St. Philip Howard: Affliction Now; Glory Later

Philip Howard, Edmund Campion, and Robert Southwell were all canonized together in 1970 by Pope Paul VI among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. After enduring affliction in this life, they are experiencing glory with Christ in Heaven.

George Gower, “Portrait of Philip Howard, 20th Earl of Arundel” (c. 1575)
George Gower, “Portrait of Philip Howard, 20th Earl of Arundel” (c. 1575) (photo: Public Domain)

The story of St. Philip Howard’s sanctification and martyrdom is inextricably linked with the mission and death of two Jesuit martyrs of the English Reformation era: St. Edmund Campion and St. Robert Southwell.

On August 31, 1581, Father Edmund Campion debated a group of Anglican divines in the Chapel of St. John in the Tower of London. Campion, formerly of the University of Oxford, had bragged that he was willing to defend his “Decem Rationes”, ten reasons that Protestant teachings were wrong and Catholic teachings were true, at any time, in any public place.

Perhaps he hadn’t reckoned at the time when he made that boast that he would have been tortured on the rack; that he wouldn’t be allowed any books while his opponents had resources, and that he couldn’t ask questions. In spite of these unfair ground rules Campion did so well at the first debate that the following four debates were held in a less public venue, starting later in September in the private chambers of the Lieutenant of the Tower.

We don’t know which one of these debates he witnessed, but Philip Howard, the 13th Earl of Arundel, was moved by Campion’s defense of Catholic doctrine to do the most dangerous thing a man could do as one of Elizabeth I’s courtiers: become a Catholic.

The Death of a Traitor

13 Eliz. c. 2, the strangely titled “Bulls, etc., from Rome” Act of 1570 had made conversion to the Catholic faith, or the acceptance of one of Elizabeth I’s subjects as Catholic, an act of treason. As treason, it would be punished by death.

Philip Howard knew about the death of a traitor. His father, Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, had been beheaded for treason, plotting to marry the former Queen of Scotland, Mary Stuart, depose Elizabeth, and reign as Catholic monarchs in England and Scotland. Howard’s grandfather, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, had been beheaded at the end of Henry VIII’s reign for treason and his great-grandfather, the great Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, had escaped beheading only because Henry VIII died before signing the execution warrant.

Howard’s family was already under suspicion because his wife, the former Anne Dacre, had reverted to Catholicism, as had his sister Margaret—and his uncle too, Henry Howard, the 1st Earl of Northampton was suspect for his Catholic faith—the Howard family was closely watched by Elizabeth’s agents and spies.

After these religious debates were concluded, Edmund Campion and the other priests arrested with him were tried and found guilty without evidence of a non-existent conspiracy. On December 1, 1581, they were hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn Tree. (Another future Jesuit missionary martyr, Henry Walpole, witnessed Campion’s execution and was splattered with the martyr’s blood.)

The Most Dangerous Thing

Although he was persuaded by Father Campion’s arguments, Howard did not take immediate action. He thought and prayed about it after leaving Court for his castle in Arundel, West Sussex. He finally decided that he must return become a Catholic. Another Jesuit missionary, Father William Weston, received Howard into the Catholic Church on September 30, 1584, three years after those debates in the Tower.

Howard’s conversion influenced his behavior at Court and the change did not go unnoticed. Although he maintained his duties at Court and in Parliament, Howard did not go to any Anglican services. He had been one of the most spendthrift and gallant of Elizabeth’s courtiers, neglecting his wife; now Howard was solemn and devoted to Anne.

By 1585, it was a felony to aid a Catholic priest and an act of treason for an English Catholic priest to be in the country. Howard had a Catholic chaplain in his house in London and his castle at Arundel. And all around were the rumors and realities of Catholic plots against the Queen.

Affliction and Glory

He decided to leave England secretly in 1585 and join the Catholic exiles in Flanders. His wife, because she was pregnant, would join him later. He was arrested just as his ship left harbor and taken to the Tower of London. Except for two trials in Westminster Hall, he would never leave the Tower again—not even for an execution on Tower Hill.

He was 28 years old.

Suffering in the Tower, he dedicated his hours to prayer, spiritual reading and devotions, and fasting. He carved the motto for his life into the wall of his cell: “Quanto plus afflictionis pro Christo in saeculo, tanto plus gloriae cum Christo in futuro.” (“The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall obtain with Christ in the next.”)

In the meantime, another Jesuit, Father Robert Southwell, was using Arundell House as his base of operations in West Sussex, serving as Anne Howard’s chaplain. Southwell wrote An Epistle of Comfort for Howard’s consolation. In 1592, he was arrested and after horrendous torture, imprisoned in the Tower of London. Howard’s dog was their messenger for a time before Southwell’s execution on February 21, 1595.

Howard had been condemned to death at his second trial in Westminster Hall, accused of praying for the success of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Incarceration and the stress of never knowing when the death sentence would be carried out were affecting his health and in August, 1595, he became violently ill of dysentery—poison was even suspected.

“But One Life to Lose”

Howard sent a message to Elizabeth I, begging to see his wife, his daughter, and the son born after his imprisonment. She replied that he could and would be freed and all his estates and honors restored, if only he would renounce his faith and attend a Church of England service. He responded that he could not accept such terms: “If that be the cause for which I am to perish, sorry am I that I have but one life to lose.”

This sixteenth century Nathan Hale died of dysentery on Sunday, October 19, 1595 at noon. He was 38. Buried in the Tower’s other chapel, St. Peter ad Vincula with his father, his widow survived him long enough to have his body disinterred and buried in the FitzAlan Chapel in Arundel.

Philip Howard, Edmund Campion, and Robert Southwell were all canonized together in 1970 by Pope Paul VI among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. After enduring affliction in this life, they are experiencing glory with Christ in Heaven.