Theologian and controversialist; b. Henfield, Sussex, England, July 1535; d. Louvain, Belgium, Oct. 1598. Stapleton was a son of William Stapleton, steward to the Bishop of Chichester and a member of the Carlton family of Stapletons. His early studies were at Canterbury and Winchester. Elected a fellow at New College, Oxford, he received a B.A. degree in 1556. Near the close of Mary's reign, he was appointed prebendary of Woodhorne in Chichester Cathedral.
His staunch Catholicism forced him into exile in the Low Countries early in the reign of Elizabeth. At louvain he studied theology; later, at Paris, he pursued ancient languages. He returned to England in 1563, but because of his refusal to deny papal authority he suffered in his ecclesiastical status and lost the prebend at Chichester. Returning to Louvain, Stapleton worked with William Allen in the establishment of the English College at douai. In 1571 he received the doctor of divinity degree, and was rector of the University of Douai 1574–75. In 1584 he entered the Society of Jesus, but ill health forced him to leave within a short time. In 1590 he was appointed to the royal chair of theology at Louvain and became rector of the University in 1595. In recognition of his ability, Clement VIII twice offered him positions in Rome, which Stapleton refused, but in 1597 he was made protonotary apostolic.
Stapleton's reputation spread throughout Europe and he became deeply engaged in polemic contests. Among his theological works are the Principiorum fidei doctrinalium demonstratio (1578) and the Auctoritas ecclesiasticae defensio (1592), directed against William Whitaker of St. John's College. These and other writings on controversial subjects were of vast influence, for Stapleton was one of the most learned Catholics of his time.
He also translated Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the first English translation since that of Alfred the Great. His apologetic purpose was evidenced in the words of his dedication to Queen Elizabeth: "In this history it shall appear in what faith your noble realm was christened."
One of his last writings was a biography of Thomas More, compiled from authentic and unpublished sources, and from his own recollections of his early years when he was associated with friends of More. He willed his literary productions, including valuable manuscripts, to the English College at Douai.
Bibliography: h. holland, Vita Thomae Stapletoni, in v.1 of T. Stapletoni … opera … omnia, 4 v. (Paris 1620). bede, Ecclesiastical History 2 v., tr. j. e. king based on the version of t. stapleton (Loeb Classical Library; New York 1930). t. cooper, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900 (London 1885–1900) 18:988–991. Other information may be found in The First and Second Diaries of the English College, Douay (London 1878). g. thils, Les Notes de l'église dans l'apologétique catholique depuis la réforme (Gembloux 1937). w. allen, Letters and Memorials … (London 1882). Correspondance d'Ottavio Mirto Frangipani, Premier Nonce de Flandre, 1596–1606, v.1 ed. l. van der essen (Rome 1924), v.2–3 ed. a. louant (Rome 1932,1942). a. c. southern, English Recusant Prose, 1559–1582 (London 1950). g. albion, "An English Professor at Louvain: T. S. (1535–1598)," Miscellanea Historica Alberti de Meyer (Louvain 1946) 895–913. m. r. o'connell, Thomas Stapleton and the Counter Reformation (New Haven 1964).
[a. m. sawkins]