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Bishop William Poynter and exorcism in Regency England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2016

Francis Young
Affiliation:
The King’s School, Barton Square, Ely, Cambridgeshire CB7 4DB, UK. Email: f.k.young.99@cantab.net
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

In 1815 the Vicar Apostolic of the London District, William Poynter, became embroiled in a case of alleged demonic possession. In the face of considerable pressure from the family of Peter Moore, the alleged demoniac, Poynter prevented a proposed exorcism on the grounds that it would bring adverse publicity to the still fragile Catholic Church in England. Drawing on the surviving correspondence between Poynter and his officials and Peter Moore’s family, this article examines the stance adopted by Poynter on the issue of exorcism within the wider context of ‘Catholic Enlightenment’ thought on demonic possession, and argues that the political circumstances of Catholics in England ensured that Poynter’s cautious approach to exorcism ultimately won out against the desire of other Catholics—including another Vicar Apostolic, John Milner—to publicise the rite as a means of promoting the Catholic faith.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© Trustees of the Catholic Record Society 2016. Published by Cambridge University Press 

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References

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47 Quoted in Brambilla, Corpi Invasi, 191n: In exorcizandis energuminis illud potissime interest, ut ante omnia dignoscatur, an re vera obsessus sit a daemone is qui talis affirmatur.

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76 Hone, Moores of Moore Hall, 101.

77 A diligent examination of the relevant boxes of Poynter’s surviving papers in the Archives of the Archbishops of Westminster (AAW) (correspondence with Vicars General 1812–25, MSS AAW A60; correspondence regarding clergy and parishes 1812–20, MSS AAW A61; correspondence with Peter Gandolphy 1814–20, MSS AAW A68b; miscellaneous correspondence 1812–26, MSS AAW A68c) has revealed no sign of an original of the letter transcribed in the Maidstone collection.

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79 [Milner, John], ‘On the Exorcism by the Rev. E. Peach’, The Catholicon 4 (July–December 1816): 2324 Google Scholar. Confirmation that Milner was the author of the letter comes from Milner’s biographer Frederick Husenbeth (Life, 320).

80 Peach, Edward, A Circumstantial Account of a Successful Exorcism, Performed at King’s Norton, Worcestershire, in the Year 1815; Accompanied by Reflections which that Extraordinary Event Produced in the Mind of the Exorcist (Birmingham: R. P. Stone, 1836)Google Scholar. For historical analysis of this exorcism see Davies, Witchcraft, 23–26; Young, English Catholics and the Supernatural, 226–29.

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82 Alexander Miller (1867–1914) implied that Cardinal Vaughan once contemplated exorcizing an Australian man who was interested in Spiritualism, see Miller, Alexander V., Sermons on Modern Spiritualism (London: Kegan Paul, 1908), 132138 Google Scholar.

83 Young, English Catholics and the Supernatural, 229.

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