Early Modern Exchanges


England’s Continental Catholic Colleges and their Literary Culture

14 December 2023, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

cropped section of Dutch broadside

The Centre for Early Modern Exchanges is pleased to welcome Dr Ana Sáez‐Hidalgo (UCL IAS) and Dr Christopher Archibald (QMUL).

This event is free.

Event Information

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All | UCL staff | UCL students






Early Modern Exchanges


Room 235
Foster Court
UCL, Gower Street, London
United Kingdom

'Books and literary culture in early modern English Catholic seminaries' 
Dr Ana Sáez‐Hidalgo (UCL IAS) 

What better place to find the material evidence of the literary culture of an institution like an early modern English continental college than its library? Libraries, as repositories of knowledge, are meant to hold and encapsulate learning. And if these book collections are housed in an institution whose primary purpose is education, the volumes on the shelves usually reflect the topics studied in it. 

English Continental Catholic colleges were seminaries intended for training students to become priests. Differently from other seminarians, these were refuges and exiles who, when ordained, had not just a pastoral duty. Their final goal entailed risking their lives to return to England  with the proselytizing mission of converting their Protestant country back to Catholicism. Profoundly religious in nature, the institutional role of these seminaries did not, however, mean an exclusion of literary culture. Quite the contrary. The literary culture of English seminaries on the Continent was  rich and vibrant, as research in the last decades has shown.  

The question is, then, how is this reflected in their libraries? Or rather, what do the books in these English Catholic libraries in exile tell us about the literary culture of the seminaries? This talk aims at interrogating the role of book collections like the one of St Alban’s College in Valladolid, Spain, as a locus both for training and for literary culture. By exploring its contents and its usage, I will not merely describe its thematic profile. Instead, this description will serve as a platform to question the purely qualitative value of a book collection as seen through the lens of its catalogue, and to address the larger methodological question of how to study the material and documentary evidence in Continental Catholic colleges in exile. 

'Actors, warriors and Jesuits in post-Reformation England: Remembering Robert Persons in 1648'
Dr Christopher Archibald (QMUL)

The English Jesuit Joseph Simons (1594–1671) was one of the most influential and widely-performed Latin playwrights of early modern Europe. Depicting tyrants and martyrs from medieval, classical, and Byzantine history, his plays offer thinly veiled analogies for Reformation England’s religious and political conflicts. This talk discusses a previously unknown work by Simons: a Latin oration celebrating the controversial Elizabethan Jesuit and polemicist Robert Persons (1546–1610) and his mission to England in 1580. Simons’ flamboyant speech depicts Persons as a heroic warrior and consummate performer. Delivered at the English College, Rome, in 1648 to mark the departure of three priests to England, the oration uses the incendiary Robert Persons as an edifying example for mid-seventeenth-century Catholic missionaries. It demonstrates that the tradition of Catholic resistance had not disappeared by the 1640s, as scholars have often claimed, but remained polemically useful and imaginatively powerful. This talk reexamines the relationship between theatricality and religious polemic and explores how Simons appropriates and reinterprets anti-Jesuit stereotypes to rehabilitate one of Reformation England’s most controversial characters.

This event has been organised by the Centre for Early Modern Exchanges, part of the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies.

This event is followed by a drinks reception, as part of EME's end of term celebrations: Here we come a-wassailing!

Image credit: Cropped section of a Dutch broadside on the Protestant sufferings at the hands of Catholics from 1414 to1679, engraved compartment showing a Jesuit with lion's feet wearing a cardinal's hat. © The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

About the Speakers

Dr Ana Sáez‐Hidalgo

Visiting Research Fellow at UCL Institute of Advanced Studies

Dr Ana Sáez‐Hidalgo is Associate Professor of English Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Valladolid, Spain. She has written on medieval and early modern Anglo‐Spanish relations, English Catholic exiles and book culture. Her publications include co-edited volumes like Exile, Diplomacy and Texts: Exchanges between Iberia and the British Isles, 1500–1767 (2021), John Gower in England and Iberia (2014) and The Fruits of Exile (2009), as well as editions and translations of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, among others.

More about Dr Ana Sáez‐Hidalgo

Dr Christopher Archibald

Postdoctoral research fellow at School of English and Drama at Queen Mary, University of London

He works on the ERC-funded project ‘Textuality and Diversity: A Literary History of Europe and its Global Connections, 1529–1683’, led by Professor Warren Boutcher. He completed his DPhil at New College, Oxford, writing a thesis on the literary culture of English Catholics produced during the English Civil Wars and Revolution.