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English Catholics Without A Bishop 1655–1672

  • T.A. Birrell


The period from 1655 to 1672 forms a convenient unit in Recusant history. After the death on 18 March 1655 of Richard Smith, Bishop of Chalcedon, there was a series of attempts by the English clergy to obtain from Rome the appointment of a bishop for England, which culminated in the issue of a brief for the consecration of Philip Howard OP on the 16 May 1672. In spite of this, Howard's consecration did not take place, and the English Catholics were without a form of episcopal government till 1685, when John Leyburne was appointed Vicar Apostolic. The reasons for this state of affairs have been the subject of some comment, not all of it well-informed, by those who have treated of English Catholic history in the seventeenth century. The purpose of the present study is to try to present, as objectively as possible, the course of events as it is reflected in the negotiations of the successive agents sent to Rome on behalf of the English clergy during the period 1655-72, to gether with the relevant background.



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The principal manuscript sources are from the Westminster Cathedral Archives (WA) and the Public Record Office (PRO). The documents at Westminster are principally from the former Chapter Archives (parts of which were transferred to Westminster in the 19th Century) and chiefly comprise letters from the Roman Agents and from English clergy abroad, drafts of letters from the Chapter, and copies of the minutes of Chapter meetings. The documents in the Public Record Office consist chiefly of transcripts from Roman sources, principally the Barberini Archives. It is to be regretted, however, that the PRO lacks a full sequence of transcripts from the reports of the Brussels Internuncio and the Paris Nuncio for the period after the Restoration.

I am especially indebted to His Grace the Archbishop of Westminster and to his Archivist, Fr. B. Fisher, for permission to consult and quote extensively from the Westminster Archives.

1. At Rome, Smith was considered to have offered his resignation and it was accepted; see L. Hicks SJ. CRS XLI 46n., and authorities there cited: contrast Hughes, P. Rome and the Counter Reformation in England, 1944, 390, who gives no authorities for his opinion.

2. WA. xxx. 363, 383.

3. Gillow, J., Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics, London, 1885, IV 222; Dodd, C., Church History of England, “Brussels” 1742, III 304.

4. Pugh, R., Blaclo's Cabal, n.p. 1680, 7477.

5. WA. xxx. 391, “Quaerita super Authoritate Ep. Calcedon. in Anglia;” it is suggesed that twenty-six years of the Chapter's existence renders Smith's approbation unnecessary. See also WA. xxx. 423, where Smith refused to surrender the right to appoint Canons despite the request of Mark Harrington, George Gage and three other members of the Chapter.

6. WA. xxx. 521, 597.

7. WA. xxxi. 37.

8. WA. xxxi. 41.

9. De la Torre had owed his appointment to the recommendation of Chigi, then Nuncio at Cologne and now Cardinal Protector of England (Rogier, L.J., Geschiedenis van het Katholicisme in Noord-Nederland in de 16e en de 17e Eeuw, 2nd ed. Amsterdam 1947, II 181).

10. WA. xxxi. 9.

11. WA. xxxi. 13.

12. WA. B Series xlvii (originally Stonyhurst MS Anglia viii) no. 91, letter of 18 Feb. 1655 from Florence.

13. PRO 31/9/96.

14. PRO 31/9/96, letter of 21 Jan. 1656.

15. PRO 31/9/96, letter of 2 June 1657.

16. WA. xxxi. 297; letter misdated 1656. Peter Fitton, Dean of the Chapter, resided at Florence, from 1653 till his death in 1657, as librarian to the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

17. WA. xxxi. 273; letter misdated 1653. For Digby's mission see Gabrieli, V.La Missione di Sir Kenelm Digby alla Corte di Innocenzo X, 1645-1648”, English Miscellany V, Rome 1954, 247/289.

18. WA. xxxi. 285.

19. WA. xxxi. 291.

20. WA. xxxi. 301,

21. WA. xxxi. 307, letter of 10 April 1656.

22. PRO 31/9/130 (Barb. 8622). During the Civil War and Commonwealth period Fr. Courtney had been supplying Barberini with a series of very well informed newsletters from England. When Algernon Sidney visited Rome in November 1660, he reported Fr. Courtney as “sick, old and decrepit”, but that Cardinal Francesco Barberini “is very little changed since I formerly saw him: though he is old, he is so fresh and strong as to be likely to live many years”. (Sydney Papers, ed. R.W. Blencowe, Lond. L825, 244).

23. WA. xxxi. 323, 331.

24. W/A. xxxi. 357.

25. WA. xxxi. 43 L.

26. WA. xxxi, 465. The full text is in Berington, J., The Memoirs of Gregorio Panzoni, Lond. 1793, 297.

27. WA. xxxi. 467.

28. Dodd, C., Church History of England, “Brussels” 1742, III 304. It is fairly clear, however, from WA. xxxi. 421, that he actually went to Rome.

29. WA. xxxi. 509, letter from Thomas Barker 21 Dec. 1658.

30. WA. xxxi. 5L5. Gage left England in March 1659, left France in April and arrived in Rome in June, fie left Rome in May 1661 and was back in England in July and present at the General Chapter Meeting in September (WA. xxxiv. 466, Gage's Journal).

30a. The Congregation for English affairs seems to have been a sub-committee of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide set up as and when required, cf. note 70 and text.

31. WA. xxxii.33. Gage's letters to Sergeant are addressed to “Signor Carlos”.

32. WA. xxxii. 45.

33. WA.xxxii. 47.

34. i.e. Dom Gregory Bernard Palmes OSB (alias Conyers), Procurator at Rome for the English Benedictine Congregation 1657-1663.

35. Bodley's Library MS Rawl. D.840, f. 268t;. It is reproduced as part of a MS pamphlet, presumably written for publication, dated 16 April 1673. The difference in tone between this and the letter to Sergeant of 22 March 1660 implies a certain degree of two-facedness in Gage.

36. WA. xxxii. 51.

37. WA. xxxii. 75.

38. WA. xxxii. 59, 131, 135.

39. Writing under the name of Peter Hoburg (an anagram of Robert Pughe) to Barberini, 13 November 1661 (Stonyhurst MS Anglia V 58). The letter is printed, without realization of Pugh's authorship, as an appendix to Remarks on a Book Entitled Memoirs of Gregorio Panzani, by C. Plowden SJ, Liège 1794.

40. PRO 31/9/97; 8 and 28 Aug. 1660.

40a. Several books on the question of allegiance appeared about this time, but none have elsewhere been attributed to Sir Kenelm Digby. Reflexions upon the Oathes of Supremacy … 1661, is attributed to John Sergeant (Wing STC S2588); Some few Questions Concerning the Oath of Allegiance … 1661, to Peter Walsh (Wing STC W641-643); and Observations upon the Oath … [l662?] to Sir John Winter (Wing STC W3081-2).

41. PRO 31/9/98: ff. 228, 238, 244, 259, 261, 277, 278. The letters are subscribed with the name of “Vigilio”.

42. On 16 July 1661 a Lords Committee under the presidency of the Duke of York and including the Lord Treasurer and the Lord Privy Seal, was set up to consider preparing a bill to remove certain penal statutes. On 18 July the Attorney General was co-opted, and on 25 July, he was instructed to prepare a draft bill for the consideration of the Committee. Among the proposals were: that concerning 27 Eliz. 2. “the first clause concerning priests, Jesuits etc. (except Jesuits) be repealed”; that concerning 3 Jac. 4. “no clauses be repealed as to the Jesuits”; that priests should notify their address to the Secretary of State within 20 days of arrival in England; “that an Oath of Allegiance shall be taken by all priests and Roman Catholics”; “that no Jesuits shall come into this Kingdom upon pain of High Treason”. The document upon which this information is based, WA. xxxii. 275, is endorsed “What Mr. Waring [i.e. Ellis, the Dean of the Chapter] judged proper to be tendered to the Parliament in 1661”. The Dean had thus evidently been consulted by the Lords Committee and the Attorney General on the draft proposals for the bill.

43. e.g. WA. xxxii. 225, where the Jesuits are accused of adhering to Cromwell during the Commonwealth. Fr. Martin Grene SJ, wrote An Account of the Life and Doctrine of the Jesuits … 1661 (Wing STC G1825) to answer calumnies current against the loyalty of the Jesuits. In The Jesuits Reasons Unreasonable … 1662 (Wing STC J725) (attributed to Sergeant), the writer maintains that the exclusion of the Jesuits from any benefits of a relaxation of the Penal Laws is justified; it is right that they should be sacrificed for the general good of the English Catholics.

44. WA. xxxii. 294 sq.

45. Southwark Cathedral Archives MS 106. iii. 391. This is a nineteenth century transcript of a document in Chapter Archives (and not now at Westminster). It is inserted loosely into a grangerized copy of Dodd's Church History vol. iii, which Canon Tierney evidently intended as the basis for the uncompleted volumes of his revised edition.

46. Walsh, P., History and Vindication of the Loyal Formulary1674, 5556.

47. Strangers and Sojourners at Port Royal, Cambridge 1932, Ch. VII.

48. WA. xxxii. 391; signed RSP (?Robert Pugh).

49. Barnes, Mgr. A.S., “Charles II and Reunion with Rome”, Monthly Review XIII, Dec. 1903, 146. A most useful article, in addition to sources cited by Professor Clark, but tantalizingly vague on the precise location of its sources.

