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Saint Robert Southwell (1561 - 1595)

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  • Saint Robert Southwell was born in 1561 at Horsham St Faith's in Norfolk, the son of a gentleman who had conformed to the protestant church. He was reconciled to Catholicism and entered the Society of Jesus at Rome when he was seventeen. He studied in Douai, Louvain and Rome. He returned to England to work as a mission Priest (of neccessity in secret and always in fear of the English law which held that all Catholic Priests were traitors) in London from 1584 to 1592. He was betrayed, captured and imprisoned. After three years in jail, during which he was frequently tortured, he was martyred at Tyburn in 1595. He was beatified in 1927, and canonised in 1970.

    The texts of his poems circulated in secret at first in manuscript copies. Shortly after his martyrdom, printed editions, expurgated of explicitly Catholic material, began to appear and were much in demand and were widely influential. A few of Southwell's works have a secure place in the canon of English poetry, but the advocacy of such distinguished poets as Geoffrey Hill, and increasing scholarly interest in the minority traditions of Renaissance Britain, are beginning to claim for him a place as one of the most important English poets of the sixteenth century.
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