William Cardinal Allen

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William Allen (1532 - October 16, 1594) was an English cardinal.

Born at Rossall, Lancashire, he went in 1547 to Oriel College, Oxford, and in 1556 became principal of St Mary Hall and proctor. According to Anthony Wood, Allen was appointed to a canonry at York in or about 1558; he must therefore have already been tonsured. On the accession of Elizabeth, he refused the oath of supremacy and was disciplined, but remained in the university until 1561. His known opposition to the new learning in religion forced him to leave England for Leuven, to join many students who had left the English universities for conscience's sake. Here he continued his theological studies and began to write controversial treatises.

In 1562, suffering ill health, he returned secretly to Lancashire and worked to restrain those Catholics who attended the new services in order to save their property from confiscation. When his presence was discovered by the government, he left Lancashire and retired to the Oxford area, where he influenced many of the students. After writing a treatise in defence of the priestly power to remit sins, he was obliged to retire to Norfolk, leaving England soon after in 1565. He returned to Flanders, was ordained at Malines, and began to lecture in theology at the Benedictine college there. In 1567 he went to Rome for the first time, and conceived his plan for establishing a college where English students could live together and finish their theological course. The idea subsequently developed into the establishing of a missionary college, or seminary, to supply priests to England as long as the country remained separated from the Holy See. With the help of friends, and notably of the Benedictine abbots of the neighbouring monasteries, a college was established at Douai (September 29, 1568); and here Allen was joined by many of the English exiles.

This college, the first of the seminaries ordered by the Council of Trent, received papal approval shortly after its establishment; King Philip II of Spain took it under his protection and assigned it an annual grant. Allen continued his theological studies and, after taking his doctorate, became regius professor at the university. In 1575, Pope Gregory XIII granted him a monthly pension of 100 golden crowns, and, as the number of students had now risen to one hundred and twenty, summoned him to Rome to establish a similar college there. The old English hospice was turned into a seminary and Jesuits were placed there to help Dr Maurice Clennock, the rector. The pope appointed Allen to a canonry in Courtrai and sent him back to Douai (July 1576); but here he had to face a new difficulty. Besides the reported plots to assassinate him by agents of the English government, the insurgents against Spain, urged on by Elizabeth's emissaries, expelled the students from Douai as being partisans of the enemy (March 1578). Allen moved his establishment to Reims under the protection of the house of Guise; and it was here that the English translation of the Scriptures, known as the Douai Version, was begun under his direction.

In 1577 he began a correspondence with Robert Parsons, the Jesuit. He was summoned again to Rome in 1579 to quell the first of the many disturbances that befell the English college under the Jesuit influence. Brought into personal contact with Parsons, Allen fell completely under the dominating personality of the redoubtable Jesuit, and submitted entirely to his influence. He arranged that the Society should take over the English college at Rome and should begin the Jesuit mission to England (1580). Returning to Reims he joined in all the political intrigues which Parsons' fertile brain had hatched to promote the Spanish interest in England. Allen's political career now began. Parsons had already intended to remove Allen from the seminary at Reims, and for this purpose, as far back as the April 6, 1581, had recommended him to Philip II. to be promoted to the cardinalate. In furtherance of the intrigues, Allen and Parsons went to Rome again in 1585 and there Allen stayed for the rest of his life. In 1587, while he was being manoeuvred by Philip's agents, he wrote, helped by Parsons, a book in defence of Sir William Stanley, an English officer, who had surrendered Deventer to the Spaniards. Allen wrote that all Englishmen were bound, under pain of damnation, to follow this example, as Elizabeth was no lawful queen.

Allen helped plan the invasion of England, and was to have been Archbishop of Canterbury and lord chancellor had it succeeded. Allen had the position of the head of the Roman Catholics of England; and as such, just after the death of Mary Queen of Scots, he wrote to Philip II (March 19, 1587) to encourage him to undertake the enterprise against England, stating that the Catholics there were clamouring for the king to come and punish "this woman, hated by God and man." After much negotiation, he was made cardinal by Pope Sixtus V on August 7, 1587, partly to ensure the success of the Spanish Armada.

On his promotion Allen wrote to Reims that he owed the hat to Parsons. One of his first acts was to issue, under his own name, two violent works for the purpose of inciting the Catholics of England to rise against Elizabeth: "The Declaration of the Sentence of Sixtus V" a broadside, and a book, An Admonition to the nobility and people of England (Antwerp, 1588). On the failure of the Armada, Philip, to get rid of the burden of supporting Allen as a cardinal, nominated him to the archbishopric of Malines, but the canonical appointment was never made. Pope Gregory XIV made him librarian at the Vatican; and he served on the commission for the revision of the Vulgate. He took part in four conclaves, but never had any real influence after the failure of the Armada. Before his death, which took place in Rome, he changed his mind about the wisdom of Jesuit politics in Rome and England, and would have tried to curb their activities, had he been spared. The rift became so great that ten years after his death, Agazzari could write to Parsons: "So long as Allen walked in this matter (the scheme for England) in union with and fidelity to the Company, as he used to do, God preserved him, prospered and exalted him; but when he began to leave this path, in a manner, the threads of his plans and life were cut short together." As a cardinal Allen had lived in poverty and he died in debt.

Allen's foundation at Douai survives to-day in the two Catholic colleges at Ushaw and Ware. However, his involvement with Parsons gave a pretext to Elizabeth's government for regarding the seminaries as hotbeds of sedition. How far Allen was really admitted to the full confidence of Parsons is a question; and his later attitude to the Society goes to prove that he at last realized that he had been tricked.


TF Knox, Letters and Memorials of Cardinal Allen (London, 1882); A Bellesheim, Wilhelm Cardinal Allen und die englischen Seminare auf dent Festlande (Mainz, 1885); First and Second Diaries of the English College, Douai (London, 1878); Nicholas Fitzherbert, De Antiquitate et continuations religionis in Anglia et de Alani Cardinalis vita libellus (Rome, 1608); E Taunton, History of the Jesuits in England (London, 1901); Teulet, vol. v.; the Spanish State Papers (Simancas), vols. lii. and iv.; a list of Allen's works is given in I Gillow, Biographical Dictionary of English Catholics, vol. L, under his name.



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