From the Archives: 1715 Jacobite rising & Jesuit resources

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F 87, J Thorpe Misc letters 1754-1792

The 1715 Jacobite rising saw an attempt to regain the English throne for the Stuarts, who had fled into exile in France following the 1688 Revolution. The Earl of Mar, John Erskine, sailed to Scotland in the summer of 1715 and on 6 September the Stuart standard was raised at Braemar and a military force was mobilised. The Old Pretender, James Stuart, landed in Aberdeenshire in December but the initiative was lost by that time and further military operations achieved nothing, so early in 1716 he fled back to France. The defeat of the 1715 and the subsequent 1745 Jacobite rebellions resulted in renewed calls for an oath of allegiance to be sworn by Catholics. Although many Catholics conformed, the Jesuits refused this oath as it denied the papal deposing power.

On the occasion of this 300 year anniversary we considered what material there was in the Jesuits archives in relation to Jacobite movement. Fr Geoffrey Holt SJ dedicates an entire chapter to ‘Jesuits and Jacobites’ in his book The English Jesuits in the Age of Reason (Burns & Oates, 1993). From this we learn

As James Edward-after 1715-lived for most of the rest of his life in or near Rome, and his sons (Charles after 1766) in Rome or elsewhere in Italy, and there were English Jesuits in Rome-principally at the English College-Jacobite news was fairly easily gathered and then despatched to Jesuit brethren in Flanders or in England and Wales. A series of letters from Rome beginning in 1716 continued until 1726; others date from between 1766 and 1773. The letters of course dealt with other matters too (…) but news of the Stuart court was clearly of great interest to the writers and also to those who received their letters. (p 61-62)

Some of these letters are included in the 'Liege Procurator’s Correspondence 1682-1739' bound volume in the archive. The Jesuit Charles Plowden (1743-1821), who was in Italy from the end of 1769 for a couple of years, also provides some Stuart court news in his letters and Holt states: ‘Charles Plowden was not lacking in loyalty to the Stuarts and his account reads as a genuine description of Charles’ situation as he saw it then’. (Holt, English Jesuits, p 77)

The greatest amount of documents is provided by Father John Thorpe SJ (1726-1792). There are several bound volumes of his correspondence in the archives, among which the volume 'J Thorpe Misc Letters 1754-1792' holds letters of interest to the study of Jacobitism. [The article 'The letter writer who brought consolation to the Jesuits', Jesuits and Friends, 2013, by Thomas McCoog SJ, which can be read by clicking here may be of interest.]

Holt describes Thorpe’s correspondence as

A prolific letter-writer, he sent over the years frequent bulletins of news, Roman, Jesuit and Jacobite, mostly in the earlier years to a Jesuit priest friend on the mission in England,… By this time, after the failure of the ’45, a Stuart restoration was at best highly improbable and the Jacobite movement was fading, but there was still interest in the exiled Court, a lack of enthusiasm for the Hanoverians and, in some, a sentimental longing for the past. This was perhaps especially true of Catholics. John Thorpe sent news because he knew there would be many who would appreciate it. (p 70)

Holt later adds that

In his letters John Thorpe wrote about many other matters and in the last years before the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773 he very frequently manifested his concern about the future….The Jacobite cause was in decline; loyalty to that cause, including Jesuit loyalty, was weakening; the future was discouraging to the supporters of the cause who were much decreased in numbers at the time when these letters of John Thorpe dating from the years before the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773 came to an end. (p 80)


Another volume of interest is John Thorpe’s 'Notes and Fragements 1585-1790' volume. The contents of which are described by Holt as

Among the many activities of advantage to the English Jesuits undertaken by Fr John Thorpe, one of their number, in Rome during the second half of the eighteenth century was the summarizing of letters written from England between 1707 and 1730 to the rectors of the English College in Rome. They are especially valuable because they give a view of significant events in England which was intended to be private and not for publication and it was the view of those close to those events or well informed. They are, however, summaries and like many summaries tend to be in note form. (p 39)

At the front of this volume some additional background information is provided and the transcript of this reads:

Notes and Fragments 1585-1790 collected by Father John Thorpe at the English College Rome

Father John Thorpe was at the English College Rome from 1757 or earlier, and remained there till the Suppression in 1773. He stayed on in Rome, acting as agent for his brethren till his death 12 April 1792. His post seems to have been professor of Litterae Humaniores and he was English Penitentiary at St Peters. These notes show him to have also been a diligent archive student and a sedulous writer.

How did he come to have them. They were presumably in is room at the suppression. He was then turned out, and was for a time even under arrest. Afterwards however he was freed, and able for nearly twenty years to act as agent for the English Jesuits. When freed he presumably claimed the papers in his room, and as the Italian Superiors set no value on the old English papers, which they could not read, he probably got a good share, some of which may have found their way via Liege to Stonyhurst.

The present volume consists of such fragments as Br. Foley considered unworthy of being forwarded to Stonyhurst. (See his note to 5. Which not only Thorpe’s papers I think.)-at the time he was sending on the papers now in Anglia VI & IX. But the most valuable of the pieces below is probably the series of extracts in §2 from the correspondence of the English Provincials with Rome, once probably preserved at the English College (being addressed to written in English to the Rector not to Fr. General). There are no other letters from England for this century! These fragments are all copies by Father Ryan.

A study of these sources is no doubt of interest especially for Jacobite researchers and if you would like to make an appointment please contact the Archives to make an appointment.

Ornate front cover of book, gold twisting pattern on red leatherIt is also worth noting that Stonyhurst College also contains a remarkable collection of books, paintings, relics, vestments and artefacts connected with the Stuarts. Some of the remarkable items which make up this collection include the Book of Hours of Mary, Queen of Scots, Mary Queen of Scots’ thorn, James II’s Easter Week prayer book (pictured) and his relics (a piece of the flesh of James II, his hair, a piece of flannel, and linen soaked in his blood) and the Alberoni collection of Stuart portraits. In fact both Mary Queen of Scots’ thorn and prayer book as well as the James II relics are the property of the Jesuits in Britain but are kept and cared for at Stonyhurst.