18 June 2020

Sir Harry Trelawny (1)

If you access the website of the National Portrait Galery with a name, you get immediate service! So, npgSir Harry Trelawny presents you with an engraving, "Taken from Life in London, 1777" of "Revd. Sir Harry Trelawney. Bart. & A.B." You will find a pious figure, wearing the sort of black-and-white clerical bands we sometimes associate with the Cure d'Ars; crowned with either a very comely wig or a very comely head of hair (does anybody have the expertise to tell me which?). Perhaps his most prominent feature is a large 'aquiline' nose.

At the top of the engraving are the words "Engraved for the Gospel Magazine". Indeed?! Can this be the same Sir Harry (sometimes "Sir Henry Trelawney") who, ultimately, is responsible for the 'Breton' shrine of our Lady of Light, in the improbable and unBreton surroundings of Clacton on Sea in Essex?

In 1777, Harry was about twenty one years old. He had succeeded as Seventh baronet to his father's (Restoration) baronetcy when he was about sixteen. He was educated at Plympton and Westminster School and had gone to Oxford's most aristocratic College, Christ Church, in 1773. A year before the engraving was made, he collected his A.B., in the happy days before (when was this?) Oxford mysteriously renamed it the B.A.. The following year, 1778, he was to marry Anna Browne, daughter of a Somersetshire vicar. He was, through and through, a member of the English and Anglican upper gentry ... an ancestor had been the Bishop of Exeter who, on the occasion of the Dutch Invasion, had deserted his King at a strategically apt moment. So what ... on earth ... is Sir Harry doing being engraved for a dissenting and 'evangelical' magazine?

The answer is to be found in the fact that on April 22 1777, he was ordained a Minister of the Presbyterian Church of West Looe in Cornwall ... just up the road from his large ancestral estates. He must have seemed quite a catch! He duly published his confession of Faith ... a sermon ... an address to "the united dissenting clergy of Devon" ...

Accounts sometimes describe him as an "ardent seeker after truth"; at any rate, he is recorded as having 'sought' his way into Unitarianism. But his ardent quest led him, in 1781, to be ordained in the Church of England (deacon and priest respectively at the Trinity and Michaelmas ordinations). We shall see that this Anglican priestly ordination was to be accounted by Sir Harry as the most significant event in his life.

It led, paradoxically, to his conversion to Catholicism ... and, I shall argue, very probably to a dispute with Bishop Baines, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, which was taken to the highest levels in the Catholic Church.
To be continued.


Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

Well I did as you encouraged on the NPG website and drew a blank. Vae!

William Tighe said...

I found it, but under the spelling Trelawney. Here's a link: