Edmund Campion, a Diamond of England, Betrayed

Dan Graves, MSL

Edmund Campion, a Diamond of England, Betrayed

Edmund Campion was a brilliant lad. While still a thirteen year old schoolboy, he was called on to recite a Latin greeting for Queen Mary when she entered London in 1553. At Oxford he shone. Elevated by Elizabeth when she came to the throne, Campion's future looked rosy. Lord Cecil called him a "diamond of England." After he fled England he wrote highly-praised plays.

Although the political wind was blowing the other way, Campion clung to the Roman Catholic faith in which he had been raised. Unwilling to renounce the Pope for the sake of enjoying power in England, he escaped his homeland and took vows as a Jesuit. Posted at first to Prague, he later was recalled to Rome. There he was ordered to infiltrate England and minister to English Catholics. As Christopher Buckley and James MacGuire portray it in a stage play, Campion replies with horror, "I'm to return to England." A priest with him says, "Edmund, you've got to do something. It's a death warrant."

Although knowing this to be true, Campion, nonetheless, remained faithful to his Jesuit vows and obediently returned to England. In preparation for his inevitable capture and death he wrote his "Challenge to the Privy Council," otherwise known as "Campion's Brag." In this he insisted that his reasons for returning to his homeland were not political. "My charge is of free cost to preach the Gospel, to minister the sacraments, to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute errors; in brief, to cry alarm spiritual against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many [of] my dear countrymen are abused."

Campion's courage and brilliance (combined with genuine holiness) restored heart to the Catholics to whom he ministered. For a year he eluded his pursuers, escaping from home to home. In the end he was betrayed.

Through past friendship with a cook, a government agent, pretending to be a devout Catholic, obtained entrance into a house where Campion was giving mass. The agent got word to the local authorities. The house was surrounded on this day, July 16, 1581, and the next afternoon, after many hours of searching "...David Jenkins, by God's great goodness, espied a certain secret place, which he quickly found to be hollow; and with a pin of iron which he had in his hand...he forthwith did break a hole into the said place: where then presently he perceived the said priests lying close together upon a bed...where they had meat and drink sufficient to have relieved them three or four days together."

Campion was racked, offered bribes and tortured. Because he refused to recant, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn. At his sentencing he said, "In condemning us you condemn all your own ancestors--all the ancient priests, bishops, and kings--all that was once the glory of England." He might have added, "and of Europe." This brilliant "diamond of England" suffered a brave martyrdom for his faith.


  1. Buckley, Christopher and MacGuire. Campion. (Screenplay with chronology and Campion's Brag).
  2. "Campion, St. Edmund." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  3. Carey, John, ed. Eyewitness to History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University, 1988.
  4. Guiney, L.I. "Campion, St. Edmund." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  5. "True Report of the Disputation or rather private Conference had in the Tower of London with Ed, Campion Jesuite, the last of August, 1581..." Pastwords #18. Staunton, Virginia: Christian Heritage Library.
  6. Waugh, Evelyn. Edmund Campion. London: Longmans, 1961.
  7. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated April, 2007.

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