Memorial of the Cardinal Duke of York to Pope Clement XIII, 1766
In late 1765 as King James III and VIII lay dying in Rome the following memorial was prepared to urge Pope Clement XIII to recognise after James' death his elder son, Charles Edward, Prince of Wales, as King of England. James' younger son, the Cardinal Duke of York (later King Henry IX and I), presented this memorial to the pope in early January 1766 in order to persuade him to continue the papal recognition of the Stuart kings.
A printed version of the Italian text and an English translation can be found on pages 434 through 449 of Origins of the 'Forty-Five and Other Papers Relating to that Rising, edited by Walter Biggar Blaikie (Edinburgh: Scottish Historical Society, 1916).
Concerning the indispensable necessity of recognition, by the Holy See, of the Royal House of Stuart, as the sole and legitimate successors to the Kingdom of England, and concerning the inconsistencies and incongruities which would ensue, should she follow the contrary course, being one which would little become the dignity of the Holy See.
He who presents this memorial wishes to state the case briefly, basing his reasonings on public and well-known facts. No one in the world is ignorant of the fact that King James II was hunted from his throne in odium religionis. The very people who were scheming for his expulsion would have been the last to deny two infallible principles. The first, that the Kingdom of England was, of its nature, an hereditary one; the second, that the royal person of James II was the lawful successor. Wishing therefore to find an adequate pretext for deposing him, without destroying the right of succession, which is, by law, unalterable, they, to serve their own ends, brought forward the question of the establishment in the kingdom, already made by law, of the Anglican Religion; and making as their chief complaint, that the fact of the king being a Catholic placed that law in constant and imminent peril of destruction and subversion, they made an Act of Parliament in which, while claiming to explain the spirit of the laws of succession, they declared at the same time that it was not fitting that any one whosoever should succeed who was of the Catholic Religion, or who did not conform to the dominant religion.
By virtue of this Act, then, were James II and his Catholic offspring deprived of the throne, and his nearest Protestant relative was called to succeed to it, whose line has continued to do so even to our own days, not only in the persons of James II's two daughters, who were Protestants, but also in those of the Princes of the House of Hanover, these being the nearest Protestant heirs; in proof of this, any one who has knowledge of the history of the princes of this century knows that the Princess Anne, called by them Queen, wishing to show favour to her brother James III, to the exclusion of the House of Hanover, sent accredited persons to try to persuade him to declare himself a Protestant, and to remove, in this manner, the only obstacle that stood in the way of his possession of his kingdom: but that special grace of God, which gave strength to his father, James II, to sacrifice three kingdoms for the Holy Faith, likewise gave strength to his son to refuse courageously any such means of regaining them.
This, one may take for granted, is an undoubted fact, that then, as now, the Holy See is bound by no treaty of peace, in the arranging of which, by means of her ministers, she has had no voice, and how much less does she approve of any act that can, either directly or indirectly, infringe on her rights and those of Holy Church, the head of whom is the Supreme Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ: rather should such arise she would make fitting protests.
Now can it be questioned that any public decree could be more directly contrary to our Holy Faith, and consequently could infringe more seriously on the rights of Holy Mother Church, than that of which we are treating, by means of which the rights of succession are denied to any one happy enough to be one of her sons? Hence it is that the Supreme Pontiffs, beginning with Innocent XI of pious memory, did not deem it necessary to make any explicit protest against such an iniquitous decree, contenting themselves instead with the continued recognition which the Holy See has always accorded to the Royal House of Stuart, as the sole and legitimate successors to the throne, so that the Holy See came to regard this decree (to which, had she refused to recognise the legitimate Catholic successors, she would have been indirectly and tacitly agreeing) as null.
And indeed, there is a great comparison to be drawn between the recognition given by the Holy See to the Royal House of Stuart, to the exclusion of the House of Hanover, and that which this same Holy See accords to other heretical princes; as, for example, the Pope certainly is in no treaty, and has no correspondence with the Kings of Sweden and Denmark, but this is solely because they are heretics, not because he denies in any way their legitimate right to the succession. thus, in the papers printed with the approbation of the Court of Rome, no difficulty is raised as to speaking of them as King of Sweden and King of Denmark; but in the case in point, the Most High Pontiff treats directly with this heretical House of Hanover, though he cannot by any means recognise its head as the legitimate successor to the Kingdom of England, so that in this manner he is ratifying the aforesaid iniquitous decree, and directly admitting it as valid and real.
