell's earliest years shows his upbringing conforming outwardly to that of many Catholic youths whose autobiographies are found in the records of English schools and colleges overseas. His English boyhood war spent in his father's house at Horsham St. Faith's, Norfolk, the house of a prosperous family of important local standing. It had been built by his grandfather, Sir Richard Southwell, in the grounds of the old Benedictine priory which had come to him as a prize at the period of the Dissolution. From him it devolved upon Richard, his eldest son, though of illegitimate birth, who had married Bridget, daughter of Sir Roger Copley, of Roughway, Sussex. Robert was their third son, born towards the end of 1561, according to rather vague references to his age made when he entered the Society of Jesus, and at the time of his trial. Like many young Catholics of the time he was sent abroad for his later education. In 1576, when he was about fifteen years old, he was entered at the Jesuit school at Douai, and given lodging in the English College there. For a short time he was sent for greater safety to the Jesuit College of Clermont in Paris. He returned to Douai when the political situation quietened in 1577 and shortly afterwards applied to enter the Jesuit novitiate at Tournai. After an initial repulse he was accepted into the novitiate in Rome in the following year. As student at the Roman College (later named the Pontifical Gregorian University), as tutor and prefect of studies at the English College, as an ordained priest, as prefect of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, as unofficial news correspondent regarding the progress of the Mission in England—all his experience was directed to a single end, towards which he strove with a youthful eagerness that had sometimes to be subdued by his superiors, but which developed before he left for England into the clarity of purpose that sustained him throughout all the frustrations and sufferings that led to martyrdom.

His zeal inevitably led to a series of spiritual crises, growing pains of importance only because they are part of the experience that shaped him as a poet. The earliest record, a prose passage known as the Querimonia, has been preserved only in a Latin translation by pg xviiHenry More, whose study of Southwell was included in his seventeenth-century history of the Jesuits on the English Mission.1 Although it is clear from his treatment of other records that More had little interest in preserving the original character of the documents he translated, nevertheless there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of these sentences of passionate dedication to the service of God. The Querimonia is attributed to the time after Southwell's early attempt to enter the Society of Jesus had been rebuffed. Another time of unhappiness and self-tormenting impatience is recalled in a holograph draft of a letter addressed to John Deckers about the end of 1580. Southwell writes of his experience at Douai when he was seeking guidance concerning his vocation. He relates an anecdote of his first meeting with Deckers, and the formation of a friendship which proved the means by which he gained greater equilibrium of spirit.2

The most important record of his spiritual history, however, is contained in the Exercitia et Devotiones.3 This compilation includes the account of his early life he was required to write as a novice in the Society, together with notes on his spiritual training and private meditations. Although the passages of self-revelation can seldom be accurately dated, Father de Buck and the later biographers are probably right in ascribing them in order to the various crises of the years in Rome, from his entry into the Society in 1578 to his departure for England in 1586.4 These comparatively brief sections reveal his struggle to subdue his natural inclinations to the moral discipline he sought to impose, and to subject his personal longings to the obedience required by his superiors. He rebuked himself most vehemently when he was inclined to forget how his work as a Jesuit priest would enable him to be of most use to his family and pg xviiicountrymen.1 His biographers have analysed the progress of the spiritual training recorded in the Exercitia, and Janelle has pointed to its precepts echoed in Southwell's later writings.2 Here, in effect, is the history of the formation of the poet. Chafing at the constrictions and dismays that were part of his life in Rome, Southwell recorded in the Exercitia his inner suffering, breaking into imaginary dialogue, posing fiercely probing questions to which he himself gave the answers his training and beliefs supplied. Step by step in these revealing passages the sensitive and rebellious spirit is brought to obedience, the subjective concern grows towards understanding of the service demanded even in the life of the imagination, and gradually an objectivity not usually associated with the lyric writer is developed.

This process is the reversal of the experience of the love poet whose poetic method Southwell adopted. The individual praying for the favour of the one lady whose beauty and virtue excel in his eyes—at least for the purpose of his protestations—expresses in his verse the particular qualities that make his situation unlike any other. The poet strives to persuade his lady to change, to show more sympathy for the suppliant who desires that she become more like himself, and so grant his wishes. The religious poet is the poet of a Lover who cannot change. The suppliant must change, must grow in love to a greater awareness of the love offered him. And in this growth of understanding, of self-knowledge, he moves away from particularity, towards his essential being. In his own life this attainment of spiritual maturity prepared Southwell for his death as a martyr; it also gave him the imaginative objectivity to teach others the way to the love of God. Because his writing was part of his apostolate, his personal experience of the religious life of which he spoke was further removed than the involvement assumed by the love poet. His purpose in writing was one of service, not of self expression. Interior problems are resolved; the confidence of faith reaches out to common humanity seeking the way to God in common suffering.

This spiritual growth is signified by a change in the language Southwell employed. The records of personal experience in the Exercitia are written in Latin, the language of his spiritual training. pg xixThere survive also a few Latin poems and a group of meditations and prayers which probably date from this period.1 English was for him the language of his apostolate. When he used English he sought to interpret and to teach. Although he was never cut off entirely from the use of English, there is some evidence that during his years of training abroad he was no longer fluent, and that before his return as a missionary priest he had to work hard to recover native ability in the language.

