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John Hart (died 1586) was an English Jesuit, known for his equivocal behaviour on the English mission in the early 1580s.


Early lifeEdit

The son of William Hart of Eynsham, a recusant, he was abroad with his younger brother William. He was admitted to the English College, Rome where he took Roman Catholic minor orders in 1575. He took the degree of B.D. in the university of Douay in 1578, and was ordained priest on 29 March 1578 in Cambrai.[1]

On the English missionEdit

In June 1580 Hart was ordered to the English mission.[2]

Arrest and reprievesEdit

Arrested as soon as he landed at Dover, Hart was sent in custody to Nonsuch Palace and examined by Francis Walsingham. He was not immediately confined, but was instead given permission to go to Oxford to confer with theologians. He was subsequently placed in the Marshalsea Prison, and taken to the Tower of London on 24 December 1580.[1]

On 15 November 1581, the day after Edmund Campion's condemnation, Hart was tried with other priests and condemned to death. On 1 December 1581 he was to have been executed with Campion, Ralph Sherwin, and Alexander Briant, but when placed on the hurdle he promised to recant, and he was taken back to prison.[2]

Hart then wrote to Walsingham what was an act of apostasy, a document that has survived. He later retracted it.[2] What Hart agreed with Walsingham at this point is that he would inform on William Allen, using a claim to having been racked to add to his credibility. Hart then retracted the offer, was condemned to die on 28 May 1582, and then was reprieved again.[1] It is stated that on 18 March 1582, while in prison, Hart was admitted into the Society of Jesus.[2]

Conference with RainoldsEdit

Walsingham gave Hart leave to go to Oxford for three months on condition that he should confer with John Rainolds on the matters in controversy between the English and Roman churches. The conference appears to have taken place during 1582. William Camden was later complimentary about Hart's learning.[2]

The Summe of the Conference betwene John Rainoldes and John Hart, touching the Head and Faith of the Church. Penned by John Rainoldes, according to the notes set down in writing by them both; perused by J. Hart was published at London in 1584, reprinted in 1588, 1598, and 1609, and translated into Latin (Oxford, 1610) by Henry Parry. Charles Dodd argued that the conference was held on unequal terms, as Hart was unprovided with books, and asserted that the details were unfairly given by Rainolds.[2]

Further confinementEdit

Hart returned to Walsingham, and was sent back to the Tower of London. He remained confined for a long period, and was subjected to punishments.[2] The view of Rainolds was that Hart was motivated only by the thought of reprieve.[1]

Later lifeEdit

On 21 January 1585 Hart and twenty others, including Jasper Heywood, were sent to France, banished from England by royal commission. They were landed on the coast of Normandy, and were sent to Abbeville after signing a certificate to the effect that they had been well treated on the voyage. Hart then went to Verdun, and on to Rome. His superiors ordered him to Poland, and he died at Jarosław, on 17 or 19 July 1586.[2]


Hart's journal from the Tower has been attributed incorrectly to Edward Rishton. It formed part of the material for the second edition (1586) of the De origine ac progressu schismatis Anglicani' of Nicholas Sander. From the third edition it was not used, and the suggestion is that Robert Persons by then knew that Hart had offered to become an agent of Walsingham.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Murphy, G. Martin. "Hart, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/12483.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney, eds. (1891). "Hart, John (d.1586)" . Dictionary of National Biography. 25. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainStephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney, eds. (1891). "Hart, John (d.1586)". Dictionary of National Biography. 25. London: Smith, Elder & Co.