Richard Crashaw - The Catholic exile

The English Civil War

The English Civil War began in 1642. Had it not been for this, Crashaw might well have lived a long but obscure life as a scholar. However, Cambridge was in an area held by Parliamentary forces which made the teaching staff of the University sign a ‘covenant’, pledging their loyalty to Parliament and a more Puritan church. Crashaw evaded this by moving to Oxford, the headquarters of Charles I and the royalist forces, but lost his fellowship as a result.

Poverty in Paris

Henrietta MariaWe next hear of Crashaw in 1646 in Paris, where his friend Cowley discovered him in some poverty. He had by then become a Roman Catholic. Cowley asked Queen Henrietta Maria, also in exile and also Catholic, to help Crashaw. She sent him to Rome with a letter of introduction.

To Rome

Once in Rome, Crashaw was placed in the household of Cardinal Palotta. The Cardinal's household seems to have shown a good deal of immoral behaviour, to which Crashaw objected strongly. His objections became so public that the household turned against him. The Cardinal had him appointed a canon, or cathedral official, at Loretto in 1649.


Crashaw had only been at Loretto for three weeks, when he sickened and died in somewhat mysterious circumstances.

Crashaw’s poetry

  • Crashaw was influenced by his reading of Spanish mystical poetry and by the Italian poet Marini
  • In 1646, some of his religious verse was collected and published under the title of Steps to the Temple (perhaps in conscious imitation of George Herbert’s group of poems called The Temple), and The Delights of the Muses
  • In 1652, his later poetry was published under the title of Carmen Deo Nostro (Hymn to our God). It was published in Paris and is dedicated to the Countess of Denbigh, who was also living in exile there, and whom he had hoped to convert to Catholicism
  • His poetry was not collected together, however, until 1858.