18 January 2021

Self Invention (1)

Imagine yourself a Victorian Englishman with a fair bit of money ... but of ambiguous social status. You have no title, not even that humblest of handles, a sweet little baronetcy. Your father was in trade. You have no ancestral pile in the countryside. Additionally, you are an Anglo-Catholic with an illusory view of the Church of England as being in unbroken succession fro the medieval provinces of Canterbury and York. How you would love to have a Church which expressed that continuity, and, in doing so, expressed your own continuity with English History, both nationally and locally. 

This was the position of Athelstan Laurie Riley (1858-1945). How might he set about solving his problems of identity?

Riley was learned ... a natural 'antiquary'. He knew that, in England, things like titles were rigidly controlled by the Crown. You might declare yourself Baron of such-a-place on your own authority, but this would simply make you a laughing-stock. The English Establishment was a close-knit body with a sense of inner coherence.

Riley first tried Cyprus. Could he purchase a feudal estate there ... perhaps, restore some crumbling castle, and adopt the dignities formerly associated with previous owners of the Crusading period? But Cyprus was a long way away ...

Normandy would be a better bet. And, by a happy chance, there are little island fragments of the Duchy of Normandy which remained under the English Crown when it lost mainland Normandy. And, by custom, when a feudal property fell vacant or a family became extinct, a new purchaser of the property  acquired the old dignities and titles.

So he bought a feudal property in Jersey.

To be continued.


Peter said...

It seems that his wife had a connection to Jersey.

Stephen Barber said...

My cooy of the hymns of the great J. M. Neale previously belonged to Athelstan Riley.

william arthurs said...

I walk past Riley's London house (now a hotel) every day.