The only child of William Crashaw, Richard Crashaw was born in London in either 1612 or 1613. His mother died when he was an infant; William Crashaw’s second wife, Elizabeth, died when Richard was seven.
William Crashaw, Anglican divine, seems an unlikely parent for one of England’s most famous converts to Roman Catholicism. Staunchly Low Church (some say Puritan) in his theology and in his lifestyle, the elder Crashaw devoted his life to preaching and writing, partly against the Laudian or High Church excesses in the Church of England but principally against what he perceived as the far greater dangers of the Church of Rome itself. In his efforts to know the full strength of the enemy, William Crashaw amassed an impressive collection of “Romish” writings; the critic can only speculate what effect these works, as well as his father’s convictions, may have had on the spiritual development of Richard Crashaw.
After two years at London’s famed Charterhouse School with its austere regime and classical curriculum, Crashaw was admitted, in 1631, to Pembroke College at Cambridge University. He would receive his A.B. in 1634 and his A.M. in 1638. He came to Pembroke with something of a reputation as a poet, a reputation that grew steadily as he produced Latin and Greek epigrams as well as English models, translations of the Psalms, and various occasional verses. These works form the basis of his 1634 publication, Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber, the only work Crashaw himself would see through the printing process.
In 1635, Crashaw was appointed to a fellowship at Peterhouse College and sometime shortly thereafter was ordained to the Anglican priesthood. At Peterhouse, he was in direct contact with a circle of Laudian churchmen whose devotion, emphasis on liturgical ceremony and propriety, and reverence marked another step in Crashaw’s eventual spiritual journey...
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