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Connelly v Connelly (1851): The Trials of A Saint?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2008

Robert Ombres Op
Procurator General of the Dominican Order, Rome Research Fellow, Centre for Law and Religion, Cardiff


The case of Connelly v Connelly on the face of it simply concerned a suit by a husband for the restitution of conjugal rights. It became interlocked, however, with wider and deeper issues in Victorian England at a time when the Roman Catholic hierarchy was restored in 1850 and there was an upsurge in anti-Catholic sentiment. Both litigants were extraordinary and led eventful lives, and the cause of canonisation of the wife (Cornelia Connelly) is in progress. In a broad context, this article examines in detail the litigation between the spouses first at the Court of Arches in 1849–1850, and then on appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1851. The litigation was inconclusive, and the case was eventually abandoned by the husband.

Copyright © Ecclesiastical Law Society 2005

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1 Acta Apostolicae Sedis 85 (1993) 82–85;Google Scholar translation in Woestman, W H (ed), Canonization. Theology, History, Process (Ottawa, 2002), pp 261263.Google Scholar

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6 Wadham, J, The Case of Cornelia Connelly (London, 1956), pp 308309, lists Pierce's publications.Google Scholar

7 Wadham, p 151.Google Scholar

8 A few days later, Ullathorne wrote: ‘I shall do nothing with reference to Mr C until canonically obliged to do so’: Wadham, p 154.Google Scholar

9 After the litigation was over, see Petition of Pierce Connelly, Clerk (Requesting that the House of Commons order the suppression of convents. With special reference to Cardinal Wiseman and Cornelia Augusta Connelly) 1852; Wadham, pp 308–309.Google Scholar

10 Wadham, pp 159–160.Google Scholar

11 There is a lengthy report of the case in The English Reports CLXIII, Ecclesiatical, Admiralty, and Probate and Divorce III, pp. 1291–1314 [2 Rob Eccl 203], and page numbers refer to these Reports.Google Scholar

12 M Barber, ‘Records of the Court of Arches in Lambeth Palace Library’ (1993) 3 Ecc LJ 10–19 at p 10;Google ScholarPhillimore, R, The Ecclesiastical Law of the Church of England (London, 1873) vol II, pp 12781279.Google Scholar

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14 ‘And so much was and is well known to the Judges and Advocates presiding or practising in Roman Catholic Ecclesiastical Courts, and others of reputation for their skill and knowledge of the law as there administered, and is also laid down by divers authors of eminence and authority on that subject’: p 1296 in the Court of Arches, and p 954 at the Privy Council, Regrettably the report gives no details for the canonical sources and authorities, beyond a generic reference to the Title De conversione conjugatorum (X 3.32) in Gregory IX's Decretals. For such a separation to be allowed when the spouses had young children seems unusual.Google Scholar

15 Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 (10 Geo 4, c 7).Google Scholar

16 Addams and Robertson are mentioned as appearing for the wife (p 1303).Google Scholar

17 The full report in The English Reports XIII, Privy Council II, pp 949–966 [7 Moore 437] has been used and its pagination referred to.Google Scholar

18 Baker, J H, Monuments of Endlesse Labours: English Canonists and their Work, 1300–1900 (London, 1998), pp 129130;Google ScholarPhillimore, R., The Ecclesiastical Law of the Church of England (London, 1873) vol II, pp 1268ff.Google Scholar

19 ‘These Decretals are accessible, and the Court is as capable of forming an opinion on the law, as any advocates in Europe. But the law, as laid down in the allegation, is not borne out by the Decretals’ (p 964).Google Scholar

20 J H Baker, Monuments of Endlesse Labours, ch 15, on Phillimore.Google Scholar

21 There is an interesting parallel in this line of argument with medieval English practice. When the defendant in a suit for restitution asserted a reason for his or her action, the suit often became one for judicial separation, the canonical divorce a mensa et thoro: Helmholz, R H, The Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction from 597 to the 1640s (Oxford, 2004), p 536.Google Scholar

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25 Pierce wrote to Lord Shrewsbury on 21 December 1848 that the lawyers‘ … I fear are over-anxious to have such a novel and exciting case to try where they are sure of success’: M Thérèse, Cornelia Connelly, pp 100–101.Google Scholar

26 S M Waddams, Law, Politics and the Church of England, p 271.Google Scholar

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28 Phillimore did not favour giving a tolerated religion all the consequences flowing from it, and spoke of ‘the present disturbed state of religious parties in this country’ (p 965).Google Scholar

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30 Phillimore then (p 965) refers to Fulham v M'Carthy (1847) 1 HL Cas 721.Google Scholar

31 Cheshire, and North's, Private International Law (13th edn) (London, 1999), pp 1319. The Connelly case is referred to as a rare example of extrajudicial separation coming before the English courts (p 798).Google Scholar See also North, P M, The Private Internatinal Law of Matrimonial Causes in the British Isles and the Republic of Ireland (Oxford, 1977), pp 292293, 396.Google Scholar

32 Soon after the Connelly case, Phillimore started to publish the volumes of a treatise that as well as public international law referred to private international law or Jus gentium privatum: Phillimore, R, Commentaries upon International Law (London, 1854) I, 12–13.Google Scholar

33 Phillimore, R, The Law of Domicil (London, 1847), p 2. He considered the law on domicile to be an important branch of private international law.Google Scholar

34 Walsh, J, ‘The Vocation of Cornelia ConnellyThe Month 20 (1958) 261273, 21 (1959) 19–33 at p 20.Google Scholar

35 Pierce to Lord Shrewsbury, 22 December 1848: ‘I do not know if Cornelia is satisfied that I do not consider her a free agent and never will do so, nor hold communication with her until she is out of all control’: J Wadham, The Case of Cornelia Connelly, p 158.Google Scholar

36 Case of the Rev Pierce Connelly (London, 1853), p 11.Google Scholar

37 Connelly, P, The Coming Struggle with Rome, Not Religious but Political (London, 1852), p 11.Google Scholar

38 Paz, D G, The Priesthoods and Apostasies of Pierce Connelly: A Study Of Victorian Conversion and Anticatholicism (Lewiston, 1986) gives the text of Pierce's petition (28.04.1851) at pp 302319.Google Scholar

39 Butler, C, The Life and Times of Bishop Ullathorne (2 vols) (London, 1926) I, 169.Google Scholar

40 J H Baker, Monuments of Endless Labours; Kemp, E W, An Introduction to Canon Law in the Church of England (London, 1957).Google Scholar

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