“England and Always”
The British, the Empire, and the Faith
Part IV: Good King George and the Dragon
Ye, Tories all rejoice and sing, success to George our gracious King.
The faithful subjects tribute bring, and execrate the Congress.
These hardy knaves and stupid fools, some apish and pragmatic mules,
Some servile acquiescing tools, These compose the Congress.
-The Congress (1776)
Actual combat between the rebels and the Crown began on April 20, 1775, with the battles of Lexington and Concord. It was the fourth civil war in the Anglosphere. Half of the struggle was on this side of the Atlantic, where colonists were divided into rebel and Loyalist factions. The rank-and-file of the latter tended to come from cultural and religious minorities and inhabitants of depressed areas. It is interesting to note, for example, that in New England, Anglicans tended to remain loyal while Calvinist Congregationalists most often supported the Revolution; but in the southern colonies where the Church of England was established, its members were often revolutionary, while the equally Calvinist Presbyterians most often rallied to the Crown. Even in Massachusetts, most of the town of Marshfield was loyal — Ashfield’s Baptists were still mindful of George III’s rescue of them a few years before. In North Carolina, the formerly Jacobite Scots (including the redoubtable Flora MacDonald and her husband) rose for the King, but were defeated at Moore’s Creek Bridge. The small Catholic community was divided: on the one hand, wealthy Catholics like the Carrolls and their friends favoured the revolt and eventually independence. Folk like Commodore Barry and Stephen Moylan rallied to the rebel cause. But many were Loyalists, as reflected in such units as the Loyal Irish Volunteers, Roman Catholic Volunteers, and the Volunteers of Ireland called many Catholics to the King’s colours. In New York’s Mohawk Valley, Sir John Johnson’s Catholic tenants were driven out with the rest of his people, and forced to make their way to Montreal. Joining such units as the Royal Yorkers, Royal Highland Emigrants, and Butler’s Rangers, they had as chaplain the Irishman Fr. John Mckenna, their former parish priest, who thereby became the first Catholic chaplain in the British army since James II’s overthrow.
But the war was in a very real sense a civil war in the British Isles as well. Areas of England that had been Cavalier and Jacobite tended to support the war against the American rebels, as did Scotland and Catholic Ireland; areas that had favoured Cromwell and the Whigs likewise cheered for them. In Parliament, the Whig Oligarchy supported the rebels as well — as did at least one of their members in command in America, General Sir William Howe. He allowed Washington’s army to escape his grasp upon several occasions, when he could easily have crushed it. Asked during a House of Commons enquiry why he had not done so, he replied, “the answer to that question is political;” and so retained for a time his seat among the Whigs. Not too surprisingly, given his Jacobite origins and Tory views, Samuel Johnson was very much opposed to the American rebels, and duly vented his spleen in a pamphlet.
In any case, the character of the war changed completely with the entrance of France, Spain, and the Netherlands into it — what had been a domestic conflict became yet another in the series of World Wars. George III took this intervention by his brother Monarchs as betrayal — and it turned him against Catholic Emancipation. Ironically, he had supported the first bill passed in that regard in 1778, the very year France entered the War, and in the same year brought his Queen to visit Lord Petre, the Catholic lay-leader. Perhaps as a sop to his own conscience, when Carlos III of Spain (who before becoming King of that country had been successively Duke of Parma and King of the Two Sicilies, and afterwards would go on to fund the California Missions, order the creation of California and Los Angeles, and also funded New York’s first Catholic church) refused to ally with the rebels, but declared war in his own right. After the defeat of Yorktown — only possible through the intervention of the French fleet — Lord North’s ministry and the King’s personal rule were over. In 1782, a deputation of four from the Continental Congress waited upon Charles III at his exile at the Palazzo di San Clemente in Florence to offer him the Crown of America. Had the Stuart claimant accepted, the nature of the war would have changed again. Fortunately for all the British Kings since, the Bonnie Prince refused.
