Stuart Nomination to Irish Sees (1686-1766.)

By W. H. Grattan Flood

[From The Irish Theological Quarterly, Vol. XII, No. 46, April 1917]

The question of the Stuart Nomination to Irish Sees has not hitherto received adequate treatment from any of our Irish ecclesiastical historians. Yet, for close on two hundred years - that is to say, from 1686 to 1766 - the Stuarts exercised the right of nomination to Irish Sees - a fact which was kept studiously secret owing to the Penal enactments in Ireland.

Of course, while James II was King of England, and was an avowed Catholic, the Holy See recognised the regal prerogative of naming bishops in Ireland, but the fact remains that after the débâcle at the Boyne, King James's right of nomination was as freely admitted as before. The years 1690-1692 were, as is too well known, years of desolation and unrest in Ireland, but, in 1693, the exiled King nominated Peter Creagh (Bishop of Cork) for the See of Dublin, and Edward Comerford for Cashel - both nominations being confirmed by the Holy See.

In Renehan's Collections of Irish Church History, by M'Carthy,1 the following extract from the Rescript of Pope Innocent XII to King James II shows the powers granted to the ex-king by the Holy See:-

'Adeo propensam erga majestatem tuam ob eximia merita quae apud catholicam religionem tibi comparasti, gerimus voluntatem, ut pro explorato habere possis jucun-das majorem in modum eventuras nobis omnes quae se offerent occasiones praedictam voluntatem praeclaris docu-mentis testatam faciendi. Quamobrem expediendis bullis episcoporum quos ad regendas ecclesias Hiberniae nominabimus peculiarem rationem habere non omittemus petitionis majestatis tuae, cui interim prospera cuncta faustaque a Deo impense precamur: Datum Romae apud, S. M. Majorem, sub annulo Piscatoris, Die 22 Sept., 1693, Pontificatus nostri anno 3tio."

In December, 1693, King James II nominated John Dempsey to Kildare, and Fergus Lea to Derry. Both recommendations were acted on at Rome, in 1694. Similarly in the case of William Dalton, who was nominated to Ossory in December, 1695, and was duly preconised in the Consistory of January 23rd, 1696. A difficulty arose over the recommendation of Gregory Fallon to Clonmacnois. As far back as May 17th, 1688, Dr. Fallon was elected Bishop of Clonmacnois and Administrator of Ardagh by the Sacred Congregation, on the application of King James, but, probably owing to the disturbed state of the country, the provision was not carried out. However, in May, 1697, the exiled King again nominated Fallon, and a fresh provision was made out for him on July 1st, 1697. A little later, Patrick O'Donnelly was provided to the See of Dromore, "ad nominationem Jacobi, Angliae, Scotiae, et Hiberniae regis." 2

James II died on September 16th, 1701, and was succeeded by his son, who assumed the title of James III. While still a minor, we find the young monarch nominating to Irish Sees in 1703 and 1704. His nominees for the Sees of Kilmacduagh, Ardfert, and Killala were Ambrose Madden, Denis Moriarty, and Thady O'Rourke, respectively, and these recommendations were duly acted on. The form of petition, in the case of Thady O'Rourke, is typical, and is herewith subjoined3:-

"Cum nobis haud ita pridem innotuuerit, Alladensem diocesim, vulgo Killala, alias unitam diocesi Acconensi simul vacanti, vulgo Acconner, ab aliquo jam tempore Episcopo ese destitutam, muneris nostri esse duximus ut dignissimis patris nostri olim et regis inhaerentes vestigiis ad Beatitudinem vestram supremum et sollicitum univer-salis ecclesiae pastorem supplici cum prece accederemus, quominus ille Christi pusillus grex suo diutius careat pastore. Quapropter cum omni debita reverentia Beatitudinem vestram enixe rogamus ut ad nominationem nostram, in praedicta diocesi dignetur instituere Episcopum Rev. Patrem fratrem Thadeum Franciscum O'Ruarke, ordinis frat. min. strictioris observantiae in Provincia Hiberniae, absolutis sacrae theologiae studiis, pluries Guardianum, et custodem ejusdem provinciae, nunc ibidem commissarium visitatorem a Rev. Magistro Patre Generali, virum muneri episcopali, tam moribus quam doctrina omnino idioneum eoque magis honore dignum quod difficillimus hisce tempori-bus in vinea Christi constanter et impigre laboraverit, quod et nobis et subditis nostris Catholicis illic degentibus gratis-simum accedat. Quare hanc a Beatitudine vestra; gratiam expectantes, et apostolicam benedictionem supplicantes, etc. St. Germain, Oct. 2, 1703.- JACOBUS R."

