Robert Persons SJ (24 June 1546 – 15 April 1610), later known as Robert Parsons, was an English Jesuit priest. He was a major figure in establishing the 16th-century "English Mission" of the Society of Jesus.
The Society of Jesus is a scholarly religious congregation of the Catholic Church which originated in sixteenth-century Spain. The members are called Jesuits. The society is engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry in 112 nations. Jesuits work in education, intellectual research, and cultural pursuits. Jesuits also give retreats, minister in hospitals and parishes, sponsor direct social ministries, and promote ecumenical dialogue.
Robert Persons was born at Nether Stowey, Somerset to yeoman parents. Through the favour of local parson named John Hayward, a former monk, he was educated in 1562 at St. Mary's Hall, Oxford. After completing his degrees with distinction, he became a fellow and tutor at Balliol in 1568.
Nether Stowey is a large village in the Sedgemoor district of Somerset, South West England. It sits in the foothills of the Quantock Hills, just below Over Stowey. The parish of Nether Stowey covers approximately 4 km², with a population of 1,373.
Somerset is a county in South West England which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west. It is bounded to the north and west by the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, its coastline facing southeastern Wales. Its traditional border with Gloucestershire is the River Avon. Somerset's county town is Taunton.
A yeoman was a member of a social class in England and the United States. It is also a military term.
As a Fellow of Balliol College, Persons clashed with the Master there, Adam Squire, and also the academic and Roman Catholic priest Christopher Bagshaw.On 13 February 1574, he was subsequently forced to resign. Through discussion and encouraged by pupillage with Father William Good, SJ, he travelled overseas to become a Jesuit priest at St Paul's, Rome on 3 July 1575.
Adam Squire or Squier was an English churchman and academic, Master of Balliol College, Oxford from 1571 to 1580, and Archdeacon of Middlesex from 1577.
Christopher Bagshaw was an English academic and Roman Catholic priest.
William Good (1527–1586) was an English Jesuit.
Persons accompanied Edmund Campion on his mission to fellow English Catholics in 1580. The Jesuit General, Everard Mercurian, had been reluctant to involve the Society directly in English ecumenical affairs. He was persuaded by an Italian Jesuit provincial, and later by Superior General Claudio Acquaviva, after William Cardinal Allen had found Mercurian resistant to change in October 1579.Persons fast tracked English recruits to the Jesuits, and planned to set up cooperation with the remaining English secular clergy. He became impatient with Father Good's approach to the situation. Campion was much less of an enthusiast than he was.
Saint Edmund Campion, S.J., was an English Catholic Jesuit priest and martyr. While conducting an underground ministry in officially Anglican England, Campion was arrested by priest hunters. Convicted of high treason, he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Campion was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. His feast is celebrated on 1 December.
Very Rev. Everard Mercurian, S.J. was the fourth Superior General of the Society of Jesus.
Claudio Acquaviva, S.J. was an Italian Jesuit priest elected in 1581 the fifth Superior General of the Society of Jesus. He is often referred to as the second founder of the Jesuit order. Some older texts, including those illustrated in this article, spell his name Aquaviva.
The mission was immediately compromised as the pope had sent a separate group to the Jesuit mission, to support the Irish rebel, James FitzMaurice FitzGerald. Persons and Campion only learned of this event in Reims while they were en route to England. After the initial invasion force under the mercenary Thomas Stukley had achieved nothing successful in 1578, the intervention under FitzGerald caused the English authorities to monitor the recusants closely, and try to finance the campaign against the papal forces with exactions from them.Campion and Persons crossed separately into England.
Pope Gregory XIII, born Ugo Boncompagni, was Pope of the Catholic Church from 13 May 1572 to his death in 1585. He is best known for commissioning and being the namesake for the Gregorian calendar, which remains the internationally accepted civil calendar to this day.
James FitzMaurice FitzGerald was a member of the 16th century ruling Geraldine dynasty in the province of Munster in Ireland. He rebelled against the crown authority of Queen Elizabeth I of England in response to the onset of the Tudor conquest of Ireland. He led the first of the Desmond Rebellions in 1569, spent a period in exile in continental Europe, but returned with an invasion force in 1579. He died shortly after landing. His rebellions were strongly associated with counter-reformation Catholic ideology.
Reims, a city in the Grand Est region of France, lies 129 km (80 mi) east-northeast of Paris. The 2013 census recorded 182,592 inhabitants in the city of Reims proper, and 317,611 inhabitants in the metropolitan area. Its primary river, the Vesle, is a tributary of the Aisne.
In June 1580 Thomas Pounde, then in the Marshalsea Prison, went to speak to Persons. This action then resulted in a petition from Pounde to the Privy Council to allow a disputation where the Jesuits would take on Robert Crowley and Henry Tripp, who used to preach to the Marshalsea inmates. Campion and Persons also prepared their own personal statements, to be kept in reserve. The immediate consequence was that Pounde was then transferred to Bishop's Stortford Castle; but the prepared statement by Campion was later circulated soon after his capture.
