Walpole, Henry (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

WALPOLE, HENRY (1558–1595), jesuit, eldest son of Christopher Walpole of Docking and of Anmer Hall, Norfolk, by Margery, daughter and heiress of Richard Beckham of Narford in the same county, was born at Docking, and baptised there in October 1558. Michael Walpole [q. v.] and Richard Walpole [q. v.] were his younger brothers. Henry was sent to Norwich school in 1566 or 1567, where his master was Stephen Limbert, a Cambridge scholar of some repute in his day. He entered at St. Peter's College, Cambridge, on 15 Jan. 1575, but he left the university without taking a degree, and in 1578 he became a student at Gray's Inn, intending to follow in the footsteps of his father, who appears for some time to have practised as a consulting barrister, and of his uncle, John Walpole, a serjeant-at-law who would certainly have been promoted to a judgeship but for his early death in 1568. While Henry Walpole was at Gray's Inn he appears to have brought himself under the notice of the government spies by habitually consorting with the recusant gentry and the Roman partisans; and when Edmund Campion [q. v.] came over to advocate a return to the papal obedience, Walpole was a conspicuous supporter of the jesuit and his friends. Campion was hanged at Tyburn on 1 Dec. 1581, and Walpole stood near to the scaffold when the usual barbarities were perpetrated upon the mangled corpse. The blood splashed into the faces of the crowd that pressed round, and some of it spurted upon young Walpole's clothes. He accepted this as a call to himself to take up the work which Campion had begun; and under the inspiration which the dreadful scene had aroused he sought relief for this feeling in writing a poem of thirty stanzas, which he entitled ‘An Epitaph of the Life and Death of the most famous Clerk and virtuous Priest, Edmund Campion, a Reverend Father of the meek Society of the blessed name of Jesus.’ The poem, which contains many passages of much beauty and sweetness, and indicates the possession of great poetic gifts on the part of the writer, was immediately printed by one of the author's friends, Valenger by name, apparently at his own private press. It was widely circulated, and attracted much attention. The government made great efforts to discover the author. Valenger was brought before the council, was fined heavily, and condemned to lose his ears; but he did not betray his friend. Walpole, however, was under grave suspicion, and thought it advisable to slip away to his father's house in Norfolk, where he was for some time in hiding, till an opportunity came for passing over to the continent. He arrived at Rheims on 7 July 1582, and at the college there he enrolled himself as a student of theology. Next year he made his way to Rome, was received into the English College on 28 April 1583, and in the following October was admitted to minor orders. Three months later he offered himself to the Society of Jesus, and on 2 Feb. 1584 was admitted among the probationers. A year later he was sent to France, where, at Verdun, he passed two years of probation, acting as ‘prefect of the convictors.’ On 17 Dec. 1588 he was admitted to priest's orders at Paris.

About 1586 a staff of army chaplains had been organised by Belgian jesuits, whose business it was to minister to the Spanish forces serving under the prince of Parma. Among these were soldiers of almost every European nationality, and it was important that the jesuit chaplains should be good linguists. Walpole was master of many languages, and was exactly the man for this work, which was now laid upon him. He was eminently successful, and he did not spare himself; but on one occasion in the autumn of 1589 he fell into the hands of the English garrison at Flushing, and was thrown into prison among common thieves and cut-throats, and had to endure great sufferings, till his brother, Michael Walpole, managed to cross over to Flushing and pay the ransom demanded for his release. In January 1590 he was set free and was still in Belgium, apparently exercising his functions as a catholic priest among the soldiery, when in October 1591 he was removed to Tournai to complete his third year as probationer.

