Monday, March 7, 2016

The Man Who Knows Campion

In 2005, Gerard Kilroy's book Edmund Campion: Memory and Transcription was published by Ashgate, which has now become part of Routledge:

The death of Edmund Campion in 1581 marked a disjunction between the world of printed untruth and private, handwritten, truth in early modern England. Gerard Kilroy traces the circulation of manuscripts connected with Campion to reveal a fascinating network that not only stretched from the Court to Warwickshire and East Anglia but also crossed the confessional boundaries. Kilroy shows that in this intricate web Sir John Harington was a key figure, using his disguise as a wit to conceal a lifelong dedication to Campion's memory. Sir Thomas Tresham is shown as expressing his devotion to Campion both in his coded buildings and in a previously unpublished manuscript, Bodleian MS Eng. th. b. 1a "2, whose theological and cultural riches are here fully explored. This book provides startling new views about Campion's literary, historical and cultural impact in early modern England. The great strength of this study is its exploitation of archival manuscript sources, offering the first printed text and translation of Campion's Virgilian epic, a fully collated text of 'Why doe I use my paper, ynke and pen', and Harington's four decades of theological epigrams, printed for the first time in the order he so carefully designed. Edmund Campion: Memory and Transcription lays the foundations of the first full literary assessment of Campion the scholar, the impact he had on the literature of early modern England, and the long legacy in manuscript writing.

And in 2011, he wrote about Campion for the Jesuits in Britain:

The Elizabethan regime may have dismembered Campion’s body, but the battle over his reputation was as fierce as the battle over the body of Patroclus in the Iliad. The topic was still contentious in 1587 when the censors, in the week before the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, took out 47 lines asserting that Campion died for religion from the work we know as ‘Holinshed’, the ‘Continuation’ of the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

What was lost in all this noise was Edmundus Campianus Anglus Londinensis, the boy born in the heart of the printing trade, Paul’s Churchyard, son of an anti-Catholic publisher also called Edmund, schoolboy prodigy at St Paul’s (1547-52) and Christ’s Hospital (1552-57), who was chosen to address the new queen, Mary Tudor. Also lost was Edmundus Campianus Oxoniensis, the brilliant Oxford scholar (1557-70) who could turn a speech on the earth and moon into a subtle plea to the Queen and the Earl of Leicester not to interfere in the university’s affairs; and the carefree, companionable novice in Brno (1573-74) and lecturer in rhetoric in Prague (1574-80), whose drafts for student performances on feast days like Corpus Christi or All Souls survive in autograph at Stonyhurst. And, of course, Edmund Campion, the affectionate friend who effortlessly attracted patrons and friends among merchants, aldermen, nobles and foreign princes.

Descriptions of Campion as a friend seem to deal only in superlatives. Letters to Campion from the translator of the Rheims New Testament, Gregory Martin, begin ‘Dilectissime’ (‘most dearly beloved’) or ‘Suavissime et optime’ (‘sweetest and best’). Robert Persons, Campion’s superior on the mission to England, describes himas ‘facillimi ingenii’ (‘of a most yielding disposition’), a trait that was, literally, to be the death of him. In fact, all four of the major decisions that led to his capture and subsequent torture were decisions made on the point of, or after, departure, and in response to requests from others.

And last year he published another book with Ashgate/Routledge:

Edmund Campion: A Scholarly Life is the response, at long last, to Evelyn Waugh's call, in 1935, for a a "scholarly biography" to replace Richard Simpson's Edmund Campion (1867). Whereas early accounts of his life focused on the execution of the Jesuit priest, this new biography presents a more balanced assessment, placing equal weight on Campion's London upbringing among printers and preachers, and on his growing stature as an orator in an Oxford riven with religious divisions. Ireland, chosen by Campion as a haven from religious conflict, is shown, paradoxically, to have determined his life and his death. Gerard Kilroy here draws on newly discovered manuscript sources to reveal Campion as a charismatic and affectionate scholar who was finding fulfilment as priest and teacher in Prague when he was summoned to lead the first Jesuit mission to England. The book argues that the delays in his long journey suggest reluctant acceptance, even before he was told that Dr Nicholas Sander had brought a "holy war"to Ireland, so that Campion landed in an England that was preparing for papal invasion. The book offers fresh insights into the dramatic search for Campion, the populist nature of the disputations in the Tower, and the legal issues raised by his torture. It was the monarchical republic itself that, in pursuit of the Anjou marriage, made him the beloved a "champion" of the English Catholic community. Edmund Campion: A Scholarly Life presents the most detailed and comprehensive picture to date of an historical figure whose loyalty and courage, in the trial and on the scaffold, swiftly became legendary across Europe.

Gerard Kilroy is an Honorary Visiting Professor of English at UCL (University College of London). Simon Caldwell reviews his latest work on Campion for The Catholic Herald here.


  1. Bl. John Larke, Roman Catholic Priest and English Martyr. He served as a pastor in Bishopgate, Woodford, Essex, and then Chelsea until his arrest for opposing the religious supremacy of King Henry VIII of England . He was executed at Tyburn with John Ireland and Jermyn Gardiner. Feastday Mar. 7

    Bl. John Ireland, Roman Catholic Priest and English Martyr. Chaplain to St. Thomas More. He became a pastor at Eltham, Kent, prior to his arrest for resisting the supremacy of King Henry VIII of England over the Church of England. Executed at Tyburn, he died with Blesseds Jermyn Gardiner and John Larke.Feastday Mar.7

    If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you - Jesus

  2. Yes, I've posted on the Prebendaries Plot before