Robert Southwell

Robert Southwell

b. 1561 d. 1595


As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow. - Robert Southwell 'The Burning Babe'


About Robert Southwell

Southwell wrote most of his poems and prose when working as an underground Jesuit priest in Protestant England at a time when an active Catholic priest’s chances of survival were no more than one in three. Educated in Italy, he then attended the Jesuit school in Douai, in northern France, before ordination. In 1586, he travelled to England and began his mission, working secretly as a pastor in London. He survived for six years before being captured and enduring acts of sustained torture. His trial and execution took place in 1595.

His prose is admired for its clarity, lucidity and reasonableness of tone. These qualities are seen in his ‘An Humble Supplication’ (1591), which is a powerful and moving response to the royal proclamation that condemned and stigmatized Catholics. Just over fifty of Southwell’s poems survive, and all of these explore religious themes.

Robert Southwell was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.