At Douai, as a schoolboy boarder at the English College, he would have found himself in a group of young men determined to preserve their sense of their English heritage, and he would have heard sermons in English given by the students on Sundays and feast days. At Paris, however, he would have been immersed in a student society quite apart from the current of English Catholic life on the Continent. In the university the students were forbidden to speak any language except Latin. Father Devlin has seen some significance in the fact that the Querimonia, an account o the spiritual perplexities which harassed Southwell before his acceptance into the Society, was first written in English, as if the use of the language was an expression of his temporary alienation from his Flemish friend, John Deckers, who was accepted before him.2 Later, in the novitiate in Rome, Southwell was further removed from his compatriots and from the free use of English. In the Exercitia there are no words of English. Even at the English College, where the seminarians hoped that they would eventually return on the Mission, the use of English was restricted; the occasional English visitor, such as young William Cecil in 1586, for whom Southwell acted as guide to the sights of the city,3 could not provide sufficient opportunity to maintain natural fluency.

It would appear that at this period of his life Southwell was more fluent in Italian than in English,4 and there can be no doubt that he pg xxwas interested in the language as a literary vehicle. His reading of Italian verse and prose had greater influence upon his literary taste than his explorations in any other vernacular; through translation of Italian texts into English he strove to regain fluency in his native tongue. His most substantial piece of translation is from an Italian version of A Hundred Meditations on the Love of God of Diego de Estella, whose work he presumably did not know in the original Spanish. He undertook this considerable task at some time later than the publication of the Italian version in 1584 or 1585, probably completing it when he was in England.1

Southwell's need to study English before his return on the Mission is stated by his earliest biographer, Diego de Yepez, whose report was largely the work of Father Joseph Creswell, S.J. It is recorded that Southwell 'applied himself with much diligence to the study of his native tongue, which he had already nearly forgotten, because he had left England very young'.2 Later Southwell's concern that the priests in training for the Mission at the English College should have adequate practice in their own language is expressed in a letter to Father Alphonsus Agazzari, S.J., Rector of the College, written on the experience of the first few months of pastoral work in England. In it Southwell speaks of the great demand for those who can preach: 'It is of the greatest necessity that they are sufficiently practised that they acquire facility in speech and can draw on a repertory of subjects.'3

pg xxiThe autograph papers preserved at Stonyhurst College (A. v. 4) provide some evidence of Southwell's efforts to gain fluency in English. Among them is the 'Peeter Playnt', identified by Professor Mario Praz as a draft of a translation of part of Luigi Tansillo's Le Lagrime di San Pietro.1 and an incomplete draft of a sermon on Mary Magdalen (fols. 56–60, 62), which Professor Janelle has shown to be based on an Italian text of a Latin devotional treatise attributed to Saint Bonaventure.2 From the condition of the manuscript of the sermon on Mary Magdalen it is possible to see what difficulties Southwell found in writing. The first section, for instance, illustrates his struggle to express his thoughts in a language which was still awkwardly recalcitrant. The passage is studded with words crossed out and interlineations, phrases are rearranged within the sentence, and at a few points, apparently at a loss for suitable words or synonyms in English, Southwell has written Latin equivalents between the lines (⎾…⏋):

Her griefe was renewed in that first ⎾she had⏋ bewayled his takynge away ⎾defūctū⏋ out of lyfe and ⎾now⏋ she bewayled his takyng away ⎾out⏋ of the graue … his ded bodye ⎾corpus defūcti⏋ she fyndeth not …(fol. 56)

She is become breathless ⎾exanimis⏋ she is waxed senselesse feelyng she feeleth not seyng she seeth not… (fol. 56v)

In view of his ingrained tendency to draw upon Latin for the expression of religious thought, his vocabulary in the sermon as in his later work is surprisingly free from words of Latin origin. The Latin influence is strongest in structural inversions, which are at times quite unacceptable in English syntax, as, for example, in the description of Mary Magdalen's 'notorious griefes', 'which wth teares haue temped fayne she would but she could not' (fol. 56v). His natural inclination to musical balance in rhythm and sound, highly developed in his later writing in both verse and prose, leads him in this early fragment to use elaborate and contrived phrases, echoing the artificiality of his Italian original.

Similar rhetorical graces are imposed upon a third passage of English prose in the manuscript, a single page (fol. 37) which, like the Querimonia, is apparently the record of another time of inner questioning and searching self-examination. Here he asks whether pg xxiithe attraction he feels for a handsome youth is one of sexual instinct alone, or whether it is by the guidance of God that he should be particularly concerned for the spiritual welfare of one so blessed with physical beauty:

Why should I not rather iudge that god would bend by his fauoure good mennes inclination vnto him and marke him with this amiable collisance [cognizance] that who so vewed his p̱son myght desyre the lyke comelynesse in his soule and thynck it there dutye to GENERAL INTRODUCTIONcure that he should bee most lyke vnto god in goodnesse whome god hath made so lyke vnto him in goodlynesse

As may be expected, Southwell's English spelling in these manuscript pages, written before he regained complete facility in the language, shows a tendency to phonetic reproduction. The preponderance of simplified forms of so many words is unusual even in this period, when phonetic spelling was not uncommon. The holographs supply examples of the use of single consonants and vowels in words where they are regularly doubled, and of single vowels replacing diphthongs, the elision of letters not pronounced, the occasional loss of a final e, the alternation of i and e and sometimes of o and u.

