Renaissance and Reformation Edmund Campion
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0477


Edmund Campion (b. 1540–d. 1581) was born in London and educated there and at Oxford, as a member of the newly founded St John’s College, a pillar of Mary Tudor’s Catholic revival. By the time he graduated Mary had been succeeded by Elizabeth I and Catholicism by an episcopally led form of Protestantism. Campion remained in Oxford, as tutor, lecturer, and orator, and was ordained as a deacon of the Church of England in 1569, but retained strong Catholic sympathies. In 1570 Elizabeth was excommunicated by Pius V and Campion retreated to Ireland. The following year he made his way to Douai in the Spanish Netherlands, where he recanted his Protestantism, and, in 1573, proceeded to Rome, where he entered the Society of Jesus. His Jesuit novitiate was undertaken in Brno, after which he taught in Prague. In 1579 he was chosen to undertake a mission to England, supporting those of his fellow countrymen who had remained loyal to Rome and endeavoring to convert those who had not. Together with Robert Persons (or Parsons [b. 1546–d. 1610]) and Ralph Emerson, Campion left Rome in April 1580. Arriving in England, he issued a challenge to debate doctrinal matters with leading Protestants. This was his so-called Brag. It was followed by the lengthier Rationes decem. All the while, he ministered in secret to the Catholic minority, until he was arrested at Lyford Grange, Berkshire, on 17 July 1581. During his imprisonment in the Tower of London he was granted his wish to debate with Protestant divines, but the four events were rigged against him. In November he was tried and found guilty of treasonable conspiracy against the queen, and on 1 December hanged at Tyburn with two other priests, Ralph Sherwin and Alexander Briant. He was beatified by Leo XIII in 1886 and canonized (as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales) by Paul VI in 1970. As this article confirms, Campion’s story is related in numerous Reference Works, expanded and/or placed in context in Overviews and examined in detail in Journals and Collections of Papers. For present purposes, his career is divided chronologically: up to 1570 under London and Oxford, 1570–1571 under History of Ireland, and the self-explanatory Mission to England, 1580–1581, which is subdivided into Primary Sources and Analysis. His afterlife is addressed under Legacy, first for the period 1581–1618, and then From Hagiography to Biography.

Reference Works

As for any subject, there are quick reference works and more advanced ones that take time to explore. The serious student is strongly advised to consult the latter, which in the case of Campion means the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) and the Bibliography of British and Irish History. If quick reference of a print publication is sufficient, then Farmer 2011, a dictionary of saints, is a relevant work. If quick reference means an Internet search, then it is likely to lead to the Catholic Encyclopedia 1907–1912. That resource contains many useful links, but it is over a century old and a sizeable amount of scholarship has been undertaken in the meantime. While some value in consulting older reference works, it lies in study of the era in which they were produced. In the case of Campion that means Catholic authors, whether cradle or convert, writing about England’s Catholic past as part of a living faith. Catholic culture features pilgrimage to places associated with saints and martyrs and the veneration of their relics. Campion was much traveled, so one must be selective in the present context and the Tyburn Convent website has been selected for its proximity to the place of his execution. Campion was a scholar and a Jesuit. His name is therefore recalled in the dedication of numerous academic institutions, especially those associated with the English Jesuits. For present purposes, the website of the Jesuit Institute London must serve to represent the greater whole.

  • Bibliography of British and Irish History.

    This was formerly a print publication, but is now maintained exclusively online, being updated three times a year. It is a vitally important resource for any aspect and period of British and Irish history. Access is via the website of the publisher, Brepols. Searches can be done bibliographically or by subject, including places and persons. Alternatively, the subject tree allows users to home in on specific areas using progressively more detailed categories.

  • Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1907–1912.

    An Internet search for Edmund Campion soon leads the student to this venerable work, subtitled An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church. The entry on Campion appears in vol. 5 (1909). The author is the American poet Louise Imogen Guiney (b. 1861–d. 1920), whose life of Campion had been published the previous year in a series edited by the martyrologist Bede Camm.

  • Farmer, David. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. 5th rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    First published in 1978, this is an established reference work for saints from all periods of Christian history. The entry for Edmund Campion is on pp. 74–75 of the 2011 edition and consists of a concise biography and brief bibliography. Cross reference is made to the entries on Carlo (“Charles”) Borromeo, Alexander Briant, Ralph Sherwin, and the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonized by Paul VI in 1970.

  • Jesuit Institute London.

    This website provides resources for Catholic schools in the United Kingdom. From the homepage, follow the link for Jesuit Liturgical Calendar to find resources for Edmund Campion at 1 December. These include information about his patronage of the British Jesuit province, feast day, life, links to texts (Campion’s “Bragge,” Paul VI’s homily at the canonization in 1970, Campion’s Rationes decem in Latin and in English translation, etc.), films, images (including relics), and books.

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) is available in print and online. The entry for Edmund Campion ([doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4539]) is by Michael A. R. Graves. It accounts for all periods of his life and quotes from both contemporary sources and modern assessments of his career, all of which are listed in the bibliography. There are no explicit links to other entries, but many of the leading figures in Campion’s story are also in the ODNB.

  • Tyburn Convent.

    Campion and more than 100 other Catholics were hanged from the triangular gallows known as the Tyburn Tree, erected in 1571 at a site long associated with judicial executions. It was then well outside London’s city wall, but the site is now close to Marble Arch. The nearby Tyburn Convent dates from 1903 and its website is one of many providing information about Tyburn as a place of execution.

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