Victor Houliston on Robert Persons

Robert Persons is recognized as one of the most intriguing public figures of the Reformation era in England. As the superior of the Jesuit English mission from 1580 until 1610, he was engaged in a campaign for the reconversion of England that had wide political, ecclesiastical, pastoral, and polemical ramifications. Awareness of his importance has increased with the rapid growth of early modern British Catholic studies. His career continues to prompt much debate, especially over his political attitudes and activities.
Here you will find entries for my articles, chapters and books on Robert Persons. All downloadable material is open access.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 5 of 9
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    Reconsidering 'Consideration' with Robert Persons
    (Taylor and Francis, 2019) Houliston, Victor
    Robert Persons’s revision of his popular First Booke of the Christian Exercise, appertayning to Resolution (1582) entailed a reconsideration of the crucial term consideration. In the first edition, consideration was presented as a motive for amendment of life, the driving force for making one’s resolution to serve God in earnest. Much of the inspiration for this approach came from the Dominican writer Luis de Granada, although the argument is closely related to the first week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Seeking to provide a more comprehensive guide to Christian devotion, Persons in his revised, expanded version, A Christian Directorie (1585), drew more extensively on St Bernard of Clairvaux’s twelfth-century treatise De Consideratione, which enjoyed considerable popularity in the Reformation era and was particularly valued by Pope Gregory XIII (reigned 1572–1585). The meaning of the term consideration was now extended to a settled, lifelong discipline of interrogating one’s life and actions.
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    Rehabilitating Robert Persons: Then and Now
    (Springer, 2020) Houliston, Victor
    Robert Persons (1546–1610) is a radically ambivalent figure in English Reformation history. In the Jesuit tradition, he is honoured as superior of the first English mission, in which he succoured and defended the English Catholic community both by his publications and by his pastoral oversight. But he was virulently attacked in his own day by the Elizabethan authorities, by Protestant patriots and by secular Catholic priests engaged in the Archpriest Controversy. Later, Protestant historiography, particularly in the nineteenth century, perpetuated the ‘black legend’ of Jesuit cunning, equivocation and treachery, while anti-Jesuit Catholic historians argued that Persons’s political militancy was a betrayal of his priestly vocation. The development of early-modern Catholic studies as an independent field of research has allowed for a more balanced picture to emerge.
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    Robert Persons's Precarious Correspondence
    (Brill, 2014) Houliston, Victor
    The Jesuit mission to England during the reign of Elizabeth depended a great deal on written correspondence with Rome and other missionaries “in the field.” As the superior of the mission, Robert Persons wrote frequently and sometimes voluminously to his colleagues and associates, as well as to interested lay people and political figures. This article considers the effect of the urgency and the unpredictability of his correspondence. He was often on the run, so letters could go astray, be intercepted or delayed. Letters took two to three weeks to reach Rome, and generally crossed each other, so that policy discussion was subject to a degree of guess-work and anticipation. With the capture and execution of Campion, Persons’s flight to France, the vicissitudes of Scottish and French politics (which crucially affected the fortunes of the English Catholics), and the growth of factionalism within the exile community, ignorance or misunderstanding could play a significant role in determining strategy and forming attitudes. Our own interpretation of Elizabethan Catholicism has also been affected by the loss of much of this correspondence at the suppression of the Society.
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    Puzzles and Posts: Reconstructing Robert Persons' Correspondence with Claudio Acquaviva, 1589-1592
    (AOSIS, 2019) Houliston, Victor
    The early English Jesuit leader Robert Persons (1546–1610) was sent to Spain in 1588 by the superior general of the Society, Claudio Acquaviva. His commission was to negotiate with King Philip II over the authority structures of the Jesuits in Spain. Besides conducting these negotiations, Persons founded English seminaries in Valladolid (1589) and Seville (1592). This article examines the extant correspondence between Persons and Acquaviva during this period, reconstructing the missing letters as far as possible. In the process, we learn a great deal about the correspondence network, the use of posts, the dating and confidentiality of letters, and the choice of language.
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    The Correspondence and Unpublished Papers of Robert Persons, SJ: Vol. 1: 1574-1588
    (PIMS, 2017) Houliston, Victor; Crosignani, Ginevra; McCoog, Thomas M. S.J.
    This book is the first of a projected three-volume edition which aims to contribute to our understanding of Robert Persons's significance in early modern European history. It includes documents and letters by Persons, as well as letters to Persons, notably from the superior general of the Society of Jesus, Claudio Acquaviva. Letters in Latin, Italian, and Spanish are presented both in the original language and spelling, with English translation, and letters in English in original spelling. All letters have been collated with the extant manuscript witnesses. The introduction comprises Persons's biography, relevant aspects of early Jesuit history and the Jesuit mission to England, and overviews of the papacy and the political situation in England and Scotland, France, the Netherlands, and Spain, for the period 1574-88 covered by the letters in this volume. To purchase the book, go to