21 June 2020

Sir Harry Trelawny (3)

"For a considerable time Sir Henry and his daughters  had lived in Brittany, at Saint-Pol-de-Leon-, and there had learned the 'True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin' of S Louis-Marie de Montfort, and also the Title 'Our Lady of Light', so beloved of the saint, for near their home there was a shrine, known in the Breton as INTRON VARIA AR SKLERDER, 'Our Lady of Light". Sic Wilson (the book entitled The True Devotion was not discovered until well after Sir Harry's death, so what enlightened the Trelawnys must have been the oral tradition of Montfort's Marian teaching). It is not clear to me when the "considerable time" of the Saint-Pol-de-Leon residence was. The first Napoleonic period came to an end in the spring of 1814 and soon, of course, there were the Hundred Days. A contemporary account laconically says "Resided at Plangeau near Geneva 1819". This may mean the residence there of another colourful, and hospitable, Cornish baronet, Sir John St Aubyn. But Wilson records that a priest from Brittany said the first Mass in the domestic chapel at Trelawne after it was restored in 1830 by Sir Harry's daughters as a Catholic Chapel (the Chapel had originally been built by the Bishop Trelawny who adhered to William of Orange in 1689). My own provisional assumption is that after a brief sojourn at Plangeau with his fellow baronet and that gentleman's second mistress, Trelawny made Saint-Pol-de-Leon his residence during the 1820s.

But what was the problem of sacramental theology which overshadowed Sir Harry's life as a Catholic? It was simply this. "He was so convinced of the genuineness of his previous orders [in the Church of England] that, notwithstanding the opposition of Catholics, he acted as a priest, never omitting the daily recitation of the divine office of the Breviary and the frequent celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This being objected to by some of our Catholic authorities in England, he retired into France where, either from the ignorance or connivance of those amongst whom he resided, he also constantly celebrated Mass. In this way he continued for many years ... a long period ..." Sic Ambrose de Lisle. "[W]hen he was afterwards residing in France and Italy, [he] retained the style and title of a clergyman, constantly saying Mass, and performing other priestly offices, with the full knowledge and consent if not with the approbation and license, of the French and Italian authorities, himself believing (as he constantly asserted) in the perfect goodness and Validity of the Ordinations in the Church of England; and holding, consequently, that it would have been sacrilege to have repeated ordination. This was the case for a considerable period of years ...". Sic F G Lee.

An Historical Survey of the County of Cornwall ... Volume II Part 1, by C S Gilbert (1820) contains a curious remark about Sir Harry's resignation of his Anglican benefice in 1804. "The resignation of his pastoral charge was a matter of deep regret to Sir Harry, who delights in the assiduous performance of the duties of his clerical office, and who never ceases to value his priesthood more than all the titles, honours, and possessions of the world." The words I have italicised read to me like a report of what Sir Harry had said either to Gilbert or to a reliable witness who passed the sentiments on. They strike me as the sort of profession one does not expect to hear from a Regency clergyman. This is not quite the urbane irony of Mr Tilney. We do not sense here the authentic tones of Mr Collins. Perhaps Georgian Anglicanism was not as universally torpid as the Evangelicals and the Ritualists -- or even Miss Jane Austen -- have led us to believe.

I think those words are the authentic utterance of this strange man's heart, and the key to his insistence upon the authenticity of the priesthood he believed he had received in the Church of England. When he was Vicar of Egloshayle (the 'quality' end of Wadebridge), a visitor (James Forbes) wrote: "I accompanied him to church where he performed the whole service with simplicity and devotion, and his discourse from the pulpit was such that I was no longer surprised several of the adjacent churches were almost forsaken, while he has been obliged to erect additional galleries in his, to accommodate the congregation. He has nothing studied in his manner or expression; he seems himself strongly to feel the divine truths he delivers, and makes a suitable impression on the minds of his attentive audience" (Royal Institution of Cornwall Journal 1983).

Ambrose de Lisle told us supra that Trelawny's insistence on behaving as if his Anglican ordination had made him a Catholic priest was "objected to by some of our Catholic authorities in England ...".  

In the next stage of this enquiry, I speculate upon who such 'authorities' might have been. And reveal how the matter was resolved.


Grant Milburn said...

Knowing that Eaglais is the Scottish Gaelic for church, I was struck by the Cornish place name Egloshayle, and googled it. Sure enough, the first element means church.

John F H H said...

And it's eglwys in Welsh.
I believe it's thought to be derived from ecclesia.