James III, "the old Pretender," came to his majority in June, 1706, and wrote a letter to Pope Clement XI, expressing his filial obedience, and protesting that, whatever may happen, he had resolved to always stand by the Catholic faith having been taught how indefinitely the Kingdom of Heaven transcends all the Kingdoms of this world."4 A few months later (September 4) he wrote to Cardinal Imperiali, "expressing his satisfaction that the Pope had confirmed his choice of him to be Protector of the Kingdom of Ireland."

On February 7th, 1707, James III wrote to Cardinal Imperiali asking for an explanation as to why his nominations for the Sees of Kilmacduagh, Ardfert, and Killala had not been confirmed by the Pope. He adds:- "If this delay is caused by any legitimate objection to any of the three [Drs. Madden, Moriarty, and O'Rourke], I shall be always ready to name another to whom there will be no reasonable objection." 5 Not long afterwards (April, 1707), James III nominated Ambrose MacDermott, O.P., to the See of Elphin, and the Holy See, at length, confirmed all four nominees to the four vacant Sees, thus acknowledging the regal privilege.

On June 16, 1709, James III nominated John Verdon, D.D., V.G., of Armagh, to the See of Ferns, and Ambrose O'Connor, O.P., Provincial of the Irish Dominicans, to the united Sees of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.6 Evidently some difficulties arose, as, on January 14, 1710, the monarch wrote to Cardinal Imperiali:- "I have been informed that difficulties have been raised about my nominations to the episcopate of Father Ambrose O'Connor and Dr. Verdon. I have had the annexed statement drawn up in answer, and doubt not that you will use your most effectual offices to hinder any attempts to infringe my right of nomination to the bishoprics of Ireland."7 The Pope confirmed both nominations, but Dr. O'Connor died before consecration early in 1711, while it is probable that Bishop Verdon was consecrated in February or March of the same year.8

Cardinal Imperiali wrote to James III on August 18, 1711, that the Pope had approved of his nomination of Dr. Christopher Butler to the See of Cashel. This prelate, who was nephew of the Marquis of Ormond, was duly consecrated at Rome on October 18, 1712.9

On May 5, 1714, Cardinal Imperiali wrote to James that the Pope intended to formally recognise the King's royal privilege of nominating bishops to the Irish Sees. To this letter King James replied at length, enclosing a full statement of his case and vindicating his "royal rights over the bishoprics of Ireland."10 The King, on July 14, deprecates some recent infringement of his rights, notably the appointments by the Pope to the Sees of Dublin, Ferns, Ossory, and Clogher, which were made without the King's nomination, and he trusts that there will be no further recurrence of such infringement. He adds:- "I therefore demand some authentic Act to recognise and declare precisely either that I have the right of nomination to all the bishoprics in Ireland, and that the Pope confirms it to me, or, if he does not believe I have it, that he grants it to me, and that he promises to maintain me in the possession of the said right for ever, without other condition than those other crowned heads are subject to, always reserving to himself [the Pope] the right of rejecting those named to whom there shall be lawful and canonical objections. . . . If it is really thought so dangerous to put my name in the Brief given to the bishop, why was it put in the second one, which you tell me has been despatched for Mr. MacMahon [Hugh MacMahon, Archbishop of Armagh], and if no inconvenience has arisen from it, why believe it should occur any more to others than to him ? . . . As for the expedient Cardinal Caprara has thought of for saving appearances by a second Brief in which a pretended nomination is inserted, I can assure you this has never been to my taste or with my consent, as I always love to act with sincerity and good faith, and cannot be satisfied with the shadow of a nomination in place of the reality. . . , You may assure his Holiness, on my behalf, that, with the grace of God, nothing in the world shall ever be capable of separating me from the Holy See, and the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman faith, nor from the respect and filial affection I shall always preserve for him." 11

On May 24, 1715, James III wrote to Pope Clement XI formally nominating Dr. MacMahon (Bishop of Clogher) to the See of Armagh. Of course, as is well known, the Pope had previously (on August 22, 1713) translated the Bishop of Clogher to the primatial See, but King James's nomination was a formality that was gone through to vindicate the royal privilege. On the same day, the King wrote to Cardinal Imperiali consenting to the expedient proposed by the Pope - namely, that the King's nomination should not appear in the Brief, although his right to do so will be fully recognised. It may be added that Archbishop MacMahon, on July 9, 1715, had a Brief enabling him to exercise all the archiepiscopal acts without receiving the pallium.12 A month later, on August 16, the King wrote to the Pope thanking him for translating, on his nomination, the Bishop of Clogher to the Archbishopric of Armagh, and "for preserving in the said letter his royal right of nominating to the churches of Ireland unimpaired." On the same day he wrote to the Pope, nominating Edward Murphy, Vicar-General of Dublin, to the Bishopric of Kildare. The Pope confirmed the recommendation on the 11th. of September, and Dr. Murphy was consecrated on December 18 of same year. In his letter of thanks for confirming this nomination, the King (October 18) begs the Pope to entrust the administration the See of Leighlin to the Bishop of Kildare, which request was duly complied with.13

