A few months ago I was staying at New Hall in Essex and was surprised to hear the hour being sounded half an hour before it occurred. Thus, at two thirty, the clock struck three. This is no reflection of mechanical difficulties but a traditional way of marking time on the continent. At Douai, in France, on the other hand a visiting Frenchman trying to find his bearings might be surprised if he looked at the small belfry on the top of the Lycée Corot to see North, South, East and West (W being an almost impossible letter for the French) rather than its French equivalent to guide him on his way. Thus are the small reminders of a once great connection.
The English Catholic community in 1793 was, it would appear, a developing group as far as its number of faithful was concerned but it was on a small scale and, circumscribed by only recently repealed restrictions, it lacked the educational institutions and religious houses which characterized Counter-Reformation European Catholicism. The English Catholics, however, differed from other English dissenters in their great network of continental foundations - seminaries, monasteries, schools and convents which had developed since the Reformation. 1793 was the year in which these institutions, or at least most of them, were subject to closure and when the English Catholics had to face up to the new challenge of re-establishing them in England. The divided halves of English Catholicism were brought together.
In this paper I will concentrate my attention on the English communities but the scale of 'the foundation movement', as it has been called, was made greater by the parallel growth in Irish foundations which reflected the diaspora of the Irish church and people By the middle of the eighteenth century there were English foundations in Italy, Spain, Portugal and through the work of Mary Ward's disciples in much of what is probably best to call Mitteleuropa, but the great majority of the English communities were located in France and the Low Countries, the most convenient places geographically for travellers from England The Low Countries had been the destination of many religious exiles from England during the period of the Reformation, Protestants as well as Catholics and the earliest of the foundations made by the English Catholics in the area, Cardinal William Allen's English College at Douai, where a university had been founded by Philip II of Spain in whose territory the town then lay, was 'a home from home' for Oxford fellows and scholars who continued to live much as they had in England before the change in religion. Allen perhaps regarded his college as a provisional establishment which would become redundant when England returned to the Roman communion. In time, with the consolidation of the Elizabethan settlement the English college evolved into a parallel community, a seminary (on the Tridentine plan) for the training of clergy and, by the end of the first quarter of the seventeenth century, a school both for 'church' and 'lay' students. Douai was one of the main centres of English Catholic exiles. The English Benedictines opened a priory, dedicated to St Gregory the Great, in 1607, the English Franciscans a friary, dedicated to St Bonaventure, in 1617. There were also Scottish and Irish colleges in the town.
The attraction of Douai, at least until it fell to the territorial ambition of Louis XIV, was the patronage and protection of Spain and later Austria. A string of communities benefited from this protection and these included the Carmelite friars at Tongres, the Dominicans at Bornhem-Louvain, the Carthusians at Nieuport, the Benedictine nuns of Brussels, Ghent and Ypres, the Carmelite nuns at Antwerp and Lierre, the Augus-tinian Canonesses at Bruges and Louvain, the Dominican nuns at Vilvorde - Brussels, the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre at Liege and the Franciscan nuns at Brussels and elsewhere. Paris, which remained until the French Revolution, a refuge for a secular college, a Benedictine monastery, a Benedictine convent, a house of Augustinian Canonesses, a convent of Third Order Franciscans (known as the Blue Nuns) and for a time a Mary Ward foundation. Elsewhere in France was the great Jesuit college of St Omer, always known to the English Catholics as St Omers, second only to the English College in its foundation date (1593), and Dieulouard, an English Benedictine house in Lorraine Cambrai provided a home in 1623 for the only convent of English Benedictine nuns who were dependent on the monks of the English Benedictine Congregation rather than on the local bishop
The type of English community founded by Allen as a little England across the seas was not by the middle years of the seventeenth century a feasible model. The English-speaking communities gained their strength from the protection of the local church and their participation in it. Geoffrey Scott has emphasized this in his recent study of the English Benedictine Congregation in the eighteenth century. 'It was from within the context of continental Catholicism that the monks were trained and governed, and to it many of them frequently returned and finally retired. They were, then as much a part of the European, and especially of the Gallican, church as they were of the English mission, and it was precisely the introduction by the monks of these attitudes and customs from abroad which helps to qualify the nature of the English Catholic community as predominantly nonconformist, marginalized, and as one which owed its continued existence largely to native influences'.8 The three English Benedictine houses, for example, had been granted the right of 'naturalization' by the early years of the eighteenth century and thus were granted the privileges and, implicitly, the external intrusions on life of the native communities. All the English communities were exposed to the vital intellectual life of the great century of the French Church. All the English communities seemed to have conformed to the liturgical usages of the local church.
