Campion, Edmund (1540–81), Jesuit, writer, and martyr, was born in London on 25 January 1540, the son of a bookseller. He attended Christ's Hospital and then St John's College, Oxford, graduating BA in 1561 and MA in 1565. In 1569 he was ordained a deacon in the Church of England, although it appears that he had rejoined the Roman catholic church by the end of that year. A distinguished scholar and tutor, he befriended a young undergraduate, Richard Stanihurst (qv), and accompanied him on his return to Dublin in August 1570.
In Dublin, Campion stayed in the house of Richard's father, James Stanyhurst (qv), speaker of the Irish house of commons. He probably hoped to pursue a career as a teacher or academic in Ireland where the government intended establishing a royal university and where greater latitude was allowed to the practice of the catholic faith than was the case in England. Moreover the lord deputy of Ireland Sir Henry Sidney (qv), as a client of Campion's patron the earl of Leicester, could be relied upon to protect him from persecution. Through the Stanihursts, he mixed with the anglicised and catholic-sympathising landowners of the Pale and attended sessions of the Irish parliament which, to his disappointment, rejected the government's university bill.
By spring 1571, Sidney's waning political influence left Campion exposed. Warned by Sidney on 17 March 1571 of his impending arrest, he sought refuge with Sir Christopher Barnewall (qv) at Turvey, Co. Dublin. There, he wrote his Two bokes of the histories of Ireland from notes compiled largely from James Stanyhurst's library, which held an impressive collection of official correspondence, statute rolls and municipal records stretching back into the medieval period. Written in haste over ten weeks, it was significantly revised by Richard Stanihurst. Dedicated to Leicester, this work upheld both Sidney's conduct as lord deputy – then subject to withering criticism – and England's civilising mission in Ireland. He lauded the inhabitants of the Pale, whom he regarded (rather simplistically) as being as one with their kin across the Irish Sea, while condemning the Gaelic Irish for their backwardness and barbarity. Nonetheless he believed that the native Irish could be redeemed, stressed the role of education in spreading civility and reserved his most fulsome praise for Sidney's educational initiatives. This accorded with the sensibilities of his patrons within the Pale who favoured the peaceful extension of royal power in Ireland and who were becoming alarmed at the militarism of successive lord deputies.
Campion's history was used as a source by Raphael Holinshed for his The historie of Irelande (1577), and was subsequently published by Sir James Ware (qv) as part of a three-volume set entitled The history of Ireland (1633). While in Ireland he also wrote a book describing the qualities and responsibilities of a good scholar, which has not survived. In June 1571 Campion fled Ireland from Drogheda disguised as a servant.
After studying at the English college at Douai, Campion went to Rome in 1572 and was admitted to the Society of Jesus the following year. He spent his novitiate in Prague and in Brunn in Moravia, and was ordained a priest by the archbishop of Prague in 1578. He was then chosen for the first Jesuit mission to England, landing at Dover on 25 June 1580. In England he wrote Decem rationes, a defence of his catholic faith, which was published by June 1581. Arrested on 17 July 1581 at Lyford Grange, Berkshire, he was tried on 20 November on a charge of treason and found guilty. He was executed at Tyburn on 1 December 1581. Campion was beatified on 29 December 1886 by Pope Leo XIII and canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.