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William Allen

Cardinal; b. England, 1532; d. Rome, 16 Oct., 1594

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Allen, WILLIAM, Cardinal; b. England, 1532; d. Rome, October 16, 1594. He was the third son of John Allen, of Rossall, Lancashire, and at the age of fifteen went to Oriel College, Oxford, where he graduated B. A. in 1550, and was elected Fellow of his College. In 1554 he proceeded M.A., and two years later was chosen Principal of St. Mary’s Hall. For a short time he also held a canonry at York, for he had already determined to embrace the ecclesiastical state. On the accession of Elizabeth, and the reestablishment of Protestantism, Allen was one of those who remained most stanch on the Catholic side, and it is chiefly due to his labors that the Catholic religion was not entirely stamped out in England. Having resigned all his preferments, he left the country in 1561, and sought a refuge in the university town of Louvain. The following year, however, we find him back in England, devoting himself, though not yet in priest’s orders, to evangelizing his native county. His success was such that it attracted notice and he had to flee for safety. For a while he made himself a missionary center near Oxford, where he had many acquaintances, and later for a time he sought protection with the family of the Duke of Norfolk. In 1565 he was again forced to leave England, this time, as it turned out, for good. He was ordained priest at Mechlin shortly afterwards. The three years Allen spent as a missioner in England had a determining effect on his whole after life. For he found everywhere that the people were not Protestant by choice, but by force of circumstances; and the majority were only too ready, in response to his preaching and ministrations, to return to Catholicity. He was always convinced that the Protestant wave over the country, due to the action of Elizabeth, could only be temporary, and that the whole future depended on there being a supply of trained clergy and controversialists ready to come into the country whenever Catholicity should be restored. It was to supply this need that he founded the College at Douay since identified with his name. The idea first developed itself in his mind during a pilgrimage to Rome in company with Dr. Vendeville, Regius Professor of Canon Law in the University of Douay, in 1567. No doubt this was one reason why he thought of Douay as a suitable place for his new college; but it was by no means the only one. Douay was a new university, founded by Pope Paul IV, under the patronage of King Philip of Spain (in whose dominions it then was), for the special object of combating the errors of the Reformation; and, what is still more to the purpose, it was already under Oxford influences. The first chancellor, Richard Smith, was an Oxford man, as were several of the most influential members of the university at the time when Allen began. It was his ambition to perpetuate Oxford influences and traditions, and to make his new college practically a continuation of Catholic Oxford. A beginning was made in a hired house on Michaelmas Day, 1568. The means of support included, besides Allen’s private income, and other voluntary donations, a yearly pension of 200 ducats from the King of Spain, and later on one of 100 gold crowns a month from the Pope. The number of students grew rapidly. Often more were received than the income warranted, a course rendered necessary by the urgent state of Catholic affairs, which Allen met in the spirit of faith; and in the long run, means were never wanting. The names of Thomas Stapleton, Richard Bristowe, Gregory Martin, Morgan Philips, and others are still well known to English Catholics, and are themselves a sufficient record of the ability of Allen’s early companions, and of the work done at the college. Allen had the power of instilling his spirit into his followers. They lived together without written rule, but in perfect mutual harmony, working for the common cause. From the Douay press came forth a constant stream of controversial and other Catholic literature, which could not be printed in England on account of the Penal Laws. In this Allen himself took a prominent part. His writings are distinguished by extent of learning and theological acumen. One of the chief works undertaken in the early years of the college was the preparation of the well-known Douay Bible (q.v.). The New Testament was published in 1582, when the college was at Rheims; but the Old Testament, though completed at the same time, was delayed by want of funds. It eventually appeared at Douay, in 1609, two years before the Anglican “Authorized Version“.

But the work for which Allen’s college is now most famous was not part of his original scheme, but an outgrowth from it. This was the sending over of missionaries to work for the conversion of England in defiance of the law, while the country still remained in the hands of the Protestants. There were practically no Catholic bishops left, and the Marian clergy were rapidly dying out. Granted that the Protestant rule was to continue indefinitely, the only method to save the Catholics from extinction was to send priests from abroad, and Allen was given “faculties” for all England to impart to them. They had to face a hard and precarious life, often persecution, the rack, or even death. When found out they could be convicted of high treason, for which the punishment was to be hanged, drawn and quartered. More than one hundred and sixty Douay priests are known to have been put to death, the great majority belonging to the secular clergy. Many more suffered in prison as Confessors for the Faith. Yet such was the spirit which Allen infused into his students that they rejoiced at the news of each successive martyrdom, and by a special privilege sang a solemn Mass of thanksgiving. And the success of the “Seminary Priests”, as they were called, was such that at the end of Elizabeth‘s long reign it is said that the kingdom was still at heart more than half Catholic. In 1575 Allen made a second journey to Rome, where he helped Pope Gregory XIII to found another college to send missionaries to England. For this purpose possession was obtained of the ancient English hospice in the city, which was converted into a seminary.

