PARSONS, FATHER ROBERT, the chief of the English Jesuits in their golden age; born in Somersetshire, Eng land, in 1546. When 18 he passed from the free school at Taunton to St. Mary's Hall, Oxford, and after two years to Balliol College, where he took his degrees of bachelor and master, and became a fellow and tutor. Here he twice took the oath abjuring the papal supremacy, but he never received orders in the Eng lish Church. His enemies in college brought charges against him which led to his forced retirement from Oxford in 1574. He shortly afterward became a Roman Catholic and set out on foot to Rome, and offered himself to the So ciety of Jesus. He was ordained priest in 1578. When in the following year Dr. (afterward Cardinal) Allen, superior of the Douay seminary, succeeded in per suading the Jesuits to join with the semi nary priests in the work of the English mission, Parsons and Campion were se lected. Parsons in 1580 landed at Dover, disguised as a merchant of jewels. He employed six printers on a secret press, and for 12 months baffled all the at tempts of the government to catch him. But after the apprehension of his com panion, Campion, in July, 1581, Parsons escaped to the Continent, where he schemed for the subjection of England to the Pope by force of arms. He con spired in France with the Duke de Guise, the Provincial of the French Jesuits, the Papal Nuncio and others for an invasion of England. Now began his intimacy and influence with the Spanish king, and the series of political enterprises which cul minated in the Armada of 1588. At Rouen in 1582 he had finished his book, the "Christian Directory," which has found favor with Protestant divines; and, with the aid of the Duke of Guise, he founded at Eu a seminary for youth. After the failure of the Armada he or ganized seminaries or clerical establish-. emnts for his countrymen at Valladolid in 1589, St. Lucar in 1591, Seville and Lisbon in 1592, and at St. Omer in 1593. Parsons, who went from Madrid to Rome to again assume the rectorship of the English college, now persuaded the Pope to appoint George Blackwell, a partisan of the Jesuits, an archpriest over the secular clergy, with the view of keep ing the chief direction of affairs in his own hands. The appointment was re
sisted by the leaders of the seculars. Parsons, upon whom the odium of the appointment chiefly fell, was accused of deceiving the Pope, of tyranny over the clergy, and of continued treason against his country. An appeal carried to Rome by four delegates of the secular clergy led to a diminution of the Jesuits' power.
His industry and power of work were extraordinary. His domineering spirit and political partisanship created for him bitter enemies, while his mode of prosecuting his ends justly exposed him to charges of double dealing, equivoca tion, and reckless slander of his oppo nents. Among the best known of his voluminous publications is "The Con ference on the next Succession to the Crown," written with the assistance of Allen and Sir Francis Englefield in fa vor of the infanta of Spain. He here in sists on the right of the people to set aside, on religious grounds, the natural heir to the throne; and advocates prin ciples which afterward obtained for him the title of the first English Whig. Par liament made it treason to possess a copy of the book, which was reprinted in the interests of Cromwell in 1648. It was again reprinted in 1681, and publicly burned at Oxford in 1683. An other curious work by Parsons, was his "Memorial for the Reformation," in which he lays down rules for the guid ance of the government, in the expected event of England's subjection to the Pope. His "Apology" for the govern ment of the archpriest (1601) is his torically interesting, while his "Manifes tation of the Great Folly and Bad Spirit of Certain in England Calling Them selves Secular Priests," a passionate at tack upon the conduct and morals of his clerical brethren, exhibits him on his weakest side. He died in Rome, as rec tor of the English college, April 15, 1610.