His Highness Was Almost His Holiness

Of course he had abdicated his royal title when he was ordained to the priesthood, but this Stuart was a papabile in 1800.

Did You Know that in the conclave of 1800 a de jure King of England almost was elected pope. Cardinal Henry Clement Maria Stuart, Duke of York, known by the Jacobites as “Henry IX, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland” was the Archbishop of Frascati and was widely popular within the sacred college. He was the younger brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Charles Edward Stuart. When hopes of a restoration of the Stuart dynasty died out in the mid-eighteenth century, the Duke of York went to Rome where he entered ecclesiastical life. Rome was the city of his birth. At the age of twenty-two Pope Benedict XIV created him cardinal. The next year, 1748, he was ordained a priest. In 1761 he was elevated to the See of Frascati as Cardinal-Bishop. As Bishop, Henry Stuart was a diligent reformer. He had a seminary built in the city and endowed it with a magnificent library.

After the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, whose armies took over the north of Italy, what had been a quarter century of peace suddenly became an era of violence, instability, anti-clericalism, and persecution of the Church. Napoleon’s forces took Pope Pius VI into exile and he shortly thereafter died from the ordeals he suffered in being moved from city to city without respite. Pius had issued a mandate before his death calling for the cardinals to meet in a convenient location outside of Rome where the greater majority of the college could hold a conclave in peace. The city chosen for the conclave of 1800 was Venice, at the monastery of Saint George. No doubt Cardinal Stuart was a key figure in calling the conclave to Venice because it was to this city that he had fled after Napoleon seized the church properties in Frascati.

It was a peculiar conclave, not only because it was the last to be held outside of Rome, but because the Holy Roman Emperor, for the first time, used his veto privilege to interfere with the election. This would happen again in 1903 when Emperor Franz Josef vetoed the nomination of Cardinal Rampolla, whom, some historians say, he had reason to believe was a Freemason. After over a hundred days of stalemate Cardinal Barnaba Chiaramonti was elected taking the name Pius VII. After the conclave Cardinal Stuart was able to return to his diocese owing to the generous life-annuity awarded him by King George III. In gratitude, the cardinal bequeathed to the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV, the crown jewels of his grandfather, James II, the last Catholic monarch of England, Ireland, and Wales. When he died in 1807, Henry Clement Stuart was the Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. He is buried in Saint Peter’s Basilica where a monument sculptured by the gifted Antonio Canova preserves his honored memory.