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William Harrington (priest)

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William Harrington (b. 1566; executed 18 February 1594) was an English Jesuit priest. He is a Catholic martyr, beatified in 1929.


His father had entertained Edmund Campion at the ancestral home, Mount St. John, early in 1581. The family's Catholicism lapsed, but William, the youngest son, went abroad to train as a priest.

He was first at the seminary at Reims, then went to the Jesuits at Tournai (1582-1584). He would have joined the order, but his health broke down and forced him to keep at home for the next six or seven years.

In February, 1591, however, he was able to return once more to Reims, and, having been ordained, returned at midsummer 1592. Next May he fell into the hands of the English authorities, and nine months later was executed at Tyburn.

William's fate probably had an important literary side-effect. One of those who had sheltered him was Henry Donne, the brother of the poet John Donne. Henry was arrested, and died of the plague in Newgate prison. John was a Catholic too, but later embraced the Church of England, eventually took holy orders and became Dean of St Paul's. What happened to William Harrington, and to John's brother Henry, may well have served to keep John Donne alive, and made possible the creation of some of the finest poetry in the English language - including the most passionate and tortured religious poetry ever written.

A posthumous detractor, Friswood or Fid Williams, an apostate Catholic, claimed that she had had a child by him before he was a priest.[1] Fid also made many other accusations, both against him, as well against the rest of the clergy and the whole Catholic body. <John Donne, The Major Works; Oxford World Classics, 1990 </ref>


  1. Harsnet
  • The Month, April, 1874, 411-423
  • Samuel Harsnet, Declaration of egregious Popish Impostures, whereunto are annexed the confessions of the parties themselves (London, 1603), 230-232
  • Academy (London, 19 Feb., 1876), 165
  • John Morris, Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers (London, 1875), 104-107
  • Thomas Francis Knox, Douay Diaries (London, 1878)

This article incorporates text from the entry Venerable William Harrington in Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.

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