It does not concern us to touch on the ill-starred Scottish débâcle of 1715-16, and it suffices to note that King James returned to Paris at the end of February, 1716, and on April 4, reached Avignon, where the Pope had permitted him to reside.14

On August 12, 1716, James writes to the Internuncio at Brussels in regard to the right of nomination to Irish bishoprics. He concludes as follows:- "It will always give me pleasure to have all possible regard to all your recommendations, but I hope you will not take it ill that in such a delicate business I adhere to my rules, according to which I have caused letters to be written to the bishops of that country [Ireland] on the subject of your letter and list to ascertain their opinion, and according to their answer I shall nominate to such bishoprics as I shall know to be really necessary to be filled, for I believe it is as imprudent as it is useless to fill them all at present, especially as there are already fourteen bishops in that country, which ought to be enough for the whole of Ireland, since his Holiness finds that four are sufficient for England, and one, with a coadjutor, for Scotland."15 On September 17, 1717, James III. nominated James O'Sheil to the united Sees of Down and Connor, and this recommendation was ratified by the Pope on November 3. A few months later, the King nominated Thomas Flynn to the See of Ardagh, and Cairbre O'Kelly, D.D., to the See of Elphin.16

Pope Clement XI, on his deathbed in March, 1721, gave orders that James III was to be maintained in regal style, and his pension continued, and to have all his rights recognised till restored to his kingdom. Although the '45 "rising” did not result in the Jacobite triumph, yet King James III kept up the semblance of royalty to the last. In 1760 he nominated Philip Phillips to the See of Killala. This was his last exercise of royal privilege, and he passed away peacefully - after a lingering illness - on New Year's Day, 1766, in his 78th year.

Pope Clement XIII, seeing that there was no hope of the restoration of the Stuarts, and that George III was securely on the throne of Great Britain, declined to recognise the royal title assumed by "Charles III," Prince Charlie of song and story. True it is that the French Ambassador backed up the request of the Cardinal Duke of York for recognition of Prince Charles as King,17 but the Pope and the Sacred Congregation were firm, although the Pope so far relented that he offered to call Charles "Prince of Wales." The English and Scots Colleges in Rome, and the Irish Dominicans and Franciscans sang Te Deums for the accession of "Charles III," but suffered censure for so doing. Father Patrick Kirwan, O.P., Prior of San Clement was deposed for having received the Prince with royal honours.18 And, in March, 1766, the royal arms of England were removed from over the portals of the Muti Palace.19 One fact, little known, must be pleaded in vindication of the Papal action - namely, that in September, 1750, when Prince Charles was in London, he abjured the Catholic faith in the New Church in the Strand, though he returned to the true fold some months later.

It only remains to add that "Charles III" died a faithful and repentant son of the Church on January 31, 1788, attended in his last moments by two Irish Franciscan Friars, Fathers James and Michael MacCormack. Although his title was not recognised, nor was his royal prerogative in nominating to Irish Sees, yet his brother, the Cardinal Duke of York, saw that his remains received royal honours in the Cathedral of Frascati, and the funeral obsequies took place on February 3rd, the coffin being covered with a magnificent pall bearing the royal arms of Great Britain.



1 Vol. I, p. 298.
2 Brady, Episcopal Succession, I, p. 303.
3 Renehan's Collections, I, p. 298.
4 Cal. of the Stuart Papers, I, pp. 205-6.
5 Ib. I, p. 207.
6 Ib., p. 232.
7 Ib., p. 235.
8 Hist. of the Dioc. of Ferns, XVII.
9 Renehan's Collections, I, p. 303.
10 Cal. Stuart Papers, I, p. 329.
11 Col. Stuart Papers, I, pp. 331-2
12 Brady, Epis. Succession, I, p. 230.
13 Cal. of Stuart Paper, I, p. 437
14 Ib., II, p. 98.
15 Ib., II, p. 340.
16 Ib., VI, p. 167.
17 Shield's Henry Stuart Cardinal of York, p. 185.
18 Nolan, The Irish Dominicans in Rome (1913).
19 Mann to Walpole, March 14, 1766.