The Jacobites and the Patrimony

Over the past two days we wrestled with the question of whether or not King Charles I might be considered a Saint – and coincidentally with the origins of the Society of King Charles the Martyr and the Royal Stuart Society in the Neo-Jacobitism of the late 19th century. On January 21, we looked at Louis XVI – and noticed his role as host to the exiled English, Scots, and Irish Catholic institutions which comprised the Stuarts’ phantom kingdom prior to the French Revolution. To-day, January 31, is the anniversary of the death of Bonnie Prince Charlie, de Jure King Charles III in 1788. Although his brother, Cardinal York, asserted his own rights as Henry IX, it was a beau geste. Most Catholic Jacobites had followed the Papal lead since 1766, and transferred their allegiance to George III; unwilling to swear allegiance to a Papist prelate, the vast majority of Scottish Episcopalians followed suit at Charles’ death. Despite the efflorescence of 19th century Neo-Jacobitism earlier referred to (and the passing of Henry IX’s claim to the House of Savoy upon his death in 1807), as an effective political force the Jacobite cause was dead.

But its significance to the Anglican and English/Scots/Welsh Catholic patrimony survived on other, non-political levels – and continues to. Debate as one might over Charles I’s alleged responsibility for a handful of Catholic martyrdoms – committed after effective power had shifted from his hands – there is no doubt that all the Catholics of his Three Kingdoms (even in Ireland, where the Revolt of 1641 clouded things tremendously) rallied to his cause, and produced some of the greatest Royalist heroes of the Civil Wars. From Charles’ reign emerged not only the Caroline Divines and the Cavalier poets, but the Catholic-High Anglican alliance that characterised the Stuart adherents ever after – and in a real sense prefigured the Ordinariates.

After the Restoration, Charles II converted on his deathbed; his brother, James II (who as Duke of York had entered the Church with his first wife, Anne Hyde, and lent his title to the recent English conquest of New York) was crowned in an Anglican ceremony that received Papal approval. The King’s deposition in 1688 and accompanying wars in Scotland and Ireland sealed devotion toward him from those who remained loyal. In exile, James became ever more devout; after his death, his cause of canonisation was introduced – although stalled since the French Revolution, it remains the unique concern of the English Congregation of Benedictines. The Anglican Nonjurors remained loyal to him, and were later cited as major forerunners of the Oxford Movement. His son, de jure James III was something of a mystic; while the repeated defeats of the ’15, the ’19, and ’45 risings certainly damaged the movement as a political force, it grew as a quasi-religious one – retaining its hold upon the imagination of many, inside and outside the Church; indeed, in similar manner to the Arthurian legend – and this quite consciously:

Subsequently, it was to be “those who supported the Divine Right of Kings” who “upheld the historicity of Arthur;” whereas those who did not turned instead “to the laws and customs of the Anglo-Saxons.” Arthur remained a figure central to Stuart propaganda. Stuart iconography celebrated the habits and beliefs of the ancient Britons. In particular, the Royal Oak, still a central symbol of the dynasty, was closely related to ideas about Celtic fertility ritual, and the King’s power as an agent of renewal: “The oak, the largest and strongest tree in the North, was venerated by the Celts as a symbol of the supreme power.” It was thus fitting that an oak should protect Charles II from the Cromwellian troops who wished to strip the sacred new Arthur of his status. The story confirmed the King’s mystical authority, and also his close friendship with nature. Long after 1688, the Stuart dynasty was to be closely linked with images of fertility. In literature, Arthurian images of the Stuarts persisted into the nineteenth century. This “Welsh messiah, the warrior who will come to overthrow the Saxons and Normans,” was an icon of the Stuarts’ claim to be Kings of all Britain, both “Political Hero” and “National Messiah,” in Arthurian mould. Arthur’s status as a legendary huntsman (“the figure of the Wild Huntsman is sometimes identified with Arthur”) was also significant. The Stuarts made much of hunting: it helped to confirm their heroic status as stewards of nature and the land. In doing this, they identified themselves not only with Arthur, but with Fionn, the legendary Gaelic warlord who was in the eighteenth century to be the subject of James Macpherson’s pro-Stuart Ossian poems. Fionn, legends of whom abound in Scotland, was also, like Arthur, scheduled to wake and deliver the nation when danger threatened. In identifying with both figures, the Stuarts were able to simultaneously present themselves as Gaelic and British monarchs. This symbolism was used with peculiar adroitness in Ireland, where the Stuarts were almost never identified with Arthur, but rather with Fionn and heroes from Fionn’s own time. Charles Edward was compared to Fergus, Conall, Conroy, and Angus Oge, while his grandfather became for some a symbol of Ireland herself, a Fenian hero in the making, a foreshadower of the sacrificial politics of such as Pearse: “Righ Shemus, King James, represented the faith of Erin, and so became her comrade in martyrdom.” In famous eighteenth century songs like “the Blackbird,” Ireland was presented as an abandoned woman, waiting for the return of her hero-King. The same symbolism was used in Scotland. “The Gaelic messianic tradition” of Fionn suggested that the Stuart King would one day return to bring light and fecundity to the land. In the Highlands of Scotland, the events of Jacobitism themselves passed into folklore, like the older stories to which they were related. More educated Jacobite sympathisers compared the Stuarts to the heroes of the Roman Republic, to Aeneas, or to the saints. But the view of them as sacred monarchs of folkloric tradition and power was one which endured among all ranks (Murray G.H. Pittock, The Invention of Scotland, pp. 4-5).

