Blessed Robert Drury was born in Buckinghamshire in about 1567. He studied at the English College, Rheims, France in 1588, and the English College, Valladolid, Spain in 1590. Ordained at Valladolid in 1593. Returned to England in 1593 to minister to covert Catholics around London, England. He was one of the signers of the loyal address of 31 January 1603 which acknowledged the queen as lawful sovereign on earth but maintained their loyalty in religious matters to the Pope. When James I came to the throne, the king required them to sign a new oath that acknowledged his authority over spiritual matters. Robert refused and was arrested in 1606 for the crime of being a priest. He was offered his freedom if he would sign the oath; he declined. Martyred by being hanged, drawn, and quartered on 26 February 1607 at Tyburn, London England.
An invitation from the English Government to these priests to acknowledge their allegiance and duty to the queen (dated 5 November 1602) led to the loyal address of 31 January 1603, drawn up by Dr. William Bishop, and signed by thirteen of the leading priests, including Drury and Roger Cadwallader. In this address, they acknowledged the queen as their lawful sovereign, repudiated the claim of the pope to release them from their duty of allegiance to her, and expressed their abhorrence of the forcible attempts already made to restore the Catholic religion and their determination to reveal any further conspiracies against the Government which should come to their knowledge. In return, they pleaded that as they were ready to render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s, so they might be permitted to yield to the successor of Peter that obedience which Peter himself might have claimed under the commission of Christ, and so to distinguish between their several duties and obligations as to be ready on the one hand “to spend their blood in defense of her Majesty”, but on the other “rather to lose their lives than infringe the lawful authority of Christ’s Catholic Church”. This repudiation of the papal deposing power was condemned by the theological faculty of the Catholic University of Leuven; but Dr. William Bishop was in the end nominated Bishop of Chalcedon and first vicar Apostolic in England in 1623.
Elizabeth I of England died within three months of the signature of the address, and James I of England was not satisfied with purely civil allegiance. A new oath of allegiance was drawn up. It was imposed 5 July 1606, and about this time Drury was arrested. He was condemned for his priesthood, but was offered his life if he would take the new oath. A letter from Father Robert Persons, S.J., against its lawfulness was found on him. The oath declared that the “damnable doctrine” of the deposing power was “impious and heretical”, and it was condemned by Pope Paul V, 22 September 1606, “as containing many things contrary to the Faith and Salvation”. This brief, however, was suppressed by the archpriest, and Drury probably did not know of it. But he felt that his conscience would not permit him to take the oath, and he died a Catholic martyr at Tyburn, 26 February 1606-7.
Blessed Robert Drury attempted to appease Queen Elizabeth and her government as one of the Appellants. Two of the 13 who signed the Protestation of Allegiance would be executed during the reign of James I of England: today’s martyr and Blessed Roger Cadwallador (in 1610 on August 27). The Appellants opposed the Jesuit methods of leading the Catholic mission to England and attempted to compromise, pleading a divided but honest loyalty–secular loyalty to Elizabeth’s authority as the Queen of England; religious loyalty to Papal authority as the successor to St. Peter. The Appellants also opposed the authority and methods of the Archpriest George Blackwell, whom they thought favored the Jesuit approach. The Jesuit approach, articulated by Father Robert Persons, was uncompromising: total loyalty to the Roman Pontiff and absolute refusal to adopt public acceptance of the Church of England while remaining privately opposed. The Jesuits would not tolerate Church Papists who attended Anglican services to avoid the fines and imprisonments, for example. The Elizabethan regime took advantage of these disagreements to encourage division among Catholics in England.
Even if Elizabeth I had accepted their appeal for relief to her Catholic subjects, the succession of James VI of Scotland ended this attempt–because he would not compromise, either. He demanded that the Appellants accept his authority over both religious and secular matters with the Oath of Allegiance. Members of the Appellant party were divided over whether they could take James I’s new oath. Drury and Cadwallador were arrested and refused to take the oath.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Blessed (then Venerable) Robert Drury:
‘The results of the address were disappointing; Elizabeth died within three months of its signature, and James I soon proved that he would not be satisfied with any purely civil allegiance. He thirsted for spiritual authority, and, with the assistance of an apostate Jesuit, a new oath of allegiance was drawn up, which in its subtlety was designed to trouble the conscience of Catholics and divide them on the lawfulness of taking it. It was imposed 5 July, 1606, and about this time Drury was arrested. He was condemned for his priesthood, but was offered his life if he would take the new oath. A letter from Father Persons, S.J., against its lawfulness was found on him. The oath declared that the “damnable doctrine” of the deposing power was “impious and heretical”, and it was condemned by Pope Paul V, 22 September, 1606, “as containing many things contrary to the Faith and Salvation”. This brief, however, was suppressed by the archpriest, and Drury probably did not know of it. But he felt that his conscience would not permit him to take the oath, and he died a martyr at Tyburn, 26 February, 1606-7. A curious contemporary account of his martyrdom, entitled “A true Report of the Arraignment . . . of a Popish Priest named Robert Drewrie” (London, 1607), which has been reprinted in the “Harleian Miscellany”, calls him a Benedictine, and says he wore his monastic habitat the execution. But this “habit” as described proves to be the cassock and cap work by the secular clergy. The writer adds, “There were certain papers shown at Tyburn which had been found about him, of a very dangerous and traitorous nature, and among them also was his Benedictine faculty under seal, expressing what power and authority he had from the pope to make men, women, and children here of his order; what indulgence and pardons he could grant them”, etc. He may have been a confrater or oblate of the order.’
Almighty and merciful God, who brought your Martyr blessed Robert to overcome the torments of his passion, grant that we, who celebrate the day of his triumph, may remain invincible under your protection against the snares of the enemy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.