Matsumoto–Best, Saho 1965-

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Matsumoto–Best, Saho 1965-


Born July 28, 1965.


Office—Nagoya City University, Nagoya, Japan.


Historian, educator, and writer. Nagoya City University, Nagoya, Japan, faculty member.


Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846-1851, Royal Historical Society (Rochester, NY), 2003.


Saho Matsumoto-Best is a historian and author of Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846-1851. In her book, the author examines a relatively brief time following the Reformation, during which Britain and the Vatican set aside some of their mutual antagonism and suspicion to try to work together for common geopolitical goals. Beginning around the time of the 1848 revolutions in Europe, cordial relations developed between Britain and the Papacy largely due to Britain's support for constitutional government in Italy along with anxieties about the Irish Catholic Church. As a result, British politicians and writers referred to the new head of the Catholic Church, Pius IX, as the ‘Good Pope.’

"Saho Matsumoto-Best sets out to write a different kind of diplomatic history in this book about the relationship between Britain and the papacy during the early years of Italian unification in the age of revolution," wrote Maura O'Connor in the American Historical Review. "Her study aims to analyze this relationship by connecting religious issues and concerns to diplomatic ones in the context of the political and diplomatic struggles among the British, Austrians, French, and rival Italian factions from 1846 to 1851."

Using diplomatic, political, ecclesiastical, and social history, the author delves into the factors that brought these two traditionally hostile powers to a mutual understanding that was, nevertheless, doomed to fail. "Readers will find a thorough treatment of the views of contemporary British diplomats, statesmen, and public opinion on all that occurred in Rome during Pio Nono's first years," noted James Flint in the Catholic Historical Review. According to the author, Britain's desire to support constitutional government in Italy and dampen the Irish Catholic church's activities led Lord John Russell and the British government to try and establish a close relationship with the Pope. However, the British government was unable to understand the Vatican's priorities, quickly leading to a strain in the relationship. Problems were also bolstered by strong antipapal and anti-Catholic feelings in Britain, especially in terms of the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850.

"This book delivers what the title promises," noted Nadia M. Lahutsky in Church History. "It is a carefully researched and copiously referenced account of the relationship between the British government and the Papacy in the tumultuous and fateful period of 1846-51. The heart of this work is a diplomatic history, but the author has augmented the diplomatic story based on findings from numerous English, Italian, and Irish diplomatic archives with considerable political, ecclesiastical, and social history."

The author begins by looking at the history of the relationship between Great Britain and the Roman Catholic Church from 1815 to the election of Pius IX in 1846. Matsumoto-Best goes on to explore the liberal reforms established by Pius IX in 1846 and 1847. These reforms included granting amnesty to political prisoners. The pope also denounced secret societies and communism. Because of these reforms, Britain saw the Pope as being on their side against radicalism and instability, which would lead to keeping the Austrian and French armies in check. Next the author discuss the Earl of Minto's mission to the Vatican, a quasi-official visit to Rome with the goal of establish- ing direct contact with the Vatican and to ultimately have the Pope direct radical Irish Catholic priests to focus on religion and leave politics aside. In the next two chapters, the author explores changes in Anglo-Roman diplomacy due to a revolution in Rome. Matsumoto-Best starts by examining the 1848 revolution in Rome, which, at the time, was part of a conglomerate of individual Papal states and city-states, and not a cohesive country known as Italy. Ironically, a general uprising occurred partly because of Pius IX's release of political prisoners, who went on to help stir up revolutionary feelings that led to a political and economic revolt. Ultimately, the Pope had to flee Rome.

Chapter five focuses on Britain and the rise and fall of the short-lived Roman republic, leading to the Pope's return to Rome in 1850. The author closes with a discussion of the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy and anti-Catholicism in Britain. In her final chapter, she also discusses the Papal Aggression Crisis of 1850-51, which involved a Papal brief that included directions for breaking up Catholic dioceses in England but whose wording was misconstrued to indicate that the Pope would have more governing power in England. Throughout the book, the author explores how the British government was so misguided in its attempt to establish favorable relationships with the Vatican, from relying on overly optimistic reports on the Pope's reforms to faulty intelligence from the Catholic establishment in England to a misperception of the deep-seated hostilities of the English public for the Roman Catholic Church.

Denis Paz, writing in Albion, noted that the author adds "mightily to our understanding of the Russell Ministry, of church-state relations, of British foreign policy, and of the internal history of the English Roman Catholic Church." He also wrote in the same review: "Matsumoto-Best effectively shows how the decay of Pio's temporal rule under the revolutionary circumstances of 1848 affected the negotiations relating to diplomatic relations." In a review in the Journal of Victorian Culture, Fabrice Bensimon commented that the author's "study has the merit of studying the British attitude while taking into account the various factors that shaped Cabinet discussion."



Albion, fall, 2004, Denis Paz, "Great Britain and the Holy See: The Diplomatic Relations Question, 1846-1852," p. 542.

American Historical Review, February, 2005, Maura O'Connor, review of Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846-1851, p. 208.

Catholic Historical Review, April, 2004, James Flint, review of Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846-1851, p. 329.

Church History, December, 2006, Nadia M. Lahutsky, review of Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846-1851, p. 923.

English Historical Review, April, 2007, Owen Chadwick, review of Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846-1851, p. 563.

Journal of Victorian Culture, autumn, 2006, Fabrice Bensimon, review of Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846-1851, pp. 356-360.