After George III signed the treaty granting the colonies their independence in1783, it was obvious that the Church in these United States would require an independent hierarchy as well. The Catholic parishes here were removed from the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic, and Pope Pius VI cast about for an American bishop. Fr. Carroll, as elected head of the priests here, lobbied successfully to have Cardinal York excluded from any part in the decision. The Pope asked the advice of the most eminent American of the time — Benjamin Franklin, who recommended Carroll. Due to his excommunicate status in Quebec, the new bishop-elect could not go to the nearest bishop for consecration. He travelled to England, where the rite was performed at Lulworth Castle. Upon his return to Baltimore he took up his duties, and the ecclesiastical history of this country was thenceforth separate from that of the British Empire.
But the Revolution left its mark upon the Mother Country as well. The Whig Oligarchy were once again in firm control of Parliament; and while George III himself (save during his periods of madness) would not become a mere cipher, by the same token, the evolution of the present Westminster system, whereby Parliament is considered completely supreme and the Head of State a figurehead, was given a tremendous push (and is found throughout the Commonwealth). Today, the Sovereign or her representative must open Parliament, give the Speech from the Throne (in the course of which she refers to “My Government”), accept the Address-in-Reply, prorogue or dissolve Parliament, issue writs of election, give Royal Assent (which is never refused), receive Letters of Credence from ambassadors, sign Orders-in-Council, act as “fount of justice,” and on and on. But all is done on the advice of “her” ministers — particularly her Prime Minister, who so long as he commands a majority in the lower house, wields all power in Heaven and Earth.
Moreover, this bifurcation between the ceremonial and the effective in governing now goes down through every level of government; not merely Monarch vs. Prime Minister, but Privy Council vs. Cabinet, House of Lords vs. House of Commons, Lord Lieutenant vs. County Council Chairman, Sheriff vs. Chief Constable, and Lord Mayor or Mayor vs. City or Town Council Chairman. This dichotomy had not yet occurred when the United States became independent, and it has not developed here since. When the United States Constitution was adopted in 1789, it created a Presidency whose powers were based upon that of the Monarch prior to 1688 — this office has developed into one far more powerful than any King or Emperor seen during the years of Christian Monarchy in Europe.
The loss of one Empire on the part of the British precipitated the start of another. Loyalists surged into the western part of Quebec, which became Ontario (where they set up the “Family Compact”), and Nova Scotia, which .had the Province of New Brunswick carved out of it. They also poured into the Bahamas , Sierra Leone, and elswhere. Loss of the penal colony of Georgia led to the start of another in far-off Australia in 1788; in that year George III appointed the first Governor of New South Wales. Although the British would not begin settling New Zealand until the 1830s, a Maori was introduced to George III in 1806. Despite the best efforts of the French to dislodge them during the late war, the East India Company continued to pick up parts of India while remaining secure in their strongholds of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras.
For France, the American Revolution was a pyrrhic victory. While her success was made possible by financial and administrative reforms initiated by Louis XVI, the effort also bankrupted the country and paved the way for the French Revolution. Ironically, horrible and bloody as that conflict was, it would spark a deep renewal of the Faith in England. It would also drive to America many French clerics — some of whom became bishops. The associated slave revolts in Haiti would bring French Catholics to Savannah, Charleston, Norfolk, Baltimore, and New York.
The French Revolution did have a tremendous effect upon Catholics in the British Isles. For one thing, the anti-Catholic nature of the event sent Catholic schools and monasteries in France and the Low Countries back to the islands from whence they had come. John Carroll’s alma mater, the Jesuit college at St. Omer, relocated to Stonyhurst in Lancashire. The personnel of the high school and seminary at Douai split up, the northerners among them going to Ushaw, and the southerners to Ware. The English Benedictines from Paris went to Woolhampton; those from Douai went to Downside. Their brethren from Nancy sought refuge at Ampleforth, while the nuns of Cambrai went to Stanbrook and Colwich. The English Franciscans, likewise at Douai, went back home, as did the Carmelites and Dominicans. The Canonoesses of the Holy Sepulchre left Liege. Once again England had monks, friars, and nuns openly going about their tasks. At the same time, innumerable French émigrés came to Britain, and impressed their hosts with their bravery in the face of the common enemy — doing much to break down anti-Catholic prejudices. Often refined and intellectual people, both the English, Scots, and Irish religious and the French refugees showed much of the British public that a Catholic could equal or surpass the best educated Protestants. To the native Catholics, these reinforcements with their processions and High Masses gave an idea of what Catholic life could be in its entirety — and from now on the Recusant families would no longer have to send their sons overseas to be educated — this was guaranteed by a law passed in1791. In 1795, the government founded the Royal College at Maynooth for the education of Irish priests.. Many of the descendants of the Wild Geese were executed by the Revolutionaries, and it was seeing the atrocities connected with the taking of the Bastille that made Daniel O’Connell of Derrynane both loyal to the Crown and convinced that liberation for Ireland must be done peacefully.
