Evelyn Waugh's Edmund Campion and "Lady Southwell's Letter"
Published in Connotations Vol. 20.1 (2010/11)
In the "Author's Note" to the first edition of Edmund Campion: A Biography,1) Evelyn Waugh wrote: "Father Watts of Stonyhurst lent me a copy of Lady Southwell's letter, preserved in the library there, describing the death of Queen Elizabeth" (1st ed. ix). And the biography opens with four vivid pages portraying the Queen as "an old perjured woman, dying without comfort" (6). Intriguingly, the reference to "Lady Southwell's letter" is omitted from all later editions. Nor do the "Notes" or the "List of Books Consulted" (which appear in the First and Second editions) mention Southwell. Nor did Waugh alter the first four pages after he dropped the reference.
In 1996, Catherine Loomis edited the manuscript of "A True Relation of what succeeded at the Sickness and Death of Queen Elizabeth" written by Lady Elizabeth Southwell. This was the 'letter preserved in the library of Stonyhurst' among the papers of Father Robert Persons, S.J. that Father Watts made available to Waugh. Professor Loomis provides a scholarly commentary on the provenance of the "True Relation," on the use made of it by polemicists (like Father Persons, S. J.) and on the extent to which the events it records are corroborated. As will emerge, a number of historians have quoted from the "True Relation," some silently. But Professor J. E. Neale launched a set−piece attack on Southwell in 1925 ("Sayings" 230−32), and E. E. Reynolds, in his biography of Campion and Persons, claims that "Waugh's well−written short account [of Campion] is vitiated for the historian because [→page 81] it opens by accepting as true a legend of Queen Elizabeth's last days for which there is no positive evidence" (ix).
Does Waugh use the "True Relation" as a source for his account of the dying Queen—or does he draw on historians who have quoted from it? And if he does quote Southwell, which incidents does he use, which does he reject, and how far does he tone down or 'improve' what he borrowed? Is the Southwell story mere 'legend'? But it is much more important to ask why Waugh began a biography of Edmund Campion, executed twenty−two years before Elizabeth's death, with a gruesome portrait of the dying Queen. And why he followed that portrait with a vision of the zestful young Elizabeth, fluent in Greek and Latin, visiting Oxford and meeting the brilliant young Campion, when, as Waugh says, "it had been in her hands to make [another England]" (6).
Before attempting to answer these questions, some discussion is needed of the features of the biography that might help explain Waugh's use of the "True Relation" and its function within the biography. These features comprise literary characteristics, the level of historical accuracy aimed at (with the attacks made on real and imagined inaccuracies), and the boldly tendentious Bellocian and Ultramontane viewpoints which contextualize the central narrative. Could it be that the contrasting portraits of a youthful and a dying Elizabeth are, not merely Lytton Strachey−ish drama, but also the opening salvo of a 'modern Catholic history' assault on the then established view of Reformation England?
It goes without saying that Edmund Campion is a distinguished biography.2) Critics of all persuasions have noted the lucid, compelling narrative; the rapid cutting from scene to scene; the power to move (Elizabeth Pakenham experienced "the first […] really strong emotional feeling from Catholicism" (122) on reading this book, and many others have had similar reactions). And of course, this was a new way to write hagiography: the saint is described in normal literary language as nonchalantly brave, witty and eloquent, a man attractive to those of his own faith and also worthy of "a high place in the gallery [→page 82] of great Elizabethans" (Black 145). But the only literary aspect of the biography to which fuller attention can be drawn here is that most relevant to Waugh's use of Southwell: viz. the reliance on scenes that mingle fact with imagined detail.
A typical dramatic scene occurs when Campion is brought from the Tower to meet the Earls of Leicester and Bedford and the Queen (156−57). Richard Simpson's biography of Campion, Waugh's principal source, records various questions put to Campion by Leicester and Bedford and his answers; he then adds: "at the trial it came out that the Queen herself was present; that she asked Campion if he thought her really Queen of England? to which he replied, as he relates in his trial" (Simpson 338). Waugh, by contrast, makes Elizabeth the centre of attention. As Campion approaches the meeting, his guards "stiffen [...]; they [are] in the presence of the Queen" (156). Elizabeth's "vast red wig nod[s]" as she interrogates Campion in "harsh, peremptory tones" as to whether he "acknowledge[d] her as his Queen or not" (157). The Queen's question comes directly from the transcript of the trial via Simpson (Simpson 338, 418−19); but the colourful details are Waugh's. Campion's answer to the Queen, which explains at great length the uncertainty of the Canon Law governing the Pope's power to excommunicate a monarch, also comes from the transcript; but the Queen's abrupt silencing of Campion is Waugh's. Thus the scene is based on fact but shaped for dramatic effect and coloured with vivid detail.
Marion Colthorpe dismisses this "confrontation between the Queen and the Jesuit" as "no more than a figment of the imaginations of Campion's biographers" (199); but her argument is not convincing. Professor Colthorpe refers to an instruction sent by the Council to the Commissioners interrogating Campion in the Tower to ask whether he acknowledged Elizabeth to be Queen; and she claims that Campion's words at his trial merely reflect the Council's question. But at the trial Campion makes three statements: (a) "it pleased her Majesty to demand of me whether I did acknowledge her to be my queen or no" (Simpson 418); (b) "being further required of her Majesty whether [→page 83] I thought the Pope might lawfully excommunicate her" (Simpson 418); and (c) "the selfsame articles were required of me by the Commissioners" (Simpson 419; cf. Colthorpe 197−200). Thus, the Queen asked two questions and the Commissioners asked "the selfsame" questions.