50. PRO SP 9/203/7, 8, 9. It is hoped to publish these at some future date.

51. Tierney, M.A., The History and Antiquities of … Arundel, London 1834, II 524–5. See also Hay, M.V., The Jesuits and the Popish Plot, London 1934, 98 sq.

52. WA. xxxii. 584. Alexander VII died 22 May 1667.

53. Holt was b. 1629, entered Eng. Coll. Rome 1652, ordained priest Dec. 1656, sent to Eng. April 1659 (Foley, Records SJ VI, London 1880, 387; CRS, xl, 52).

54. WA. xxxii. 587.

55. WA. xxxii. 588.

56. WA. xxxii. 613.

57. WA. xxxii. 619. The MS being slightly damaged, a few obvious lacunae have been silently supplied.

58. WA. xxxii. 620-622. See note above.

59. WA. xxxii. 627-629.

60. WA. xxxii. 641.

61. WA. xxxii. 645.

62. At the end of September, in a joint letter to the Chapter from Paris, the leading Catholic Clergy there, Montagu, Clifford, Carre and Gough, had suggested that Holt take with him to Rome a general submission from the Chapter to Clement IX; this they considered a necessary preliminary to any Papal decision concerning (i) the question of the relation between the Chapter and Douay, and (ii) the appointment of a Bishop. The Dean replied that the proposal had been rejected by the Chapter, as binding them in advance. Richard Russell, Bishop-elect of Portalegre, privately informed Montagu that the moving force behind the Chapter's refusal was in fact John Sergeant, the Secretary. In view of this evidence of lack of good will, Montagu refused to consider being nominated by the Chapter in their list of episcopabiles. The reaction of Clifford, Carre and Gbugh is not known, but it is clear that Sergeant's attitude was alienating the support of the more influential neutral figures. See R. Pugh, Blaclo's Cabal … 1680, 108-126.

63. WA. xxxii. 673-687.

64. Agretti, Minister Apostolic to the Internuncio at Brussels, was considered as prejudiced against the Chapter. WA. xxxii. 659, 703-709

65. WA. xxxii. 697. Holt's letters are usually addressed to Captain William Sacarville (or Pulton), a Chapterman living in London, for John Singleton, who lived out of town.

66. WA. xxxii. 701.

67. WA. xxxiii. 5, 7.

68. WA. xxxiii. 33, 35, 37.

69. PRO 31/9/130 (Barb. 8620), 13 Nov. 1668.

70. WA. xxxiii. 39, 45.

70a. i.e. An Encyclical Epistle sent to their Brethren by the Venerable Dean and Chapter of the Catholic Clergy in England, upon occasion of Dr. Leyburn … 1660 (British Museum 3935. b. 33/1); and A Manifest Publisht to their Brethren by the General Chapter of the English Clergy in Vindication of their Innpcency from the False Calumnies laid upon them in a Seditious Libel lately publisht by Dr. Leyburn … 1661 (British Museum 701. h. 4/8).

71. WA. xxxiii. 47. The letter is addressed care of Daniel Arthur, the Irish Catholic merchant of Lothbury, London.

72. WA. xxxiii. 87.

73. WA. xxxiii. 93.

74. Holt himself suggested that the money spent at Rome on the Agency (he was in debt for some 5000 or 6000 crowns at that moment) would be better spent to begin “a little foundation at Paris” (WA. xxxiii. 99). It might also have been spent to help the precarious finances at Douay and to train priests for the mission.