Many English Catholics, at least from the upper echelons of society, went to France or the Low Countries to be educated in an 'English' school. The education received by English Catholics in their European schools seems to have had much more in common with European than with English practice although both educational systems were dominated by the Classics. The boys' schools, whether Jesuit-controlled or not, tended to use the Jesuit system of education, a framework described by a recent writer as 'Renaissance education with its Protestant detonators removed'. A useful comparison between the education provided by the English schools and the English Catholic schools on the continent is provided by Gilbert Langley who in the 1720's attended first Charterhouse and then St Gregory's, Douai. Both systems dovetailed well into each other, but in the English continental schools the pupils had a taste for a wider European culture denied to English youths of a similar age and background who had to wait for a 'grand tour' to savour the delights of continental Europe. Thomas Weld, a pupil at the Jesuit College founded from St Omers, writing in 1769 to his brother, reflected, 'What would you say if I had forgot my English? However I have not entirely but I can assure you I speak French better than I do English. Few Protestant gentlemen could make such a claim. The girls benefited from the wider culture of the great European cities. 'Music, dancing and deportment were best acquired in the great cities, so Paris and Brussels were the favourite centres for the fashionable schools'. At various levels, the English Catholic communities on the continent were well-integrated into local life and the French Revolution ruptured a link which had been well-established and fruitful for more than two centuries.
The pre-revolutionary French Church was built on a generous scale with, in 1789, as many as 170,000 individuals involved professionally in its work, perhaps 3% of the total population of the country. Of these the secular clergy made up 88,000 with 26,500 regular clergy and some 55,000 female religions. Among the 170,000 there were some 8000 so-called upper clergy (bishops, abbots, canons of Cathedral chapters and so on) who held a disproportionate percentage of the 6-10% of French land in church hands. The Church had many exemptions from taxation but its 'free gift' voted to the Crown every five years could amount to as much as 12% of clerical revenues. The Church had a crucial part to play in political life as the official state church but its dominance was more than hierarchical. It had a monopoly of education and of welfare. Its feasts and fasts reflected the seasons and sanctified them. Before the Revolution, in most of its territory, France was a conformist, Catholic country and religious practice was indeed, probably never more general than in the century before 1789. Although in the towns the upper classes were forsaking the observances of religion (with less than half the legal communicants in Paris and Bordeaux making their Easter 'duty') in the countryside and in most provincial centres there were few dissenters[l6]. The English communities, as we have seen, had two principal centres, Paris and the north of France, especially in the diocese of Cambrai which included the university town of Douai. The north of France was an area with a very high level of religious practice. This was shown by the witness of the parish clergy in their massive rejection of the Civic Oath of 1791 : 85% in the Nord, 83% in Pas de Calais. Throughout the Revolution the area was a critical one for the success or failure of the national revolution. The area adjoined the Austrian Netherlands along a border of notorious ambiguity and its population remained partly French, partly Flemish-speaking; reflecting its troubled history and identity.