As for historical accuracy, when E. E. Reynolds claims that Edmund Campion "is vitiated for the historian" because it makes use of the "True Relation," he is arguing, not only that the "True Relation" is "a legend […] for which there is no positive evidence," (IX) but also that Waugh's history is generally unreliable. Many other critics have been equally condemning. Are they right?
Waugh repeatedly protested that Edmund Campion was a "short, popular life" with "no pretension to be a work of scholarship" (1st ed. x). He also highlights his reliance on secondary sources—"Simpson's strong foundation supports my structure" (2nd ed. viii)—indeed, he borrows extensively from his authorities: the account of the printing of Campion's Decem Rationes is a virtual reprint of John Hungerford Pollen's detective work into how the clandestine printers overcame shortages of type (136−37).3) Nevertheless, Waugh writes like a student of his subject. He attends to "the many particulars" in which later scholarship has "corrected Simpson" (2nd ed. vii); and he takes a very different line from Simpson on crucially important matters. He also acknowledges "a very full collection of […] manuscript notes, copies of documents etc." put at his disposal by Father Leo Hicks, the Historiographer of the English Jesuit Province (1st ed. ix). "Notes" in the First and Second Editions expand evidence and a "List of Books Consulted" attests to solid reading in each aspect of Campion's career. Waugh may fairly be judged on whether or not he lives up to the expectations these practices create.
The first test of Waugh's history came immediately on publication of Edmund Campion when the Hon. Secretary of the United Protestant Council of Great Britain, J. A. Kensit, challenged Waugh's contention that Campion was innocent of the charges on which he was tried, insisting instead that he was "righteously executed under the laws" [→page 84] (Kensit, Letter 221).4) To anticipate a common misunderstanding, the English government could have charged Campion under any one of the sections of the penal code that made it treason to "persuade [English subjects] from the religion now established" or "to move the said subjects […] to promise obedience to the pretended authority of the Roman See" (Simpson 393−94). On any such charge Campion might plausibly have been found guilty (although in strict legality his mission was restricted to existing Catholics). Instead, the Council—to avoid the odium of persecuting "differences in point of conscience" and to stigmatize the priests as hateful enemies of England—charged Campion and fourteen others, many of whom had never met, with "conspiring […] to depose and kill the Queen [and] to call in foreign enemies" (National Archives).5)
The burden of Kensit's argument was that "recently discovered" letters between the Papal Nuncio to Spain, Bishop Sega, and the Pope's Secretary of State, Cardinal Como, proved that in February 1580, two months before Fathers Campion, S.J. and Persons, S.J. set off from Rome for England, Pope Gregory XIII, the Duke of Florence and the King of Spain had signed a treaty to invade England in collaboration with rebellious English Catholics and the Jesuits: consequently, Campion was guilty of treason, and Waugh was negligent, or worse, for failing to mention the incriminating letters. Bishop Sega wrote to Cardinal Como:
Among other things Humphrey Ely tells me, one is a great secret of some Island noblemen and of the Jesuit Fathers themselves. It was that the said nobles are determined to try to kill the Queen with their own hands if they are assured, at least verbally, by His Holiness that in so doing they would not fall into sin.
Cardinal Como replied on behalf of the Pope:
And so if those English nobles decide actually to undertake so glorious a work, your lordship can assure them that they do not commit any sin. (qtd. in MacCarthy 222)
On the basis of these passages Kensit unwisely stated, as fact, that "Pope Gregory XIII gave sanction to the plot against Elizabeth by the [→page 85]Jesuits Persons and Campion" (Letter 221). Clearly, the Sega letter does not name Campion and Persons, and the Como letter does not mention Jesuits. It is therefore a considerable stretch to convict the two men of being plotters for no better reason than that, before they left for England, a treaty against England had allegedly been concluded by the Pope, Florence and Spain, some "Island noblemen" and "the Jesuit Fathers." Kensit quite failed to connect the two men to the alleged plot, and Father Leo Hicks, S. J., echoing earlier scholars, produced evidence that the purported treaty was a forgery of the English Secret Service (Letter 4 March 1936).6)
To Kensit's charge that he had negligently failed to take into account the Como−Sega correspondence, Waugh replied that he "knew all about" it but "did not mention it because it seemed […] irrelevant to the subject about which [he] was writing" (Letter). That Waugh knew the correspondence seems certain, for Arnold Oskar Meyer discusses it fully in England and the Catholic Church under Queen Elizabeth (151−53), a work on which Waugh heavily relied. Moreover, the substance of the letter had been known since 1895 and had been published in the The Month in 1902 (Meyer 270). Waugh's mentor, Father Hicks, also possessed "a correct copy" of the letters (Letter).7) As for substance, Waugh several times discusses rumoured Papal−Spanish invasions and the moral dilemmas they created for English Catholics (112), especially for those facing interrogation (177−78, 185, 196). And he twice directly mentions an alleged Pope−Florence−Spain treaty (196, 185).
