Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Richard Harp

Number of Pages



This dissertation focuses on the prison writings of four Catholic writers in sixteenth century England, all of whom were imprisoned for their failure to take the Oath of Supremacy acknowledging the English monarch as Head of the Church. They were all executed or exiled for their resistance to the Oath. They also wrote books while they were in prison to encourage themselves and others to persist in the faith, with the exception of Robert Southwell, who wrote his book shortly before his imprisonment; John Fisher was imprisoned in 1534 and executed in 1535. While in prison he wrote two letters to his sister, Elizabeth White, which were meant to stimulate her faith and increase her love for God. Thomas More was also imprisoned in 1534 and executed in 1535. He wrote several works while in prison, one of which was the Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation. This work is a personal statement by More of the steps he took to fortify himself against imprisonment and prepare himself to face martyrdom if necessary. Robert Southwell was a Jesuit missionary to England who was imprisoned and executed in 1595. Prior to his own imprisonment he wrote the Epistle of Comfort to increase the determination of Catholics, especially the Earl of Arundel, to endure imprisonment and execution for the faith. Finally there is Benedict Canfield, who wrote The Christian Knight while he was imprisoned at Wisbech Castle in 1599; These works fall naturally into the consolatory tradition, which has both Christian and classical roots. This study looks at the historical background of these works, including their precedents such as the works of Plato, Boethius, St. Paul and St. John. Each work is analyzed as to predominant themes such as the importance of meditation upon the Passion of Christ, the impermanence of earthly life, and the Four Last Things--death, judgment, hell and heaven. Of particular importance for understanding the motivation behind these works is the idea, more than any other, which provided impetus to these writers to endure whatever misfortune came their way. They believed that heaven would be obtained by the sufferings they endured, and it was this hope that spurred their writing efforts.


Benedict; Canfield; Canfield, Benedict; Century; Canfield, Benedict; English; Fisher, John; Fisherjohn; Fisher, John; Heaven; Hope; More; More, Sir Thomas; More, Sir Thomas Prison; Recusant; Robert; Sixteenth; Southwell; Southwell, Robert; Southwell, Robert; Thomas; Writings

Controlled Subject

British literature; English literature--Irish authors; Irish literature; Religion

File Format


File Size

8325.12 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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