Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gerard, John (1564-1637)

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GERARD, JOHN (1564–1637), jesuit, second son of Sir Thomas Gerard, knight, of Bryn, Lancashire, by Elizabeth, eldest daughter and coheiress of Sir John Port, knight, of Etwall, Derbyshire, was born on 4 Oct. 1564, probably at New Bryn. He received part of his education in the English College at Douay, where he arrived 29 Aug. 1577, and apparently accompanied the students in their migration to Rheims in the following March. It seems that he subsequently returned to England, and was matriculated in the university of Oxford as a member of Exeter College about October 1579 (Boase, Register of Exeter Coll., pp. 186, 218). Being unable conscientiously to comply with the religious observances of the college, he left it within twelve months and went home. In 1581 he proceeded to Paris, and studied for some time in Clermont College, which belonged to the jesuits, but ill-health compelled him again to return to England. An unsuccessful attempt which he afterwards made to leave this country without a government license resulted in his apprehension and imprisonment in the Marshalsea prison, from which he obtained his release in October 1585. In the following year he was admitted into the English College at Rome, where he was ordained priest. He joined the Society of Jesus in Rome on 15 Aug. 1588, and was at once sent on the English mission. His activity soon attracted the attention of the government, but for a long time he baffled all the attempts of spies and pursuivants to apprehend him. Eventually, while on a visit to London, he was betrayed by a servant, and was imprisoned successively in the Compter, the Clink, and the Tower, where, by order of the privy council, he underwent the horrible torture of being suspended by the wrists for hours at a time, and was nearly crippled for life. A graphic account of his extraordinary escape from the Tower in October 1597, by swinging himself along a rope suspended over the Tower ditch, is given in his autobiography. With characteristic courage he continued his missionary labours, and the government never captured him again. In 1603 Gerard, in the belief that submission to James I might bring about a removal of catholic disabilities, discountenanced Watson's plot, and gave information about it to the government. Though Gerard's trust in James was soon dissipated, ‘there is strong reason to believe,’ writes Mr. Gardiner, ‘that he was not made acquainted with the particulars’ of the Gunpowder plot. The government, however, thought they could inculpate him along with Greenway and Garnett. After the discovery of the plot the search for him was therefore renewed with redoubled vigour, and it became absolutely necessary that he should leave England. Dressed in livery he embarked with the suites of the ambassadors of Spain and Flanders, and crossed the Channel on 3 May 1606, the day on which Father Henry Garnett [q. v.] was executed.

Proceeding to Rome, he was appointed English penitentiary at St. Peter's. In 1609 he was professed of the four vows, and was nominated ‘socius’ of Father Thomas Talbot, rector and novice-master in the English jesuit novitiate at Louvain. He took a leading part in the establishment of the college of his order at Liège, and became its first rector and master of novices (1614–22). After acting for some time as instructor of the tertians at Ghent, he was recalled in 1627 to Rome, and became spiritual director of the students of the English College, where he died on 27 July 1637.

His works are: 1. ‘The Exhortation of Jesus Christ to the Faithful Soul,’ London, 1598, 8vo; St. Omer, 1610, 8vo. A translation from the Latin of Landsberger. 2. ‘The Spiritual Combat; translated from the Italian,’ London, 12mo; Rouen, 1613, 12mo. 3. ‘A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot,’ 1606, manuscript fol. preserved at Stonyhurst College, ff. 170. Printed under the editorship of Father John Morris in ‘The Condition of Catholics under James I,’ London, 1871, 8vo; 2nd edition, 1872. Portions of Gerard's valuable narrative were printed in the ‘Month’ in 1867–8, and these, rendered into French by Father J. Forbes, appeared in the ‘Études Théologiques,’ Paris, 1868, and were reprinted separately in 1872. A German translation of Father Morris's first edition was published at Cologne in 1875. 4. ‘Narratio P. Johannis Gerardi de Rebus a se in Anglia gestis,’ manuscript at Stonyhurst, compiled in 1609 for the information of his superiors. Considerable use was made of this autobiography by Father Morris in writing the ‘Life’ of Gerard, which is contained in ‘The Condition of Catholics under James I.’ A third edition of the ‘Life,’ rewritten and much enlarged, was printed at London, 1881, 8vo. The translation of the autobiography is from the pen of the Rev. G. R. Kingdon, S.J. It has been printed separately as the forty-sixth volume of the ‘Quarterly Series,’ under the title of ‘During the Persecution,’ London, 1886, 8vo, and is of very high interest.

[Life by the Rev. John Morris; Catholic Spectator, 1824, i. 257, 325, 360, 389; De Backer's Bibl. des Écrivains de la Compagnie de Jésus, 1869, i. 2089; Dodd's Church Hist. ii. 419; Douay Diaries; Gardiner's Hist. of England, 1603–42, i. 114, 243; Gillow's Bibl. Dict.; Lives of Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, and his Wife, p. 233; Husenbeth's Colleges and Convents on the Continent, p. 49; London and Dublin Orthodox Journal, ii. 67; More's Hist. Missionis Anglicanæ Soc. Jesu, pp. 249, 253, 256, 261, 263, 337, 339, 414; Oliver's Jesuit Collections, p. 101; Southwell's Bibl. Scriptorum Soc. Jesu, p. 452.]

T. C.