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Reviewed by:
  • Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846–1851
  • James Flint
Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846–1851. By Saho Matsumoto-Best. [Royal Historical Society: Studies in History. New series.] (Rochester, New York: Boydell Press. 2003. Pp. xi, 196. $75.00.)

In my recent book (Great Britain and the Holy See: The Diplomatic Relations Question, 1846-1852 [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003]) on Papal-British relations during the first Russell ministry, I observed that previous studies "tell the story from a British perspective (which is not to say a pro-British point of view), simply because little effort has been made to utilize Roman archives." This, I contended, was a mistake: "more is gained by hearing the Papacy's side of the story than merely listening to the same conversation from the other end of the line. For it is not quite the same conversation when one party would just as soon hang up." I sought then to demonstrate that "the primary reason why diplomatic relations were not established was that the Holy See really did not want them to be."

The dissertation upon which Professor Matsumoto-Best's study is based bore the subtitle "British Reactions to the Papacy of Pius IX, 1846-52." Notwithstanding some limited use of Roman archives, this remains an accurate description and sums up well the contribution made. 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.

For the most part, unfortunately, the Holy See's viewpoint finds expression only at second hand. The problem is not primarily that British diplomats and [End Page 329] others were biased in their outlook (though they often were), but that they were generally clueless about the opinions, intentions, and operations of the Roman Curia.

Professor Matsumoto-Best's work quite properly devotes attention to the 1847-48 Minto Mission, which clumsily sought to take advantage of a brief period when Pius IX was willing to explore closer ties with Great Britain so as to gain greater independence from France and especially Austria. Desiring to increase its influence both upon Italian affairs and the activity of the Holy See in Ireland, the Russell ministry had two very good reasons to want a British legation established in Rome.

However, for precisely the same reasons, the Holy See had long been resistant to the Protestant power possessing a formal diplomatic presence. To follow the growing concerns of Curial officials in the fall of 1847, even before the Earl of Minto arrived in Rome, makes clear the apprehension with which most Papal officials contemplated the possibility of a Palmerstonian proconsul regularly delivering lectures (accompanied perhaps by threats) to the Pope on how to rule his States—and how to facilitate Her Majesty's Government's rule over Ireland.

Pius IX was, no doubt, genuinely outraged by the Eglintoun Clause, the House of Lords' insistence (February, 1848) that no priest could serve as the Pope's representative in London. But it is likely that he was—and certain that some of his subordinates were—also relieved that a legitimate reason now existed to spurn the no-longer-desired advances of the British lion. The extent to which most of the Curia feared and distrusted Great Britain cannot be appreciated utilizing only British documents.

A seeming lack of familiarity with the institutional aspects of Catholicism leads to several errors in Professor Matsumoto-Best's work: Monsignor Corboli Bussi (p. 44) and Father Ventura (p. 59) are promoted to Cardinal; Rosmini's Institute of Charity ought really not be identified as "the Rosmini Charity foundation" (p. 23); Robert Graham, S.J., is not usually known as S.J.R. Graham (pp. 89, 184); and it rather misses the point to say that the 1850 re-establishment of the English Catholic hierarchy "meant that the English Catholic Church which had up until then been indirectly ruled by Propaganda Fide was now to be governed by the Vatican directly" (p. 144). In fact, the change reduced direct Roman control.

James Flint
St. Procopius...


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