In the preparation of this edition the spelling in these holograph pages has been carefully examined for its importance in determining the textual authority of the manuscripts and printed editions of the poems, in which unusual spelling forms have been weighed as evidence of remnants of Southwell's original spelling. Occasionally textual variants can be explained by the possibility of ambiguous spelling forms in the holograph. Unfortunately Southwell's inconsistency in spelling makes any decision regarding a text's precise relationship with the holograph impossible; it is likely also that in later years, when he gained complete fluency in English, his spelling habits would have been considerably modified. The most that can be done with any sense of security is to relate an unexpected spelling occurring in the work of copyist or compositor to Southwell's spelling as revealed in this manuscript, and in the consideration of textual cruces to suspect an original error based on a spelling peculiarity.

These English holograph pages are in fact a rare record of a poet's training in his language. The vocabulary, drawn largely from everyday speech, which is characteristic of his lyric verse, is seen evolving in the work of translation; his instinctive feeling for the musical and rhythmic phrase threatens to overload his prose style pg xxiiiwith excessive decoration. Above all, there is evidence of the effort expended in regaining the facility he needed, and of the pleasure of the young writer as the words are allowed to flow unchecked in sudden rhetorical abundance.


Southwell's poetry in English was written during the six years of his work as a priest on the English Mission, from the time of his return in July 1586 to his arrest in June 1592. The record of his life in these years is necessarily a compilation of scraps of evidence. Part of the fragmentary picture may be pieced together from references in the prose writings, each one of which is related to some event, personal or public, which occurred during this period; part is provided by his letters; and part by comments made by those who knew him and by those who wanted to know more about him, whether fellow-priest or priest-hunter, Catholic or schismatic, friend or foe. In recent years the materials have been augmented by two important discoveries: the group of letters written by Southwell and Father Henry Garnet, his superior on the Mission, to Father Claudius Aquaviva, General of the Society of Jesus, and a copy of the letter Southwell wrote to Sir Robert Cecil during his imprisonment.1 The letters to Aquaviva were used extensively in Father Devlin's biography, and although he found them disappointingly business-like and matter-of-fact, the information he has culled from them confirms many details n the previously hazy picture.

Southwell's letters to Aquaviva, dated from 7 January 1587 to 29 December 1588, augmented by four letters already known and published by J. H. Pollen, S.J., and a few sketchy abstracts of letters now lost, supply truly rich documentation for the first two and a half years of his missionary work.2 In this time also Southwell wrote An Epistle of Comfort, his longest prose work.3

pg xxivThe latter part of his work in England is, in contrast, barely documented. In the period January 1589 to June 1592 two letters of those sent to Aquaviva are known, dated 16 January and 8 March 1590; a fragment of a third letter of July or August 1591, known only in an Italian version, was probably originally another report to Aquaviva.1 The year 1589 is marked only by a Latin translation of a letter sent to Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, after his arraignment in April,2 and the letter to his father, dated 22 October, later published with A Short Rule of Good Life.3 In September 1591 Southwell completed The Triumphs over Death, also in epistolary form, addressed to Arundel after the death of his half-sister, Lady Margaret Sackville.4 His translation of Diego de Estella's A Hundred Meditations on the Love of God was either unfinished or not yet copied out at the time of Lady Margaret's death in August. The prose poem, Marie Magdalens Funerall Teares, was completed and ready for publication in the same year.5 According to the writer of the Preface to Southwell's A Short Rule of Good Life, printed by Garnet's secret press after his death, the revision of this rule for the Catholic layman was 'amongst the last of his fruitefull labours for the good of soules';6 it may therefore also be assigned to this period. There are some undated letters which belong to the time of his active life as a priest, including the letter 'to a wandering priest'—de vitando vago vivendi genere—which is known only in the Latin translation in More's account, and two letters to relatives, one a draft of a letter to his father and the other a short note from 'P.B. to his coosyn W.R.'7

pg xxvTwo items of a different tenor may be assigned to the last months before Southwell's imprisonment: one is a series of notes on the treatment of Catholics in England, compiled during the latter part of 1591 and sent to Richard Verstegan in Antwerp for propaganda use abroad; the other is Southwell's own contribution to political controversy, An Humble Supplication to her Majestie, which at several points draws upon the material sent to Verstegan.1 The Supplication bears every indication of having been written at great speed between the issue of the Proclamation dated 18 October 1591—probably published late in November—and the end of the year.