Thomas Pounde was an English Jesuit lay brother.
Robert Crowley, was a stationer, poet, polemicist and Protestant clergyman among Marian exiles at Frankfurt. He seems to have been a Henrician Evangelical in favour of a more reformed Protestantism than the king and the Church of England sanctioned. Under Edward VI, he joined a London network of evangelical stationers to argue for reforms, sharing a vision of his contemporaries Hugh Latimer, Thomas Lever, Thomas Beccon and others of England as a reformed Christian commonwealth. He attacked as inhibiting reform what he saw as corruption and uncharitable self-interest among the clergy and wealthy. Meanwhile Crowley took part in making the first printed editions of Piers Plowman, the first translation of the Gospels into Welsh, and the first complete metrical psalter in English, which was also the first to include harmonised music. Towards the end of Edward's reign and later, Crowley criticised the Edwardian Reformation as compromised and saw the Dissolution of the Monasteries as replacing one form of corruption by another. On his return to England after the reign of Mary I, Crowley revised his chronicle to represent the Edwardian Reformation as a failure, due to figures like Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset and John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. Crowley's account of the Marian martyrs represented them as a cost mostly paid by commoners. The work became a source for John Foxe's account of the period in his Actes and Monuments. Crowley held church positions in the early to mid-1560s and sought change from the pulpit and within the church hierarchy. Against the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, Crowley was a leader in the renewed vestments controversy, which eventually lost him his clerical posts. During the dispute he and other London clergy produced a "first Puritan manifesto". Late in life Crowley was restored to several church posts and appears to have charted a more moderate course in defending it from Roman Catholicism and from nonconformist factions that espoused a Presbyterian church polity.
The Marshalsea (1373–1842) was a notorious prison in Southwark, just south of the River Thames. Although it housed a variety of prisoners, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition, it became known, in particular, for its incarceration of the poorest of London's debtors. Over half the population of England's prisons in the 18th century were in jail because of debt.
Much of the time Persons spent in England was taken up with covert printing, and pamphleteering. He made his negative view on church papism clear to the local Catholic clergy, before a synod in Southwark. The secret printing press needed to be relocated, moving it in early 1581 to Stonor Park. Campion was captured in July of that year; and then Stephen Brinkley, who ran the printing press, was taken captive in August. Quite soon after that date Persons left for France.His underlying strategy of trying to embarrass the English government by demanding a forum for his ideals was consistent with the general approach of Allen and Persons, but met with much criticism from the Catholic members. Allen and Parsons persisted with their demand for another two years, but Jesuit opinion was against further confrontation. Campion was forced into disputation in the Tower of London under adverse conditions. When Persons left England, he was never to return.
Persons spent the winter of 1581–82 at Rouen, and embarked on writing projects. He was in close contact with Henry I, Duke of Guise, and through the Duke founded a school for English boys at Eu, on the coast to the north-east. Father William Creighton, SJ, was on the way to Scotland. He arrived in January 1582 and was briefed by Persons and the duke. In April Creighton returned with word from Esmé Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox; and they went to Paris to confer with William Allen, James Beaton and Claude Mathieu, Jesuit provincial in France, on his military plans and the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots. The scheme, which Persons supported confidently, advanced further, but was stopped after the raid of Ruthven of August 1582. One consequence was that Allen was made Cardinal, as Persons had recommended.
A new enterprise was projected for September 1583, this time through England. Persons was sent by the Duke of Guise with written instructions to Rome. He returned to Flanders, and stayed for some time at the court of the Duke of Parma. The discovery of the Throckmorton Plot disrupted the plan, and the Duke of Guise became absorbed in French domestic affairs. Philip II of Spain took over the lead, placed the Duke of Parma in charge, and limited involvement to Persons, Allen, and Hew Owen.
It was during this period that Persons was involved in the work later known as Leicester's Commonwealth . Distributed covertly, it came to light in 1584. Persons is now generally thought not to be the author.The British historian John Bossy, from the University of York, is inclined to disagree.
There is a scholarly consensus that the intention was to affect French domestic politics, strengthening the Guise faction against Anglophiles. Correspondingly his own standing suffered in some quarters.Claudio Acquaviva by the end of the year was concerned that the Jesuit strategies for France and the English mission would turn out to be inconsistent in the longer term, and consulted Pope Gregory XIII on the matter. Persons as his subordinate had been told to drop plans to assassinate Elizabeth.
In September 1585, Pope Sixtus V succeeded Pope Gregory XIII, and Persons and Allen went to Rome; Persons was still there when the Spanish Armada sailed in 1588. At this period Allen and Persons made a close study of the succession to Elizabeth I of England, working with noted genealogist Robert Heighinton.Persons took his vows of final profession in the Jesuits in Rome on 7 May 1587.