In July 1592 he was summoned to the jesuit college at Bruges. Parsons's famous ‘Responsio ad Edictum,’ written under the name of Philopater [see Parsons, Robert, (1546–1610)], was published in the summer of 1592, and it was deemed advisable that an English translation of the book should be circulated coincidently with the appearance of the Latin version. This translation was entrusted to Walpole, and while he was engaged upon it he received orders from Claudius Aquaviva, general of the society, to join Parsons in Spain. He was present at the opening of the chapel of the lately founded jesuit college in Seville on 29 Dec. 1592, and there he met his brother Richard, whom he had not seen for ten years. Richard had already volunteered to engage in the English mission, but Parsons could not spare so able a coadjutor, and Richard had to wait his time. Henry, however, was possessed by the longing to return to England and emulate John Gerard's success as a proselytiser in Norfolk [see Gerard, John, (1564–1637)]. In June 1593 Parsons told him that it was decided he should be sent to England. Next month he was presented to Philip II at the Escurial, and was very graciously received as a jesuit father about to start on the English mission. It was not, however, till late in November that he actually set sail from Dunkirk on one of the semi-piratical vessels which at that time infested the Channel, having bargained that he should be put ashore on the coast of Essex, Suffolk, or Norfolk, where he was sure to find friends or kinsfolk. With him went two soldiers of fortune who had been serving under the king of Spain and were tired of it. One of these was Thomas, a younger brother of Henry Walpole, now in his twenty-sixth year. The voyage was disastrous from the first; the wind was boisterous and adverse, the vessel could not touch at any point near the East-Anglian coast, and was unable to stand inshore till they had got as far as Bridlington in Yorkshire, where at last the three travellers were landed on 6 Dec. and left to shift for themselves. The little party had scarcely been twenty-four hours on English soil before they were all arrested and committed to the castle at York. Henry Walpole at once confessed himself a jesuit father. The other two allowed that they had served in Sir William Stanley's regiment in Flanders. This, it seems, was no offence in law, and the only charge which could be made against them was that they had connived at the landing of a jesuit in England, which was a much more serious matter. The two made no difficulty of telling all they knew. Thomas Walpole even pointed out the place where his brother had hidden some letters and other incriminating documents on his first landing. But Henry exhibited unusual stubbornness when under examination, and, following the example of his hero Campion twelve years before, declared himself ready to defend his religious convictions against a member of the Yorkshire clergy in a public discussion, in which he acquitted himself with only too great success and cleverness. In February he was committed to the care of the notorious Richard Topcliffe [q. v.], under whose charge he was carried to London and placed a close prisoner in the Tower. It was not till 27 April that he was subjected to his first examination upon the information which the government had been collecting against him. This was a preliminary to a long succession of similar attempts to extort from the prisoner particulars which it was supposed he only was qualified to furnish on the movements of the catholics abroad and the plots which were assumed to be hatching at home. Minute reports of these examinations were drawn up at the time which have come down to us. Walpole was put upon the rack again and again, and Topcliffe seems to have used his utmost license in torturing his victim. In July 1594 he was still able to write, but after this he was handed over to Topcliffe to treat as he pleased. There is some reason for thinking that there was a motive for keeping him alive. Henry Walpole was his father's eldest son and heir. His father was at this time in failing health, and in the event of his son surviving him a considerable estate would have escheated to the crown. In the spring of 1595, however, he was sent back to York for trial on the capital charges: (1) that he had abjured the realm without license; (2) that he had received holy orders beyond the seas; and (3) that he had returned to England as a jesuit father and priest of the Roman church to exercise his priestly functions. Of course he was found guilty, though during the trial he acquitted himself with great ability, and he was condemned to death. The sentence was carried out on 17 April 1595. The long and minute accounts which have reached us of his conduct during the last few days of his life prove the great interest that was felt in his case, and though the judicial murder of Henry Walpole and of Robert Southwell [q. v.] by no means brought to an end the massacre of the jesuits and seminary priests in the queen's reign, yet after this year (1595) the rack was much more sparingly used than heretofore, and something like hesitation was shown in sending the Roman proselytisers to the gallows.

A portrait of Henry Walpole, stated to be contemporary, was preserved in the English College at Rome till the general spoliation of the religious houses. A copy of this was made for the late Hon. Frederick Walpole of Mannington Hall, Norfolk. A collection of nineteen ‘Letters of Henry Walpole, S. J., from the original manuscripts at Stonyhurst College, edited with notes by Aug. Jessopp, D.D.,’ was printed for private circulation in 1873, 4to. Only fifty copies were struck off. Twenty-five of these were presented to the fathers at Stonyhurst.

[The career of Henry Walpole has been traced in detail by the writer of this article in ‘One Generation of a Norfolk House,’ 1878. The authorities on which the statements there made are based will be found in the notes. A short life of Henry Walpole was published by Father Cresswell at Madrid eight months after the execution of his friend. A French translation of this Spanish original was issued at Arras in September 1596, and it has been asserted that an English version was also printed. This, however, is very doubtful. There is a full account of Walpole's career, with some of his letters and details of his trial, in Diego de Yepes's Historia Particular de la Persecucion de Inglaterra, published in quarto at Madrid in 1599 (only four years after Walpole's death), and in our own times much valuable information has been brought together in Foley's Records of the English Province S. J.; Morris's Life of John Gerard; and in the Records of the English Catholics under the Penal Laws, edited by the London Oratorians, 1878, vol. i. The Official Reports of Walpole's examinations in the Tower are abstracted in Cal. Dom. Eliz. 1591–4; the originals are in the Record Office. The reports of the disputations at York, of the trial, and of the incidents at the execution must have been widely circulated. We find them quoted in unexpected places. Of course they were known to More (Hist. Prov. Angl.), but one is surprised to find extracts from them in the Kerkelyke Historie of Corn. Hazart S. J., folio, Antwerp, 1668, iii. 375. A devotional life of Henry Walpole, taken almost exclusively from Cresswell's biography, was published by Father Alexis Possoz, S. J., at Tournai in 1869.]

A. J.