Within the northern part of France there was a great variety of religious houses ranging from the very grandest to the very poorest The English Benedictine houses at Cambrai and Douai were the poor relations of their aristocratic French Benedictine brethren. Monasticism was in decline in the late eighteenth century. The Emperor Joseph II, in whose Austrian territories many of the English communities in the Low Countries were situated, was the spearhead of an attack on the monastic ideal. Josephism suspected monasticism not only for its superstition but also for its abuse of church endowments. Many in France thought along similar lines. The Jesuits had been suppressed in France in 1762 and this could have seemed as a model for a wider suppression. A 'Commission des R6guliers' had been set up as early as 1765 and had spotlighted the abuses, especially those associated with the commendatory abbey system in which the abbatial revenues were set aside as an income for an absentee, often lay, 'in commendam' abbot. Such abuses were taken up by the Cahiers de doleances which preceded the meeting of the Estates General in 1789. Too often, the monks in particular, had become a butt for jokes. Thus Voltaire, that most appealingly caustic of men, declared:-
In the diocese of Cambrai, however, the monks were not lacking support. In February 1792 a 'Petition des citoyens du d6partement du Nord' defended the monks and said that their poor treatment was against the spirit of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The English monks at Douai, too, had their backers and when they, in company with members of other English-speaking establishment, were taken from Douai to internment at Doullens they 'saw much pity and indignant sympathy, and nothing of exultation or insult'.
The English monks, friars, nuns and secular clergy were part of the structure of the French Church but they were not central to it. By this time the English communities had become semi-detached in every way: by language, nationality and above all by their essentially marginal character, they were not important enough to be given special notice, at least not until the French Revolution boiled over and became less about national regeneration and more about European conflict. It was only then that they were noticed, only then that they were subjected to closure. Reform and Resistance
The union of the French Church and the French monarchy, symbolized in June 1775 at the coronation of Louis XVI at Reims, was transformed by the Revolution into an attempted union of the new French nation with the Church. In this process the parish clergy were the crucial figures and the split among the clergy in their attitude to the Revolution was one of the most important ingredients in the developing union in the nation between supporters and opponents of the Revolution. The conflict between revolutionary principles and church rights began with the nationalization of church property in November 1789, deepened with the promulgation of a new church order in the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in the summer of 1790, and reached crisis point with the imposition of the civic oath in the winter of 1790-91. This oath, pledging support for the Revolution, was to be taken by all office holders including churchmen. Only seven of the 136 bishops of the ancien regime took the oath. More importantly, about half of the lower clergy also refused to take the oath. From the winter of 1791 onwards the stance of the Revolution towards the Catholic church became one of active confrontation passing through the idea of a French national church (the' Constitutional' church) towards the 'Dechristianization' of the Terror.
In the midst of this turmoil, and as a kind of sideshow to the main ecclesiastical business of the Revolution - the reconstruction of the dioceses and parishes of the French Church - the religious orders were dismantled and dispersed. On 13 February 1790 monastic vows were abolished and religious orders with solemn vows and others not dedicated to teaching or other charitable work were suppressed. By this decree monks were made free to leave their monasteries and to receive state pensions. Remaining monks were to be regrouped while nuns were to remain in situ. On 6 April 1792 religious dress was suppressed. In August and September 1792, following the overthrow of Louis XVI, there is a whole series of ecclesiastical legislation which helps to trigger the emigration of many clergy. The legislation includes (3 August 1792) the evacuation and alienation of all religious houses, the suppression of most female religious orders (4 August 1792) the suppression of all religious communities including the 'practical' active Orders engaged in nursing and education (18 August 1792) and the eviction from their houses in September 1792. The September Massacres in Paris (2-6 September 1792) set the seal on the legislation and led to the violent death of over two hundred priests.
