Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pits, Arthur

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PITS, ARTHUR (1557–1634?), catholic priest, was younger son of Arthur Pitts, LL.B., sometime fellow of All Souls', Oxford, registrary of the diocese of Oxford, and impropriator of Iffley, who died a man of some wealth on 10 May 1578. The son, born at Iffley in 1557, became a chorister of All Souls', and was afterwards for a time at Brasenose College, Oxford. He did not graduate, but with two brothers left for Douay, apparently in 1575, and joined an elder brother, Robert, who was already settled there in deacon's orders. Although his father had left him and his brothers considerable property at Staunton, Woodfrey, Iffley, and Stafford, he was described in the Douay matriculation register as ‘pauper.’ From Douay he was sent in 1577 to the English seminary at Rome. He was back at Douay in 1579, when he was described as twenty-two years old and student of theology in minor orders, and as having ‘declared himself ready to proceed to England for the help of souls, and confirmed this by oath.’ He set out for England on 22 April 1581, in company with Standishe, the two forming part of a detachment of forty-seven priests sent from Douay during the year (cf. Lansd. MS. 33, No. 16). On 6 Feb. 1582 he was seized, with George Haydock and another priest, while dining together at an inn in London. The three were committed to the Tower. In October Cardinal Allen wrote that Pits was expecting torture and death. In January 1584–5 he and twenty other priests were banished from England. They were shipped from Tower Wharf, and landed on the coast of Normandy in February, after signing a certificate to the effect that they had been well treated on the voyage (Rishton's addition to Sanders's History of the English Schism ‘Troubles,’ 2nd edit. p. 69).

According to Dodd (iii. 80), Pits resumed his studies at Rheims, and came out doctor in both faculties—law and divinity. He seems to have graduated D.D. at Douay; but, according to a contemporary narrative (Petyt MS. 53854, f. 228, at the Inner Temple), Pits on his banishment ‘came into Lorraine,’ and was received into the house of the Cardinal of Vaudemont, ‘with whom all his life he was in great favour and credit.’ A charge of disaffection to the king of France, brought against him by a jesuit, led to his imprisonment. The charge apparently arose from Pits's patriotic insistence, in opposition to the jesuits, on the desirability of converting England to catholicism through the agency of martyrs rather than by the army of a continental power.

On 27 April 1602 Pits, according to an informer, was in England. According to Wood, he came back ‘at length for health's sake,’ leaving the preferments abroad. When, in 1623, the pope re-established the catholic hierarchy in England, and William Bishop [q. v.] was nominated vicar-apostolic and bishop of Chalcedon, Pits was appointed one of the first canons of the English chapter, and he became titular archdeacon of London, Westminster, and the suburbs. In later life he resided with the Stonors of Blount's Court in Oxfordshire, and, dying there about 1634, was buried in the church of Rotherfield Peppard.

Pits wrote ‘In quatuor Jesu Christi Evangelia et Acta Apostolorum Commentarius,’ Douay, 1636, 4to, published posthumously by the English Benedictines at Douay.

[Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ii. 585; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Marshall's Account of the Town of Iffley, pp. 60–8, 151; Clark's Oxf. Registers; Ingram's Memorials of Oxford, p. 16; Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pp. vii. 298, 5th Rep. pp. 472–3; Gillow's Haydock Papers, p. 27; Law's Hist. Sketch of Conflict between Jesuits and Seculars, p. lxxvii; Pollen's Acts of English Martyrs, p. 280; Foley's Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus; Challoner's Memoirs of the Missionary Priests; Knox's Letters and Memorials of William, Cardinal Allen; Douay Diaries; information from the Rev. Horatio Walmisley, rector of Iffley; Holinshed's Chronicles, iii. 1379–80; Dodd's Church Hist. iii. 155–8; documents from the archives of the see of Westminster kindly furnished by Father Richard Staunton.]

W. A. S.