St Edmund Campion

Born 24 January 1540, executed at Tyburn 1 December 1581
Beatified December 1886, canonized 1970

Edmund Campion was born in London, the son of a Catholic bookseller, who later became Protestant. Anti Catholic feeling during this period of the Reformation meant that England was a hotbed of religious conflict, and from 1534 Catholics were increasingly persecuted for their faith.

After schooling at Christ’s Hospital, his precocious scholarship led him to study at St John’s College, Oxford, where he became a Fellow at only seventeen years of age. He was a renowned speaker and teacher, and was chosen to present an address to Queen Elizabeth at the age of twenty six. He impressed her so much that she tried to recruit him to her service, an offer which he declined. He later became a Deacon of the Church of England, and seemed destined to become a rising star in that church. However he became uneasy about the validity of their teachings, convinced that religious truth lay with the Catholic Church.

In June 1571 he left England to study at the English College at Douai where he was received into the Catholic faith. Three years later he moved to Rome and entered the Jesuit noviciate, afterwards spending time in Vienna and Prague. He was ordained priest in 1578.

In 1580 he returned to England as part of the English Mission, ministering to Catholics in this area (particularly Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire) as well as in the north of England. During this time he wrote his famous pamphlet “Decem Rationes” – Ten Reasons, which argued against the validity of the Church of England. This was secretly printed at Stonor Park, near Henley, a place which frequently provided him with refuge. The pamphlet was distributed anonymously and caused a sensation, leading to an increasingly intensive manhunt. He was finally captured at Lyford Grange, near Wantage and taken to the Tower of London.

Here he was questioned in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, who asked if he acknowledged her as the true Queen of England. He affirmed this, and was offered wealth and dignities if he would renounce his Catholic faith. He refused and remained in prison, being tortured several times. He was summoned to four public conferences and despite having no time to prepare and suffering the effects of torture, he reportedly conducted himself so easily and readily that he won much admiration from those present. He was finally convicted of treason on trumped up charges that he had conspired against the life of the Queen and had fomented rebellion. He and his fellow accused priests received their death sentence by joining in the singing of the Te Deum Laudamus. After spending his last days in prayer he was taken to Tyburn and hanged, drawn and quartered, a martyr for the Catholic faith.

Edmund Campion was Beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII and declared a Saint in 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. His Feast Day is 1 December.