Robert Dibdale, also spelled Debdale, was a Catholic priest and martyr. He was born the son of John Dibdale of Shottery, in the parish of Stratford-on-Avon and the birthplace of William Shakespeare's wife Anne Hathaway at a date unknown. He had a brother Richard and sisters Joan and Agnes. It would seem the family were Catholics. Peter Ackroyd placed Dibdale or Debdale in the King’s New School in Stratford, the same grammar school attended by William Shakespeare.[1] English government records show that in 1581 his absence abroad at Louvain since about 1576 had been noted by the authorities. However, Catholic records show that by 1581 he had been to Rome and had reached the English College at Rheims, arriving on December 29, 1579 and set out for England on June 22, 1580. At this point he had still not been ordained. He was immediately arrested on landing at Dover. It is recorded that he was committed to the Gatehouse by July 29 the same year, being discharged on September 10, 1582. His whereabouts immediately thereafter are obscure but on March 14, 1583 he again entered the English College at Rheims and was ordained a priest in Rheims Cathedral on March 31, 1584. Using the alias Palmer, he set out for England on August 2 that year. He was arrested near Tothill Street in London on July 24, 1586 and was imprisoned first at the Counter then at Newgate. Given the 1585 Act making it a capital offence to be a Catholic priest in England the terrible sentence of hanging, drawing and quartering was inevitable. It was carried out at Tyburn, London on October 8, 1586. His fate was shared by two fellow priests, John Adams and John Lowe. All three priests were declared Blessed (the last stage prior to sainthood) by Pope John Paul II on November 22, 1987.


The most reliable compact source is Godfrey Anstruther, Seminary Priests, St Edmund's College, Ware, vol. 1, 1968, p. 101.

Notes and references

  1. [1] Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography. Doubleday, 2005, p. 64

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