A royal conversion

In 1670 the wife of the then Duke of York and future James II converted to the Old Faith only months before her death. It was her conversion which acted so strongly upon the soul of the then anti-Catholic James, our last ruling Catholic monarch of Britain. His brother, Charles II, ironically enough had come to the conviction that the Catholic faith was the True Faith much earlier in 1651, but would not declare it publicly until just before his death for fear of losing his opportunity to restore fully the prerogatives of the British monarch after the Restoration. James, as Belloc relates, told Charles to go public with his convictions, to publicly enter the Church, but with tears in his eyes he told his younger brother he could not bring himself to do so.

Belloc tells us, in Charles II: The Last Rally, that when James was told "to be Catholic forbade concealment he accepted Authority at once and thenceforward never wavered."

Charles on the other hand asked James to hide his faith and to partake in the Anglican communion to which James, the Duke of York replied, "By the Grace of God I will never do so base a thing."

Belloc tells us that Charles "heard that iron phrase. Charles in his heart most vehemently agreed. But Charles did not follow. His business of this world was still the more important in his eyes."

There is two lines in which Belloc uses to describe the courageous movement of James forward and I found myself reading them several times over.

He writes, "Such was the process by which the Duke of York went through those gates which closed behind him, which shut him out of his own people. Such was the road down which he went to his passion of abandonment, dethronement and exile."

If there should be any doubt that James suffered for his faith, for the Faith, let us recall just one fact. His own daughter betrayed him and usurped the throne sending him into exile. James was want to say, "Could it be possible?" for it came as a grave shock that his child "had deserted him".

Ultimately we know that the Holy Ghost was behind his conversion but as I have aforementioned it was James' first wife, Anne Hyde who had been the human element in his conversion. It is fitting then to close with her letter publicly confessing the Old Faith.

The Letter of Her Highness the Duchess of York

It is so reasonable to expect, that a Person always Bred up in the Church of England, and as well instructed in the Doctrine of it, as the best Divines and her capacity could make her, should be liable to many Censures, for leaving That and making herself a Member of the Roman-Catholick Church to which I confess, I was one of the greatest Enemies it ever had. That I choose rather to endeavour to satisfie my Friends, by reading this Paper, than to have the trouble to answer all the Questions that may daily be asked me. And First, I do protest in the presence of Almighty God that no Person, Man or Woman Directly or Indirectly ever said anything to me (since I came into England) or us'd the least endeavour to make me change my Religion: it is a Blessing I owe wholly to Almighty God, and I hope the hearing of a Prayer I daily made him, ever since I was in France and Flanders; Where seeing much of the Devotion of the Catholicks (tho' I had very little my self) I made it my continual Request to Almighty God, That if I were not, I might before I died, be in the true Religion. I did not in the least doubt but that I was so, and never had any manner of Scruple till November last: When reading a Book call'd The History of the Reformation, by Doctor Heylyn, which I had heard very much commended, and had been told, if ever I had any Doubt in my Religion, that would settle me: instead of which I found it the Description of the horridest Sacriledges in the World, and could find no Reason why we left the Church, but for Three the most Abominable ones that were ever heard of amongst Christians: First, Henry the Eighth re-nounces the Pope's Authority, because he would not give him leave to part with his Wife, and marry another in her lifetime.

Secondly, Edward the Sixth was a Child, and governed by his Uncle, who made his Estate out of the Church Lands. And then Queen Elizabeth, who being no Lawful Heiress to the Crown, could have no way to keep it, but by renouncing a Church that could never suffer so Unlawful a thing to be done by one of her children. I confess, I cannot think the Holy Ghost could ever be in such Counsels. And it is very strange that if the Bishops had no Design, but (as they say) the restoring to us the Doctrine of the Primitive Church, they should never think upon it till Henry the Eighth made the Breach upon so unlawful a Pretence.

These Scruples being rais'd I begun to consider of the Difference between the Catholicks and Us, and Examin'd them as well as I could by the Holy Scripture: which I do not pretend to be able to understand, yet there are some things I found so easie, that I cannot but wonder I had been so long without finding them out:

As the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, the Infallibility of the Church, Confession and Praying for the Dead. After this, I spoke severally to Two of the best Bishops we have in England, who both told me, there were many things in the Roman Church, which (it were very much to be wish'd) we had kept; As Confession, which was, no doubt, Commanded by God: That Praying for the Dead was one of the Ancient things in Christianity:

That for their parts, they did it daily, tho' they would not own it. And afterwards, pressing one of them very much upon the other Points, he told me. That if he had been bred a Catholick, he would not change his Religion, but that being of another Church, wherein, he was sure, were all things necessary to Salvation, he thought it very ill to give that Scandal, as to leave that Church, wherein he had receiv'd his Baptism.

All these Discourses did but add more to the Desire I had to be a Catholick, and gave me the most terrible Agonies in the world, within my self. For all this, fearing to be rash in a Matter of that Weight, I did all I could to satisfie my self: made it my daily Prayer to God to settle me in the Right, and so went on Christmas-day to receive in the King's Chappel: after which, I was more troubled than ever, and could never be in quiet till I had told my Desire to a Catholick; who brought a Priest to me, and that was the First I ever did Converse with, upon my Word. The more I spoke to him, the more I was Confirm'd in my Design; and as it is impossible for me to doubt of the words of our Blessed Saviour, who says the Holy Sacrament is His Body and Blood; so I cannot believe, that He who is the Author of all Truth, and who had promis'd to be with his Church to the End of the World, would permit them to give that Holy Mystery to the Laity but in one Kind, if it were not Lawful so to do.

I am not able, or if I were, would I enter into Disputes with any Body: I only in short say this for the changing of my Religion, which I take God to Witness I would never have done, if I had thought it possible to Save my Soul otherwise. I think I need not say it is any interest in this World, leads me to it. It will be plain enough to everybody, that I must lose all the Friends and Credit I have here, by it, and have very well weighed which I could best part with, my share in this World, or the next: I thank God, I found no difficulty in the Choice. My only Prayer, is That the poor Catholicks of this Nation may not suffer for my being of their Religion; that God would but give me Patience to bear them, and then send me my Afflictions in this World, so I may enjoy a Blessed Eternity hereafter.

St. James's Aug. 20. 1670.

This article is taken, with thanks, from the "Catholic Monarcist Group" With permission from the author, Mark Amesse

Quotations are taken from Belloc's Charles II: The Last Rally.
They are found in the chapter entitled "The Sunken Reef".


elena maria vidal said...

Great post! Thank you, Richard!

de Brantigny said...

You are welcome. I still consider that great praise, even though I did not write it.