The religious orders of women distinguished themselves by their resistance to these pressures, and in Douai, for example, out of 466 nuns, there was only one juror. From much of the foregoing legislation the English were to some degree immune. The English communities were not, however, immune, once in April 1792 war broke out. *La patrie* was 'en danger' and the English communities were closed down. The French revolutionary armies began the successful annexation of the neighbouring territories and the Austrian Netherlands, where so many of the English speaking communities were settled, fell to France. It was occupied from November 1792 to March- April 1793, then again from 1794 to 1795. After that it was organized departmentally from Austria by the Treaty of Campo-Formio in October 1797. A Case Study - St Gregory's, Douai
Faced with the bewildering complexity and rapidity of revolutionary change it is perhaps best to concentrate here on one English community and look at its fortunes during the crucial years. St Gregory's, Douai, the predecessor of Downside, is my chosen example. St Gregory's was the eaiiiest of the English Benedictine foundations for men and it was first established as a community by 1607. Its buildings, provided by the Benedictines of St Vedast at Arras whose student monks attended the university of Douai, included a handsome Gothic-style church. St Gregory's acquired a reputation not only for learning but also for teaching and from early in its history it conducted a school for lay as well as church students which was second to St Omers in its size and reputation among the English Catholic academies on the continent. In the 1770's a large, if somewhat severe, new school building was erected not unlike the great 'priest factories' of Old Hall Green and Ushaw of a generation later. Towards the century's end the school became increasingly popular with French pupils (perhaps the closure of many Jesuit schools has increased the market) and less so with English. Among the French pupils was Pierre Joseph Picot de la Clorivtere who after the Revolution was to be one of the re-founders of the Jesuits as well as the founder of two religious orders of his own. The community of St Gregory's provided the observant centre of a network of monk missioners in England and was also the common house of studies for the English Benedictine Congregation.
The possibility of some kind of closure or the need to transfer from Douai to the Austrian Netherlands had not gone unnoticed among the more percipient brethren. The suppression of the Jesuits was an example that could easily be imitated. The final arret of 6 August 1762, denounced by Pope Clement XIII as a 'most blasphemous attack of worldly powers on the sanctity of the Church and of learning', ordered the closure of all Jesuit houses in France including the English college at St Omers. The English Jesuits and their pupils migrated to Bruges. The secular clergy from Douai attempted to keep the school going at St Omers and it remained open until 1793. The Bruges College, too, was -to face alienation and migration in 1793.
In the opening years of the Revolution the life of the English communities at Douai seems to have been relatively undisturbed, although the town's strategic position made the future of the establishments uncertain. The superiors of St Gregory's looked to various alternative sites for their enterprise across the border in the Austrian Netherlands. Tn such estimation were the English monks held,' to quote Dom Norbert Bin's somewhat fulsome words, 'that boys of the best families of the adjacent country had been entrusted to them for education; and when the question of their possible migration was mooted and a circular issued by the president of the English Benedictines to the cities of Flanders to elicit their sentiments towards the establishment of a foreign community amongst them, many cities vied with each other in their endeavours to secure the settlement of the English monks in their midst'. Migration was, however, a last resort and the community did all in its effort to remain in Douai.
Exemptions of various kinds were obtained on the grounds that St Gregory's was British property and much was made of the Treaty of Navigation and Commerce of 26 September 1786 which exempted foreigners from the obligation of attending Mass in public churches, thus circumventing some of the problems associated with 'juring' and 'non-juring' clergy. Indeed, all the English priests at Douai, not technically being public office-holders were exempted from the Oath. In December 1791, however, all ecclesiastics were required to report to the local directory. At this time it was still possible for the Directory of Douai to be full of admiration for the good character which distinguished the peoples of Great Britain from other nations. By 1793, with the outbreak of hostilities, such sentiments had a hollow ring about them. Although, with the judicious wording provided by Dom Jerome Sharrock (1750-1808), the Prior of St Gregory's, an answer was made in early 1793 to the charges that the Douai establishments were disaffected with the French Government, too shakily attached to the Roman See and (more ominously) to the enemies of the state the writing was now clearly on the wall. The days of St Gregory 's, Douai were numbered.
