Edmund Campion by J.M. Lerch; Antwerp (British Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The verdict against Campion was a foregone conclusion at his arraignment and no trial was going to change the outcome.
History of Christianity is a six part survey designed to stimulate your curiosity by providing glimpses of pivotal events and persons in the spread of the church.
Queen Elizabeth I had delighted in Edmund Campion, a man of wit, and offered him employment which he refused because it would have required him to embrace the Church of England. A Roman Catholic, he left England, joined the Jesuits, and found himself in Prague. His superiors soon ordered him to England.
In his native land, he traveled from place to place in disguise and under an assumed name to conduct secret masses for Catholics. This secrecy was needed because Pope Paul V had excommunicated Elizabeth and called on true Catholics to overthrow her. Tension ran high, not least because Catholic Spain sought to conquer England (seven years later, the failed Spanish Armada would be part of the attempt). Because of the pope’s position, Catholic priests were assumed to be agitators, bent of implementing the will of the pope upon England.
Through the treachery of a Catholic maid, Campion was betrayed to the authorities and, after two days’ search, was discovered hiding in a priest hole behind a false wall at the head of a stairs.
Brought to trial with a number of other Catholics, he seems to have taken the lead in responding for all of the defendents. At his arraignment he urged that each should be tried separately and denied he had ever been a traitor. Instead he had only traveled about to administer religious rites and give religious instruction. The accusations against him were based on circumstantial evidence and hearsay, he said.
After several exchanges, in which Campion answered for himself and the seven men charged with him, the Queen’s Counsel advanced the heart of the case. Campion was committed to serving the pope and the pope was committed to destroying Elizabeth, therefore Campion also must be committed to bringing down the Queen.
Campion denied the accusation and explained what he had meant by some mysterious remarks he had made.
Excerpt from Campion’s Arraignment
Queen’s Counsel. What an army and host of men, the pope by the aid of the King of Spain and the Duke of Florence had levied for the overthrow of this realm, the destruction of her majesty, and the placing of the Scottish queen as governess in England, could not any ways have escaped your knowledge; for being sent from Prague, where your abode was, to Rome, and then by the Pope charged presently toward England, what other drift could this, such a sudden embassage, portend, than the practicing and execution of such a conspiracy? Whereof you are also the more to be suspected, for as much as in your coming from Rome towards England, you entered into a certain privy conference with Dr. Allen [Allen, who used strong words against the Reformation, had founded a school for Catholics and was preparing a Catholic translation of the Bible into English] to break these matters to the English Papists to withdraw the people from their due allegiance and to prepare them to receive these foreign powers.
Campion. When I was received into the order of the Jesuits, I vowed three things incident to my calling, chastity, poverty and obedience. Chastity in abstaining from all fleshly appetites and concupiscences. Poverty in despising all worldly wealth lying upon the devotion of others. Obedience in dutifully executing the commandment of my superiors. In respect of which vow, inveighing obedience, I came, being sent for from Prague to Rome, having not so much as the smallest inkling of these supposed armies, nor the least inclination to put any such thing into practice, but there rested for eight days, attending the pleasure of my provost, who at last, according to my vow (which by the grace of God, I will in no case violate) appointed me to undertake this journey into England, which, accordingly, I enterprised, being commanded thereunto not as a traitor to conspire the subversion of my country, but as a priest to minister the sacraments, to hear confessions; the which embassage I protest before God I would as gladly have executed and was as ready and willing to discharge, had I been sent to the Indians or the uttermost regions in the world, as I was being sent into my native country. In the which voyage I cannot deny but that I dined with Dr. Allen at Rheims, with whom also after dinner I walked in his garden, spending our time in speeches which referred to our old familiarity and acquaintance; during the whole course thereof (I take God to witness) not one iota of our talk glanced to the crown or state of England; neither had I the least notice of any letters sent to Sanders, nor the smallest glimmering of these objected platforms—Then as for being procurator from the pope and Dr. Allen, I must needs say there could no one thing have been inferred more contrary, for as concerning the one, he flatly with charge and commandment excused me from matters of state and regiment; with the other sought no such duty and obedience as to execute matters repugnant to my charge. But admitting (as I protest he did not) that Dr. Allen had communicated such affairs unto me, yet for that he was not my superior it had been full apostacy in me to obey him. Dr. Allen for his learning and good religion I reverence, but neither was I his subject or inferior, nor he the man at whose commanment I rested.
Queen’s Counsel. Were it not that your dealing afterwards had fully betrayed you, your present speech perhaps had been more credible; but all afterclaps make those excuses but shadows, and your deeds and actions prove your words but forged; for what meaning had that changing of your name, whereto belonged your disguising in apparel, can these alterations be wrought without suspicion? Your name being Campion, why were you called Hastings? You a priest and dead to the world, what pleasure had you to royst that? A velvet hat and a feather, a buff leather jerkin, velvet venetians, are they weeds for dead men? Can that beseem a professed man of religion which hardly becometh a layman of gravity? No; there was a further matter intended; your lurking and lying hid in secret places, concludeth with the rest, a mischievous meaning: had you come hither for love of your country, you would never have wrought in—or had your intent been to have done well, you would never have hated the light, and therefore this beginning decyphereth your treason.
