Skip to main content Accessibility help

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

  • Robert Ombres Op (a1)


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.



Hide All

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

2 Paz, D G, Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian England (Stanford, 1992).

3 Ker, I, John Henry Newman: A Biography (Oxford, 1988), pp 372375, 397–399.

4 Acta Apostolicate Sedis 83 (1991) 365–369.

5 McCarthy, C, The Spirituality of Cornelia Connelly: In God. For God, with God (Lewiston, 1986).

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

7 Wadham, p 151.

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.

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.

10 Wadham, pp 159–160.

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.

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

13 Cox, J., Hatred Pursued Beyond the Grave (London, 1993) p 10;Squibb, G. D., Doctors' Commons (Oxford, 1977) p 36.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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).

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

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.

22 Waddams, S M, Law, Politics and the Church of England. The Career of Stephen Lushington 1782–1873 (Cambridge, 1992).

23 Thérèse, M, Cornelia Connelly: A Study in Fidelity (London, 1961), p 108.

24 Jordan, A, ‘George Cornelius Gorham, Clerk v Henry Philpotts, Bishop of Exeter. A Case of Anglican Anxieties’ (1998) 5 Ecc LJ 104–111.

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.

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

27 Wadham, J, The Case of Cornelia Connelly (London, 1956), pp 153–4; Wiseman to Lord Shrewsbury on 22 December 1848.

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).

29 Doe, N, The Legal Framework of the Church of England (Oxford, 1996), pp 2526 and 10–11.

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

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). 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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

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

  • Robert Ombres Op (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.