The subject revealed
In 1743 was published, in the Austrian Netherlands, a small book of Christian devotion. It was a work in a penitential, ascetic and contemplative spiritual idiom that has recently been associated with the remarkable revival of French monasticism during the early seventeenth-century wars of religion, an idiom that has also been held to have been supported especially by French elite and royalist families.1
So far, it was not unusual. But this work was published in English, and, strikingly, it concluded with a two-page invocation, ‘A Prayer for our King, and Countrey’. This prayer was overtly political. It implored God's mercies on ‘our manifold miseries’. It asked God to ‘regard us, as you are our Pastor, as the sheep of your flock and as the poor remaines of your ancient sheepfold in England’. It asked God's blessing on ‘the Missioners of our nation consecrated to your service’ so that ‘the spotless Religion formerly planted, may once more revive and blosome in our Land’. Specifically, the prayer then called for God's blessings on ‘our SOVEREIGN King James
, and all the Royal Family
… render them Victorious over all their Enemies, Re-establish them in their Kingdomes, and give them many years to enjoy the same’.2
It was an invocation of the Stuart monarch, James III (1688–1766), and therefore treasonable in the eyes of the regime of the Hanoverian George II.
For the author was Lady Lucy Herbert (1669–1744), announced on the title page as ‘Superiour of the English Augustin-Nuns’, looking forward with devotion and hope to a Stuart restoration and to a lifting of the persecution of Catholics in her native country. Her book was published not in London, but in Bruges. Who, then, was Lady Lucy Herbert, and what is her significance for diaspora studies? She wrote from exile, for she had taken a decision which many sons and daughters of Catholic
families still took. She was the fourth daughter of William Herbert (c. 1626–96), first marquess of Powis, servant of James II and duke of Powis (1689) in the Jacobite creation, who after 1689 had left his magnificent seat, Powis Castle in Montgomeryshire, to be a courtier in the exiled Stuart court at St Germain.3
In her chosen path of life Lucy Herbert was a great success. Touring the English religious houses on the continent she had chosen the English canonesses of St Augustine at Bruges, entered their priory in February 1692, was professed in June 1693 and elected prioress in March 1709. Nor did this order own only a single priory: a sister house was located in Paris, in rue des Fossés Saint-Victor, where sympathetic visitors were accommodated, conveniently next to the Scots College.
Lucy Herbert is recorded as having made many improvements to the house at Bruges; she published two works of devotion, which were often reprinted; and she clearly raised the profile of her order. But that was not all. Lucy Herbert's mother, Lady Powis, had been governess to the young Stuart prince of Wales (b. 1688) and to Princess Louise Marie (b. 1692); in 1708, Lucy received a visit in the convent at Bruges from James, now King James III; in June 1746, after her death, Prince Henry Benedict paid a similar visit to the priory while waiting to join the rising in Scotland. After the rising of 1715, Lucy Herbert received an extended visit from two of her sisters, Mary, lady Montagu (1659–1745) and Winifrede, countess of Nithsdale (1672–1749), the second famous for rescuing her husband William Maxwell (1676–1744), 5th
earl of Nithsdale, from the Tower the night before his execution for his part in the Fifteen. In 1738 Lady Montagu retired to this priory to die. Another Herbert sister, Anne, lady Carrington (1662–1748), since 1701 a rich and childless widow, was active in the Jacobite cause, visiting the convent at Bruges and owning her own house in Paris. There Prince Charles Edward called on her in June 1745, before embarking for Scotland.
For it was not just the religious orders or the inhabitants of the religious houses who formed networks, but also their extended families; together they created a network of some durability. As late as 1772–74, Lucy Herbert's niece Mary Herbert (d. 1775; daughter of the 2nd
duke of Powis, 1665–1745) was still corresponding with Charles III.4
And this was just the tip of an iceberg of dealings, evidence for which is now lost; just one religious house; and just one family. There were many, many more; and they had proliferated. ‘From about ten English Catholic houses on the continent at the beginning of the seventeenth century there were a hundred or so fifty years later. Additionally, there were about forty Irish Catholic foundations and a dozen Scottish.’5
They constituted a communications network, dedicated to a cause that was at once both religious and political.
Lady Lucy Herbert thus united in her person several key diasporic themes: an elite family, used to leadership roles, that had suffered in the cause of Charles I; exile and service to the Stuarts after 1688; Catholic devotion in exiled religious houses; continued involvement in Jacobite negotiation and conspiracy for a restoration; an explicit English national identity and patriotic identification. In this she was not alone. Indeed her small volume opens a door on a subsequently forgotten world of English, Scots and Irish religious houses and colleges on the continent of Europe, populated by successive disaporic waves of emigration from the British Isles. Now familiar only to a few historians of religion, it has yet to register in the secularised historiography of diaspora studies. It might be conceptualised as the first British diaspora, although no historical monograph has adopted that title and this chronologically and geographically extensive phenomenon has attracted no comprehensive attention in modern academe.6
Toleration, myths of origin and the historiographical suppression of the first diaspora
The historiographical exclusion of this diaspora is easily explained. An older historiography depicted Britain, or at least England, as relatively hospitable to refugees and as the pioneering home of religious toleration. Familiar examples were regularly cited: the immigration of the Huguenots in the face of persecution by Louis XIV,7
the reception of Protestant refugees from the Palatinate in 1708–9,8
and the increasing acceptance of the Jewish community.9
This interpretation hardened into an unchallengeable premise. The premise survives, its parentage forgotten, in recent studies of English national identity, which have ante-dated a unified nationalism and explained it simplistically in terms of a tolerant rejection of an implicitly intolerant ‘other’: in this recent historiography Ireland and Scotland are conventionally ignored, and Catholicism is allowed no positive role, only a negative one.10
This myth of origins was historically constructed. A claim to superior religious toleration was present in some polemics of the time: it was advanced as a defence of William III's rule, however intolerant the regime really was towards those of whom it disapproved.11
The political claim was famously mythologised by a visitor, writing primarily for French purposes. Voltaire's Letters Concerning the English Nation
(1733), a collection of twenty-four letters, began with seven addressed to religion before he turned to lesser matters like ‘Of the Parliament’ and ‘Of the Government’. According to Voltaire, ‘England is properly the country of sectarists’; the intolerant conflicts of the last four years of Queen Anne were only ‘the hollow noise of a sea whose billows still heav'd, tho’ so long after the
storm’, since ‘religious rage ceas'd in England
with the civil wars’. The proof of this point was commercial cooperation: on London's Royal Exchange ‘the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact together as tho’ they all profess'd the same religion, and give the name of Infidel to none but bankrupts.’ Voltaire summed up his teaching with his most famous aphorism, perhaps only partly ironic: ‘If one religion only were allowed in England
, the government would very possibly become arbitrary; if there were but two, the people wou'd cut one another's throats; but as there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace.’12
In Voltaire's writings this point was briefly made by an author whose larger aim was to promote French infidelity, not English trade: the link between religious toleration and commercial prosperity was mostly made by English commentators. By 1768, this correlation had become unquestionable wisdom in England. According to Joseph Priestley,
The fine country of Flanders, the most flourishing and opulent then in Europe, was absolutely ruined, past recovery, by the mad attempt of Philip the second, to introduce the popish inquisition into that country. France was greatly hurt by the revocation of the edict of Nantz; whereas England was a great gainer on both occasions, by granting an asylum for those persecuted industri...