Pius V’s 1570 Excommunication of Queen Elizabeth and the New 1581 Jesuit Spirit

Dr. Robert Hickson

29 December 2021

Feast of Saint Thomas à Becket (d. 1170)

Feast of King David the Poet and King (d. 973 B.C.)

Also the Traditional Feast of the Holy Innocents (1 A.D.)

Pope Pius V’s 1570 Excommunication of Queen Elizabeth and the New 1581 Jesuit Spirit:

Hence “the Chivalry of Lepanto and the Poetry of La Mancha”


“Tobie Matthew [the manifoldly prosperous Protestant of Oxford] died full of honours in 1628. There, but for the Grace of God, went Edmund Campion.” (Evelyn Waugh, Edmund Campion (1935, 1946), page 21—my emphasis added


“In the spring of 1570 there occurred another event that completely recast the Catholic cause; Pope Pius V excommunicated the Queen [Elizabeth of England]….The See of Peter was at this moment [one year before the 1571 victory at Lepanto] occupied by a Saint….That year, at any rate, the Bull [of 1570: Regnans in Excelsis] came most opportunely to [William] Cecil. There was now the best possible evidence to confirm anti-Catholic feeling. (Evelyn Waugh, Edmund Campion (1946), pages 46 and 49—my emphasis added)


“Elizabeth was charged and found guilty [by “twelve trustworthy English witnesses”] on seventeen counts;….Elizabeth was excommunicated [on 12 February 1570, during Lent] and her subjects released from moral obligations of obedience to her.

“Three months later, on Corpus Christi Day, May 25th, a manuscript copy of the document was nailed to the door of the Bishop of London’s palace, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, by Mr. John Felton, a Catholic gentleman of wealth and good reputation. He was tortured and executed. On the scaffold he made a present to the Queen of a great diamond ring which he had been wearing at the time of his arrest, with the assurance that he meant her no personal harm, but believed her deposition to be for her own soul’s good and the country’s. He was the first of the great company of Englishmen who were to sacrifice their worldly prospects and their lives as a result of Pius V’s proclamation. (Evelyn Waugh, Edmund Campion (1946), pages 47-48—my emphasis added)


“There was to be no easy way of reconciliation, but that it was only through blood and hatred and derision that the Faith [sic] was one day to return to England….(Evelyn Waugh, Edmund Campion (1946), page 49—my emphasis added)


This well-researched and moving book by Evelyn Waugh–first published with much gratitude to the learned Jesuit Father Martin D’Arcy in 19351—was divided into four interwoven sections, which are alluring portions and nuanced aspects of Edmund Campion’s life of forty-one years: The Scholar; The Priest; The Hero; and The Martyr.

We shall now fittingly present a revealing section on life in post-1570 England, as perceived through Waugh’s compact words on The Hero and on the growing sacrifices of the missionary Jesuits:

These were the conditions of life, always vexatious, often utterly disastrous, of the people to whom the Jesuits were being sent, people drawn from the most responsible and honourable class, guilty of no crime except adherence to the traditional faith of the country. They were the conditions which, in the natural course, could only produce despair, and it depended upon their individual temperaments whether, in desperation, they had recourse to apostasy or conspiracy. It was the work of the missionaries, and most particularly of Campion, to present by their own example a third, supernatural solution. They came with gaiety among a people where hope was dead. The past held only regret, and the future apprehension; they brought with them, besides their priestly dignity and the ancient and indestructible creed, an entirely new spirit of which Campion is the type: the chivalry of Lepanto and the poetry of La Mancha, light, tender, generous and ardent. (122-123—my emphasis added, with the implicit references to the festive prose epic literature of Miguel Servantes, thus with the characters of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza)

By contrast to this new Ignatian ethos, as expressed compactly above, we now briefly consider the all-too-human reactions to any protracted injustice and cruelty:

After him [after the coming of Campion] there still were apostates and there were conspirators; there were still bitter old reactionaries, brooding alone in their impoverished manors over the injustice they had suffered, grumbling at the Queen’s plebeian advisers, observing the forms of the old Church in protest against the crazy, fashionable Calvinism; these survived, sterile and lonely, for theirs was not the temper of Campion’s generation who—not the fine flower only, but the root and stem of English Catholicism—surrendered themselves to their destiny without calculation or reserve; for whom the honourable pleasures and occupations of and earlier age were forbidden; whose choice lay between the ordered, respectable life of their ancestors and the Faith that sanctified it; who followed holiness, though it led them through bitter ways to poverty, disgrace, exile, imprisonment and death; who followed it gaily. (123)

Every word of these two extended quotations should be read today, and savored, especially amidst the manifold crises within and around the Catholic Church.

What path—or compromise—would we have chosen then, in 1570-1581—especially given a family with children?

Moreover, what choices are laid before us now today? The fundamental and permanent ones, too?!

“But, Mother, the basis of unity is truth”: were the uncompromising words ardently spoken by a Cardinal in Rome to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in the presence of Father John A. Hardon, S.J.

(Father Hardon glowingly told me in person about this incident while they were waiting for the delayed appearance of Pope John Paul II, but he would not—and could not–disclose to me the name of the candid Cardinal.)


© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1All references will be to the 1946 edition of Evelyn Waugh’s original 1935 book, entitled Edmund Campion, which also contains Waugh’s short, but vivid, “Preface to American Edition.” Citations will be placed in parentheses above in the main body of the text, as well as in the epigraphs. See Waugh’s Edmund Campion (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1946—pages 240).

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