These personal documents through which Southwell's activities may be traced can be augmented by Garnet's letters for the period July 1586 to May 1595. All these materials are of importance here only as they contradict or confirm earlier assumptions concerning the conditions under which the poems were written. The evidence is still sparse, and confirmation of many statements is not to be found, but the outline of an administrative structure within which the priests undertook vigorous pastoral work in their allotted areas is now clear, and supersedes the earlier notion that they were forced to spend much of their time in isolation, shut away from the sight of all but those who might be most trusted. The establishment of this administration was Garnet's work; he describes its formation in a letter to Aquaviva dated 9 June 1588.2 Southwell was stationed in London, leaving his superior free to travel further afield. In this central position Southwell met incoming priests, provided lodgings for those whose journeys brought them through the capital, and corresponded with Aquaviva on a wide range of topics affecting their lives, giving accounts of the persecution as observed in London and as reported to him from elsewhere, and occasionally commenting on rumours flying in the air of foreign invasion and treachery at home.

pg xxviSouthwell's occupation of a house in London gave him an independence that was invaluable to his work on the Mission. When Thomas Pormort, a priest who had known Southwell at the English College in Rome, arrived in England in 1590, he was welcomed, fed and clothed, and brought with honour into Southwell's own house, 'which is a mark of singular esteem in times of persecution'.1Southwell's success in London depended to a great degree on help offered by the Countess of Arundel.2 Father Devlin believed that he occupied a house she owned at Acton, Middlesex,3 but the distance of Acton from London counts against such an identification. She had another house near Billingsgate, and perhaps it was here, close to the Tower and close to the houses of Catholic friends and relatives, that he set up headquarters. Father John Gerard, who met Southwell for the first time on his arrival in England at the end of 1588, speaks with approval of Southwell's 'domus privata' in London, where he received Garnet on his visits to the city, and where he had even been able to arrange for the printing of his books.4 This press may have produced An Epistle of Comfort, with the misleading assertion 'Imprinted at Paris' on its title-page. In its first form the Epistle had been a personal letter to the Earl of Arundel, imprisoned in the Tower. A surprisingly detailed account of a secret press operating from a house where the Earl had formerly lived was given towards the end of 1588 in the first of the Martin Marprelate tracts, An Epistle to the Terrible Priests of the Convocation House, in which the writer asserted that the Archbishop of Canterbury, informed of the work of the illicit press, had declined to take any action, although it had been reported that the press was in the Charterhouse, and that the printing was being done by employees of 'J.C. the Earle of Arundels man'. The writer's anger was particularly violent because of this apparent leniency towards Catholic printing, when the Puritan printer, Waldegrave, suffered the loss of all his equipment: 'Why set you not that printing presse and letters out of Charterhouse, pg xxviiand destroye them as you did Walde-graves? Why did you not apprehend the parties, why? Because it was poperie at the least, that was printed in Charterhouse'.1 The Puritan controversialist may not have been accurate in his facts. He implied that the printer was John Charlewood, who until the Earl's disgrace in 1585 had proudly called himself 'printer to the Rt. Hon. the Earle of Arundel', and whose books had occasionally been issued 'From Howard House', the new name of the Charterhouse. It would have been a rash undertaking to issue Catholic books from a place where the printer had worked openly in the days before unlicensed operations were curtailed. It would seem more likely that Southwell was able to use a more secluded place.

The generosity of the Countess of Arundel in the midst of her personal tribulations enabled Southwell to move freely about his business; at times of greatest peril she hid him in her own house, attended by her most trustworthy servants. These periods of confinement are described with some imaginative detail by one of Southwell's earliest biographers, Father Daniello Bartoli.2 There is no reason to believe that such a state of affairs lasted for long at any one time. On the contrary, the letters to Aquaviva are a record of a most active pastoral and administrative career.

Garnet's plans for the Mission included a regular meeting every six months at which the priests themselves found spiritual refreshment. The occasions of Garnet's return to London at roughly six-monthly intervals in 1586, 1587, and 1588 mark the times when the two Jesuits heard each other's confessions and renewed their vows. At such times they were joined by aspirants to the Society, and by some of the secular priests. Southwell describes the value of their meetings in a letter to Aquaviva of 21 December 1588,when the short period of recuperation was the more precious after months of persecution following the Armada.3 pg xxviiiWhen other Jesuits arrived in England it became necessary to meet in houses offering secure hiding-places outside London. Most fully documented is the meeting at Baddesley Clinton in October 1591, when the house was raided and the priests barely escaped by hiding in a flooded tunnel underneath a wing of the house.1

The achievement of the Mission priests during these years is the more impressive in view of the continued persecution. The difficulties they encountered were most acute at times of political crisis, but even at the worst times the pastoral work went on. The suffering of the Catholics during the summer of the Armada was particularly severe, and Southwell's letters show his concern for the effect of the government's policy of branding as treasonable Catholic landowners to whom the country people had formerly turned at times of national danger.2 At the end of August he sent eyewitness accounts of the executions of Father Gunter and Father Leigh and of the laymen who suffered with them. His experience during these months enabled him to see clearly the insidious effect of religious strife, which revealed the finest and the worst in the national character:

At this time, my Father, I beg you to give some thought to the loyal faith of the Catholics, of that very same faith that has been long admired in this people naturally inclined to religious sensibility; and to consider that the crazed bestiality of their enemies is truly not inherent in the whole nation, but a disease brought by heresy, viciously attacking not only faith itself, but the laws and discipline that govern human nature; and thus you may come to look upon Catholic constancy as a revelation of spiritual strength all the more lovely, and the heretics' error the more deserving of our pity.3

Towards the end of the year, when the persecution had eased, Garnet sent Southwell on an extended missionary tour which took him, as he says, 'round a great part of England'. His report in December gives some detail of the way he carried out his work: 'I have sometimes been to call on the Protestant Sheriffs to look after secret Catholics in their households; and they, seeing my fine clothes and my bevy of aristocratic youths, and suspecting nothing pg xxixso little as the reality, have received me with imposing ceremony and truly sumptuous banquets.'1

Against such a background of bitter ordeal and the sweet success of youthful adventure Southwell wrote his poetry. In it he summons his countrymen to live lives of moral integrity, to seek spiritual strength in humility and religious love. Above all, he speaks of the necessity of repentance and the cleansing properties of suffering undertaken in the name of faith.

