St Robert Southwell

New Heaven, New War

This little babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at His presence quake,
Though He Himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmèd wise
The gates of hell He will surprise.

With tears He fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield,
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns, cold and need,
And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.

Father Robert Southwell’s biography from the website ‘Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature’.

In spite of his youth he was made prefect of studies in the English college of the Jesuits at Rome, and was ordained priest in 1584. It was in that year that an act was passed, forbidding any English-born subject of the Queen who had entered into priest’s orders in the Roman Catholic Church since her accession to remain in England longer than forty days on pain of death. Southwell at his own request was sent to England in 1586 as a Jesuit missionary… He went from one Catholic family to another, administering the rites of his Church….After six years of successful labor Southwell was arrested…He was imprisoned…where he was repeatedly put to the torture in the vain hope of extracting evidence about other priests….Transferred to the gatehouse at Westminster, he was so abominably treated that his father petitioned Elizabeth that he might either be brought to trial and put to death, if found guilty, or removed in any case from “that filthy hole.”…There is little doubt that much of his poetry, none of which was published during his lifetime, was written in prison. On the 20th of February 1595 he was tried…on the charge of treason, and was hanged at Tyburn on the following day.



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