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In 1568, the small textile town of Douai in Northern France was transformed into a hub of intrigue and rebellion. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the Catholic religion was outlawed and harbouring a Catholic Priest was made punishable by death. As a result, English Catholics had to practice their faith in secret, with many fleeing to the safety of Catholic Europe. This included William Allen, a former member of Queen Mary I government and later Cardinal in the Catholic Church. Allen wanted to make sure the Catholic faith was kept alive in England and therefore established Douai College as a school and seminary for English Catholics.
Douai College became a centre for plots against the Tudor and Stuart governments and sent numerous missionaries secretly back to England with many becoming martyrs to the cause. During the French Revolution, war with England led to the students being forced to leave the College in fear of their lives. By the 18th century laws against Catholicism started to relax in England which meant the student body could return and subsequently establish Ushaw College in the North and St. Edmund’s Ware in the South.