This writer is not competent to judge Waugh's conclusion that Campion was innocent as charged but relies on the opinion of standard historians. Hallam stated in 1854: "[T]he prosecution was as unfairly conducted, and supported by as slender evidence, as any perhaps that can be found in our books" (1: 143).8) Meyer, the Lutheran authority referred to above, explains that "the injustice of the charge is now universally admitted." He asserts that "the endeavour to prove the plot failed completely, and was bound to fail because there was no plot." He labels many of the executions of priests "judicial murders" [→page 86] (Meyer 151−53). J. B. Black, another non−Catholic historian, argues that "Campion spoke the simple truth […] when [...] he disclaimed all participation in politics" (146). Conyers Read avers: "Although there was ample evidence to suggest plots were being hatched against the Crown, no sound evidence was produced to show that Campion had been a party to them. Under the terms of this indictment he should have been acquitted" (Read 250). Professor J. E. Neale—who astutely likens the conflict between Protestant and Catholic blocs to the recent Cold War—writes: "Holy and peaceable these men doubtless were […] None the less their activities must be reckoned a stratagem of ideological warfare" (Parliaments 14). While professional historians confirm Campion's innocence, there are still those who feel that Waugh arrives at that verdict by fudging the evidence.9)
In 1946 Rose Macaulay, a notable critic, disparaged Edmund Campion both in broad terms—lack of "objectiveness and truth to fact" (368)—and in detail. Macaulay was demonstrably wrong, as discussion of three specific charges will show, but nevertheless has been widely influential. Macaulay: "Waugh shows no signs throughout his book […] of familiarity with the unceasing plots […] that went on" (368). Fact: Edmund Campion makes frequent reference to Catholic plots, "many of them real enough […] some the inventions of forgers and informers" (5). More to the point, one of Waugh's central themes is that, in a desperate community where conspiracy was rife, Campion rejected conspiracy and chose instead "the way of sacrifice." Catholics had three choices: "apostasy," "conspiracy" or a "supernatural solution [to follow] holiness though it led them through bitter ways to poverty, disgrace, exile, imprisonment and death" (105). For Waugh to revere Campion because, surrounded by plots, he embraced the "supernatural solution" does not mean that he denied the prevalence of plots. Macaulay: Waugh did not know that "English Catholics were absolved from their allegiance [to the Queen] [...] by a [Papal] Bull" (368). Fact: Since the Council used Regnans in Excelsis as an excuse drastically to tighten the penal laws, and made it the basis of the "bloody question" put to Catholics—whether in the event of invasion [→page 87] by a Catholic power they would be loyal to their sovereign or go over to the invaders—it would have been damning indeed if Waugh had not known it. In fact, he devotes four pages to its publication by Pius V in 1570 (39−42) and three pages to its re−interpretation under Gregory XIII in 1580 (80−82) and makes briefer references to it throughout the book. Macaulay: Waugh "calls [the Anglican Church] 'crazy, fashionable Calvinism' […] and relegates it to the outer darkness of the Protestant left wing" (369). Fact: Waugh continually refers to Protestant "extremists," for whom Elizabeth and Cecil "had no more taste […] than they had for the Catholics" (16); and he several times details Elizabeth's "personal inclinations […] towards […] cross and candles […] ministers celibate [...] and suitably vested" (16), "inclinations" anathema to the "Protestant left wing," which suffered cruelly for resisting the surplice.
Thus Macaulay twice accuses Waugh of suppressing information embarrassing to his 'side,' viz. about Catholic conspiracy and the Bull releasing the English from their allegiance, when in fact he discusses both matters at length. In the third instance Macaulay reverses Waugh's clear meaning, claiming that he identifies Anglicanism with "the Protestant left wing," although Waugh regularly distinguishes between Anglicanism and Protestant "extremism." Thus Macaulay's claims that Edmund Campion lacks "objectivity," "truth" and "accuracy" (369−70) are contradicted by what Waugh actually wrote. But even Waughists, who typically do not pay close attention to Campion or to the history of the period, repeat Macaulay as authoritative. Malcolm Bradbury writes: "Rose Macaulay is right to say that [Waugh] seriously underestimates the atmosphere of conspiracy in Catholic quarters in the Elizabethan period" (23). She is not right.
Fortunately, scholarly reviewers of the biography on its first appearance, though combative, were fair (McCoog xiv).10) The Times Literary Supplement reviewer, who wrote as a Protestant and corrected several real mistakes, allowed Waugh to be "pretty well read in the proper authorities, better versed than most writers on the period in its religious dialectic." And Father Chadwick, S. J., who also exposed [→page 88] errors, wrote: "[Edmund Campion] holds a wealth of sifted learning" (332).
The religious history in Edmund Campion, however, is idiosyncratically pro−Papal and Ultramontane. The "Author's Note" to the first edition remarks that "Simpson's admirable Life [contains] Cis−Alpine [anti−Papal] pleading which […] may well prove tedious to modern readers" (ix−x), a surprising difference because in some respects young Evelyn Waugh was Simpson's twin. Cardinal Newman describes Simpson as "always flicking his whip at Bishops and discharging pea−shooters at Cardinals who happen by bad luck to look out of the window." Moreover, "to the despair of his friends," Simpson had a "talent for seeing the comic side of serious problems."11) In the 1930s Waugh also affronted Church authorities by criticizing Church opposition to divorce laws reform12) and by publishing what they deemed 'immoral' novels. When The Tablet (then owned by Cardinal Bourne) savaged Black Mischief, Waugh printed (but did not sell) an "Open Letter" rejecting the criticism. He was also willing to shock the pious, as when he reveals that Father Robert Persons, S.J. was reputed to be the son of his parish priest (1st ed. 83) and that Saint Pius V ordered a "drove of harlots" to be "massacred by bandits on the Campagna" (60). But Waugh and Simpson differed spectacularly about Papal policy towards England.