The blood-stained Age of Reason having passed, the Middle Ages were re-examined; as the Industrial Revolution progressed and created both an abused proletariat and ever-more centralised government dominated by the same Capitalists and Industrialists. This would in time lead to the rise of Marxist Socialism. With the appearance of such authors as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott (and always remembering that Samuel Johnson had been a Jacobite), Romanticism engulfed the British Isles with the rest of Europe. From this heady mix, and in response to past and present evils arose a plethora of groups, movements, and individuals in the political, literary, cultural, artistic, social, and even agricultural spheres (amongst whom were most definitely the Oxford Movement) who looked to the Middle Ages for some relief from – and perhaps answers to – these banes; the Stuarts came to be seen by many as the last gasp of that older, better world. Irish, Scots, Welsh, and Cornish folk of this persuasion struggled to revive their national cultures; non-Celts hoped to breathe life back into “Merrie England” by any means possible. Moreover, Continental Europe at the same time seemed to be offering a replay of the Jacobite Wars, as tradition-minded older branches of the Royal Houses of France, Spain, and Portugal attempted unsuccessfully to fend off deposition by liberalising younger ones, and the House of Habsburg struggled with as little ultimate success to maintain its own position and that of the lesser German and Italian States against the now predatory Sardinia and Prussia. It was out of these events and concurrent industrial and farming unrest that modern Catholic Social Teaching – as expressed by both Papal Encyclicals and Catholic political parties – emerged. All had in common certain themes: Monarchy hallowed by God and the Church; the duty of all classes to look after one another’s’ and the nation’s interests – in other words, the Common Good; local liberties and mediating institutions – or what we would call today, Subsidiarity; and the obligation for the better off to look after the welfare of less fortunate: Noblesse Oblige, or in modern terms, Solidarity.           .

Although successive Whig cabinets in London, headed by such as Lords Melbourne and Palmerston favoured the liberalising and anti-Catholic forces in Europe (as well as big business and big banking at home), folk of the sort we have been noticing, in addition to the Anglo-Catholic devotional Societies (and most especially the Society of King Charles the Martyr), generated a dizzying number of societies and movements organised and unorganised throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries: the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the Guild of St. George, Arts and Crafts Movement, Gothic Revival, Order of the White Rose, Society of the Red Carnation, the Folklore Society, the English Folk Dance and Song Society, the Welsh National Eisteddfodd, the Old Cornwall Societies, the Scots Royal National Mod, Anglo-Catholic Socialism, the Christian Social Union, the Primrose League, the English Mistery, Kinship in Husbandry, Rural Reconstruction Association, Soil Association, Highland Land League, Scots National League, the Welsh Movement, Guild Socialism, and on and on and on. Despite their often contradictory aims and interests, all of these groups claimed some connexion to the Jacobite Movement, as the last political repository of the nation’s traditions. This had little relevance for contemporary politics: George Wyndham was one of the few Tory politicians of that era who felt that all these groups belonged in the Conservative Party- most members of that party were more or less hostile.

British Catholics – other than Irish Nationalists, whose own cause also owed its origins to Jacobitism – had for most of their post-1746 history simply tried to keep their heads down, gradually accepting the House of Hanover after the Pope did so twenty years after Culloden. Survival, not schemes of social reconstruction, was all that was on their minds. But with the wave of converts after the Oxford Movement, some of these latter began to apply what they had learned from the movements just described as Catholics: after all, the ultimate origin of these ideas was Catholic, and non-English-speaking Catholics were attempting to apply almost precisely the same ideas to their own nations’ ills. From such a milieu came G. K. Chesterton and A.J. Penty, who with Franco-Englishman Hilaire Belloc founded Distributism – and not coincidentally, pointed to the Stuarts as heroes; they were especially fond of Charles I – not only for his opposition to Cromwell on religious grounds and his patronage of Catholics, but because of his fight against the Enclosures. But although they and like-minded Catholics throughout the Anglosphere drew a lot of attention from the press and some approbation from the hierarchy, at the end of the day the rank and file of English-speaking Catholics were not and are not interested in the Church’s Social Teaching; most certainly not in the Social Kingship of Christ or the Queenship of Mary. Even now, those who are tend to be converts – often from Anglicanism, like GKC – or Dorothy Day, or else foreigners, like Belloc and Peter Maurin.

As things stand, of course, the Ordinariates are simply trying to grow and organise. But the social aspects of the Patrimony, symbolised by the Stuarts and reflected in various ways by the above-mentioned groups, stand as do the other national expressions of the Church’s social doctrine as a radical challenge to that hideous strength of State-imposed secularism, infanticide, gender confusion, and marriage profanation which now dominates the Anglosphere and almost all of what was once Christendom. One day, perhaps sooner than we can realise, we shall have to unpack and employ them.

About Charles A. Coulombe

I am a Catholic Historical speaker and author.
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