The buildings of the monastery and school were sealed up in February 1793 and guards posted Douai itself was under siege and the gaining of passports was now an urgent priority. The small remnant of the community and school retreated to their country house at Esquechin in the leafy outskirts of Douai where they were left unmolested. A military order had been issued on 8 August 1793 to the effect that all British subjects were to leave Douai within twenty four hours. Some managed to escape to England. One of the boys, Ralph Radcliffe (1772-1842), who afterwards became a monk, made a dramatic and successful escape not unlike those of a twentieth century escape from Hitler's Europe, which became part of the Gregorian folklore. All the communities had similar escapades. On 12 October the British subjects remaining in Douai were taken as prisoners to the citadel of Doullens, north of Douai. Only six of the Gregorians were at Doullens, along with forty one from the English College. Doullens provided an opportunity for some enforced community life made a little easier by the gift of some wine from an old boy. A chalice said to have been used by the community at Doullens is preserved as 'the Persecution Chalice' in the Sacristy at Downside. In November 1794 they were released from prison and allowed to return to St Gregory's, by then in a broken-down and vandalized condition. The Church had acted as a prison and as a centre for casting cannons from church bells. The library was dispersed, most of its books reduced, sacrificed to producing paper for cartridges, some of its greater treasures passing into public hands. Douai, France indeed, was no longer a safe or welcoming place of refuge and finally on 2 March 1795 the remaining British residents of Douai left France and arrived on British soil.
The years that followed the arrival at Dover were years of extraordinary uncertainty. A temporary settlement was made, through the generosity of the Smythe family many of whom had been educated at St Gregory's, at Acton Burnell Hall in Shropshire where a small and under-resourced school was soon opened. The acquisition of the Downside property in 1814 reflected the decision taken eventually by the community to remain in England but throughout the years at Acton Burnell many thought that a return to France was the preferred option or even a new life in America. Catholics, although now reluctantly tolerated in England, remained marginalized. As Dom Gregory Sharrock wrote to Dom Henry Marsh in 1800
The return to England allowed, in the long term, the enormous expansion of St Gregory's apostolate in the home and Australian missions and in education as well as in an expansion of numbers and a rediscovery of monastic ideals. But this was all in the future. Seen within the perspective of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic world the repatriation seemed a somewhat empty victory; survival yes, but not yet resurrection.
For much of the nineteenth century the buildings of St Gregory's, Douai, were used by the English monks of St Edmund's (formerly of Paris) as their monastery and school, and stayed in their hands until the anticlerical legislation of the Third Republic caused a definitive rupture in 1903. St Gregory's old church was demolished after the Revolution and a new monastic church, to the designs of AWN Pugin, erected. The Gregorian buildings and the Edmundian Chapel now integral parts of the Lyc6e Corot forai perhaps the most impressive physical reminder of the English presence in the north of France. I
Celebrating a disaster would seem to present a paradox of Chestertonian dimensions. This, at first sight, might appear to be what we are doing in this symposium. At a more thoughtful level what we are doing is remembering not so much a disaster as a felix culpa. The forced closure and repatriation of the English communities on the continent in the years of the French Revolution provided the English Catholics with a much needed fillip at a time when, contrary to older views they were poised for expansion. The older aristocratic, lay dominated recusant church was giving way to a more plebeian and (much helped by the events of 1793-5) a clerically-led church ready to face the demands of the nineteenth century and especially the urgent need for urban evangelization.
Within the final decade of the eighteenth century England was to play host to over twenty English communities previously settled in the European mainland as well as to several French communities including the Benedictines of Montargis now at Fernham and the Trappists of Lulworth who were to establish, albeit briefly, the first abbey in England since the Reformation. As we have seen from the Gregorian example it was not apparent at first that such communities were here to stay. In the event they were, and they provided the base for a massive expansion in religious community life and in what we would now call 'parochial' life. At all levels the implications of repatriation were momentous. The development of native institutions and especially of education was to give the English Catholic community a parallel set of schools (for all classes) and centres to those of the Anglican establishment. This was one of the principal factors in the growing Englishry of the English Catholics which was part of the move away from Europe which had been a characteristic of Protestant England. In 1793 and 1794 many of the English religious were mistaken for French. The English Catholics, despite their self-estimation, have never really convinced their fellow countrymen that they are really English - there were far too many Irishmen around for that - but after 1793 they never again as a group were the European Englishmen and women they had been before.