Although he had only six years on the Mission, it is remarkable that in his post in London he escaped arrest for so long. His presence in England was known from the beginning. Thomas Morgan, Paris agent of the Queen of Scots, reported Southwell's departure for England with Garnet in a letter of 3 July 1586 to Gilbert Gifford, who passed it for deciphering to Thomas Phelippes; from his hands it would have reached Walsingham about the same time that Southwell arrived in London on 8 July. Further details reached Walsingham in August.2 He became a particularly desirable prey. He was in the first place a Jesuit, and he held an integral position in the organization of the English Mission. In his pastoral work the qualities of character by which he drew others to him made him outstanding, even among his richly gifted fellow-priests. Father Gerard wrote of him: 'He was so wise and good, gentle and lovable.'3Besides his work as priest and administrator his achievement as a writer was already making his influence widespread amongst Catholic families of great distinction. In the last months of his freedom the hunting of the priests grew more intense, and, had Southwell known it, the authorities had gained an essential piece of information to help them in their arrest: a description of his physical appearance. The information had come from John Cecil, a priest sent on the Mission from the seminary at Valladolid. He had been arrested soon after his arrival in England in the spring of 1591, and his unfitness for the task to which he had been assigned is all too clearly revealed in the long, meandering depositions by which he tried to gain official favour by telling all he knew of plans made abroad, and of the work of the priests in England. He told of a commission Father Persons had given him to sound out Catholic pg xxxfeeling with regard to Lord Strange as a possible candidate to succeed Elizabeth on the throne, if Strange would initiate correspondence on the subject with Cardinal Allen and the exiles in the Low Countries—'but this was to be revealed to none but Southwell or Garnet'. In a deposition taken a few days later, on 25 May, Cecil gave a detailed description of Southwell, whom he had known in Rome.1

Not much time remained. In February 1592 Garnet, who had taken over Southwell's post in London and sent him into the country for a respite, wrote to Aquaviva of their desperate state: 'There is simply nowhere left to hide.'2 A report on activities of priests in London given by Chomley—a mysterious creature of the London underworld who was apparently willing to give information on any cause, and who was later to accuse Marlowe of atheism—includes a reference to 'Mr. Cuthwell, a Jesuit' who had been at the houses of Dr. Smythe and Mr. Cotton in Fleet Street.3 But Southwell was not to be taken without the most elaborate scheming on the part of Topcliffe.

Details of the story of Southwell's arrest at the house of the Bellamys at Uxenden, near Harrow, were given in evidence taken from Robert Barnes in 1598, when, after five years of imprisonment incurred for his assistance to priests, he gave a damning indictment of the methods used by Topcliffe in his work as priest-hunter.4 His account is confirmed by Garnet's letter of 16 July 1592 to Aquaviva, from which Southwell's visit to Uxenden is seen as the first stage in his journey to Warwickshire.5 On 25 June he had met Thomas Bellamy by appointment n Fleet Street, and had travelled with him to Uxenden. There, in the house which, as Garnet wrote, 'had long lacked a consoler', Southwell preached and gave Holy Communion to the congregation of local Catholics who had gathered to meet him. That night, on information given by Anne Bellamy, Thomas's sister, who had become the tool of Topcliffe, the house was raided and Southwell seized. In the letter to the Queen announcing his pg xxxisuccess Topcliffe congratulated himself: 'I never did take so weighty a man.'1

The years that remained were years of solitary imprisonment. Southwell was taken first to the cell in Topcliffe's own house, the 'stronge chamber in Westminster churche yearde', where, as he explained in his letter to the Queen, 'if your highness pleasur bee to knowe any thinge in his hartte', he planned to torture him immediately by hanging him against the wall, which, 'lyke a Tryck at Trenshemoare, will inforce hym to tell all'. The next day he was taken to the Gatehouse, and on 28 July committed to the Tower, where he began the long ordeal that Garnet described as 'that blessed solitude'.2