It is plainly seen by the whole world how deeply imbued with these facts and principles was Clement XI of blessed memory, who, when His Majesty King James III turned to him as his only refuge (on account of the treaty of peace, to which all the Catholic princes, with the exception of His Holiness, were constrained to consent), carried him away to the Papal States, and afterwards to Rome: the Holy Father, I say, fully imbued with and convinced of the aforesaid sentiments and truth, did not content himself with simply recognising and treating the royal person of James III as the sole and legitimate King of England, but, wishing to recognise also all his royal progeny, he spared no trouble to ensure that the propagation of the line should be carried on, in order to procure him a legitimate successor. This was effected by the marriage of James III with the Princess Sobieski; which was not a little facilitated by letters written by the Pope to the Emperor. In a few months it became known that the hopes for an heir were to be realised, and towards the last days of the year 1720, as the time of his birth approached, the Holy Father knowing on the one side the necessity of rendering the legitimacy of the birth indisputable, and on the other, realising that the Holy See must in nowise contradict herself, but must act in such a manner as to show most decidedly her protest against the unjust decree, by recognising the future offspring as heir-apparent and legitimate successor to the throne of England, he took upon himself to see that this event should take place with the greatest possible solemnity; and therefore, by the wish of the Holy Father, there were called to be present at the birth, the Sacred College, the Roman Senate, the highest Roman princes and prelates, and the foremost nobility of Rome; and although there was a delay of three days before the birth took place, during the whole of this time the ante-rooms of Her Majesty were filled with these most venerable personages, who relieved one another by turns, while some of the cardinals sat up each night. Thus, in the midst of so honourable an assembly was born on December 31st of the aforesaid year, Charles Edward, Prince of Wales, acknowledged as such, and consequently as heir-apparent to the crown, by the Supreme Pontiff himself, who without delay had the birth announced to all the people by means of a salute from the cannon of the castle. And here it is allowable to reflect that even had King James III been in peaceful possession of his throne the aforesaid newly-born prince could not have received greater honours, nor could his right to succeed to the crown have been proclaimed more unquestionably. the only formality which could have put a finishing touch to the rest was the traditional Delivery of the Swaddling Clothes, which it was the custom to send only to the heirs of crowned heads (and then only to those reigning by succession, not by election): but, as Clement XI of pious memory died before this matter was concluded, it fell to his successor, Innocent XIII, to complete it, which he did with all possible solemnity, sending an ambassador, with all the formality and ceremonies observed with other courts.
From all this, it cannot be denied that the obligations under which the Royal House of Stuart lay to Clement XI of blessed memory are very plainly shown, but it is also shown just as plainly how much His Holiness had at heart the dignity of the Holy See, and how well he realised the absolute necessity by which he was bound to sustain the rights of the aforesaid Royal House inviolable. The Holy Father saw plainly that all these repeated acts of recognition must necessarily greatly embitter the English Government against the Catholics, and, in consequence, must, in a manner, be an obstacle to the success of the missions. He also understood that he alone was the one Catholic prince who had made this act of recognition. With all this, keeping before his eyes the justice of the cause (which was quite apart from the question of religion), the abhorrence that the Holy See could never sufficiently show the aforementioned decree, and finally, the strict obligation of his successors never to depart from the line he had taken towards a family which deserved so much from the Holy See, he did not hesitate for a moment to pursue this course with great solemnity, thereby robbing his successors of any reason of doubt concerning the treatment owed to the Prince of Wales on the death of his father; since His Holiness knew well, that once a son was recognised as heir-apparent by the Holy See, no doubt could be raised that at the death of his father he should succeed to everything, and therefore to his dignity and honours: in the same way that, in the Empire (notwithstanding its being an elective state), once the Holy See recognised any one as King of the Romans, she could not afterwards, on the death of the Emperor, free herself from recognising his successor. The mind of the glorious Clement XI was so full of these just sentiments, at the moment of his death, that he wished to show plainly to all the Sacred College how great was his anxiety that what he had done towards the Royal House should be permanently maintained, laying on them a special charge to that effect. All the succeeding popes, beginning with Innocent XIII down to Clement XIII, now by the grace of God reigning, have been most faithful and zealous executors of this trust, and all have treated and regarded the first-born son of James III as Prince of Wales, therefore as successor to the King of England. Hence, ever since the prince has been admitted to audiences with His Supreme Holiness, there has never been the slightest difficulty as to his treatment, or rather, there has been no doubt, that among other fitting distinctions, he should have, as did the king, his father, an armchair (which it is customary for the Holy See to offer to the heirs-apparent to a throne). But, in this one particular, His Majesty asked that a slight modification might be made in his presence, for the one and only reason of maintaining the custom of the Kingdom of England, where even the eldest son in the presence of his father is not allowed to sit in a seat equal to his: and to comply with His Majesty's wish, the prince has always been given an easy chair, but without arms.
