Nicholas Fitzherbert examines fifty generations of Mostyn lineage noting their contribution to the Welsh Church as Martyrs, recusants and prelates.
FEW families can boast at least fifty generations of lineage.
Among them are the Mostyns, who can claim ancestry in the male line back to the twilight of the Roman occupation of Britain. Counted among their ancestors are Welsh Kings and Princes. The great Owen Glendower, who as a kinsman, ,is a direct ancestor of the present Royal Family.
The first Mostyn of Talacre was Pyers. He was the younger brother of Thomas Mostyn of Mostyn and in him we have the origin of a distinguished Catholic family.
Through the centuries they were sturdily supported by their wives, many of whom came from leading Catholic families. The Mostyns produced both an archbishop and a bishop as well as several priests, mostly Jesuits, and many women who took the religious habit. The most recent prelate was Mgr John Mostyn who only died a few years ago.
Basingwerk Abbey came into the family through marriage in the late 16th century. The abbey had been founded probably by Ranulf, Earl of Chester, in 1132 for monks of the French order of Savigny. This was the only monastry of foreign origin to be established in North Wales under Henry I.
The monks of Savigny followed a strict form of the rule of St Benedict. Their first English house was founded in 1123 at Preston, in Lancashire, whence four years later they migrated to Furness.
The only other Savigniac house in Wales was founded by Richard de Grainville in 1130. Other houses were founded in different parts of the country but by the middle of the century the order had decayed.
In 1147 the order's English property was transferred to the Cistercians. In 1157 Basingwerk was affiliated to the Cistercian house of Buildwas in Shropshire, also originally a Savigny house. Soon afterwards Abbott Matthew of Basingwerk attempted to free the abbey from its subjection but the arrangement of 1157 was reaffirmed.
The story of Holywell and the Mostyn connection is particularly fascinating and deserves special mention here.
In the year 660 AD a pure young virgin called Winifred was attacked by a wicked young prince called Cadadoc. She defended her virginity so he cut off her head outside the church where her uncle Bishop Bueno (later canonised) was saying Mass.
A spring gushed forth and has had miraculous healing powers attributed to it ever since.
For three hundred years before the Reformation the well was in the keeping of the Cistercians of Basingwerk Abbey nearby. Then Basingwerk was acquired by the Mostyns and became the family seat, and then the Dower house of the family.
Latterly it was handed over to State guardianship.
Holywell was a great centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and the only one in Britain to remain active throughout the Reformation and right up to modern times. The very lovely Well building was endowed by Henry VIII's mother, Margaret Beaufort, and after various vicissitudes was handed into the keeping of the Jesuits in the late seventeenth century, by the then custodian, Sir Roger Mostyn.
Though of the Protestant branch of the family, he did this at the instigation of James II whose wife, Mary of Modena, had recently given birth to a boy after praying at the Well.
Henry, Earl of Richmond, later Henry VII, stayed at Mostyn, with his cousin Richard of Mostyn, while seeking the support of the Welsh. His grandfather, Owen Tudor was the son of Maredud, first cousin of Owain Glyndur and much respected in Wales.
It was while he was there that a party loyal to Richard III arrived to apprehend him. He was about to sit down to dinner, but just had time to leap out of a back window, which to this day is called "The King's Hole".
Richard joined Henry at the battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485. After his victory, the King presented him with the belt and sword he had worn that day, as a mark of his gratitude.
Before discussing the Church in Wales, North Wales in particular, it is perhaps worthwhile reflecting on the events of the great religious turmoil of the sixteenth century as it affected Britain.
A convenient starting date is 1532, when Pope Clement VII unpredictably issued the Bulls which sanctified the consecration of Thomas Cranmer as the unlikely successor to Warham as Archbishop of Canterbury. Although a pious and learned man, Cranmer was only an Archdeacon with limited pastoral experience. He was however the "King's Man" who was chosen to solve "The King's great Matter", namely his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, to whom he had been married for 23 years without fathering a male heir.
We must now go forward to 1559, the first year of Queen Elizabeth's reign. It was in this year that the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity were passed.
The latter Act required all subjects of the Queen to worship regularly according to the rites of the Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer was alone to be used, and all dissent was outlawed.
Then in January 1562 the Anglican bishops met in convocation in London and adopted a code of Thirty Nine Articles which regulated religious belief and practice for the English people.
When the Bishop of Llandaff took the oath of supremacy, Catholicism in Wales faltered badly both from this and the shortage of priests. There are more ruined churches in Wales dating from the period of the Reformation than in either England or Scotland.
