Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cardinal William Allen, RIP

Cardinal William Allen, founder of colleges and seminaries for English Catholics on the Continent in the 16th century, died on October 16, 1594. He was also responsible for the English translation of the Holy Bible, the Douai-Rheims version.

He attended Oriel College at Oxford and became a Fellow there. With the accession of Elizabeth I, he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy. Therefore he had to leave England and went into exile on the Continent, joining other Catholics in Leuven in present-day Belgium. Allen returned to England before ordination and began to work with Catholics, recognizing that the religious changes legislated by Parliament were not the will of the people.

So he returned to the Continent and went to another town in Flanders, Mechelen. (When I visited Belgium many years ago, I had no idea of these connections!) There he was ordained in 1565--and never returned to England. Allen founded the college and seminary in Douai for the training of English Catholic priests to return to their native land to serve the Catholic people.

Allen also founded the English College in Rome for the same purpose. He had to move the college at Douai to Rheims--all the while working on an English translation of the Holy Bible. First the New Testament was produced at Rheims in 1582; the Old Testament was delayed until 1609--published two years before King James's Authorized Version.

Those are Allen's uncontrovertible achievements; however, he also dabbled in political and diplomatic efforts. There his record is more controversial as he encouraged the excommunication of Elizabeth I, attempts to remove her from the throne, and the Spanish Armada. It was planned that he would follow the victorious Armada and become the Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury!

When all these plans came to naught, Allen became a Librarian at the Vatican and helped found another English college in Spain. He died in Rome at the Venerable English College.


  1. Thanks Stephanie, never read anything about the man who brought forth the Douai-Rheims Bible.
    His politics was more than controversial, me thinks! Hindsight always being 20-20, he (and the whole scheme) was just disastrously wrong.
    So he was made a Cardinal not being a Bishop? Was he the first English cleric to receive this honor?

  2. I think there might be some controversy about his being named Cardinal as it was in anticipation of him becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury upon the great triumph of the Armada, the uprising of Catholics in England, and the overthrow of Elizabeth I. Allen and Robert Persons, SJ seriously misunderstood the position of Catholics in England around the time of the Spanish Armada.