Holt, William (DNB00)
|←Holt, Thomas||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 27
HOLT, WILLIAM (1545-1599), Jesuit, was born at Ashworth in Lancashire in 1545. He was educated at home, and entered Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1562-3, took the degree B.A. in 1566, was elected fellow of Oriel on 29 Feb. 1568, and proceeded to the degree of M.A. in 1572 (Oxf. Univ. Reg. Oxf. Hist. Soc. i. 262). In 1573, he was incorporated M.A. at Cambridge. His studies were chiefly theological, and led him to a growing dissatisfaction with religious affairs in England. In 1574 he left Oxford, went to Douay, and was admitted into the English College, where he continued his theological studies till 1576, when he was ordained and sent to Rome to help in the establishment of the English College there. At Rome he was attracted by the Jesuits, and he entered their society on 10 Nov. 1578. In 1581 he was sent to England to help in carrying out the work which had been begun by Parsons and Campion. Holt, however, did not follow in the steps of Campion as an evangelist, but came as a political plotter of the type of Parsons, by whom he was sent on a mission to Scotland, together with William Crichton [q. v.] at the end of 1581. Their object was to open up communications with the Duke of Lennox, procure the conversion or deposition of the young James VI, and send information to Mary and Philip II of Spain through the Spanish ambassador Mendoza (Froude, Hist. of England, xi. 477; Teulet, Relations Politiques de la France et de l’Espagne avec l’Écosse, v. 240, 247). Holt further communicated with the Duke of Guise and in May 1582 had an interview with him in Paris (Teulet, l. c. 255). Elizabeth meanwhile had sent to Scotland Robert Bowes [q. v.] to counteract the influence of Lennox, and guard against the intrigues of the Jesuits in the Scottish court. In March 1583 Bowes prevailed on the king to authorise the arrest of Holt at Leith as he was on the point of setting out for France. Holt, who passed under the name of Peter Brereton, was kept for a time in Bowes’s custody, and the letters found on him were forwarded to Walsingham. But James VI soon took him into his own hands, and ordered him to be imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, while Elizabeth vainly demanded his surrender as an English subject, and asked that at he should be put to the torture and compelled to confess (Froude, 1. c. 549). Allen thought that Holt was tortured and withstood the ordeal with constancy (Knox, Letters of Cardinal Allen, p. 191); but Bowes’s letters lead to the conclusion that though torture was threatened, it was actually applied. James VI was himself concerned in some of Holt’s intrigues. At the end of June the king recovered his liberty from Gowrie, took matters into his own hands, and negotiated for French and Spanish help in an invasion on England. To rid himself of Bowes’s importunity about Holt, James allowed him to escape from Edinburgh Castle on 16 July, and took credit with the Duke of Guise for doing so (Teulet, l. c. 306). Holt sought refuge for a time in Flanders, and visited the college at Rheims. In 1585 he returned to Scotland to work in behalf of Mary, and was harboured by the Earl of Huntly in the north (Tytler, Hist. of Scotland, viii. 265, 278).
In 1586 Holt was summoned to Rome and made rector of the English College, a post which he held for a year and a half, when in 1588 he was transferred to Brussels, to act as agent for Philip II, and direct the political activity of the English exiles. In this difficult work Holt was by no means successful. There were two factions among the exiles; one, which was headed by Parsons and supported by Allen, looked to the help of Spain for the restoration of the Roman church in England; the other party, which represented the wishes of the Romanists in England, was opposed by the Spanish succession, and hoped to make terms with James VI of Scotland. Holt was a violent partisan of the Spanish faction, and made no endeavour to conciliate his opponents. So long as Allen lived he managed to exert a moderating influence, but after his death in 1594 Holt’s arbitrary character was left without a check. Elizabeth was afraid of the plots which were formed against her in the Low Countries, and wished to negotiate with the Archduke Ernest the surrender of Holt among others, but the ambassador was never sent. Edmund York, who was executed for high treason in 1595, is said to have confessed that Holt promised him forty thousand ducats if he would murder the queen (Camden, Annals, sub anno), and the statement was repeated on Southwell’s trial (Foley, Records, i. 365); but it is difficult to judge of the truth of such a statement.
However, Holt’s conduct at Brussels became more and more intolerable to some of his associates, and representations against him were made to Pope Clement VIII, who said to Barret, ‘Accepi nuper litteras ex Belgio de quodam patre qui ibi dominatur et tyrannizat’ (Knox, Records, i. 406). The question was referred to the Cardinal Archduke Albert, and by him committed to the father provincial for Germany, Oliver Manareus and Don Juan Battista de Tassis. Holt’s friends procured signatures to two memorials in his favour. He was not removed from his office, but was admonished to be more conciliatory. It was, however, clear that he was unfit for his position at Brussels, and was replaced in 1598. He went to Rome, and thence was sent to Spain where he died early in 1599, immediately after his landing at Barcelona.
The only writing of Holt which is preserved is a memoir ‘Quibus modis ac mediis religio Catholica continuata est in Anglia,’ published by Knox, ‘Douay Diaries,’ pp. 376-384. Letters from him are in ‘State Papers’ Dom. Eliz. cxxvii. 79; Lansdowne MSS. xcvi. 85. A letter to him from Mary Queen of Scots is in Labanoff’s ‘Lettres de Marie Stuart,’ vi. 333, &c.
[Authorities cited above; More’s Historia Missionis Anglicana Societatis Jesu, pp. 268-72; Foley’s Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, vii. 1231, &c.; Bowes’s Correspondence (Surtees Soc.), p. 372, &c.; Knox’s Douay Diaries, and Papers of Cardinal Allen; Tierney’s Dodd’s Church History, iii. 30, 39, and Appendix, Nos. xiii-xvii; Wright’s Elizabeth and her Times; Birch’s Elizabeth, ii, 311; Cooper’s Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 283-4, 551; Law’s Jesuits and Seculars in the reign of Elizabeth, p. 114 n.]