Meanwhile, however, the ideas of the French Revolution made their way to Ireland — especially among some of the wealthy Protestants, who founded the Society of United Irishmen. These in turn precipitated the 1798 Irish Rebellion, which was supported by an abortive French invasion. But this affair, despite later myth-making and the support of a few Catholic priests, like Fr. John Murphy, was for the most part condemned by the Church, Dublin’s Archbishop Troy going so far as to excommunicate those who joined it. A unit of Catholic Scots Highlanders helped smooth the suppression, while Daniel O’Connell’s uncle raised his tenants to repel a French landing party, for, as Irish Nationalist writer Seumas MacManus put it, “Munster was too Jacobite ever to be Jacobin.” One result, however, was the abolition of the Protestant Irish Parliament in Dublin, and the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 (in token of which the Union Jack received the Cross of St. Patrick — this had been used when George III created the Order of St. Patrick in 1783). Interestingly enough, although repeal of the Union would become an ever greater cause among many Catholics in 19th century Ireland, most Catholics welcomed it initially, believing that London would give them more justice than the local Protestants.
While the Scottish Episcopalians had finally accepted George III after Charles III’s death in 1788, his brother, Cardinal York, became de jure Henry IX. He had continued to exercise his father’s role in English-speaking Church appointments outside the United States. But a decade later, with the income from his French and Spanish benefices lost to him through Revolution, he spent almost all that was left to him on the ransom the French demanded in return for not sacking Rome. The exiled King was now destitute. But in 1799, George III settled a pension on him of L4,000 a year (to be fair, this was part of what the government had agreed was owed him because of an old dowry agreement; but the timing could not have been better). When Henry died in 1807, his rights to the Three Kingdoms went to his cousin, Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia (de jure Charles IV of England, Scotland, and Ireland); however, he left some of the family jewels to the Prince Regent (later George IV), who in turn paid for the beautiful monument to the last three Stuart Kings at St. Peter’s basilica. Apart from a few enthusiasts (among whom, however, is this writer), all that is left of the cause are the sites associated with the Stuarts and their followers in Britain and on the Continent.
In any case, after the Congress of Vienna, the British Empire had expanded enormously: Malta, the Cape, Ceylon, Trinidad, Guyana, Mauritius, the Seychelles, and other spots had all come under her sway. Many of them had large Catholic populations; in certain places the Crown was forced to acknowledge pre-existing Church State relationships, and act (within that colony) as though the King were a Catholic ruler, while at the same time establishing Anglican institutions for soldiers, sailors, and administrators. The foundation was laid not only for a much larger Empire, but for a Catholic Church truly world-wide in scope.
Meanwhile, post-Napoleonic Britain felt the effect of the Romantic Movement’s love of the Middle Ages — especially as popularized by the novels of Sir Walter Scott. That author did for the Jacobites in Waverly as he did for the knights in Ivanhoe — and no less a figure than George IV became a fan. In the first decade after the wars ended, Neo-Medievalism became all the rage; this was also partly a reaction to the immense ugliness spawned by the Industrial Revolution. But in the eyes of many, Catholicism went from being a foreign and barbaric Faith held by the French and Spanish enemy, to a picturesque element of the nation’s past. It would remain to be seen how much that nostalgia for a lost Golden Age could be translated into the evangelisation of what was turning into the largest empire the world had ever seen.