There now remains to examine the contradictions and inconsistencies which would arise each time that the Holy See refused to recognise the Prince of Wales as legitimate successor to the king, his father, at the death of his father. These would be without doubt innumerable; it would not be easy to foresee them all, nevertheless we can mention some. Firstly, that as the Prince of Wales has for the space of forty-five years been in possession of the title and prerogatives of Prince of Wales, they cannot now be denied him, whether present or absent, without derogating and expressly contradicting the solemn line of action followed by six successive popes. In the second place, it must follow that if the Holy See treats and looks on this same person as Prince of Wales (that is to say, as natural successor to the throne of England, as is the Dauphin to that of France, and the Prince of Asturias to that of Spain), and tomorrow hearing of the death of his father draw back from recognising him as succeeding to that father in dignity and honours, she thus denies that he ever was Prince of Wales. In the third place, how could she then recognise the aforesaid prince after his father's death? Perhaps still as Prince of Wales? But it is averred that he is that no longer. Plainly then, either he is entitled to the same treatment as that given to his father, whom he has succeeded, or, it is only right to say that he has not been entitled all these years to the prerogatives and rights of heir. Fourthly, before the pope could make an innovation of this nature, so entirely at variance with the course adopted by his predecessors, it would be necessary to have some very strong reason, which neither exists now, nor ever can exist. For, if any of the Catholic princes have been constrained to draw back from the recognition of the Royal House of Stuart, as legitimate successors and heirs to the throne of England, it has only been in consequence of their entering on different treaties of peace with the present Government of England, which has put them under the necessity of recognising the heretical succession, as established by the famous act of Parliament. But no such cause can possibly affect the Holy Father in any way. He has never made nor can he make treaties of any sort with heretical princes: neither has he ever taken part in the aforesaid treaties of peace of other princes. Above all, he never has recognised, nor can he ever recognise, as valid or real, this same famous decree, against which, as has been shown above, the continued recognition of the Royal House of Stuart serves as an indisputable protest. And from this we come to the fifth serious inconsistency, which might be most prejudicial to the Holy See; for if the Pope should cease to recognise the Prince of Wales as successor to the king, his father, it is evident, even to his most humble admirers, that he would be, in a way, revoking all the protests made by his predecessors, and a very dangerous consequence might ensue: namely, that should the prince of any heretical state become a Catholic, it would be within the power of his subjects, for this one reason only, to deprive him of his rights and inheritances.
Sixthly, is it not easy to see the serious inconsistency that would arise in the public records, which, up till now, have, with the authority of the Holy See, been printed for so many years in the same manner? Under the heading of England should there then be inscribed the name of George III? But this is not possible, since he has never been, nor can be recognised by the pope as king. Should there not rather be entered under the above heading - Charles Edward, Prince of Wales - Henry Benedict, Duke of York? But where is the father? If he is dead there is no longer a Prince of Wales, then this title does not belong to him. Either the title should be that of king, or it should be abolished, with that of England, as if it no longer existed.
