papacy, relations with

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papacy, relations with. Augustine of Canterbury was the somewhat reluctant papal missionary to the Anglo-Saxons, sent by Gregory the Great in 596–7. According to Bede, ‘ Lawrence the priest and Peter the monk were sent to acquaint Pope Gregory that the nation of the English had received the faith of Christ and that he himself was made their bishop.’ As Roman order spread over the western church, English ecclesiastical contacts with the papacy grew. As early as 605, Mellitus, bishop of London, conferred in Rome with Pope Boniface on matters concerning the English church. The encouragement of pilgrimage and papal investiture of bishops with the pallium (the symbol of office), as recorded enthusiastically by Bede, were among the means used to secure the ‘Romanizing’ of Christianity.

Kings were among the first English and Celtic visitors to Rome. Cædwalla of Wessex was baptized as an adult by the pope in 689. He died soon after and was buried in St Peter's. Ine of Wessex spent time in Rome and helped to create the English pilgrims' hospice. Concen, king of Powys, died there in 854 and Alfred the Great was taken to Rome as a child of 5 by his father. Papal authority over the church in Britain also extended through churchmen like Benedict Biscop who made five visits in all. By the 10th cent. Rome was the recognized source of ecclesiastical authority and it was established practice for archbishops of Canterbury to go for investiture by the pope—despite the fact that Alsine froze to death on the Alps in 958 on his way to Rome for that purpose.

The Norman Conquest strengthened ties between England and continental Europe but the Norman kings deliberately kept themselves apart from Rome. Indeed they hindered communication with Rome and would not allow subjects to travel there without permission. This began a battle over control of the church in England, culminating in the dispute between Henry II and Thomas Becket, vigorously supported by the pope, Alexander III. Becket's murder in 1170 shocked Christian Europe, which hailed him as a martyr for the freedom of the church from royal power, and his relics were enshrined in Rome as well as in Canterbury.

Traffic increased between Rome and the English church as ecclesiastical government became more complex. There was a continuous presence of Englishmen in the medieval Roman curia. The heyday for papal employment of the English was probably under Urban VI and Boniface IX (1378–1404), after which it declined, despite England's broadly pro-papal attitudes. Diplomatic and royal links had become stronger and between 1417 and 1467 the English took to keeping a king's proctor in the curia to deal with ecclesiastical appointments. Yet at the same time, archbishops of Canterbury had ceased to attend Rome to receive the pallium. None of the five archbishops of the 15th cent. was consecrated in Rome and only one went there for any purpose. English cardinals ceased to live in or visit Rome. Even Wolsey, a strong candidate for papal election in 1521 and 1522, did not attend either conclave.

By the early 16th cent. royal links with Rome were more important than strictly ecclesiastical ones. Under Henry VIII the English pilgrim hospice in Rome became known as the King's Hospice. Tudor enthusiasm for the papacy led to the appointment of a cardinal-protector for England in 1492—the first in Europe. The Roman residence of the English ambassador, the Palazzo Torlonia, was a gift from the English cardinal-protector to Henry VIII, who in turn gave it to the papal legate Lorenzo Campeggio. His role in Anglo-papal relations was unique, for despite being the trusted ally of Henry and Wolsey, his judgment on the marriage case in 1528 went against the king and led to the final breach with Rome.

As royal–papal relations disintegrated and authority over the English church was seized by the Tudors, it became vital for the catholic resistance to retain links with the papacy. In 1538 the King's Hospice in Rome was taken under papal control and Cardinal Reginald Pole appointed as warden. Pole, whose career was dedicated to trying to reconcile the Roman and English factions, returned to England when Mary Tudor appointed him archbishop of Canterbury. He died within hours of the queen herself in 1558.

Particularly after the excommunication of Elizabeth I in 1570, relations with the papacy were at a low ebb. Catholics retained semi-covert contacts through the hospice which from 1579 became a seminary training English priests. During the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, protestants could only visit Rome in defiance of a government ban. Gradually, as some of the heat went out of Anglo-papal conflicts under Charles I and his catholic queen Henrietta Maria, it became possible to re-establish quasi-diplomatic relations between Rome and the English court. Three papal envoys were appointed to London, before the Civil War dashed Roman hopes.

The short-lived and disastrous attempt by James II to restore catholicism to England put paid to any restoration of relations with the papacy for all but the small recusant catholic community. After the fall of the Stuarts, diplomatic relations were strained by papal support for the Jacobite court, which settled in Rome from 1717. The chill began to lift after the death of James III (the ‘Old Pretender’) in 1766 when the papacy refused recognition of the royal claims of Charles Edward Stuart and later of his brother Henry, cardinal duke of York. By the end of the 18th cent. the cardinal duke of York, who had impoverished himself supporting Pius VI against Napoleon, was in receipt of a royal pension given by George III. By 1806 Britain found herself in an unlikely alliance with the papal states resisting Napoleonic bullying and fire-power. Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, Pius VII's secretary of state, became the first Roman cardinal since the 16th cent. to set foot in England, when he arrived on diplomatic business concerning the treaty of Vienna in 1815.

Nineteenth-cent. contacts were prickly as the papacy became more insistent on retaining temporal power over the papal states and English catholicism reasserted itself. Unofficial or semi-official government envoys were sent to Rome— Lord Minto in the 1840s before the catholic hierarchy was restored, and Odo Russell in the 1860s during the Risorgimento. British government policy from the 1850s favoured Italian unification and opposed the pope's intransigence over the papal states. Yet Queen Victoria sent Pius IX a letter of condolence on the loss of his lands. Gladstone heatedly opposed the decrees of the first Vatican Council in 1869–70, fearing that the definition of papal infallibility would lead to papal interference in civil governments. Not until the creation of the British legation in 1915 were formal diplomatic relations re-established with Rome. In the meantime the papacy gained a greater emotional power and ecclesiastical authority in the hearts and minds of English catholics, encouraged by Cardinals Wiseman and Manning. The office and person of the pope took on an almost mystical power and ecclesiastical government was dominated by constant recourse to Roman judgement. Thus while English catholics became ‘more Roman than Rome’, deeply rooted protestant anti-papalism, based on folk memory, continued to be difficult to eradicate.

Judith Champ


Brooke, Z. M. , The English Church and the Papacy from the Conquest to the Reign of John (1989);
Buschkuhl, M. , Great Britain and the Holy See 1746–1870 (1982);
Harvey, M. , England, Rome and the Papacy 1417–1464 (1993);
Robinson, J. M. , Ercole Consalvi 1757–1824 (1993).

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