Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cardinal William Allen, Vatican Librarian

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.

According to the website for the seminary of the diocese of Westminster, named Allen Hall in honor of the Cardinal:

In the consistory of August 7, 1587 Allen was created a Cardinal and by the end of that month he received the red hat and the title of Ss Silvestro e Martino ai Monti. He also received the title of Cardinal of England and was the first English cardinal after the protestant Reformation. On November 10, 1589, King Felipe II of Spain nominated him archbishop of Mechlin but he was never recognized apparently because of the state of destitution of the See and the unwillingness of the king to provide the archbishop with a fitting revenue. Cardinal Allen also participated in the conclave of 1590, and the newly elected Pope, Gregory XIV (1590-1591) named him prefect of the Vatican library and entrusted him, together with Cardinal Ascanio Colonna, with the revision of the Latin Vulgate. As Cardinal, Allen also later participated in the conclaves of 1591 and 1592.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Cardinal Allen wrote many works, theological and controversial:

The following is a list of his printed works: "Certain Brief Reasons concerning the Catholick Faith" (Douay, 1564); "A Defense and Declaration of the Catholike Churches Doctrine touching Purgatory, and Prayers of the Soules Departed" (Antwerp, 1565), re-edited by Father Bridgett in 1886; "A Treatise made in defense of the Lawful Power and Authoritie of the Preesthoode to remitte sinnes &c." (1578); "De Sacramentis" (Antwerp, 1565; Douay, 1603); "An Apology for the English Seminaries" (1581); "Apologia Martyrum" (1583); "Martyrium R. P. Edmundi Campiani, S.J." (1583); "An Answer to the Libel of English Justice" (Mons, 1584); "The Copie of a Letter written by M. Doctor Allen concerning the Yeelding up of the Citie of Daventrie, unto his Catholike Majestie, by Sir William Stanley Knight" (Antwerp, 1587), reprinted by the Chetham Society, 1851; "An Admonition to the Nobility and People of England and Ireland, concerning the present Warres made for the Execution of his Holines Sentence, by the highe and mightie Kinge Catholike of Spain, by the Cardinal of Englande" (1588); "A Declaration of the sentence and deposition of Elizabeth, the usurper and pretended Queene of England" (1588; reprinted London, 1842).

Those are Allen's uncontrovertible achievements; however, he also dabbled in political and diplomatic efforts--and as Blessed John Henry Newman opined, "to touch politics is to touch pitch". 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. Hello, I just found out today that William Cardinal Allen is my 12th Great Uncle and I'm trying to find his writings, I've found some, haven't found his Admonition to the Nobility and People of England and Ireland or his work on the defence of the doctrine of Purgatory.

    Would you know where to look for these?

    1. Check with Loome Theological Books