St Robert Southwell, S.J.



The Poems of Robert Southwell, S.J., ed. James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown (Oxford, 1967).

Brown, Two Letters

Robert Southwell, Two Letters and Short Rules of a Good Life, ed. Nancy Pollard Brown (Charlottesville, 1973).


The Complete Poems of Robert Southwell, S.J., ed. Alexander B. Grosart, (London, 1872).


James H. McDonald, The Poems and Prose Writings of Robert Southwell, S.J.: A Bibliographical Study (Oxford, 1937).


The Triumphs over Death, by the Ven. Robert Southwell, ed. John William Trotman (London, 1914).


Autograph Manuscripts

A small volume of autograph papers of the Catholic saint and martyr Robert Southwell, SJ, is preserved, traditionally at Stonyhurst College (MS A. v. 4), but now on deposit at the English Province of the Society of Jesus, Farm Street, London. It contains a rough draft of the Peeter Playnt (*SoR 170), which is a forerunner of Saint Peters Complaint, and various devotional works in verse and prose, chiefly in Latin. Many of the papers remain unpublished, including an English prose piece — later developed into Mary Magdalen's Funeral Tears (see *SoR 313). Another autograph item of considerable interest is a Latin notebook compiled by Southwell during his Jesuit training in Rome and now in the Bodleian Library (*SoR 342).

Manuscript Collections

The early editions of Saint Peters Complaint, with other Poemes (first published in London, 1595; 2nd edition in the same year) are supplemented by five main contemporary or near-contemporary manuscript collections of Southwell's English poems (some also with prose items), besides several seventeenth-century miscellanies containing groups of poems by him. These collections, none of which is autograph, are largely described in McDonald and in Brown

They comprise, in brief::

Stonyhurst College, MS A. v. 27 (the ‘Waldegrave MS’).

Bodleian, MS Eng. poet. e. 113 (the ‘Virtue and Cahill MS’)

British Library, Add. MS 10422. Once owned by Richard Heber (1773-1833).

British Library, Harley MS 6921 (the ‘Cavendish MS’).

Folger, STC 22957 (the ‘Harmsworth MS’).

These manuscripts are all collated in Brown, whose text is usually based on the earliest printed editions.

Notable miscellanies containing a number of poems by Southwell comprise:

Bodleian, MS Eng. poet. b. 5 (the ‘Fairfax MS’).

Leeds University Library, Brotherton Collection, MS Lt. 91. Compiled partly by Henry Gould (eight poems by Southwell).

Syracuse University, Special Collections Research Center, SC 149. A miscellany compiled by the Oxford student Thomas Read.

Untraced [Gordon MS]. Once belonging to the Gordon family.

The Canon

The canon of Southwell's English poems accepted for present purposes is based on Brown with the addition of the autograph ‘Amemmon’ fragment (*SoR 236). The ‘English Poems of Doubtful or Spurious Authorship’ (SoR 261-83) are poems so classified in Brown, including the three poems from Moeoniae (see Brown, pp. lxxxi-lxxxii, 153), with the addition of A Foure-fold Meditation: of the foure last things (SoR 267.1-267.94), a poem which has sometimes been attributed to Southwell although now generally accepted as by Philip Howard, first Earl of Arundel, to whom was addressed Southwell's consolatory letter of 30 September 1591 published in 1595 as The Triumphs over Death (SoR 322-325). Various other doubtful poems mentioned in McDonald are excluded.

The Latin poems included here (SoR 284-292) have been printed (not always accurately) in Grosart (1872). The titles and first lines of these poems are cited in the entries from the manuscripts themselves.

Not given entries here, however, is a versification of Mary Magdalens Funeral Tears made by Gervase Markham and published in 1601 under the title Marie Magdalens Lamentations for the losse of her Master Iesus. A manuscript copy of this poem, probably transcribed from a printed source, is in the Bodleian (MS Eng. poet. e. 2). It is recorded in F.N.L. Poynter, A Bibliography of Gervase Markham 1568?-1637, Oxford Bibliographical Society, NS 11 (1962), p. 49. Another early copy, made by Julian Crewe, can be found in the Chester City Record Office (CR 63/2/697). A nineteenth-century copy of the poem Losse in delaies in the Bodleian (MS Eng. letters d. 103, p. 141 rev.) has also been excluded.


