The Spanish Armada 1588
General Superior Everard Mercurian SJ was wary of sending Jesuits to England in the sixteenth century. As well as the real danger, he was concerned that they might get implicated in the complex mix of political and religious affairs which would hamper the mission. Mercurian gave two explicit instructions: not to interfere in politics, for the sake of peace with Queen Elizabeth and her government; and not to try to raise funds, for the sake of peace with the diocesan priests who might suspect and resent invasion of their turf.
Robert Persons SJ and Edmund Campion SJ were the pair Mercurian eventually sent in 1580. When Campion was arrested and executed in 1581 Persons fled England never to return. This experience radicalised him. He spent time in France, in the middle of its own religious wars, supporting the Catholic Henry Duke of Guise. He and fellow Jesuit William Crichton worked with Guise and the Catholic League to advance a scheme to convert James VI of Scotland to Catholicism. This failed but his wife Anne of Denmark converted in 1601. With the consent of the new General Superior Claudio Aquaviva SJ, Persons became involved in correspondence and negotiations with the pope, Philip II of Spain and the Duke of Parma (Philip’s lieutenant in the Spanish Netherlands) around a succession of invasion plots centring on replacing Elizabeth with Mary Queen of Scots. Following Mary’s execution these efforts culminated in the Armada. Persons’ role was to manage the English Catholic clergy and lay people in exile (including a contingent in the Duke of Parma’s army). He wrote pamphlets in favour of the Spanish Armada for distribution following the invasion.
The Armada, of course, failed dismally. Persons did not incite the Armada which was provoked by Elizabeth’s foreign policy and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. But he certainly supported it and was guilty of conspiring against the English Crown.
After the death of Mary Queen of Scots and the failure of the Armada, Catholic Europe began to cast around for a suitable Catholic successor to the English throne. Elizabeth remained childless and refused to allow any discussion of the succession. Persons wrote The Book of Succession in 1595 promoting the right to be next English monarch of a number of the descendants of Edward III who included many European Catholic royals including the Dukes of Parma and Savoy, and the Archduchess Isabella, regent of the Spanish Netherlands. Persons did much to promote the cause of the Archduchess in the years prior to the accession of James I.