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Fourth son of George Talbot and brother of the fourteenth Earl of Shrewsbury (b. 1726; d. 1790), is chiefly known for having been the last priest to be indicted in the public courts for saying Mass. He was educated at Douai, to which college he was a great benefactor. In 1759, at the age of thirty-three, he was consecrated coadjutor bishop to Dr. Challoner. During his episcopate he was twice brought to trial, on the information lodged by the well-inown "Informer" Payne, in 1769 and 1771 respectively. In each case he was acquitted for want of evidence, but the judge, Lord Mansfield, was plainly on his side, in consequence of which, though he was no friend to Catholics as such, his house was sacked during the Gordon Riots in 1780. On the death of Bishop Challoner in 1781, Bishop James Talbot became Vicar Apostolic of the London District, which he ruled for nine years. He lived a retired life at Hammersmith, his unbounded charity gaining for him the title of "the Good Bishop Talbot". His chief work during these years was the completion of the purchase of the property at Old Hall, Herts, where he had a preparatory academy which afterwards developed into St. Edmund's College. The penal law against Catholic schools still existed, and Bishop Talbot was again threatened with imprisonment; but he contrived to evade punishment. During the last years of his life the Catholic Committee was already threatening trouble. In order to control it, Bishop Talbot allowed himself to be elected a member; but it was soon evident that the laymen were beyond control. The crisis however had not yet arrived when Bishop Talbot died at his house at Hammersmith.
The only connected account of his episcopate is in Ward, Dawn of Catholic Revival (London, 1909). For details of his trials, see Barnard, Life of Challoner (London, 1784); Burton, The Life and Times of Bishop Challoner (London, 1910); further allusions in Husenbeth, Life of Milner (Dublin, 1862); Brady, Catholic Hierarchy (London, 1877); Amherst, History of Catholic Emancipation (London, 1886); Ward, History of St. Edmund's College (London, 1893); Haile and Bonney, Life of Lingard (London, 1911). See also Milner's Obituary Sermon (MS. in Westminster Archives).