Simpson blames the Popes and Cardinal William Allen, the leader of the large body of English Catholic exiles on the Continent, for the near extinction of English Catholicism. The Papacy's treaties with various states to invade England, its meddling in Ireland and even its despatching waves of young priests—including "a sort of hypocrites, naming themselves Jesuits" (Neale, Parliaments 383)—stirred the Government into extreme measures against Catholics. Simpson damns both the Papacy and England for "passions" that left no room "for moderate counsels" (83).
The Papal Bull of 1570, which excommunicated Elizabeth and released her Catholic subjects from "obedience to her laws and commands," seems to Simpson the primary cause of "the sanguinary code [→page 89] which […] nearly effaced the Catholic Church from this island." And he argues that the Popes had "sacrificed the Catholics of this country to their desire of maintaining […] all the temporal prerogatives exercised or claimed by their predecessors" (Simpson 88). Blinded by "the English exiles in Rome" to the true situation in England (how similar the Catholic exiles seem to the Émigrés who encouraged an American invasion of Iraq), "ignorant of the teachings of history, and forgetful of the principles which the Canon Law lays down […] for the excommunication of mighty delinquents," the Popes "[lost] England to the faith" (Simpson 90).
In sharp contrast to Simpson, Waugh justifies the Bull of 1570. Of course he admits the force of the criticisms made of it by statesmen and historians: "That is the verdict of sober criticism, both Catholic and Protestant" (41). But for Waugh, Pius V is not the "disastrous figure" of most historians. Rather he is an object of "pride and slight embarrassment […] a saint" (39), and he issues the Papal Bull for reasons beyond the reach of "sober criticism":
had he, perhaps […] learned something that was hidden from the statesmen of his time and the succeeding generations of historians; seen through and beyond the present and the immediate future; understood that there was to be no easy way of reconciliation, but that it was only through blood and hatred and derision that the faith was one day to return to England? (42)
Thus, where Simpson construes Pius V as a counter−productive enforcer of Papal prerogative, Waugh portrays him as a far−sighted visionary. Where Simpson laments that Campion's sacrifices were wasted defending an anachronism, Waugh sees the "blood and hatred and derision" embraced by Campion as the "only" way "the faith might one day return to England." Unimpressed by the Jesuit General, Aquaviva, who questioned the wisdom of sending missionaries to England "in order to give edification by their patience under torture," Waugh embraces Cardinal Allen, who "knew that the devotion of his seminarists, so gallantly squandered […] in a few weeks of ministry, was of more value than a lifetime of discreet industry" (52).
[→page 90] This endorsement of Regnans in Excelsis and of Cardinal Allen foreshadows Waugh's tacit approval of the message from the Pope that Fathers Robert Persons and Edmund Campion, S.J. carried to the clergy gathered at Southwark (108−12). The message was devastating: Catholic attendance at Church of England services was now "the highest iniquity" because it implied assent to "the spiritual supremacy of the State" (109). Thus ended twenty years of eerie silence on the part of the Papacy, and of ingenious Catholic adaptation to the penal code, under which mere physical presence at Morning Service gave immunity from prosecution. Some Catholics had taken care to be recorded as present at the service before going to Mass, or resorted to one of the more complex shifts that Waugh describes (23). Now, after Southwark, subterfuge was impossible: only massive fines, prison and a traitor's death awaited those who remained faithful. Some see the Jesuits as "shock troops" sent to draw clear battle lines between Catholic and Protestant (Knox 137). Waugh implies as much by eulogizing the "uncompromising zeal of the counter−Reformation" they embodied (121).
The Jesuits were "men of new light, equipped in every Continental art […] bringing a new kind of intellect, new knowledge, new holiness" to a world "tremulous with expectation" (121); and, "they came among a people where hope was dead" with "the chivalry of Lepanto and the poetry of La Mancha, light, tender, generous and ardent" (105). But this well warranted praise distracts attention from differences between the Jesuits and the existing clergy, many of whom still hoped to reach a modus vivendi with the Government. "At this early date," writes Waugh, "these seculars [at Southwark] had no quarrel with the Fathers of the Society. The Jesuits, fresh from Rome […] were as welcome to them as to their flocks […]" (125). In reality, some seculars at Southwark asked the Jesuits to leave England, for "upon [their] entrance […] many proclamations were read in every province against them, and many gentlemen […] suspected to be Catholikes were […] comitted to prison upon pretence that they had the doing with Jesuits" (qtd. in McCoog xxiv). Later, the secular priests petitioned [→page 91] Rome for a bishop so that they "might […] be more widely separated from these men," whom they blamed for making them "objects of suspicion to the queen" (Lingard 8: 390−93). Waugh patronizes the "Marian priests" (those working before the reign of Elizabeth) as "simple, unambitious figure[s] pottering about the parish" (121) and fails to give credit to those of them whose refusal to conform kept the Church alive:
They were comparatively few […] but dauntless in their determination to preserve at least a remnant of the Church. Without their labours, Catholicism would have died out in England as it did in the Scandinavian countries. (Reynolds 12)
Waugh's focus on his Jesuit hero was structurally essential in a short gripping book. But it also reflects an identification with Roman, as opposed to English Catholic, interests.
