Jesuits In Conflict: Or Historic Facts Illustrative of the labours of the English Mission and Province Of The Society Of Jesus. In the times of Queen Elizabeth and her successors. By a member Of The Society Of Jesus.
GEORGE GILBERT, SJ. PART I.
In proportion to the exertions of the Fathers of the Society of Jesus and the Secular Clergy of England, in defending the orthodox faith from the attacks of its bitter enemies, was the violence with which heresy assaulted all professors of that faith, and endeavoured to shake their constancy.
By a recent Act of Parliament (16th January, 1581) 1 it is enacted that every one from the age of sixteen years shall be fined twenty pounds sterling (or eighty gold crowns) per month, reckoning the year at thirteen months, who failed to attend the Protestant church : also, every one either going to a Priest for confession, or who should be reconciled to the Catholic Church, was declared guilty of high treason; for, indeed, they construed all this to be <( a seducing of Her Majesty's subjects from their allegiance." The penalty for attending Mass was one hundred marks and imprisonment for one year, and until payment of the fine, in most cases amounting to imprisonment for life. A Priest, for saying Mass, was sentenced to the same imprisonment, and fined in double that amount An occurrence somewhat ludicrous, though very characteristic of our judges of that time, happened under this Act A certain Secular Priest was accused of having received Holy Orders abroad, contrary to the statute, &c.; he was tried, and acquitted by the jury for want of sufficient proof of his ordination. After this verdict was pronounced, some obscure apostate came forward in court, and swore to having heard the Priest say Mass thirty years ago. Upon this the learned judge, without any fresh trial, actually condemned the acquitted party, because, said his lordship, he could not have said Mass if he had not been a Priest— ergo, &c.! As the unfortunate Priest was unable to pay such a fine, he was adjudged to what to him was tantamount to imprisonment for life.
"But to return," says Father More, from whom we are quoting, " to our more immediate matters. About this time, 1581, there was apprehended and cast into prison, under these laws, the Earl of Southampton, Lords Paget, Compton, Vaux, Sir Thomas Tresham, Sir William Catesby, Sir John Arundell, Sir Nicholas Poyntz, and Ralph Sheldon, Esq., Thomas Throckmorton, Esq., and many others, men of high family and wealth. And, amongst the rest of the most illustrious Catholics, the iniquitous knaves keenly hunted after George Gilbert, either because this noble youth far outstripped his companions in virtue, or else because they had discovered that he was almost always by the side of Father Parsons, as his faithful companion, guide, and supporter; and, had he fallen into their hands, he would inevitably have suffered the tortures of the Tower and the gallows of Tyburn." Thus Father More introduces to us the subject of of our narrative. 2
This most excellent youth, George Gilbert, was a native of Suffolk. His father was a man of high rank and large property. For the first seventeen years of his life, which he spent in England, he was brought up in heresy, more by the fault of others than his own. He was professedly a Puritan; yet, though his faith was bad, his life was good. From his childhood his thoughts turned towards God and the things relating to his soul, and one of his most congenial occupations was to read spiritual books, and lay up for himself treasures of this kind. His was the praise and merit not to remain in error, but to set himself in the path of inquiry after the Catholic truth; which, having once embraced, so great was his delight in it, so holy his works, so upright his pursuit of its teachings, that after a novitiate of a few months, he was an example to, and the admiration of, veteran Catholics.
Before his conversion to the Catholic religion his chief delight was in the thought of arms and chivalry, which both suited his disposition, and for which his habit of body was in every regard admirably adapted. His graceful form, his pleasing countenance and gentlemanly address, together with his high birth, made him a great favourite at the Court, which, both under Mary and Elizabeth, abounded more than ever with cavaliers, and was exceedingly gay.
1 33 Eliz., cap. i. See Madden, Penal Laws, p. 153. K 2
2 More, Hist. Prov.Angl., I. iii., n. 16, p. 82.