For the first dozen years of her reign, Queen Elizabeth I did not strictly enforce her anti-Catholic legislation. But for a variety of reasons, after 1570 she intensified the persecution of Catholics, especially St. Edmund Campion and Robert Parsons who initiated a “Jesuit Mission” to sustain English Catholics.
A popular and notable Oxford graduate, perhaps Campion came to be especially despised because he had converted to Catholicism. He became a Jesuit in 1573 and was ordained five years later. In 1580 he arrived in England disguised as a jewel merchant to support English Catholics.
In a bold move he wrote a challenge to the queen’s Privy Council. He declared that his mission was “to preach the gospel, to minister the sacraments, to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute errors—in brief to cry a spiritual alarm against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many of my dear countrymen are abused.”
This document, that came to be called “Campion’s Brag,” circulated widely and rallied Catholics with renewed hope. Campion seemed to pop up everywhere, his preaching and publications spreading a reinvigorated Catholicism. Unable to ignore such a threat, the government searched him out and arrested him in the fall of 1581. On November 14, a packed jury condemned him to death on the false charge of plotting rebellion. Edmund Campion died a martyr on December 1, hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn near the present-day Marble Arch in London’s West End.