William Weston (Jesuit)
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Educated at Oxford, 1564-1569 (?), and afterwards at Paris and Douai (1572–1575), he went thence on foot to Rome and entered the Society of Jesus, 5 November 1575, leaving all he possessed to Douai College. His novitiate was made in Spain, and there he worked and taught until called to the English mission.
There was not then a single Jesuit at liberty in the country. He reached England, on 20 September 1584, receiving into the Catholic Church Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel. Weston left an autobiography full of the missionary adventures. One salient feature was the practice of exorcisms, at which a number of other priests assisted; and this movement made for a time a good impression. So far, however, as we can now discover, the subjects were not suffering from diabolic possession, but only from hysteria (then called "mother"). Yet there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the exorcists, for Catholics and Protestants alike were then credulous on this subject. The first to object to these witchcraft proceedings were the older priests. A recrudescence of persecution put an end to the exorcisms after a year, before any serious harm had ensued (The Month, May, 1911). The exorcists, almost to a man, were arrested and imprisoned, Weston amongst them (August, 1586). Many were executed.
In 1588 the Government moved Weston and a number of other priests to Wisbech Castle, where for four years their confinement was strict. But in 1592 the prisoners were, for economy's sake, allowed to live on the alms supplied by Catholics, and freedom of conversation was permitted. The Catholic faithful came to visit the confessors, who on their part arranged to live a sort of college life. This was not accomplished without much friction, in what became called the "Wisbech Stirs". The majority with Weston (20 out of 33) desired regular routine with a recognized authority to judge delinquencies, e.g. quarrels and possible scandals. The minority dissented, and when the majority persisted, and even dined apart (February, 1595), a cry of schism was raised, and Weston was denounced as its originator, the pugnacious Christopher Bagshaw taking the lead against him. In May, arbitrators (John Bavant and Alban Dolman) were called in, but without result, as one espoused one side, one the other. In October two more arbitrators, John Mush and Dudley, were summoned, and they arranged a compromise amid general rejoicings. The whole body agreed to live together by a definite rule (November, 1595).
In the spring of 1597 the troubles of the English College, Rome, spread to England, and led to a renewal of the "Wisbech stirs", which were soon overshadowed by the Appellant controversy. Weston took no part in this, as he was committed, early in 1599, to the Tower of London, where he almost lost his sight.
In 1603 he was sent into exile and spent the rest of his days in the English seminaries at Seville and Valladolid. He was rector of the latter college at the time of his death. His autobiography and letters show a man learned, scholarly, and intensely spiritual, if somewhat narrow. A zealous missionary, he strongly attracted many souls, while some found him unconciliatory. Portraits of him are preserved at Rome and Valladolid.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "William Weston". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. The entry cites:
- John Morris, Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers, II (1875), contains a translation of Weston, Autobiography. The conclusion, which is there missing, is in Catholic Record Society, I;
- Peralta, Puntos cerca la santa vida del P. Guillermo Weston (1615);
- MS. at Rome;
- Law, Jesuits and Seculars in the Reign of Elizabeth (1889);
- Bartoli, Inghilterra (1668);
- More, Historia provinciae anglicanae (1660);
- Pollen in The Month (July, 1912).