Jesuit superior in England; b. Heanor, Derbyshire, 1555; d. London, May 3, 1606. Garnet, son of the headmaster of a school in Nottingham, was not brought up a Catholic. After attending Winchester School, he studied law, but on his conversion he journeyed to Rome to enter the Jesuit novitiate (September 1575). Later, he taught Hebrew in the Roman College and also, for a time, mathematics. On May 8, 1586, with Robert southwell, he left Rome for England, landing there July 17. Father William Weston, his superior, was soon captured, and on Weston's removal from the Clink to Wisbech, January 1588, Garnet became superior. He fixed his headquarters near London, but he made several missionary journeys in the country. He gradually increased the number of Jesuits in England, enrolling several seminary priests, until by 1605 there were more than 40. He placed his priests near one another for mutual help and held periodic meetings for spiritual exercises and renewal of vows. As no one was attending to organization within the English mission, Garnet realized the need and filled it. Newly arrived seminary priests were received and supported until they could safely journey to relatives or be otherwise placed. To priests in poorer districts he afforded such monetary aid as was available. Many lay-helpers were employed and supported by him. One, a carpenter, traveled the country making hiding-places. Some accompanied Jesuits and priests on their journeys and, when traveling was dangerous for priests, acted as messengers. Others worked the press, which he set up, printing spiritual books that were dispersed throughout the country. Such work not only left him frequently in debt, but also caused a few to think, quite unjustly, that the Jesuits wished to dominate the clergy.
When strife broke out among the prisoners at Wisbech and 18 priests begged to have Weston as their superior, Garnet refused, though he would not condemn the priests' association. He worked to end the strife, and through his persistence a pacification was agreed to in November 1595.
On Cardinal William allen's death in October 1594, many students in the English College, Rome, got out of hand, until Robert Persons, recalled to Rome (1597), restored peace and discipline. Fuel had been added to these troubles in 1596 by letters, still extant, of W. Gifford, dean of Lille, full of calumnies against English Jesuits. To spread these calumnies in England and bring back further charges, students were sent to England. The last of these, Robert Fisher, on returning to the Continent, drew up a paper containing these charges, purporting to be in the name of the clergy; the Flanders nuncio, persuaded by Gifford and Charles Paget, forwarded it to Rome. While Persons dealt with these calumnies in Rome and Flanders, Garnet did so in England. A circular letter to the clergy in March 1598 resulted in nearly 200 seminary priests testifying in favor of the Jesuits. Fisher's confessions in Rome, also in March, further revealed what was a combined effort to get the Jesuits withdrawn from England and from the seminaries.
Partly in consequence of these disturbances, Clement VIII, in March 1598, appointed George blackwell archpriest and superior of the clergy in England. Some few priests refused to recognize his authority; in the ensuing controversy Garnet supported Blackwell and at one time considered severe measures from Rome necessary (see archpriest controversy). After the pope's decision in October 1602, Garnet worked for a general pacification, enjoining on his brethren strict observance of the papal brief.
In James I's reign, Garnet, advocating peaceful means, eventually obtained from the pope a prohibition of violent measures. Convinced that most Catholics would bear the increasing persecution patiently, he yet doubted his power to restrain some of them. Strongly suspecting some plot, he desired the pope to issue a brief adding excommunication to the prohibition. In confession he obtained a knowledge of a plot, which knowledge he was allowed to use only if called in question by the pope, his general, or the state. Apprehended at the end of January 1606, Garnet denied any cooperation in the Gunpowder Plot. According to a letter of W. Baldwin, SJ (May 27, 1606), the Spanish ambassador's interpreter, present at Garnet's execution, had affirmed that on the scaffold Garnet, solemnly protesting his innocence, declared that he received the confessional knowledge only five days before the plot was discovered.
Bibliography: h. foley, ed., Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, 7 v. in 15 (London 1877–82). t. fitzherbert, Letters, ed. l. s. hicks (Publications of the Catholic Record Society 41; London 1948); The Wisbech Stirs, 1595–1598 (ibid. 51; London 1958). j. gerard, "Contributions Towards a Life of Father Henry Garnet, S.J.," Month 91 (1898) 6–21, 121–130, 238–246, 356–367, 458–467, 603–610. t. g. law, ed., The Archpriest Controversy, 2 v. (Camden Society 56, 58; London 1896–98). For his writings, a. f. allison and d. m. rogers, A Catalogue of Catholic Books in English … 1558–1640, 2 v. (London 1956). t. cooper, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900 (London 1885–1900) 7:881–884.