Waugh's Ultramontanism merges seamlessly into the 'modern Catholic history' he also espoused, and these two tendencies best explain Waugh's use of the "True Relation." For many years scholars such as John Lingard, Cardinal Gasquet, Father John H. Pollen, S. J., and the members of the Catholic Record Society had been trying to correct the idealized picture of the Elizabethan period that dominated English history writing and the public mind: viz. Gloriana reigning in dazzling (and sometimes attractively earthy) majesty over an exciting new age of national unity, bold discovery, economic advance, literary brilliance and naval victory; an age of religious Reformation in which a willing people threw off the tyranny of Rome—"the most intolerable the world has ever seen" (Froude 5). Waugh's immediate mentor was Father Leo Hicks, S. J., who was eminent in the history profession13) and a trenchant critic of the received version of the Elizabethan period. In "Wanted: A New and True History of Queen Elizabeth," Father Hicks declares the history of the period "buried deep in many layers of falsehood." He also sets out several areas in which "knowledge [of the period] was deficient": e.g. (1) the Elizabethan government's aim "from the start" to extirpate the Old Faith; (2) the savage [→page 92] repression it employed to that end; and (3) the aims of "crafty subordinates" who "duped" the Queen. Edmund Campion seeks, in part, to peel back the "layers of falsehood" and supply the areas of knowledge that Hicks identified. For example, Hicks sought to demolish the myth that Elizabeth's treatment of Catholics was unusually enlightened; Waugh explains the severity of her penal laws, in detail (99−105).
Alan Gordon Smith, on whom Waugh heavily depends,14) describes the English Reformation as a "revolution" engineered by William Cecil (Lord Burghley), who "served and controlled the Queen" and imposed a "national conversion on a reluctant people" (Smith ix−xi). Edmund Campion follows Smith in attributing all major decisions about religion, not to the people, but to the "revolutionaries." Cecil staffs the new church, not with the "fanatical Puritans" who were "later to wreck the monarchy," but with "sober, decently educated men […] who could see where their advantage lay (16−17). Cecil decides that in the event of war "the Catholics constituted a grave menace" (27). Cecil finds the Bull deposing Elizabeth "opportune" to work up anti−Catholic feeling and he compels Elizabeth to agree to "his imposition of the Thirty−nine Articles" (42). And it is Cecil who "with tact and patience" persuades Elizabeth to execute Mary Queen of Scots (95). This estimate of Cecil closely accords with that of Father Hicks. Most professional historians would not use the same language; but, while allowing that the English Reformation "owed something to the spiritual needs of the people," they insist that it originated "in a political revolution," a fact that "only the wilfully blind would deny" (Elton 80−81). It was an "an act of State" (Powicke 1).15)
Hilaire Belloc was the most prolific and polemical Catholic historian of the 1930s, and Edmund Campion subsumes the three key elements of so−called "Bellocianism." According to Belloc, the Roman Empire and the Christian religion, both Mediterranean, created Europe. It followed that the major informing elements in English life from the fourth to the sixteenth century were Roman and Norman. This belief emerges in Edmund Campion in Waugh's enthusiasm for the Renaissance and Counter−Reformation, both essentially Latin; and in his [→page 93] lament that the English Reformation had "canalized the vast exuberance of the Renaissance," the source of her potential development (5). Twenty years later Waugh spelled out his meaning in a way best calculated to provoke outrage: "It may seem to us now that for the fullest development of our national genius we required a third conquest, by Philip of Spain" (Foreword vii). Regret at the Spanish Armada's failure to conquer England seemed so out of touch with reality that readers passed it off as "bizarre" (Quennell). And far from believing that Spain (identified with the Inquisition and the Conquistadors) would have brought progress like that inspired by Rome in 54 BC and the Norman Conquest of 1066, they assumed that a Spanish Catholic victory meant regress—as in Keith Roberts's Pavane.16) But "bizarre" opinions aside, Edmund Campion expresses a deeply held belief that England would have developed better if she had been closer to the Renaissance and part of the Counter−Reformation.
In a famously sour summary of modern English history Waugh presents the new nation state created under the Tudor dynasty, not as the birth of an empire that will bring industry, capital, civilization and freedom to the world, but as the beginning of a culturally and spiritually limited—an "insular"—England:
In three generations [the Tudor dynasty] had changed the aspect and temper of England. They left a new aristocracy, a new religion, a new system of government; the generation was already in its childhood that was to send King Charles to the scaffold; the new, rich families who were to introduce the House of Hanover were already in the second stage of their metamorphosis from the freebooters of Edward VI's reign to the conspirators of 1688 and the sceptical, cultured oligarchs of the eighteenth century. The vast exuberance of the Renaissance had been canalized. England was secure, independent, insular; the course of her history lay plain ahead; competitive nationalism, competitive industrialism, competitive imperialism, the looms and coal mines and counting houses, the joint−stock companies and the cantonments; the power and weakness of great possessions. (5)
Waugh's emphasis on the "new aristocracy," "new religion" and "new system of government" of course reflects Hicks, Belloc and Smith's contention that the Reformers had severed links with the past: [→page 94] they had imposed an unpopular novel religion and social system. But the paradoxical label of "insular" clearly derives from Father David Mathew's The Celtic Peoples and Renaissance Europe. Mathew argues that England's "national consciousness, so much increased [under the Tudors], gave a definitely insular impress to all parts of [the new modern state]." He also argued that the religious changes had made "the English Channel a spiritual barrier" matching "the insular tone of trade conditions" (459). The "politics of the country" would be shaped by "the ideal of a purely national unity," a nationalism eclipsing the "ancient spiritual unity […] of an united Christendom" (459).
