Edmund Campion

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Edmund Campion, an Englishman born in 1540 in London. He studied at Oxford University, where he became a very learned and respected professor of Latin and Greek. In 1566, he receives the honor of being asked to deliver a speech welcoming Queen Elizabeth I to Oxford. Queen Elizabeth I and her advisers believe that Campion will have a distinguished career as a leading clergyman in the Church of England because of his intelligence and persuasiveness as an orator. He surprises his colleagues at Oxford and disappoints the queen by his decision to leave England and convert to Catholicism, which was then persecuted in England. In 1571, he begins studying for the priesthood at the Catholic seminary in Douai, France, but after two years he decides that his spiritual development would be served better by his entering the Jesuit order. He travels to Rome, where he is accepted by the Jesuits. He is assigned to their novitiate in Prague, where he continues his study of theology. He is ordained in Prague in September, 1578. He teaches philosophy, theology, Greek, and Latin at a Jesuit school in Prague, for which he also writes several edifying Latin plays. Two years after his ordination, his superiors decide to send him back to England as a missionary. Saying Mass was a capital offense in England at the time, and many Catholics were arrested and executed for their refusal to convert to the Church of England. Campion fully understands the dangers ahead of him as he crosses the English Channel in June, 1580. Campion’s tasks are to hear confessions, say Mass, and give communion to Catholics. Until July, 1581, he successfully avoids arrest. He travels extensively around England, says Mass, and hears confessions in secret, as well as using an underground printing press to publish tracts in which he defends Catholic dogma. Queen Elizabeth I wants to silence this eloquent priest, and she uses all the power of her government to find Campion. After his arrest, he is taken to the Tower of London, where he is tortured several times on the rack, but he refuses to reconvert to the Church of England. Campion is indicted on the capital charge of treason because he refuses to recognize Queen Elizabeth I as the spiritual head of the church in England. At the beginning of his trial, he states that paupers like himself are entitled to the services of a lawyer in capital cases, and he further argues that his guilt has to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Judge Christopher Wray rejects both arguments because he is afraid that the jury might not convict Campion and the other seven priests who are being tried with him. The judge does everything possible to ensure a guilty verdict. During his trial, Campion defends himself and the other priests eloquently, but they all are condemned to death. Campion is executed in London on December 1, 1581. He accepts his martyrdom with dignity and grace. His courageous acceptance of torture and death inspired generations of English Catholics to remain faithful to their beliefs. Pope Paul VI canonized Campion on October 25, 1970.

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I, the queen of England from 1558 to 1603. She hears Campion deliver a speech at Oxford University in 1566 and signs his death warrant in 1581. At the beginning of this novel, the author imagines that as she lay dying in 1603, Queen Elizabeth I may well have thought about the eloquent orator whom she had heard at Oxford thirty-seven years earlier.


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This book is an intelligent, sober, and admirably written biography of a man dear to the hearts of Anglo-Saxon Catholics. Evelyn Waugh has written a fine impressionistic portrait of the English martyr after whom Campion Hall at Oxford was named. Waugh warns that intolerance is a growing evil in our modern world, and martyrs may again be forced to die for their faith.

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