The English and Latin prose works included (SoR 293-325, SoR 326-338) are all attributed to Southwell by McDonald. (See McDonald, pp. 16-18, 121-3, for other works spuriously attributed to Southwell). The recorded items include some notes and prayers for which headings have been supplied (*SoR 321, *SoR 334, *SoR 336, *SoR 337, *SoR 338).

Two additional prose works are included as ‘Prose Works of Doubtful Authorship’. One is an English translation of Diego de Estella's Meditaciones devotissimas del amor de Dios, published as The Hundred Meditations of the Love of God (SoR 339-340). This has traditionally formed part of the Southwell canon (see McDonald, pp. 15-16), but it appears that the translation is based not on an Italian version as was once believed but on the original Spanish (first published in Salamanca, 1576), and there is no evidence that Southwell had any command of that language. The second work, headed Meditationes de Attributis Divinis ad amorem Dei excitantes, is ascribed to Southwell in a manuscript source (SoR 341), but this attribution may well be no more than the assumption of a pious copyist.


Besides copies of a few letters to his father and others, certain of which are virtually prose tracts in epistolary form and which have been given separate entries below (SoR 292.2-306, SoR 312), there also exist a number of original letters by Southwell which may here be briefly summarised. A list of thirty letters, mainly autograph, is printed in McDonald, pp. 63-5. Most of these were preserved at Stonyhurst before being removed to the English Province of the Society of Jesus, London. Nearly all of these letters are edited in Publications of the Catholic Record Society, 5 (1908), pp. 293-333, with (p. 295) a facsimile of one of them, written to John Deckers in 1580 and ending with a rhythmical prayer to Our Lady. Thirteen additional autograph letters written between 1585 and 1590 to Fr Claudio Acquaviva, SJ (1543-1615), were discovered some years ago by Fr Philip Caraman in the Jesuit Archives in Rome (Fondo Gesuitico 651/648). These letters are occasionally quoted in Christopher Devlin, The Life of Robert Southwell, Poet and Martyr (London, 1956), and twelve of them are edited in full in their original Latin in Thomas M. McGoog, SJ, ‘The Letters of Robert Southwell, SJ’, Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 63 (1994), 101-24. Letters to Acquaviva from Southwell's fellow priest Henry Garnet, preserved in the same collection, were cited in Fr Caraman's biography of Garnet (London, 1964).


In addition to some biographical notes on Southwell written by the poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), now in the Huntington Library (HM 33779), some other lost, miscellaneous, dubious or unidentifiable items, of no particular category, relating to Southwell, and not given entries, may be mentioned. A sixteenth-century small octavo manuscript of “Meditations of the labours and paynes of our swete Savioure Jesu Christe, with certayne Iaculatorie Prayers written by ye Rev. Fa. R.S.”, ‘very distinctly written, with plates and ornamental letters’, was once owned by William Pickering (1796-1854), publisher, and sold at Sotheby's, 12 December 1854, lot 120, to Waller. An exemplum of the printed 1595 quarto edition of Saint Peters Complaint, with the dedication ‘to his louinge Cosen’ signed in manuscript ‘Your loving Cosen Robert Southwell’, was once owned by the Marquess of Bute and bore the bookplate of Cardiff Castle. This volume was sold at Christie's, 15 March 1995, lot 188. It seems unlikely, however, that the inscription was in the poet's hand, since he was executed on 21 February 1594/5. A section of a manuscript by Thomas Sparrow recorded below, British Library Add. MS 74272, evidently bore extracts from Saint Peter's Complaint which are now missing. A nineteenth-century copy of Southwell's ‘Losse in delaies’ is in the Bodleian (MS Eng. lett. d.103, p. 141r).

Finally, as an endorsement of the value of Southwell's writings, may be mentioned the autograph letter by the poet Robert Southey, commenting on Southwell, 2 March 1818, sold at Sotheby's, 18 July 1991, lot 213, to Pickering. Despite his strong anti-Catholicism Southey comments ‘I wonder that a collection of Southwells works is not published. He holds no mean rank among the Elizabethan poets, & as a prose writer he has rarely been excelled’. These views are further endorsed in a letter by Southwell's early-nineteenth-century editor W. Joseph Walter, to the Rev. Joseph Dunn, 31 July 1817, discussing Southey's enthusiasm for Southwell. This letter, now in the archives of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, London (Dunn Papers, ff. 289r-90r), is printed and discussed in the Rev. T. G. Holt, ‘Southey on Southwell’, N&Q, 229 (March 1984), 54.

Peter Beal