At the time of Southwell's arrest Garnet came directly to London, sending a brief word to Verstegan of the crisis that had come upon them all. A few days later he was able to amplify his first message with more details, and in the usual guarded language of merchant activities revealed what administrative changes had been made: 'I wrote how my marchant was arrested, but his elder brother hathe undertaken his busynesse, who with all other freindes are well.'3Although he was then finding the capital too 'whot' for him, Garnet, as 'elder brother', took over the key post in London; his letters at this time, and later at the time of Southwell's execution, give the most reliable accounts of what happened. Further details of Southwell's imprisonment are given by the 'yonger brother to your partner', John Falkner—possibly an alias for John Gerard, since the name is suitable for one with such love of hawking. He was able to add that 'the marchant that was arrested continued still in his distress, till, of late, that his father by his freindes hath laboured that he is not now used in the extremest manner as he was'.4 The intervention of Southwell's father to obtain some relaxation of the terrible conditions under which he was first held is related also in Yepez's Historia.5 Garnet was able to send him a breviary, which Southwell took with him when he was transferred to Newgate directly before pg xxxiihis trial and execution. While Garnet was writing his letter of 7 March 1595 the breviary was returned to him. He scrutinized it carefully, and found pin-scratches only, including the name Jesus, and various other signs which might have been used in the examination of conscience.1 Garnet concluded that the absence of any ink mark indicated that Southwell was never permitted to write. He was, however, allowed writing materials on one occasion, in order to make an appeal to Sir Robert Cecil that he should be brought to trial. The letter is dated 6 April 1593,2 and in it Southwell states specifically that he had not been previously permitted to write, and that it was as a favour from the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Michael Blount, that he was then being allowed the privilege of his appeal. There is no reason to doubt his statement, nor is there any evidence to suggest that the restrictions placed upon his imprisonment were in any way mitigated during the twenty-three months that remained.

The conditions of Southwell's arrest and imprisonment bear directly upon the problem of reclaiming an accurate text for his poetry. In the months before his arrest it would indeed have been difficult to keep personal papers in good order; his poems may have had scant attention when he was busy with the preparation of the prose works of immediate topical concern in the last months of 1591, although there is some internal evidence, which will be presented in the Textual Introduction (IV. iv), that suggests he was working on his long poem, 'Saint Peters Complaint'. From the time of his arrest the dissemination of his literary work lay in other hands.

During his long imprisonment there was some hope that he might be ransomed, although Aquaviva warned Garnet in a letter of 10 October 1592 that the ransoming of Jesuits might make the Society open to criticism and scandal.3 When he was finally brought to trial he was taken first to the fearful cell called Limbo, in Newgate, and from there, in great haste and secrecy, he was brought before the Queen's Bench on 20 February 1595. His actions and his words at the end of his life are reported by Garnet in his two letters of 22 February, his report to his Italian friends of 7 March, and the long letter of 1 May.4 Two eyewitness accounts also survive. He was tried before Sir John Popham, Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench, indicted under the Statute of 1585 for the treason of returning pg xxxiiias an ordained priest of the Church of Rome and of administering the sacraments of the Church. The prosecution conducted by Edward Coke, the Attorney-General, attacked him most bitterly on the question of his advocacy of equivocation. Southwell's attempt to answer his accusers was made more pitiful by his physical weakness; Garnet wrote that he had so little strength that he asked a Newgate jailer to stay near at hand to help him at need, since '(as a result of his bitter tortures) his sides were not strong enough to shout'.1 One of the eyewitness accounts, that of Thomas Leake, a Catholic priest, reports that he excused his inability to speak more effectively, saying: 'I am decayed in memorie with long and close imprisonment, and I have bene tortured ten times. I had rather have indured ten executions. I speak not this for my self, but for others; that they may not be handled so inhumanelie, to drive men to desperation, if it weir possible.'2 Found guilty by a jury that did not delay to discuss his case, he was condemned and led back as a prisoner to Newgate. The following day he was taken to execution.

Southwell's last hours are recorded by close friends and coreligionists. In their natural desire to welcome another martyr in this man whom they had so long admired they emphasize the spirit of joyful contentment which they saw in him, sustaining him from the time he left the court until he died on the scaffold. The practice of prayer and meditation in which he had been trained did not desert him as he was dragged on the hurdle through the muddy streets of wintry London. His gentleness of spirit was seen for the last time in the manner of his recognition of friends in the crowd—a warning spoken quietly to a woman who approached the hurdle, a handkerchief and a rosary thrown into the mass of faces below the triangular structure of Tyburn Tree. His actions were not dramatic nor his words scornful. He refused to enter the dialectical ambiguities of religious controversy, although the Chaplain of the Tower was prepared to argue with him; he professed himself to be a Catholic priest and a Jesuit; he prayed for the Queen, and the country, and for his own soul. His last words showed once more his clearsighted recognition of suffering as the common experience of human life, to be welcomed as the way to spiritual regeneration:

And this I humbly desire almightie God that it would please his goodnes, to take and excepte this my death, the laste farewell to this miserable pg xxxivand infortunate lyfe (althoughe in this moste happy and fortunate) in full satisfaction for all my sinnes and offences, and for the Comfort of many others; which albeit that it seeme here disgracefull, yet I hope that in tyme to come it will be to my eternall glory.1

Together with other English martyrs, Southwell was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.


1 Historia Missionis Anglicanæ Societatis Jesu (St. Omer, 1660), p. 173.

2 Latin text and English translation printed in C.R.S. v. 294–300, with reproduction of the first page of the autograph letter, preserved at Stonyhurst College.

3 A manuscript copy dated 11 February 1607, preserved at the Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, and a slightly later copy at the Jesuit Résidence at Ghent, have been collated and edited by J. M. de Buck, S.J., and printed as The Spiritual Exercises and Devotions of Blessed Robert Southwell, S.J. (London, 1931), with English translation by P. E. Hallett. A third manuscript copy made in Louvain, formerly in the Phillipps collection, is now in the Folger Shakespeare Library.