In short, Edmund Campion endorses Papal policy towards England, the excommunication of Elizabeth, the Jesuit mission and the prohibition of Catholics attending Anglican services. It also embraces Catholic revisionist attacks on conventional Tudor history. To an Ultramontanist Bellocian wishing to demythologize the Elizabethan Age, Southwell's unflattering depiction of Gloriana's last days must have appeared irresistible. But is Southwell's story fact or fiction?
First, it must be said that many of the graphic details in the portrait are not exclusive to Southwell but are found in the standard authorities. Even J. E. Neale, who savaged the "True Relation," describes the dying Elizabeth's "deep−rooted melancholy," her refusal "to take physic [and] to eat," her sitting "pensive and silent […] miserable and forlorn." She was "tired of life [and] wanted to die" because she knew that her reign was over and her closest confidants were already "worshipping the rising sun" (Neale, Queen Elizabeth 385−90). A relative of the Queen who was present, Robert Carey—famous for remarking that "there have been many false lies reported of the end […] of that good lady" (60, ll. 1537−38)—confirms that Elizabeth "grew worse and worse, because she would be so" (59, ll. 1499−1500). Thus, in regard to Elizabeth's melancholy, her sitting on the floor silent and despairing, obstinately refusing to eat or to go to bed or to take physic, the Southwell−Waugh account is fully corroborated.
Again, Waugh is not the only historian−biographer to cite the "True Relation." So, too, do historians such as John Lingard, A History of [→page 95] England (1847); Edward Spenser Beesly, Queen Elizabeth (1892); Lytton Strachey, Elizabeth and Essex (1928), and Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958). Each of these diverse historians (and no doubt many more) makes selective use of Southwell. I shall therefore set out the main elements of the "True Relation," noting any contemporary corroboration, and ask how Waugh's use compares with that of the four historians.
Lady (or Mistress) Elizabeth Southwell's "A True Relation of what succeeded at the Sickness and Death of Queen Elizabeth" is about 1200 words long (Loomis 484−87). Southwell's credentials as a witness are strong. Aged seventeen, she was at Court as a maid of honour while the Queen lay dying (no one disputes this). More important, her mother was Lady of the Bedchamber while her grandfather was Lord Admiral Howard, who ministered closely to the Queen throughout her illness. Southwell could have learned much of what she relates directly or indirectly from them. On the other side of the ledger, the "True Relation" is dated 1607, four years after the Queen died; and it was written for Father Robert Persons, S. J., an enemy of the Queen. Again, by the time she came to write the "True Relation," Southwell, a renowned beauty, had eloped to Italy with Robert Dudley, who had a wife and five children. Both had become Catholics and married. Suspicions of bias therefore arise.
The gist of the "True Relation," with comments on each item, follows:
1. Gold Talisman. Early in March 1603, Elizabeth was in "verie good health." But "Cecil's [...] familiar" presented her with a an engraved piece of gold, allegedly bequeathed by an old woman who lived to 120 years, claiming, ambiguously, that as long as "she" wore it, the Queen could not die. But in fifteen days the Queen "fell down right sick" (ll. 1−16).
Waugh mentions the "piece of gold," the promise "that as long as [Elizabeth] wore [it] she could not die" and Elizabeth's belief that she had "no need yet for doctors, lawyers, statesmen or clergy" (3). The other historians ignore the "piece of gold."
[→page 96] 2. Vision of "bodie in fire." The Queen told Lady Philadelphia Scrope, her "neare kinswoman," that "she saw one night in her bed her bodie exceeding leane and fearfull in a light of fire" (ll. 18−21).
Waugh mentions this vision as "a cause of [the Queen's] melancholy," whereas seventeenth−century readers would have seen it as a premonition of Hell. Lingard refers to the Queen's "alarm [at] the frightful phantasms conjured up by her imagination" (396). The other historians ignore the vision.
3. "True Loking Glass." The Queen asked for a "true loking glass" instead of the one that had "the purpos to deceive her sight." She rails against her flatterers (ll. 22−24).
Waugh re−tells this story in full. The other historians ignore it. But the first part is corroborated by John Clapham (a contemporary diarist) and Bishop Godfrey Goodman, both of whom had sources at court. Neither records Elizabeth's fury (Loomis 489).
4. Hallucinations. "[M]y lord Admirall [Howard]" persuaded [Elizabeth] to take some broth, but he could not induce her to go to bed because "yf he knew what she had sene in her bed he would not perswade her as he did" (ll. 31−34).
Waugh records the broth and the refusal to go to bed but improves the Queen's words: "If you were in the habit of seeing such things in your bed as I do in mine you would not persuade me to go there" (4). Lingard has the Queen "obstinately refusing to return to her bed" and replying to Lord Howard in words very close to Southwell's (396).
5. "Spirits." Apropos the previous conversation, "Secretarie Cecill [...] asked yf her majestie had seen anie spirits. to which she saie she scorned to answer him to so ydle a question" (ll. 35−37).
Waugh and three historians ignore this episode, but Lingard records it in full (396).
6. "The word must was not to be used to princes." "Then [Cecil] told her how to content the people her majestie must go to bed: To which she smiled wonderfully contemning him saing the word must was not be used to princes [...] little man. little man [Cecil was short and hunchback; the Queen called him 'Pygmy'] yf your father had lived ye durst not have said [→page 97] so much: but thou knowest I must die and that maketh thee so presumptious" (ll. 37−42).
