THIS SUNDAY WILL see the holding of yet another annual "Pilgrimage" to Harvington Hall in the county of Hereford and Worcester. It consists of an all-day visit to this historic Catholic "great house" in honour of St John Wall, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who was the overseer of Catholicism in this part of the country.
To visit such houses from time to time is one of the most interesting ways of learning about England in the penal days, if only to correct some of what has come to be called the "distressing guff" often retailed by over-enthusiastic Catholic "historians" of the period. (Harvington is 3 miles from Kidderminster Tel: 01562 7778461. Further details about such houses may be obtained from the advertising department, Catholic Herald, 0171 588 3101).
The "guff" in question does grave disservice to the cause of ecumenism and historical truth by ignoring the fact that the excommunication by Pope Pius V of Queen Elizabeth I was part of a Popish plot (not to be confused with the Titus Oates fiction) to subvert the English Protestant throne by violent means if necessary and place the Catholic Mary Stuart on it instead. While the Anglican victims of Mary Tudor at least had the glory of dying straightforwardly for their faith, the no less heroic Catholic victims of Elizabeth and James I were robbed of their religious martyrdom, and turned, despite themselves, into traitors and terrorists (at the Gunpowder Plot) by the politico-religious designs of Rome.
To get a balanced view of all this, it is worth visiting not only the classic or "conventional" English Catholic houses, but also those which illustrate another and more recent aspect of English Catholic history. An excellent example of the latter is Carlton Towers in North Yorkshire of which a brief aside.
Carlton Towers is the very splendid piece of Victorian Gothic extravaganza which was the brain-child of the eccentric ninth Lord Beaumont. A house, with venerable Catholic associations, had long stood on the same spot, the Stapleton family having been based there since the 14th century.
The fascinating story behind the late 19th century Gothic renaissance of Carlton is not only a romantic adventure in itself but also helps to put into perspective some of the fore-mentioned
If the Elizabethan Catholic martyrs had been, indireedy, victims of one kind of "Papal Aggression," mid19th century Catholic gentry were, in some cases, victims of another kind.
The father of the conceiver of Gothic Canton, Miles Stapleton, eighth Lord Beaumont, had been
appalled at the offensive and triumphalist manner in which the attempt was initially made from Rome, particularly by Cardinal Wiseman, to re-establish territorial jurisdiction in England and Wales for Catholic Bishops (1850). He was married to an Irish Protestant and himself became an Anglican in protest at the intemperate language used in the original letter from Rome claiming such jurisdiction. It was, he declared, an insult to loyal English Catholics who could not reconcile such presumption with their duties as English subjects.
It was, in fact, the same old story of Rome attempting to infiltrate "heretical" England, having, well into the 18th century, continued with its political vendetta by actively supporting the Stuart cause. Miles's son, the ninth Lord Beaumont, reverted to Catholicism and wiser counsels ultimately prevailed in Rome in order to get British Government agreement for a restored hierarchy.
Carlton, and the Beaumont title, were inherited by Henry's one-year old niece, Mona, who, in time, married Bernard, third Lord Howard of Glossop. Thus were united two of England's most prominent old Catholic families, Mona's son eventually becoming Duke of Norfolk. The latter opened Carlton to the public in the 1970s, and it is now available for functions and group visits. (Enquiries: Estate Office, Carlton Towers, Coale, N. Yorks.)
Harvington, meanwhile, Is fascinating for different reasons and may he considered as the premier Catholic house in England to be associated with priests' hiding places.
It has more of these than any other house, most being the work of the remarkable Jesuit lay brother, Blessed Nicholas Owen.
In the words of Butler's Lives of the Saints, "perhaps no single person (has) contributed more to the preservation of the Catholic religion in England during the penal times, dying in the Tower of London after prolonged and cruel torture in 1606."
Harvington was extensively restored in the 18th and 19th centuries but so cleverly as in no way to have obscured its original charms as the Elizabethan manor house it had been in the days of Nicholas Owen.
It was acquired by WingCommander Grant Ferris, MP (as then was) and donated to the Birmingham Catholic Archdiocese.
The generous donor was honoured for his Parliamentary services by Harold Wilson (remedying an unfortunate oversight by Edward Heath) and took the title of Lord Harvington. t