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Responses to revolution: The experiences of the English Benedictine monks in the French Revolution, 1789–93

  • Cormac Begadon (a1)
Abstract

Following the formal proscription of the formation of Catholic religious houses in England in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, English Benedictine communities were established on the Continent from 1606 onwards. At the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, there were three independent houses belonging to the English Benedictine Congregation in France. The Revolution presented the English monks with a very real and tangible threat to their existence and securities, introducing a series of decrees that impacted on monastic life greatly. The monks responded to these incursions not by assuming the role of passive victims, or religious refugees caught up in a foreign conflict, but rather showed themselves to be shrewd operators, adept at playing the game of revolutionary politics and by navigating legal niceties. This article will illustrate that the monks’ sophisticated networks of information gathering and sharing allowed them to coordinate more coherent response strategies to the Revolution amongst other British and Irish exiled communities, whilst also permitting themselves to employ a series of delaying tactics. The impact of the monks’ responses to the Revolution, however, extended beyond British and Irish exiles, and impacted directly on the local French populations, through their work in the ‘refractory Church’.

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This work was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant number AH/M003620/1).

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1 O.S.B., Anselm Cramer, ed. Fr Marsh’s Escape from Dieulouard (Ampleforth: Ampleforth Abbey Press, 1994).

2 Cramer, Fr Marsh’s Escape from Dieulouard, 1.

3 For examples of return narratives see Jacob, Scholastica, ed. A Brief Narrative of the Seizure of the Benedictine Dames of Cambray and Two Hairs & a Dish of Tortoise (Stanbrook: Stanbrook Abbey Press, 2016); Trappes-Lomax, Richard, ed. ‘Records of the English Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre at Liege, now at New Hall, Essex, 1652-1793’, Recusant History, 17 (1915): 106-156 ; Bowden, Caroline, ed. The Chronicles of Nazareth: (The English Convent) Bruges 1629-1795 (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2018); Cramer, Fr Marsh’s Escape from Dieulouard.

4 Cramer, Fr Marsh’s Escape from Dieulouard, 1.

5 Betros, Gemma, ‘Liberty, Citizenship and the Suppression of Female Religious Communities in France, 1789-90’, Women’s History Review, 18 (2009): 313 .

6 See Hufton, Olwen, Women and the Limits of Citizenship in the French Revolution (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1992); Langlois, Claude, Le Catholicisme au Féminin (Paris: Cerf, 1984), xiv .

7 Kathryn Robinson, Mary, Regulars and the Secular Realm: the Benedictines of the Congregation of Saint-Maur in Upper Normandy During the Eighteenth Century and French Revolution (Scranton: Scranton University Press, 2008), xiv .

8 For further reading see Lunn, David, The English Benedictines, 1540-1688: from Reformation to Revolution (London: Burns and Oates, 1980).

9 The Duchy of Lorraine was not incorporated into the Kingdom of France until 1766.

10 Alban Hood, O.S.B., From Repatriation to Revival: Continuity and Change in the English Benedictine Congregation, 1795-1850 (Farnborough: New Abbey Press, 2014), 37 . The remainder of the monks were either resident in a fourth house belonging to the Congregation at Lamspringe, near Hannover in Germany, or were serving in England as missioners.

11 In August 1789, the Catholic Church lost its privileges and tithes. See Beales, Derek, Prosperity and Plunder: European Catholic Monasteries in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 213 .

12 For further reading see Beales, Prosperity and Plunder: European Catholic Monasteries in the Age of Revolution, 169-178.

13 Aston, Nigel, Christianity in Revolutionary Europe c. 1750-1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 39 . The Commission des Réguliers had a considerable impact on the French Benedictines. 122 of their 410 houses were supressed. See Scott, Geoffrey, Gothic Rage Undone: English Monks in the Age of Enlightenment (Downside: Downside Abbey Press, 1992), 206 .

14 Scott, Gothic Rage Undone: English Monks in the Age of Enlightenment, 206. It was usual for postulants to be clothed at the age of sixteen and treated as novices until the age of twenty-one. After an initial period of postulancy, young men were accepted into a monastery as novices, in a ceremony known as ‘clothing’, in which they received the Benedictine habit. The noviciate usually lasted for one year, after which the monk was solemnly professed.

15 Bowden, The Chronicles of Nazareth: (The English Convent) Bruges 1629-1795, xxx.

16 Lehner, Ulrich, Enlightened Monks: the German Benedictines 1740-1803 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 2 .

17 Betros, ‘Liberty, Citizenship and the Suppression of Female Religious Communities in France, 1789-90’, 312.

18 Beales, Prosperity and Plunder: European Catholic Monasteries in the Age of Revolution, 252.

19 Beales, Prosperity and Plunder: European Catholic Monasteries in the Age of Revolution, 249.

20 Monks in Motion database, https://durham.ac.uk/mim/, ID 175 (hereafter MIM).

21 Scott, Gothic Rage Undone: English Monks in the Age of Enlightenment, 212.

22 MIM, ID 298.

23 George Doughty to Placid Naylor, O.S.B., 19 March 1790, MSS S4619 (uncatalogued), Archives Nationale, Paris (hereafter AN).

