Nicholas Fitzherbert charts the remarkable career of the Lord Treasurer to Charles the Second — a man who put God before such mundane aspirations as politics and power.
THOMAS CLIFFORD, who was born on August 6 1630, the same year as Charles 11, with whom he was to form such a close friendship, was a direct descendant of Sir Lewis Clifford, KG, Ambassador to France for Richard II.
The family were both Royalist and Anglican but Thomas was too young to take part in the Civil War; he was thirty at the time of the Restoration.
In 1647 he had matriculated and the next year went to the Middle Temple. In 1650, at the age of 20, he married Elizabeth Martyn of Lindridge, an estate only a few miles from Ugbrookc, and for about the next ten years, the remaining period of the Commonwealth, was content to lead the uneventful country life of other Devon Royalists.
In 1659 he took part in a political demonstration at Exeter in favour of the return of the Monarchy and the following year was elected one of the members for Totnes in the Convention Parliament of April 25, 1660 which was summoned by General Monk to recall Charles II. Thomas Clifford almost immediately attracted favourable notice at Court, and in December 1660 was appointed one of the Gentlemen of His Majesty's Privy Chamber in Extraordinary.
It was the beginning of a brilliant political career that was to raise him ultimately to Lord Treasurer. He became one of the five men who ruled the country. They were: Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley and Lauderdale — known as. the 'CABAL'.
In the intervening years Thomas Clifford quickly became known as one of the King's friends, serving on several parliamentary committees and being knighted for his services to the Crown in 1664.
He played a prominent part in the secret plot between Charles II and the King of Denmark to seize and divide the Dutch vessels in Bergen Harbour.
Although it was a fiasco, Sir Thomas exonerated himself and his colleagues from all blame, and was soon sent, on a new type of mission, as Ambassador Extraordinary to the Danish and Swedish courts to patch up the affair.
This diplomatic activity in the north involved him in a narrow escape. On his return in January, 1666 the Swedish ship in which he was travelling was intercepted by a Dutch privateer and he only just escaped capture by posing as an agent from the Prince of Moldavia en route for England.
Under the Duke of Albermarle he saw further service in the naval campaigns of 1666, and at the end of the year was made a Privy Counsellor and Comptroller of the King's Household.
Sir Thomas was now recognised as one of the King's closest advisers. He was appointed a commissioner to the Treasury in 1667, and as proof of his importance was summoned early in 1669 to a private meeting to advise the King on "the ways and means fit to be taken fbr advancing the Catholic religion in his Dominions".
This meeting was to result in the Secret Treaty of Dover, a pact whose documents were drawn up in Sir Thomas's own hand and is still preserved at Ugbrooke.
By this treaty Louis, XIV promised French support for an attempt to re-establish the Catholic faith in England, in return for an English 'alliance against the Netherlands.
The question of Catholicism and English-Nonconformity had already caused conflict within the nation. Negotiations and ratifications following the treaty dragged on, ultimately involving all the members of the CABAL ministry; yet once the AngloFrench war had started with the Dutch, the King lightly deferred all problems of his faith.
Not so Sir Thomas: in April 1672 he had been raised to the peerage as Baron Clifford of Chudleigh, and in November the need for money to carry on Charles's war brought him to the pinnacle of his career, as Lord Treasurer of England.
Yet, despite his eminence, the reconciliation of the Church of England with the Roman Catholic faith remained his most cherised ambition. Ever since his Oxford days there is evidence that he was deeply concerned with matters of faith.
Throughout his political career he had always spoken on the side of toleration, and as hopes of a new unity between the two churches faded, Lord Clifford veered more and more towards an orthodox Catholicism.
Enquiries into Anglican theology, at the time of the Treaty of Dover, no doubt led to his final decision, yet when it came it was an ill Moment for religious conversion.
In the year of his appointment as Lord Treasurer, the Test Act requiring all office-holders to take Communion according to the rites of the Church of England was passed, and rather than comply with these terms Lord Clifford resigned, having shortly before become a Catholic under the blessing of the Benedictines.
"Lite community was of the Chapel Royal which included Father Huddleston who brought Charles II into the Church on his death bed. The date of Lord Clifford's resignation was June 19, 1673; he was 42 and died only five months later.
It is reasonable to believe that there was a Chapel at Ugbrooke as early as 1080 when it was the house of the Precentor to the Bishop of Exeter who had his summer palace in Chudleigh.
It was consecrated in 1671 by the Anglican Bishop of Exeter, Bishop Sparrow. The Deed and Licence hang at the hack of the Church.
Two years later, however, Lord Clifford had become a Catholic and from then until 1750, it was disguised as a hall because it was illegal to celebrate Mass.
However, Mass has been continuously said there since 1673, and it is claimed to be the oldest Catholic Parish Church in the south-west of England.
Permission to have a Chapel, as long as it was not free standing, coincided with the fourth Lord Clifford's employment of Robert Adam, and this is said by some to be his best design for a Chapel. Mass is said in the Chapel at 10.30am on every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation.
Finally, it is of interest that several generations later Hugh, married Mary Lord Clifford, arried Mary Lucy Weld, an only child. In due course her father became a priest and subsequently a Cardinal of the Curia in 1830 and as such he was a member of the Conclave of that year which elected Pope Gregory XVI.
At the same time Mary Lucy, who with Lord Clifford was living in Rome at that time, gave birth to a son who was passed through the communicating hatch to be baptized by his grandfather; he subsequently became a Jesuit.
Henry, an elder brother, was among the first to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the Battle of Inkerman in the Crimea and was awarded the medal personally by Queen Victoria in Hyde Park in 1857 with his proud finance looking on.
He became a Major General, dying in service. Another brother became the first Catholic Bishop of Clifton. A gifted and active generation.