John Donne and the Ancient Catholic Nobility

By McCoog, Thomas M | The Catholic Historical Review, April 1997 | Go to article overview

John Donne and the Ancient Catholic Nobility


McCoog, Thomas M, The Catholic Historical Review


John Donne and the Ancient Catholic Nobility. By Dennis Flynn. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1995. Pp. ix, 245. $35.00.)

In this fascinating study, Dennis Flynn, professor of English in Bentley College, Waltham (Massachusetts), explores issues generally considered unimportant by Donne scholars, specifically the persistent Catholicism of Donne's family and the Elizabethan persecution of Catholics. Research into these areas, Flynn contends, will recover the "missing years" of Donne's youth and will effect a re-evaluation of Donne's Latin epigrams currently rejected as spurious by many scholars.

Donne's family had consistently resisted Tudor religious reforms. His maternal great-grandmother was Sir Thomas More's sister Elizabeth Rastell. One son, William Rastell, was Thomas More's publisher. Two Rastells, John and Edward, entered the Jesuits. A daughter, Joan, married John Heywood, an entertainer and poet who served at the Tudor courts. At least two of their sons, Jasper and Ellis, entered the Society. When members of the Rastell and Heywood families went into religious exile, Donne's father protected and managed their estates through "some arcane legal maneuvers.?The tactics employed by recusants to prevent confiscation deserve further study. Until it appears, we can only observe with Flynn: Wise as serpents, mild as doves, the Heywoods and Donne were thus able to make the most of a bad situation" (p. 72).

In "Donne and the Ancient Catholic Nobility" Flynn examines relations between Donne's family and the ancient Catholic houses of Percy, Earls of Northumberland, Howard, Earls of Arundel, and Stanley, Earls of Derby.The catalyst was the arrival of Jasper Heywood, who, with his colleague William Holt, entered England in 1581 at Tynemouth with the connivance of Captain William Pullen, the Earl of Northumberland's surrogate and later a secular priest. …

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