Southwell, Robert, St.
SOUTHWELL, ROBERT, ST.
English poet and martyr; b. Horsham St. Faith, near Norwich, toward end of 1561; d. Tyburn, London, Feb. 21, 1595. His father, Sir Robert Southwell, was a Catholic, but later conformed to the new religion; his mother's family (Copley) remained staunchly Catholic, as did his relatives, the Shelleys, Gages, and Cottons. When sent abroad for his education, he lived first among the English Catholic exiles at douai, attending classes at the Jesuit college there. Later he went to Paris, where he came under the influence of the Jesuit Thomas Darbyshire, who had been an eminent divine under Queen Mary. Southwell, scarcely 17, sought admission into the Society of Jesus at Paris, but was refused because of his youth. He went on foot to Rome, and was there admitted in the autumn of 1578. Before and after ordination in 1584, he lived at the newly founded English College in Rome, where he acted as tutor and spiritual instructor to the students.
In 1586 Southwell left Rome for England with Henry garnet; they landed near Folkestone on July 7. In London, which Southwell reached a few days later, he narrowly escaped capture: it was the time of the Babington Plot (see mary stuart, queen of scots), which Southwell later exposed in his An Humble Supplication to Her Majestie (1595). He worked mostly in London, living first at Arundel House in the Strand, the home of the countess, whose husband (St.) Philip howard was a prisoner in the Tower. To Howard, Southwell addressed the spiritual letters that he later expanded into An Epistle of Comfort, which is one of the finest prose works of the late Elizabethan Age. Among his other writings, most of them printed at a secret press that he and Garnet directed, were Mary Magdalen's Funerall Teares (1594) and A Short Rule of Good Life (1598). The best known of his poems are The Burning Babe and St. Peter's Complaint (1595), in which he made experiments in verse that were followed or developed by others, including Shakespeare. He has been compared with Philip Sidney in his style and conceits.
In June 1592 Southwell was captured by an agent of the crown, Richard Topcliffe, at Uxenden, Harrow, the home of the Bellamy family, and was tortured in his captor's lodgings adjoining the Gatehouse prison in London. Later he was transferred to the Tower and finally to Newgate. In all he was tortured ten times. He was condemned for his priesthood, hanged, drawn, and quartered; his execution shocked the court and the whole country. He was beatified by Pius XI on Dec. 15, 1929 and canonized in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
Feast: Oct. 25 (Feast of the 40 Martyrs); Dec. 1 (Jesuits); May 4 (Feast of the English Martyrs in England).
See Also: england, scotland, and wales, martyrs of; oaths, english post-reformation; recusant literature.
Bibliography: c. devlin, The Life of Robert Southwell: Poet and Martyr (New York 1956). p. janelle, Robert Southwell, the Writer (New York 1935). h. foley, Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, 7 v. (London 1877–82) passim. m. fitz herbert, An Epistle of Comfort (London 1965).