24 Peter Coughlan to Placid Naylor, O.S.B., 28 September 1790, MSS S4619, AN.

25 Scott, Gothic Rage Undone: English Monks in the Age of Enlightenment, 201.

26 MIM, ID 139.

27 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 14 October 1790, MSS 18/H/53(962), Archives Départmentales du Nord, Lille (hereafter ADNL).

28 MIM, ID 239.

29 John Fisher, O.S.B. to Placid Naylor, O.S.B., undated, MSS S4619, AN.

30 Aston, Christianity in Revolutionary Europe c. 1750-1830, 189.

31 Augustine Kellett, O.S.B. to Bede Bennett, O.S.B., 18 September 1790, MSS A460-510(504), Downside Abbey Archives, Somerset (hereafter DAA).

32 MIM, ID 067.

33 MIM, ID 184.

34 MIM, ID 124.

35 MIM, ID 074.

36 MIM, ID 173.

37 This was Basil Kennedy. MIM, ID 807.

38 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Bede Bennett, O.S.B., 18 September 1790, MSS A460-510(503), DAA.

39 Thomas Berry (MIM, ID 394), Joseph Bromley (MIM, ID 405), John Cooper (MIM, ID 430), William Holderness (MIM, ID 494), William Pemberton (MIM, ID 562).

40 Richard Marsh, O.S.B. to Placid Naylor, O.S.B., December 1790, MSS S4619, AN.

41 Scott, Gothic Rage Undone: English Monks in the Age of Enlightenment, 213.

42 Beales, Prosperity and Plunder: European Catholic Monasteries in the Age of Revolution, 258.

43 Here the term ‘secularisation’ refers to monks who were laicised, opting for life in the secular world, as opposed to those becoming diocesan, or secular, clergy.

44 For further reading on how native French female religious communicated information see Betros, ‘Liberty, Citizenship and the Suppression of Female Religious Communities in France, 1789-90’, 314-6.

45 See MIM, ID 139.

46 For further reading see O’Connor, Thomas, Luke Joseph Hooke: an Irish Theologian in Enlightenment France, 1714-96 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1995).

47 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 14 October 1790, MSS 18/H/53(962), ADNL.

48 MIM, ID 392.

49 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 15 May 1791, MSS 18/H/53(947), ADNL.

50 Ibid.

51 Aston, Christianity in Revolutionary Europe c. 1750-1830, 190.

52 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Bede Bennet, O.S.B., 14 March 1791, MSS B1-86(2), DAA.

53 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 15 March 1791, MSS 18/H/53(932), ADNL.

54 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Bede Bennet, O.S.B., 11 October 1792, MSS B1-86(27), DAA.

55 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 15 February 1791, MSS 18/H/53(929), ADNL.

56 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 6 August 1790, MSS 18/H/53(960), ADNL.

57 Ibid.

58 Richard Marsh, O.S.B. to Placid Naylor, O.S.B., 9 July 1791, MSS S4619, AN.

59 Henry Parker O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 23 September 1790, MSS 18/H/53(954), ADNL.

60 Ballard, John R., Continuity During the Storm: Boissy d’Anglas and the Era of the French Revolution (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000), 185 .

61 Mangion, Carmen, ‘Avoiding “Rash and Imprudent Measures”: English Nuns in Revolutionary Paris, 1789-1801’, in Caroline Bowden and James E. Kelly, eds. The English Convents in Exile, 1600-1800 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 47-263 .

62 Betros, ‘Liberty, Citizenship and the Suppression of Female Religious Communities in France, 1789-90’, 313.

63 Ibid.

64 Mangion, ‘Avoiding “Rash and Imprudent Measures”: English Nuns in Revolutionary Paris, 1789-1801’, 260.

65 Ibid.

66 Who Were the Nuns? database, https://wwtn.history.qmul.ac.uk/, BA145 (hereafter WWTN).

67 Bowden, The Chronicles of Nazareth: (The English Convent) Bruges 1629-1795, xxxi.

68 ‘Extract of a letter from Douay, dated Feb. 21, 1793’ [printed], MSS 117/6(uncatalogued), Dublin Diocesan Archives.

69 Betros, ‘Liberty, Citizenship and the Suppression of Female Religious Communities in France, 1789-90’, 315.

70 Aston, Nigel, Religion and Revolution in France 1780-1804 (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 2000), 227 .

71 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 29 August 1790, MSS 18/H/53(947), ADNL.

72 WWTN CB143.

73 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 25 April 1792, MSS 18/H/53(11088), ADNL.

74 Bellenger, Aidan, Monks with a Mission: Essays in Benedictine English History (Downside: Downside Abbey Press, 2014), 115 . Douai was an important centre of education for British and Irish exiles, home to separate English, Irish and Scots colleges, as well as the Benedictine priory and school at St Gregory’s.