Waugh does not refer to this, by far the most famous passage in the "True Relation." It is repeated in full by Lingard (396−97), Beesly (ch. 12), Jenkins (323), and Strachey (279). A variant occurs in the diarist, John Manningham, who says of the Queen's refusal to "accept physic" that "shee would not be persuaded, and princes must not be forced" (qtd. in Loomis 490). Neale repeats Manningham (Neale, Elizabeth 390).
7. "I am tied with a chaine of yron about my neck." "[W]illing my lord admirall [Howard] to staie [the Queen] with a pitifull voice said my lord I am tied with a chaine of yron about my neck. [H]e allaging her wonted courage to her, she replied I am tied and the case is altered with me" (ll. 43−47).
Waugh repeats Southwell, as do Jenkins (323), Beesly (ch. 12) and Lingard (397). This incident fits Waugh's thesis that the Queen had violated her coronation oath to uphold the Catholic Church (ch. 1n9, 1st and 2nd editions), a situation from which she now could find no release.
8. Witchcraft and ghosts. "[T]ow Ladies waiting on [the Queen] discovered in the bottom of her chaire the queene of harts with a nail […] knockt through the forehead […] the ladie [...] then wayting on the queene and leaving her asleep […] met her […] 3 or 4 chambers off […] came towards her to excuse herself and she vanished away […]" (ll. 47−57).
Only Lytton Strachey reports this incident: it reflects "an atmosphere of hysterical nightmare [that] descended on the Court" before the passing of the Queen (Strachey 278).
9. Elizabeth "rates" the Archbishop. "Councell sent to her the bishop of Canterburie and other of her prelates. upon sight of whom she was much offended ⁄⁄ cholericklie rating them bidding them be packing. saing she was no atheist, but knew full well that they were […] hedge priests and tok yt for an yndignitie that they should speak to her" (ll. 62−66).
This incident, if true, would imply that Elizabeth lacked confidence in the Church she founded—which chimes with Waugh's hints that [→page 98] Elizabeth, personally, would have preferred England to remain Catholic. Beesly judges that the passage "betrays a Catholic bias, which may cast some doubt on [Southwell's] testimony" (ch. 12).
10. Succession. The Council came to ask "whom she would have king." Unable to speak because of an infected throat, the Queen was to hold up a finger as names were offered. At "the K of france the K of Scotland […] she never stirred" but at "my lord Beaucham" she said: "I will have no raskalls son in my seat […] Hereupon ynstantlie she died" (ll. 71−77).
Waugh merely says that the Queen "had done nothing to recognize her successor" (3). But Lingard places more weight on the testimony of "the young faire Mrs Southwell"—who says that the Queen did not stir at "the K of Scotland"—than on the "report circulated by […] partisans" that the Queen made a "favourable answer" to "the king of Scots." "Beaucham" had a claim to the throne because he was descended from a "furtive marriage between lord Hertford and the lady Catherine Grey," sister of Henry VIII (Lingard 396−97). Beesly repeats Southwell in full. Most witnesses say that the Queen did not die "ynstantlie," as Southwell says, but some hours later.
11. Bursting Corpse. The most controversial passage in the "True Relation" claims that, in defiance of Elizabeth's wishes, but on the secret order of Cecil, the Queen was embalmed. But that, in spite of the precaution, while lying in state the Queen's head and body burst open (ll. 80−89).
Neither Waugh nor the other historians mentions this episode.
In 1925 J. E. Neale, as mentioned above, made the truth of the bursting head and body story critical to the truth of the whole document. The gist of his argument was that an incident as sensational as this could not have been kept secret; but no other contemporary observer recorded it; therefore it did not happen, and the whole "True Relation" must consequently be "scorned as worthless" (Neale, "Sayings" 231).
Catherine Loomis challenges this sweeping dismissal. She points to two incidents related by Southwell (Numbers 3 and 6 above) that are independently corroborated (488−93). Loomis also balances Southwell's assumed Catholic bias against the equally probable Protestant [→page 99] bias of the contemporaries who differ from her (509); and she sets against the fact that Southwell wrote in 1607, four years after the Queen's death, the fact that some other well reputed accounts appeared much later: Carey's Memoir, judged credible by Neale, was written between 1626 and 1632, at least twenty−two years after the Queen died (Loomis 482). Loomis concludes: "it is clear that Neale's arguments are not a sufficient basis for rejecting Southwell's manuscript" outright (508). And she goes on to argue that "there is a sufficient basis for treating [it] […] as a subjective account with biases that should be noted when the manuscript is cited" (Loomis 509).
The upshot of the above analysis and of Loomis's commentary is that Southwell's "True Relation" is sufficiently credible to be used selectively and with caution. That Waugh was cautious is evident from the fact that he repeats only six of Southwell's less sensational incidents, two allusions being very brief indeed. He also tones down some incidents: for Southwell, the "gold piece" is a ploy by Cecil to kill the Queen; for Waugh, it is a talisman that convinces Elizabeth that she has no need, yet, of doctor or clergyman. Moreover, a scholar as notable as Lingard—a pioneer of "scientific history" who was criticized by other Catholic historians for being too kind to Elizabeth17)—quotes Southwell more freely than does Waugh. In short, it is reasonable to argue that Waugh's use of Southwell does not "vitiate [Edmund Campion] for the historian" (Reynolds ix).
As for Waugh's dropping all reference to "Lady Southwell's letter," one can only surmise that, having become aware of hostile criticism, he decided to distance his book from it. But if that is the case he acted incorrectly, because as long as the events quoted remained in the text, he was obliged to identify their source. The fact that the source was controversial made the obligation even more pressing.