75. PRO 31/9/99, 150-161.

76. WA. xxxiii. 170.

77. WA. xxxiii. 113.

78. WA. xxxiii. 105-106.

79. CRS. xxv. 45 sq.

80. WA. xxxiii. 135, 139, 145, 147, 153, 181.

81. WA. xxxiii. 188, 197.

82. Bodley's Library MS Wood B.14. 6lr.

83. Travels of Cosmo the Third … London 1821, 461 sq.

84. Brady, W.M., The Episcopal Succession, Rome 1876, I 227, 239, 336; II 25, 145.

85. WA. xxxiii. 249, 251.

86. WA. xxxiii. 253.

87. Brady, W.M., op. cit., III 106107.

88. WA. xxxiii. 257, 259, 263.

89. WA. xxxiii. 273.

90. WA. xxxiii. 277, 5 Oct. 1669.

91. W.M. Brady, op. cit., III 107 sq.

92. WA. xxxiii. 289, letter to Pulton.

93. WA. xxxiii. 297.

94. PRO 31/9/137, letter to Barberini 26 Sept. 1669.

95. WA. xxxiii. 301.

96. WA. xxxiii. 307.

97. PRO 31/9/99. 219, 227.

98. WA. xxxiii, 433.

99. M.V. Hay, Failure in the Far East, Wetteren (Belgium) 1956, 61 n.1.

100. WA. xxxiii. 493

101. WA, xxxiii. 503.

102. WA. xxxiii, 511.

103. WA. xxxiii. 523.

104. Brady, W.M., op. cit., III 118.

105. WA. xxxiii. 541.

106. WA. xxxiii. 545.

107. His report is in Brady, op. cit., III 119 sq.

108. WA. xxxiii. 557.

109. WA. xxxiii. 695, letter of 3 Jan. 1671.

110. “Ik tot Romen geen kennis off vrienden heb, als eenen enckelen Schotsen priester”. See F. van Hoeck SJ, “Eenige Bijzonderheden over … Neercassels Reis naar Rome in 1670”, Archief voor de Geschiedenis van het Aartsbisdom Utrecht, III (1926), 255.

111. ibid., 257. See also G.J. Hoogewerf, “Twee Reizen van Cosimo de' Medici Prins van Toscane door de Nederlanden 1667-1669”, Historisch Genootschap (te Utrecht), 3e Serie no. 41, Amsterdam 1919, 62, 319.

112. For a fuller account of his mission, see Post, R.R., “De Apostolische Vicaris Johannes Neercassel naar Rome”, Mededeelingen van het Nederlandsch Historisch Instituut te Rome, 2e reeks, Deel IV (1934), 97132.

113. WA. xxxiii. 607.

114. WA. xxxiii. 609.

115. WA. xxxiii. 621, 657, Decree on the Affairs of Holland 10 March 1671. Also in WA. xxxiii, at ff. 625 and 633, there are Propaganda documents relating to Dutch ecclesiastical affairs of 1623, especially the conflict with the Jesuits. It is possible that these were collected by Bishop Richard Smith at the time and have been misbound in the present volume. I hope to be able to discuss Anglo-Dutch ecclesiastical relations in the 17th century in more detail at some future date.

116. WA. xxxiii. 689.

117. WA. xxxiv. 5.

118. WA. xxxiv. 57.

119. WA. xxxiv. 49.

120. WA. xxxiv. 59.

121. WA. xxxiv. 89.

122. W.M. Brady, op. cit., III 128-129; Hierarchia Catholica … 1667-1730, ed. R, Ritzier and P. Sefrin, Patavil 1952, V 217.

123. PRO 31/9/99. 306.

124. WM. Brady, op. cit. III 129; C.H. Hartman, Clifford of the Cabal, Ch, XI. The internuncio must also have had a secret interview with Arlington during the latter's embassy in the Low Countries. Research by the present writer has failed to bring to light any official reference to the meeting. On 9/19 July, Arlington, Buckingham and Halifax met Monterey in the convent of the English Carmelite nuns at Antwerp — it is possible that the interview with the Internuncio may have taken place there. But the mention in the expense account of the embassy of the payment of £200 to the Abbess of Ghent may suggest that Ghent was the rendezvous— it would, of course, have had to be kept secret from Halifax. See PRO SP 84/190. 46, 165.

125. Journals of the House of Commons, IX 203204.

126. Barbour, V., Henry Bennet Earl of Arlington, Washington 1914, 178, 189; PRO 31/ 3/127 Baschet Trans. Arch. Aff. Etr. Angleterre: no. 103 f. 184, Colbert to Louis XIV, London 11 April 1672; no. 104 f. 211, same to same, London 9 May 1672.

127. WA. xxxiv. 99 and 103 sq. In subsequent quotations we have used the wording of Holt's rather literal translation.

128. WA, xxxiv. 103-106. The part of Baldeschi's report relating to Douay College is unfortunately missing.

129. WA. xxxiv. 121, Forbes to Holt 24 Dec. 1672,

130. WA. xxxiv. 189, Forbes to Holt I April 1671: “The affair of the Bishop and Chapter are still in Baldeschi's hand, for which I am heartily sorry”; see also Brady, op. cit., III 130.

131. Hierarchia Catholica … V 217.

132. For the subsequent period see B. Hemphill OSB, The Early Vicars Apostolic of England 1685-1750, London 1954.

133. CRS XXV (1925), 67.

134. WA. xxxiii. 27.

135. PRO 31/9/137 (Barb. 8659), 26 March 1664.

136. Moran, P., Spicilegium Ossoriense … Dublin 1874, I 472.

137. Four, if one counts Dr. Leyburne himself in 1660.

138. Failure in the Far East, Wetteren (Belgium) 1956, passim.

139. PRO SP 85/8 passim.

140. WA. xxxiv. 233.

141. WA. xxxiv. 189 and W.M. Brady, op. cit.; Ill 130.

142. Clergy Review X (Sept. 1935), 201.

English Catholics Without A Bishop 1655–1672

  • T.A. Birrell


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