Robert Southwell

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Robert Southwell (c. 1561 – 21 February 1595), also Saint Robert Southwell, was an English Roman Catholic priest of the Jesuit Order. He was also a poet and clandestine missionary in post-Reformation England.

After being arrested and imprisoned in 1592, and intermittently tortured and questioned by Richard Topcliffe, Southwell eventually was tried and convicted of high treason for his links to the Holy See. On 21 February 1595, Father Southwell was hanged at Tyburn. In 1970, he was canonised by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

In 1576, he was sent to the English college at Douai, where he boarded at the English College, but studied at the Jesuit College of Anchin, a French college associated, like the English College, with the university of Douai. He studied briefly under Leonard Lessius. At the end of the summer, however, his education was interrupted by the movement of French and Spanish forces. Southwell was sent to Paris for greater safety as a student of the College de Clermont, under the tutelage of the Jesuit Thomas Darbyshire. He returned to Douai on 15 June 1577. A year later, he set off on foot to Rome with the intention of joining the society of Jesus. A two-year novitiate at Tournai was required before joining the society, however, and initially he was denied entry to the training. He appealed the decision by sending a heartfelt, emotional letter to the school. He bemoans the situation, writing: How can I but wast in anguish and agony that find myself disjoined from that company severed from that Society, disunited from that body wherein lyeth all my life my love my whole hart and affection (Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Anglia 14, fol. 80, under date 1578).

His efforts succeeded as he was admitted to the probation house of Sant’ Andrea on 17 October 1578 and in 1580 he joined the Society of Jesus. Immediately after the completion of the novitiate, Southwell began studies in philosophy and theology at the Jesuit College in Rome. During this time, he worked as a secretary to the rector and writings of his are to be found amongst the school’s documents. Upon completion of his studies, Southwell was admitted BA in 1584. In spite of his youth, he was made prefect of studies in the Venerable English College at Rome and was ordained priest in 1584. He was appointed “repetitor” (tutor) at the English College for two years before making prefect of studies...

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