75 Beales, Prosperity and Plunder: European Catholic Monasteries in the Age of Revolution, 235.

76 St Gregory’s priory had an institutional attachment to the University of Douai, which itself had been established on lands owned by the wealthy abbey of Saint Vaast, Arras. See Scott, Gothic Rage Undone: English Monks in the Age of Enlightenment, 22.

77 Bellenger, Monks with a Mission: Essays in Benedictine English History, 115.

78 MIM, ID 594.

79 Bellenger, Monks with a Mission: Essays in Benedictine English History, 115.

80 Beales, Prosperity and Plunder: European Catholic Monasteries in the Age of Revolution, 256.

81 For further reading see Plongeron, Bernard, Les Réguliers des Paris Devant le Serment Constitutionel (Paris: Vrin, 1964).

82 Robinson, Regulars and the Secular Realm: the Benedictines of the Congregation of Saint-Maur in Upper Normandy During the Eighteenth Century and French Revolution, 135.

83 Ibid.

84 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Bede Bennett, O.S.B., 18 September 1790, MSS A460-510(504), DAA.

85 Jerome Sharrock, O.S.B. to Bede Bennet, O.S.B., 27 January 1793, MSS B1-86(39), DAA.

86 Richard Marsh, O.S.B. to Placid Naylor, O.S.B., 26 June 1791, MSS S4619, AN.

87 MIM, ID 383.

88 MIM, ID 632.

89 Birt, Henry Norbert, Obit Book of the English Benedictines from 1600 to 1912 (Edinburgh: privately printed, 1912), 121 .

90 Joseph Barber (MIM, ID 922), Raymund Eldridge (MIM, ID 444), Augustine Harrison (MIM, ID 474) and Joseph Hawarden (MIM, ID 479) were professed on this day (St Gregory’s Liber Graduum, MSS 325, 331-2; 324, 325-7; 324, 329-30; 327-8, DAA).

91 James Calderbank (MIM, ID 212), Alexius Chew (MIM, ID 2128), Francis Cooper (MIM, ID 220), John Dawber (MIM, ID 228) and Bennet Marsh (MIM, ID 290) were professed between 1791 and 1793.

92 Henry Parker O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 13 November 1790, MSS 18/H/53(969), ADNL.

93 Ibid.

94 Ibid. Placid Naylor resided in Paris, where has was confessor to the Benedictine nuns, but was a member of St Laurence’s, Dieulouard.

95 The ‘refractory church’ is a term that refers to the body of French clergy who had refused to take the oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which clergy were legally required to take from the beginning of 1791. These men were known as ‘non-jurors’, offering pastoral care, without official government sanction, to those unwilling to attend churches staffed by juring clergy.

96 Aston, Religion and Revolution in France 1780-1804, 233.

97 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., 6 December 1790, MSS 18/H/53(911), ADNL.

98 Ager, John Goldworth, ed. Englishmen in the French Revolution (London: Sampson Low, 1889), 153 .

99 Keats-Rohan, K.S.B., ed. English Catholic Nuns in Exile 1600-1800: a Biographical Register (Oxford: Unit for Prosopographical Research, 2017), xvii .

100 Anselma Anne Knight, O.S.B. to Alexander Knight, 17 July 1791, MSS 328(uncatalogued), Stanbrook Abbey, Yorkshire.

101 Ibid.

102 Henry Parker, O.S.B. to Augustine Walker, O.S.B., October 1791, MSS 18/H/53(1043), ADNL. For further reading on this event see Goldworth Ager, Englishmen in the French Revolution, 88-9.

103 This was the term given to clergy who had taken the oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.

104 Cramer, Fr Marsh’s Escape from Dieulouard, 2.

105 Ibid, 2-3.

106 Beales, Prosperity and Plunder: European Catholic Monasteries in the Age of Revolution, 256.

107 Richard Marsh, O.S.B. to Placid Naylor, O.S.B., 4 April 1792, MSS S4619, AN.

108 Richard Marsh, O.S.B. to Placid Naylor, O.S.B., 4 March 1792, MSS S4619, AN.

109 Richard Marsh, O.S.B. to Placid Naylor, O.S.B., 1 December 1792, MSS S4619, AN.

110 Ibid.

111 Ibid.

112 Ibid.

113 Ibid.

114 Aston, Religion and Revolution in France 1780-1804, 230.

115 Aston, Religion and Revolution in France 1780-1804, 232.

116 Beales, Prosperity and Plunder: European Catholic Monasteries in the Age of Revolution, 259.

117 Beales, Prosperity and Plunder: European Catholic Monasteries in the Age of Revolution, 262.

118 Aston, Religion and Revolution in France 1780-1804, 232-3.

119 Jerome Sharrock, O.S.B. to Bede Bennet, O.S.B., 20 February 1793, MSS B1-86(42), DAA.

120 Bellenger, Monks with a Mission: Essays in Benedictine English History, 115-6.

121 For further reading see Hood, From Repatriation to Revival: Continuity and Change in the English Benedictine Congregation, 1795-1850.

* This work was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant number AH/M003620/1).

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