John Donne and the Ancient Catholic Nobility

By Dennis Flynn | Go to book overview
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THERE HAD BEEN talk in Belgium that Ellis and Jasper Heywood might return to England to preach the Catholic religion. 1 During the summer of 1580, Catholic Londoners learned of the arrival in England of Robert Persons and the celebrated Edmund Campion, disguised as a swordsman and a jewel merchant. High spirits marked the attitude of the missionaries even as they considered with terror their prospects at the hands of the Privy Council. 2 Jasper Heywood followed them in similar spirits within a year. After more than twenty years of government policy designed to bring about a reduction in the number of Catholics, the old religion not only persisted but Catholic fugitives were now returning to missionize the island. Seminaries staffed by the fugitives and funded by the Pope had been sending zealous priests into England since 1574. The Jesuits now advanced a redoubtable force against the established religion. The militant devotion of the missionaries represented a dash of chivalry that was unfamiliar in members of the English clergy but exotically attractive to many who sympathized with the old religion.

The Privy Council had already begun to wage war on the missionaries and their supporters among the Catholic laity. With the coming of the Jesuits, this war escalated. Capturing Persons and Campion represented a top priority. To this end, the Council reviewed existing anti‐ Catholic laws and planned a heightening of legislated terror in order to make use of the fears of Catholics themselves in the hunt for Jesuits. Since the beginning of the reign, the celebration of mass as well as other Catholic rites had been forbidden, but failure to attend Anglican services had been penalized by the relatively small fine of I shilling per offense.

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John Donne and the Ancient Catholic Nobility


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