And finally it is possible to return to the questions with which this essay began: Why did Waugh introduce a biography of a Jesuit martyr, executed twenty−two years before Elizabeth's death, with a gruesome portrait of her last days? And why did he follow that portrait [→page 1000] with a vision of the brilliant young monarch visiting Oxford, when she still "had it in her hands to make [another England]" (6)?
In purely literary terms, the startling scene based on Southwell that opens Edmund Campion promises a frank, modern biography in the Lytton Strachey mode. The spare and compelling narrative, the dramatic scenes coloured with imagined speech and detail, lead swiftly towards Campion's execution. In marked contrast to the febrile and embittered Queen, Campion dies as a man of blindingly clear faith and glowing eloquence, the epitome of early−Jesuit Élan; he is fearless and full of charity. Contrary to a perception that Edmund Campion is "well−written" (Reynolds IX) (meaning otherwise negligible), scholars agree that the account of Campion's life and career is reliable and as comprehensive as was possible within a short book. Father Thomas McCoog's excellent recent collection, The Reckoned Expense, explores much more deeply than could Waugh Campion's activities within the places and institutions in which he worked. But, while greatly extending knowledge, it casts no serious doubt on Waugh's narrative.
The religious stance of Edmund Campion is Ultramontane, but idiosyncratically so. The widely condemned Bull excommunicating Elizabeth and the English mission, which sent waves of young priests to almost certain torture and death, are not defended in political terms. Instead, Waugh invokes a semi−mystical conviction that the survival of English Catholicism depended on "sacrifice" (105), on "blood and hatred and derision" (42)—an insight he believes he shares with Pius V and Cardinal Allen. In all this, Waugh differs markedly from Richard Simpson, who believed that the heroism and holiness of the missionaries was wasted in an attempt to perpetuate the purely temporal powers of the Papacy. Some have asked whether the sacrifice of the missionaries did anything to slow the advance of Protestantism. But the strangely emotive power of Edmund Campion arises from Waugh's total identification with the missionaries and his vibrant faith in the efficacy of martyrdom.
In 1935 deep divisions about English history still existed between Protestants and conventional historians on one side and Roman [→page 101] Catholics on the other. It was then unimaginable that by the end of the century objective analyses of the transition from Catholic to Protestant England would be favourably reviewed in the mainstream press, and even Bloody Mary reassessed.18) A biography of a "seditious Jesuit" executed for treason was then certain to arouse partisan feeling. Predictably Waugh was attacked for allegedly concealing damning evidence against Campion and for bias that supposedly led him to exclude any information harmful to the Catholic case. On examination, these attacks prove to be not only false but baseless; but they have helped create an impression, still alive today, that Edmund Campion is inferior history. I prefer the view of the severe, scholarly Protestant reviewer who castigated several genuine mistakes but nevertheless acknowledged Waugh to be "well read in the proper authorities, better versed than most writers on the period in its religious dialectic" (TLS 3 Oct. 1935: 606).
But Edmund Campion is also wilfully revisionist. Conventionally minded reviewers naturally, therefore, accused Waugh of "repeating too facilely the modern Catholic account of [the effect of the] Reformation upon English society and culture" (Listener 13 Nov. 1935). Catholics, however, welcomed Edmund Campion for the "further knowledge of the Elizabethan era" it contributed, and for the "blow" it struck "to the toppling myth" of the Elizabethan Age that "has so shamelessly possessed our text books" ("Short Notices"). The sharply etched picture of a wilful, obstinate Queen, racked by hallucinations, misery and despair that opens Edmund Campion is a dramatic prelude to the paradoxical perspectives that the biography presents: a righteous Pope; a "perjured" Queen who broke her Coronation Oath to uphold the Catholic Church19); an England rightfully Catholic; and a Tudor dynasty that set England on an economically and imperially dominant, but wrong, course. By contrast, the vision of the radiant young Queen visiting Oxford is full of promise. The distance between the portraits of the youthful and the dying Queen—so "economically drawn, so full of repressed emotion" (Martindale)—suggests how far [→page 102] Elizabeth, and by extension England, has strayed during her reign. There was a better way to take, and England did not take it.
Ironically, Waugh seems to have fallen out of love with the 'modern Catholic history' embodied in Edmund Campion. He had never employed the "Elizabeth−Jezebel" rhetoric indulged in by contemporaries like Christopher Hollis. And in 1937, when reviewing Thomas Platter's Travels in England, a 1599 travelogue, he expressed doubt about the view put forward by Belloc, Strachey and the "Left Wing boys"—the view he had subsumed into his biography:
the old Queen, obscene, unprincipled and superstitious; a cut−throat court […] an intelligentsia shrouded in the black despairs of Webster; a cranky and jealous bourgeoisie preparing the overthrow of the monarchy; a dispossessed and oppressed peasantry helpless under the upstart landowners […].
Waugh sees "more truth" in the revisionists than in the "unscrupulous liberal historians of the Kingsley−Froude school" that still held sway in the public mind and in the text books. He agrees that the Belloc−Strachey−Left Wing view had "needed emphasizing"; but by 1937 "the time has come for more sober reflection," and he finds that Thomas Platter "makes one question the bases of one's assumptions" ("A Teuton"). All this amounts to a partial retraction of the history enshrined in Edmund Campion and suggests that Waugh, having modified his assumptions, hoped that in more eirenic times the biography would be read as a non−polemical "perfectly true story of heroism and holiness" (2nd ed. viii).
James Cook University
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