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Edmund Campion

Born : 25 January 1540 - London
Died : 1 December 1581 - Tyburn

Edmund Campion, the son of a bookseller, became a leading scholar of his time, respected by many for his intelligence, his kindness, and his choice of a dangerous career in an era when, had he chosen a more diplomatic, or academic field of endevour, it is likely that he would have become one of the great minds of the English Renaissance.

At 13 he was chosen to give the Latin salutatory to Mary upon her arrival in London, and at 17 was appointed as a junior fellow of St John's College Oxford. Taking two degress, he became a celebrated tutor, and in 1568, junior Proctor. Although he took the Oath of Supremacy, his doctrine changed little, causing him constant inner trouble, until he ended his career at Oxford at the time his Proctorship came up for review. He travelled to Ireland where he awaited the reopening of Dublin University, which never eventuated. In time he returned, disguised to England where he witnessed the martyrdom of John Story. Soon after he removed himself to Douai where he acquired his theological degree.

In 1573 he travelled to Rome and was admitted into the Society of Jesus, and was ordained in 1578. Eventually he and Robert Persons journeyed to England, where his mission, to reclaim Catholics who had strayed from the path under the "pressure of governmental tyranny" became an all consuming passion and his his zeal to win Protestant converts forced him north.

A spy, a former steward of the Roper family, George Eliot, eventually ran him and others down at Lyford Grange near Wantage in Berkshire on 17 July, 1581, after Campion had been harboured by many of the Midlands leading Catholic families, including the Tresham's and Catesby's. Eliot was a professional recusant hunter with a counts of both rape and murder against him. Tresham, Catesby, and Lord Vaux of Harrowden were eventually tried in Star Chamber, convicted, and imprisoned for harbouring Campion.

Paraded through London as a means of humiliation, he was first thrown into Little Ease at the Tower. He was then carried privately to the house of his old patron, the Earl of Leicester where he encountered the Queen herself, and received "earnest proffers of liberty and preferments would he but forsake his papistry".He steadfastly refused, and was subsequently tortured in order to extract a confession. Although he never wavered, it was claimed he had recounted and named several confederates who were in turn arrested under this false confession.

Eventually at Westminster Hall on 20 November 1581, a sham trial ensued. Campion had been unable to prepare his defence, was forced to support his racked and tortured body for 4 hours, and was sentenced to death for treason. Eleven days later on On 1 December 1581 he was executed at Tyburn.

Edmund Campion was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 9 December 1886, and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.


[1] Waugh, Evelyn, "Saint Edmund Campion, Priest and Martyr", Sophia Institute Press, 1996
[2] "Dictionary of National Biography", 1895

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