Two Holograph Letters of Joseph Creswell, S.J., with arguments to the Spanish King for the conversion of England & A Second Spanish Armada

Creswell, Joseph, S.J. (1557 – ca. 1623)

[Two documents on paper, in Spanish, signed Joseph Creswell] Con muchas y evidentes señales ha declarado Dios Nuestro Señor y se[gui]ra declarando cada dia, que es servido reducir el Reino de Ingla[ter]ra otra vez a n[uest]ra S[an]ta Fee, y que aver dilatado esta reduccion, ha sido para hazer la major, disponiendo en este medio asi a los naturales para q la reciban…

1. No place, ? St. Alban 29 March, 1597 And, 2. "en este Collegio" ? St. Alban 1597


Folio: 31 x 22.5 cm. I. [3] pp. II. [8] pp.

Disbound. Outer margin with discreet paper repairs, costing a couple of letters on some lines but without loss of sense. Overall very fine.

Two manuscript letters, apparently unpublished, by Joseph Creswell, S.J. advising Philip II, King of Spain, on the restoration of Catholicism in England, , apparently written at St. Alban's College, Valladolid, Spain in early 1597. The letters are addressed to an unnamed religious figure, apparently close to the king, who heeds his counsel. These letters are not found in Calendar of State Papers, Spanish (Simancas, Valladolid).

These two letters, dating from March 1597, are intimately related to the impending Second Spanish Armada. Authored by the man who wrote the two Armada Proclamations, the first in 1588 (at the behest of the King of Spain), the second in 1597 (at the behest of Robert Parson, S.J.), they cast light on the way the restoration of Catholicism in England was to be accomplished.

The first letter deals almost exclusively with the re-conversion of England to Catholicism; Creswell asserts that God calls upon the Spanish King, as a moral obligation, to liberate England with a second Armada, “Aviendo Dios puesto en su Mag[estad] tantos motivos y obligaciones de Religion, honra y Estado para socorrer a los catholicos de Yng[laterra] contra los tiranos que les oprimen, creciendo las obligaciones…”

Creswell writes that he has been willed by God to seek the restoration of the true faith in England. It is also the will of God to give victory to the Spanish in their mission to reclaim heretic England for Catholicism. Creswell stresses that the motivation for the venture must not be Spain’s own gain, but to satisfy God, and to provide succor to the English, who have suffered harsh persecutions, seen some of their own number martyred, and have continued to practice their faith in secret and at their peril.

Great care must be taken to ensure that Catholic rule, once restored, remains firmly in place.  Creswell warns that the restoration could prove unstable as it had been under Mary Tudor.  Referencing the plan to install the king’s daughter, the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, on the English throne (an idea put forth by the king after the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587) Creswell writes that under the Infanta, Catholic England will enjoy stability, the state being “perfectly subordinated to the religion”.

In the second letter, we get a very clear depiction of what life will be like in England after Catholic restoration… through the program of moral reform that Creswell prescribes for Spain itself.

Creswell worries that a second Spanish attempt at an invasion of England will fail (just as the first Armada had in 1588) due to the sinfulness of Spanish society. The 1588 disaster was not so much due to the “the artillery and arms of the enemy or the faults of our Excellency” but the will of God willed. “It seemed impossible to me that God wished to be served by such paltry instruments… In effect, it happened that the enterprise was carried out in such a manner that its failure must have been due to God’s Will.”

In order to bring success to the next mission, King Phillip must first deal with un-Godliness in his own kingdom. For this purpose the clergy throughout Spain must set the example by living an upright life, abiding by Christian principles and in accordance with Canon Law, “so that others may be encouraged to virtue and the service of our Lord.” In the secular realm, magistrates and other officials of the realm must likewise act as examples of proper civic behavior. Citizens will thereby feel encouraged to report on the crimes and sinful behavior of their neighbors.

Penalties will further the public good, through fines and pious works. For example, unmarried men will provide monetary support for orphanages, hospitals, and women who have fallen into a life of prostitution. Fines will be imposed on theaters “each time that in them anything is represented or said against virtue and salutary customs. For as it stands, as they are now, they are schools of vice and pestilence in the republic.”

It is no wonder that the first Armada failed, given that even the provisioning of the fleet is a corrupt enterprise, “Those who provision armadas (Proveedóres de la Armada) have their palms greased by the wealthy and do great harm to the poor, and these sins being directly related to armadas, I am not surprised by their bad outcomes.”

Thus, “Spain itself having been clean of heresy through God’s mercy, through His Majesty’s vigilance, through the Holy Inquisition, and through the good plan with which they have proceeded in matters concerning faith”, the stability of the restoration of faith in England and in other countries will be long-lasting.

Creswell (1557 – ca. 1623) was an English controversialist Jesuit Priest; he joined the Order in 1583, was rector of the English College in Rome from 1589 to 1592, succeeding Robert Parsons. Later, he also succeeded Parsons as Vice-Prefect for the English Jesuit interests in Spain, and took up residency in that country. Creswell’s political role involved advancing the Jesuit mission in England by aligning that mission with Spanish interests.

The Second Armada & Creswell’s Proclamations

In June of 1596, a fleet of eighty-two ships from England and the Dutch provinces, led by the Earle of Essex and Francis Vere, dealt a serious blow to Spain's economy and war effort when it attacked the southern Spanish coast and the city of Cadiz. Almost immediately, preparations began for a Spanish fleet, a second Spanish Armada, to be launched against England under the command of Don Martin de Padilla, Adelantado of Castille. When the English had landed at Cadiz, they had distributed a printed proclamation stating that the English were hostile only to Spain and that all other merchant ships doing business along the coast and in the city would be unmolested. 

In the summer of 1597 Philip II was preparing a second Armada for the invasion of England. A large-scale military force was unfeasible, due to lack of funds and commitments of ground forces in France and the Low Countries. During the preparations for the new Armada, the king authorized the printing of a proclamation in English and Spanish to be used in the event that the Armada was successful. In September of 1596 Robert Parsons, S.J., wrote to Philip with suggestions for such a proclamation, similar to that of the English, to be used in the event that the Armada was successful. When Parsons left Madrid shortly thereafter, he ordered Joseph Creswell, S.J., to continue to work with the Council and the king to formulate such a proclamation.

Creswell was in an excellent position to accomplish this task. At the time of the first Armada, in 1588, Philip had ordered Creswell to author just such a proclamation. Creswell now reminded the king of this and sent a revised version of the 1588 proclamation, "adapted to the circumstances of the time in which we live." By the time the Armada sailed in October 1596, the matter of a proclamation was not yet settled. But the fleet was forced to turn back due to severe storms, and with the expedition on hold until later in 1597, the process of deliberating and drafting a proclamation continued. Ultimately, around mid-1597, the English proclamation was completed but no printed copy is extant and the text survives only in a Spanish version, never printed, that was prepared by Creswell for Philip's heir in 1598.(See Loomie, Philip II's Armada proclamation of 1597)