4 The dates of Southwell's entry to the novitiate, and of his first vows exactly two years later, are based on evidence in the Exercitia; the Brussels MS. gives the date of his vows as in die S. Lucælig; (18 Oct.) [1580], which accords with his arrival at the Roman College on 17 October 1578 (see Devlin, p. 40). The Ghent and Folger MSS. give the date as in die S. Luciæ (13 Dec).

1 De Buck, no. 56: 'Petes: "Quid ergo me Deus ad Societatem … hoc tantummodo argumento et ratione perduxerit, quod nempe patria, proximi, parentes, etc., mea opera videbantur egere, quibus in Societate tantum, et non in aliis dictis ordinibus, adesse possem?"' English translation in de Buck, and in Devlin, p. 40.

2 Janelle, ch. iv.

1 Latin poems and prose are preserved in the holograph manuscript at Stonyhurst College, A. v. 4. A volume of Latin meditations, Meditationes de attributis divinis ad amorem dei excitantes, attributed to Southwell, is bound with the copy of the Exercitia at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

2 Devlin, p. 32.

3 A reference to this visit occurs in Southwell's letter to Sir Robert Cecil, William Cecil's uncle, which has recently been acquired by the Folger Shakespeare Library (MS. V. a. 421).

4 The only vernacular phrase in the Exercitia is in Italian, a joke inaccurately told that recalls a conversation in Italian during recreation in 1582 (Ghent and Folger MSS. only), in de Buck, pp. 194, 197. Three of Southwell's letters are in Italian: one written to Persons assuming the disguising phraseology of merchant correspondence; one a newsletter addressed to the Jesuit provincial in Naples; and the third a note to Father Agazzari, Rector of the English College, Rome, reporting progress on the journey to England. (Letters in C.R.S. v. 301, 303, 306.)

1 Southwell's translation exists in two independent manuscript copies, one in a seventeenth-century hand, preserved in the Jesuit library in Farm Street, and a later coy at Stonyhurst College. In a dedication transcribed in the Farm Street MS. the original copyist states that he has made his copy from Southwell's autograph in his possession, and he speaks of Southwell's intention of presenting the translation to Lady Beauchamp's mother. This Lady Beauchamp was Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Sackville, later Lord Buckhurst and second Earl of Dorset, and Margaret, daughter of Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk. Anne married Edward Seymour, who succeeded to the title of Lord Beauchamp in 1612. John Morris, S.J., edited the work in 1873 in the belief that it was Southwell's original composition. For a discussion of the date of the publication of the Italian translation of the Meditations by Gianbattista Peruschi, S.J., see Janelle, pp. 144–5.

2 Historia particular de la persecución en Inglaterra (Madrid, 1599), quoted in Janelle, p. 32. Father Creswell's part in the Historia has been shown by A. J. Loomie, S.J., in The Spanish Elizabethans (Fordham University Press, 1963), p. 206.

3 'Concionatores hic magnopere desiderantur, ideoque pernecessarium est ut ibi assuefaciant se, ut et facilitatem in dicendo et rerum copiam usu acquirant.' Letter of 22 December 1586, in C.R.S. v. 316.

1 See Appendix I. The place of the 'Peeter Playnt' in the history of the long poem 'Saint Peters Complaint' is discussed in the Textual Introduction IV. iv, p. lxxxvi.

2 Janelle, p. 184.

1 The letters to Aquaviva were found by Father Philip Caraman, S.J., in the Jesuit archives in Rome, Fondo Gesuitico 651. Father Caraman speaks of a group of thirteen letters in his biography of Henry Garnet (London, 1964), p. xi. The letter to Cecil is in the Folger Shakespeare Library, MS. V. a. 421.

2 Letters previously known are listed in McDonald, pp. 63–65. The letter to Deckers (McDonald, no. 24) was written not from England, but directly before the Channel crossing ('ex portu'); the letter intercepted with that addressed to Aquaviva, 25 July 1586 (McDonald, no. 24a), was not the letter to Deckers, but a letter to Agazzari, known in abstract only (Calendar, State Papers, Dom., 1581–9., vol. 195, no. 119, p. 377). The letters from England for this period are in C.R.S. v. 307–28.

3 An Epistle of Comfort was printed by a secret Catholic press in England, 1587–8. (See Allison and Rogers, no. 781.)

1 C.R.S. v. 328–33.

2 More's Latin redaction of the letter to Arundel (Historia, p. 186) was re-translated by Henry Foley, S.J. (Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, i [London, 1877], pp. 335, 336); the second part of the letter is printed in C.R.S. xxi. 320.

3 Manuscript copies of Southwell's letter to his father are in S, VC, and A, described in Textual Introduction (I), and in other collections (see McDonald, pp. 11–12, 30). The earliest edition of the Rule and the letter has been dated 1596–7. (See Allison and Rogers, no. 787.)

4 The Triumphs over Death was edited by John Trussel and printed by Valentine Sims for John Busby in 1595. (See McDonald, p. 111.) Manuscript copies are in S, VC, and A.

5 John Wolfe printed the Funerall Teares for Gabriel Cawood in 1591; it was entered in the Stationers' Register, 8 November 1591. (See McDonald, p. 109.)

