The early mission to England and Wales
In 1531, Ignatius spent some time in England, living as a mendicant, dependent on the charity of others for his food, lodging, and daily needs. Between that time and the foundation of a missionary endeavour in 1580, Jesuit contact with England was sporadic. The second half of the 16th century was one of religious upheaval in England, following Henry VIII’s break with Rome in 1534. Elizabeth I was determined to build a Protestant state, and, fearing influence or invasion by stronger Catholic European monarchies, she outlawed Catholic worship and banned Catholic priests from setting foot in her realm.
English and Welsh men wishing to train as priests were forced to join seminaries in exile throughout Europe. Many of these newly ordained priests joined the Jesuits and worked throughout the Jesuit missionary world: Edmund Campion was initially sent to Prague; Thomas Stephens to India; John Yates to Brazil. The English College for the training of priests from England and Wales was founded in Rome in 1579, and Pope Gregory XIII entrusted the college's administration to the Jesuits.
The new foundation of the English College provided William Allen, leader of English Catholic exiles and later a Cardinal, with an opportunity to set up an underground mission to bring the sacraments to beleaguered Catholics in England and Wales. Allen persuaded the Jesuit Father General, Everard Mercurian, to approve a Jesuit mission to England. The first missioners, Edmund Campion, Robert Persons, and Ralph Emerson, departed from Rome in April 1580. By December 1st 1581, Campion had been executed and Persons was back on the continent, never to return to England.