It only remains then to examine whether in the circumstances in which the Holy See is now placed, the papal recognition (as in the occasion of the death of King James III) of the son who has been for so many years in possession of the titles and prerogatives of the Prince of Wales, as successor in dignity and honours, can, in any justice be called an innovation. He who writes appeals to the whole world, even to the enemies of the Royal House, though even these he can hear declaring as with one voice that the innovation would rather be, that the Holy See should act to the contrary; it would be a self-contradiction, in that it would be showing approbation of that of which she does not approve, and further, it would be showing great hostility to the Royal House in return for its having sacrificed three kingdoms for the Holy Faith, in depriving it of the only refuge to which it can rightly turn, and in which it has trusted for so many years. And there is no Catholic prince who does not well understand how impossible it would be for the pope to follow such a course. They know well that no prince is called upon to account for his doings to any one else, more particularly when they concern matters or principles relating to his own state. And indeed, notwithstanding that all the Catholic princes in a body have lately refused to recognise the King of Poland, and only the pope, with two heretical princes have done so, the Catholic princes, have, in this action of the Holy Father found no cause of quarrel, or, if they have found any, they have been satisfied with the just remark, that the pope is not obliged to give any reasons for his actions under any circumstances, and that, in this case, he has only followed the rules and principles of the Holy See, and lastly that it is sufficient for him that he is satisfied with the validity of the election, and of the treatment accorded to his ambassador, as representing his own person.
But in our case, this only strengthens the argument, in that the recognition of the King of Poland admitted of some inquiries and discussion, but what discussion or inquiry can be necessary in recognising the legitimate succession of a son to a father, after the death of the latter? In reality there is no comparison between the two cases, this last recognition being nothing new, but rather the necessary consequence of the understanding that was established years ago by the Supreme Pontiffs, that they should recognise the son of James III.
And all the arguments that could be cited, in order that the Holy See should give herself a dispensation from now recognising the Prince of Wales as legitimate successor on the death of his father, might have been brought forward just as reasonably, and with greater force, to hinder Clement XI of pious memory from recognising him as Prince of Wales, as he did with all ceremony, as has already been stated, being at that time the only Catholic prince who did so recognise him. And although the House of Hanover was that this act constituted a promise from the Holy See, which it certainly did, to recognise the prince as legitimate successor of his father, after the death of the latter, this, notwithstanding, brought none of those evil effects (perhaps chimerical) which were feared by some people who were but ill-informed or little conversant with the state of affairs in the kingdom.
He who has written this memorial would have it understood in conclusion, that he has no other aim in view that to remove scruples felt by some who know little of the affairs of the world, and to combat the difficulties that perhaps might be raised by enemies, not only of the Royal House, but of the Holy See. For the rest, there has ever been such continual clemency and fatherly love shown by His Holiness, now by the grace of God reigning, towards the whole of the aforesaid Royal House that it is impossible to believe, on the death of King James III, that His Holiness will in any way depart from the most wise example set by his predecessors of glorious memory.
Note: As, after the completion of this memorial there were not lacking those who cast doubts on the sentiments of His Holiness, now by the grace of God reigning, towards the Royal House, suspecting that they differed from those of his predecessors, and who, therefore, might consider the lively confidence evinced by the writer in the latter part of this memorial simply as an empty compliment towards His Holiness, this same writer has therefore considered it a strict act of justice, as well as a tribute of gratitude and respect, towards the Holy Father, to insert at the end of this memorial any letters that bear upon the present resolution of the royal Prince of Wales to return to this capital. And as the exact sentiments of the Holy Father towards the Royal House and the person of the said Prince of Wales have been shown more unquestionably clearly than the light of the sun, so the writer considers any further comments and explanations unnecessary, to show how unfounded and false these suspicions are, and with how much reason and foundation the writer has relied so surely on the sentiments of the Holy Father, and how well the royal Prince of Wales has understood them, in that it is solely on the strength of the same, that he continues in his resolve to return to Rome.
This page is maintained by Noel S. McFerran (email@example.com) and was last updated October 26, 2003.
© Noel S. McFerran 2000-2003.