It was the failure of the Church of Rome and later of the Church of England to provide Welsh speaking priests and clergymen to serve the Welsh people that can probably be said to account for the lack of success of both churches in Wales, after this period.
There were exceptions however. The Mostyns of Talacre were both Welsh speaking and true to the old faith. Several members of the family became Jesuit priests. With one other (a priest from Flint called Morgan), these were the only Welsh speaking Jesuits put back into Wales as part of the seventeenth century Jesuit Mission.
Holywell and Flint were outstanding Catholic areas. At Holywell, where the shrine and well of St Winifred continued to attract numerous pilgrims from all parts of Europe during these years, 53 recusants suffered for their faith between 1601 and 1621.
In Flint, 41 recusants suffered over a period of 34 years. Female members of the Mostyn family are prominent, among them two ladies allied through marriage to the great House of Llowenni.
The name of Elizabeth Mostyn, wife of Edward Mostyn of Talacre appears regularly in the Commission of the Peace between 1575 and 1611.
Among the names of 35 victims from Laelor (concentrated in the outlying parishes of Overton and Bangor) and the 14 from Mold, the names of greatest social importance were Mary Mostyn, daughter of Pyers Mostyn of Talacre, and Margaret, the wife of Edward Lloyd of Pentrehobyn. Both were presented in 1618.
Following the accession of James I there was a marked increase in the numbers of recusants. For example in Flintshire the highest figure for the Elizabethan period was a modest 27 in 1600, as compared with 189 in 1605.
It is possible that a large proportion of those returned had become recusants or noncommunicants, since Queen Elizabeth's death, in the hope of a new dispensation. Indeed the first four years of James' reign saw some hopes for a measure of toleration.
However the discovery of the Gunpower Plot in 1605 led to a rapid hardening of his policy, and the passage through Parliament of fresh legislation against Catholics.
Edward Mostyn of Talacre was created the first baronet by Charles II on April 28 1670, the family having been staunch royalists.
The next two generations provided no less than three Jesuits. Andrew and John, who were both younger sons of Edward, were ordained in 1692 and 1693 while Pyers, a younger son of Sir Pyers the second bart, who ordained about 1715.
This tradition has been carried down the ages, Francis Mostyn being Vicar Apostolic of the Northern Province from 1840 to 1847, and another Francis was the first Archbishop of Cardiff from 1920 to 1939.
Mention must also be made of Mother Margaret Mostyn, a Carmelite nun, and her sister Mother Ursula, who achieved success when in 1648 the first distinctly English Filiation from Antwerp was made at Lierre.
The Fathers of the Order made every possible effort to prevent the foundation of this new English house, which, like the mother-house in Antwerp, was to be subject to the Bishop of that city.
They gave the nuns "unspeakable trouble" till at last the Internuncio reported the difficulty to the Holy See, and the English nuns were allowed to proceed with their foundation. They eventually moved to England.
Talacre continued as the home of the Mostyns for five hundred years each succeeding generation being brought up to speak both Welsh and English. Then in 1920 it was sold to a community of Benedictine nuns which themselves have a remarkable history which must be told.
In 1868 Mrs Hilda Stewart, who had done heroic work during the outbreak of cholera in Plymouth in 1848, conceived the idea of forming a community which should lead an enclosed and contemplative life and should follow the Rule of St Benedict.
This was quite unheard of in the Church of England. However, it all came to pass and then in 1912 the most astonishing thing happened. The whole community decided to become Catholics.
On February 26, Dom Bede Camm, who had not seen the community since his conversion, arrived at St Bride's to congratulate them on their decision and to speak to them of Catholicism and the Catholic Church.
On Laetare Sunday, March 2 henceforth to be a red-letter day in the annals of the community, Holy Mass was sung for the first time at St Bride's by Abbot Avignon of Caermaria. Before Mass he blessed the vestments and the whole church.
On Thursday, March 6, Bishop Mostyn of Menevia arrived accompanied by Abbot Butler of Downside and Dom Bede Camm. The nuns were questioned separately to ascertain that no pressure was being put upon them. The following day the Bishop installed the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle and that afternoon Abbess Scholastica and twenty-five of her daughters knelt before the grille in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and were received by him into the Church.
So the present 14th baronet, Sir Jeremy Mostyn, traces his family history over 1646 years, many more than the Hapsburgs with 956 and the Saxe Coburgs with 872. What a record!
Note: I would like to acknowledge the assistance of The Hon Georgina Stonor and Catholic Recusancy in the Counties of Denbigh, Flint and Montgomery 1585-1615 by E Gwynne Jones MA.