Returning to Douay, Allen found a storm gathering against the English and in 1578 they were expelled from the town. The collegians took refuge at the University of Rheims, where they were well received, and continued their work as before, Allen being soon afterwards elected canon of the Cathedral Chapter. In 1579 he paid his third visit to Rome, being summoned thither in order that he might use his unique personal influence to adjust the disputes between the English and Welsh students at the new college there. It was during this visit that he was appointed a member of the Pontifical Commission for the revision of the Vulgate. Up to this point the career of Allen had won the universal admiration and gratitude of English Catholics, for what he himself termed his “scholastical attempts” to convert England. Such was not, however, the case with his political labors to secure the same end, which may be said to have begun about this time, and were far less successful. The famous Bull “Regnans in excelsis” was issued by Pius V in 1570, deposing Queen Elizabeth, and releasing her subjects from their allegiance, but it did not take practical shape till seventeen years later, when preparations were made for the invasion of England by the King of Spain. Allen was then once more in Rome, whither he had been summoned by the Pope after a dangerous illness two years before. He never left the Eternal City again, but he kept in constant communication with his countrymen in England. It had been due to his influence that the Society of Jesus, to which he was greatly attached, undertook to join in the work of the English mission; and now Allen and Father Parsons became Vint leaders of the “Spanish Party” among the English Catholics. The exhortation to take up arms in connection with the Spanish invasion, printed in Antwerp, was issued in Allen’s name, though believed to have been composed under the direction of Father Parsons. At the request of King Philip, Allen was created cardinal in 1587, and held himself in readiness to go to England immediately, should the invasion prove successful. In estimating the number of those who would be adherents to the scheme, however, Allen and Parsons were both at fault. The large majority of English Catholics, generously forgetting the past, sided with their own nation against the Spanish, and the defeat of the Armada (1588) was a subject of rejoicing to them no less than to their Protestant fellow countrymen. Allen survived the defeat of the Armada six years. To the end of his life he remained firmly convinced that the time was not far distant when England would be Catholic again. During his last years there was an estrangement between him and the Jesuits, though his personal relations with Father Parsons remained unimpaired. In 1589 he cooperated with him in establishing a new English college at Valladolid, in Spain. The same year he was nominated by Philip II Archbishop of Mechlin; but, for some reason which has never been satisfactorily explained, the nomination, although publicly allowed to stand several years, was never confirmed. He continued to reside at the English College, Rome, until his death, October 16, 1594. He was buried in the chapel of the Holy Trinity adjoining the college. The following is a list of his printed works: “Certain Brief Reasons concerning the Catholick Faith” (Douay, 1564); “A Defense and Declaration of the Catholike Churches Doctrine touching Purgatory, and Prayers of the Soules Departed” (Antwerp, 1565), reedited by Father Bridgett in 1886; “A Treatise made in defense of the Lawful Power and Authoritie of the Preesthoode to remitte sinnes &c.” (1567); “De Sacramentis” (Antwerp, 1565; Douay, 1603); “An Apology for the English Seminaries” (1581); “Apologia Martyrum” (1583); “Martyrium R. P. Edmundi Campiani, S.J.” (1583); “An Answer to the Libel of English Justice” (Mons, 1584); “The Copie of a Letter written by M. Doctor Allen concerning the Yeelding up of the Citie of Daventrie, unto his Catholike Majestie, by Sir William Stanley Knight” (Antwerp, 1587), reprinted by the Chetham Society, 1851; “An Admonition to the Nobility and People of England and Ireland, concerning the present Warres made for the Execution of his Holines Sentence, by the highe and mightie Kinge Catholike of Spain, by the Cardinal of Englande” (1588); “A Declaration of the sentence and deposition of Elizabeth, the usurper and pretended Queene of England” (1588; reprinted London, 1842). Among the known ancient portraits of Cardinal Allen are the following: Painting formerly in refectory of the English College, Douay, found after the Revolution in the upper sacristy of the parish church of St. Jacques, now at Douai Abbey, Woolhampton; copy of same at St. Edmund’s College, Old Hall; painting formerly the property of Charles Brown Mostyn, Esq., now at Ushaw College, Durham; painting in archiepiscopal palace, Rheims; and a later one, representing him as an old man, at English College, Rome. Also a Belgian print, reproduced in “History of St. Edmund’s College“, and various reproductions of the above paintings.


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