Persons was sent to Spain at the close of 1588 to conciliate Philip II of Spain, who was offended with Claudio Acquaviva. Persons was successful, and then made use of the royal favour to found the seminaries of Valladolid, Seville, and Madrid (1589, 1592, 1598) and the residences of San-Lucar and of Lisbon (which became a college in 1622). He then succeeded in establishing at St Omer (1594) a larger institution to which the boys from Eu were transferred. It is the institutional ancestor of Stonyhurst College.
In 1596, in Seville, he wrote Memorial for the Reformation of England, which gave in some detail a blueprint for the kind of society England was to become after its return to the faith. He had hoped to succeed Allen as Cardinal on the latter's death. Unsuccessful, he was rewarded with the rectorship of the English College in Rome, where he died at the age of 63.
Persons's published works were:
An Apologicall Epistle: directed to the right honorable lords and others of her majesties privie counsell. Serving as well for a preface to a Booke entituled A Resolution of Religion [signed R. B.], Antwerp, 1601, is by Richard Broughton rather than Persons (as the Dictionary of National Biography says).Some works against Thomas Bell were thought to be by Persons (as in the DNB), but were in fact by Philip Woodward.
John Ponet, sometimes spelled John Poynet, was an English Protestant churchman and controversial writer, the Bishop of Winchester and Marian exile. He is now best known as a resistance theorist who made a sustained attack on the divine right of kings.
Blessed John Shert was an English Catholic priest and martyr, who was executed during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Blessed Thomas Cottam was an English Catholic priest and martyr from Lancashire, who was executed during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Francis Tregian the Elder (1548–1608) was the son of John Tregian of Wolvenden of Probus, Cornwall and Catherine Arundell. A staunch Catholic, he inherited substantial estates on the death of his father, including the manors of Bedock, Landegy, Lanner and Carvolghe, and the family home, 'Golden', in the parish of Probus, near Truro. He was the father of Francis Tregian the Younger, notable for his musical interests.
The Archpriest Controversy was the debate which followed the appointment of an archpriest by Pope Clement VIII to oversee the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church's missionary priests in England at the end of the sixteenth century.
Events from the 1580s in England.
The Reverend Father Gregory Martin was an English Catholic Priest, a noted scholar of his time, academic and Doctor of Divinity, and served as the chief translator of the Rheims and Douai Version of the Bible, the first full, official Catholic English Bible translation, translated from the Latin Vulgate.
John Hungerford Pollen was an English Jesuit, known as a historian of the Protestant Reformation.
The Islands Voyage, also known as the Essex-Raleigh Expedition, was an ambitious, but unsuccessful naval campaign sent by Queen Elizabeth I of England, and supported by the United Provinces, against Spain during the Anglo–Spanish War (1585–1604) and the Eighty Years' War.
The Westminster Conference of 1559 was a religious disputation held early in the reign of Elizabeth I of England. Although the proceedings themselves were perfunctory, the outcome shaped the Elizabethan religious settlement.
The Wisbech Stirs was a divisive quarrel between English Roman Catholic clergy held prisoner in Wisbech Castle in Cambridgeshire, towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth I of England. It set the regular clergy represented by the Society of Jesus, emerging as clerical leaders, who wished for a more ordered communal life in the prison, against some of the secular clergy.
Henry Vaux was an English recusant, priest smuggler, and poet during the reign of Elizabeth I. He was born the eldest child of William Vaux, 3rd Baron Vaux of Harrowden, and his first wife, Elizabeth Beaumont, daughter of John Beaumont of Grace Dieu, Leicester. Both Henry Vaux’s parents came from traditionally Catholic families.
The Spanish blanks plot was an alleged pro-Spanish Catholic conspiracy in Scotland, discovered in late 1592. A number of letters to Spain were discovered, which included blank sheets signed by prominent nobles.
William Crichton or Creighton was a Scottish Jesuit, who became head of the Scots seminary in Flanders.
John White (1570–1615) was an English clergyman, known as a royal chaplain and controversialist.
John Hart was an English Jesuit, known for his equivocal behaviour on the English mission in the early 1580s.
A Conference about the Next Succession was a pseudonymous book published by "Doleman", and dealing with the succession to Elizabeth I of England. The cover date is 1594, but the real publication date is taken to be around September 1595, in Amsterdam. The author has traditionally been identified with Robert Persons, an English Jesuit exile. It has also been suggested that Doleman is a collective pseudonym.
Edward Burden (c.1540-1588) was a sixteenth century recusant priest. Born in County Durham, he was a graduate of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He studied at Duoay College and was ordained a priest in Rheims in 1584. He is probably best known for being one of the Eighty-five martyrs of England and Wales, for, arriving in England in 1586, he was captured two years later and executed by hanging, drawing and quartering in York on 29 November 1588,