Campion. At what time the primitive church was persecuted and that Paul labored in the propagation and increase of the Gospel, it is not unknown, to what straits and pinches he and his fellows were diversely driven, wherein though in purpose he were already resolved rather to yield himself to martyrdom, than to shrink an inch from the truth he preached; yet if any hope or means appeared to escape, and if living he might benefit the church more than dying, we read of sundry shifts whereto he betook him, to increase God’s number and to shun persecution; but especially the changing of his name was very oft and familiar, whereby as opportunity and occasion was ministered, he termed himself now Paul now Saul; neither was he of opinion always to be known, but sometime thought it expedient to be hidden, lest being discovered persecution should ensue, and thereby the Gospel greatly forestalled. Such was his meaning, so was his purpose, which being in penance for points of religion he secretly stole out of prison in a basket. If these shifts were then approved, why are they now reproved in me? he an Apostle, I a Jesuit. Were they commended in him, are they condemned in me, the same cause was common to both, and shall the effect be peculiar to the one? I wished earnestly the planting of the gospel. I knew a contrary religion professed. I saw if I were known I should be apprehended. I changed, my name: I kept secretly. I imitated Paul. Was I therein a traitor? But the wearing of a buffjerkin, a velvet hat, and such like is much forced against me, as though the wearing of any apparel were treason, or that I in so doing were ever the more a traitor. I am not indicted upon the statute of Apparel, neither is it any part of this present arraignment. Indeed, I acknowledge an offence to God for so doing, and thereof it did grievously repent, me and therefore do now penance as you see me.
He was newly shaven, in a rug gown, and a great blacking strap covering half his face, etc.
The Clerk of the Crown read a Letter sent from Campion unto one Pound, a Catholic, part of the contents whereof was this, “It grieveth me much to have offended the Catholic cause so highly, as to confess the names of some gentlemen and friends in whose houses I had been entertained: yet in this I greatly cherish and comfort myself, that I never discovered any secrets there declared, and that I will not, come rack, come rope.”
Queens Counsel. What can sound more suspiciously or nearer unto treason, than this letter? It grieveth him to have betrayed his favorers the Catholics, and therein he thinketh to have wrought prejudice to religion. What then, may we think of that he concealeth? It must needs he some grievous matter and very precious, that neither the rack nor the rope can wring from him. For his conscience being not called in question nor sifted in any point of religion, no doubt, if there had not been further devices and affairs of the state and commonwealth attempted, we should as well have discovered the matter as the person; wherefore, it were well these hidden secrets were revealed, and then would appear the very face of these treasons.
Campion. As I am by profession and calling a priest so have I singly vowed all conditions and covenants to such a charge and vocation belonging, whereby I sustain an office and duty of priesthood that consisteth in sharing aud hearing confessions, in respect whereof at my first conservation (as all other priests so accepted must do) I solemnly took and vowed to God never to disclose any secrets confessed. The force and effect of which vow is such whereby every priest is bound, under danger of perpetual curse and damnation, never to disclose any offence opened nor infirmity whatsoever committed to his hearing. By virtue of this profession and due execution of my priesthood, I was accustomed to be privy to divers men’s secrets, and those not such as concerned State or Commonwealth, whereunto my authority was not extended, but such as so charged the grieved soul and conscience whereof I had power to pray for absolution. These were the hidden matters, these were the secrets in concerning of which I so greatly rejoiced, to the revealing whereof I cannot, nor will not be brought, come rack, come rope.
Thereupon the Clerk of the Crown read certain Papers containing in them Oaths to be ministered to the people for the renouncing their obedience to her majesty and the swearing of allegiance to the pope, acknowledging him for their supreme head and governor, the which papers were found in divers houses where Campion had lurked, and for religion been entertained.
Queen’s Counsel. What can be more apparent than this? These Oaths, if we went no further, are of themselves sufficient to convince you of treason; for what may be imagined more traitorous than to alien the hearts of the subjects from her majesty, renouncing their obedience to her, and swearing their subjection to the pope? And therefore these papers thus found in houses were you where, do clearly prove that for ministering such oaths, you are a traitor.
Campion. Neither is there, neither can there be any thing imagined more directly contrary or repugnant to my calling, as upon any occasion to minister an oath: neither had I any power or authority so to do: neither would I commit an offence so thwart [contrary] to my profession, for all the substance and treasure in the world. But admit I were authorized, what necessity importeth that reason, that neither being set down by my handwriting nor otherwise derived by any proof from myself, but only found in places where I resorted, therefore I should be he by whom they were ministered. This is but a naked presumption (who seeth it not?) and nothing vehement nor of force against me.