6 Preface to the Reader, sig. a5. (Allison and Rogers, no. 787.)

7 The priest whom Southwell chides for his manner of performing his duties may be James Younger, who arrived from the seminary in Valladolid in the spring of 1591, and who was captured in 1592. (See Devlin, pp. 226, 274.) Records of Younger's examinations are in the State Papers, where he is called Young, alias Thomas Christopher, alias George Dingley. (Calendar, S.P., Dom., 1591–4, pp. 261, 263, 267, &c.) Southwell'. letter is printed in More's Historia, p. 188, and translated in part in Devlin, p. 222. Manuscript copies of the letters to his relatives are in VC and A, where the first is said to be addressed to a brother. The letter 'to his brother' is printed in Foleyi, i, p. 347; J. W. Trotman printed both letters from A in his edition of The Triumphs over Death (London, 1914), pp. 65, 68.

1 The letter to Verstegan is attributed to Southwell by Anthony G. Petti in his edition of The Letters and Despatches of Richard Verstegan, C.R.S. lii. 1. R. C. Bald has reconstructed the conditions under which the Supplication was written in his edition (Cambridge, 1953), Introduction, pp. ix–xi.

2 Devlin, p. 161.

1 Statement of Father James Standish, C.R.S. v. 189, and Devlin, p. 220.

2 An account of his life in her household is contained in The Lives of Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, and of Anne Dacres, his wife, compiled by a family priest some years after Southwell's death. The Lives was published in 1857 from manuscripts at Arundel Castle, but a manuscript account 'Of Father Southwell's coming to live with her', transcribed by M. A. Tierney, was not published until March 1931, when it appeared in The Month, pp. 246–54, edited by C. A. Newdigate, S.J.

3 Devlin, p. 141.

4 John Gerard: The Autobiography of an Elizabethan, trans. Philip Caraman, S.J. (London, 1951), p. 26.

1 An Epistle (Oh read over D. John Bridges, for it is a worthy worke: Or an epitome of the fyrste Booke … The Epitome is not yet published … In the meane time, let them be content with this learned Epistle.) (reprinted London, 1843), p. 31. An account of Howard House (the Charterhouse) is given by J. H. Pollen in his collection of documents concerning the Earl of Arundel (C.R.S. xxi. 350–1).

2 Janelle, p. 42, quoting from the Latin version of Bartoli's history of the Jesuits in England (Europeæ historice Societatis Jesu pars prior, Anglia, ex edito Romæ Italico … Interprete R. P. Ludovico Janino. Paris, 1671).

3 Caraman, Henry Garnet, pp. 57, 127–8. References to Garnet's presence in London occur in letters: C.R.S. v. 313 (21 December 1586); Devlin, pp. 151–2, 160, 167, 189. For Southwell's letter of 21 December 1588 see Devlin, pp. 179–80.

1 Gerard, Autobiography, pp. 41–43; Devlin, pp. 235–8; Caraman, Henry Garnet, pp. 128–36.

2 Letters of 10 and 11 July 1588; Devlin, pp. 163, 167.

3 Letter of 31 August 1588; C.R.S. v. 321–5 (Latin text).

1 Letter of 28 December 1588; Devlin, p. 182.

2 Calendar, S.P., Scotland VIII, 1585–6., vol. 18, no. 551, p. 499; vol. 19, no. 685, p. 598; see also Devlin, pp. 98, 109.

3 Autobiography, p. 17.

1 Calendar, S.P., Dom., 1591–4., vol. 238, no. 160 (21 May), p. 39, and no. 179 (25 May), p. 45. Cecil is called by his alias, John Snowden.

2 Devlin, pp. 255–6.

3 Calendar, S.P., Dom., 1591–4., vol. 241, no. 35 (? Jan. 1592), p. 176.

4 Barnes's account is printed in M. A. Tierney's edition of Charles Dodd's Church History of England (1739), iii (London, 1840), Appendix 37, p. cxci; see also Devlin, PP. 275–7.

5 Devlin, p. 277.

1 B.M. Lansdowne MS. vol. 72, no. 39, in J. Strype, Annals of the Reformation (Oxford, 1824), iv, p. 185, and in part in Devlin, p. 283; the first page of the letter is reproduced in Philip Hughes, The Reformation in England, iii (London, 1954), 'Torture II' inserted between pp. 384 and 385. (Topcliffe's frequent abbreviations have been expanded in quotations.)

2 Letter of 7 March 1595; Devlin, p. 293.

3 C.R.S. lii. 68.

4 Ibid., p. 69. See also later reports of 15 and 18 October 1592, based on a letter of 14 September received y Verstegan from England.

5 Quoted in Janelle, p. 68, and Devlin, p. 289.

1 Quoted in Janelle, p. 69.

2 Folger Shakespeare Library, MS. V. a. 421.

3 Letter in General Archives, S.J.: Flandro-Belgæ, i. 507; Janelle, p. 70.

4 Caraman, Henry Garnet, pp. 194–9.

1 Letter of 1 May 1595; Devlin, p. 294.

2 Leake's Relation, C.R.S. v. 335.

1 From the account preserved at Stonyhurst College entitled A Brefe Discourse of the condemnation and execution of Mr Robert Southwell, as given in Janelle, p. 89.

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