Henry Essex Edgeworth

Edgeworth, Henry Essex, better known as l'Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont, confessor of Louis XVI, and vicar-general of the Diocese of Paris at the height of the French Revolution, b. at Edgeworthstown, County Longford, Ireland, in 1745; d. May 22, 1807, at Mittau, Russia. His father, the Rev. Robert Edgeworth, Protestant rector of Edgeworthstown, or Mostrim, was a first cousin to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, the father of Maria Edgeworth, the novelist; and his mother was a granddaughter of the Protestant Archbishop Ussher. The Rev. Robert Edgeworth owned an estate at Firmount, or Fairymount, a few miles distant from Edgeworthstown, where the elder branch of the Edgeworth family resided. The Edgeworths were of English descent, and went to Ireland in the reign of Elizabeth. The title, "Edgeworth de Firmont", by which the abbé was universally known in France, was derived from Firmount, the ancestral patrimony of his family. The vicarage house at Edgeworthstown where he passed his childhood is believed to be the same in which Oliver Goldsmith went to school to the Rev. Patrick Hughes. The Rev. Robert Edgeworth through conscientious motives resigned his living, embraced the Catholic religion, and, finding life at home intolerable under the penal laws, with his family (all of whom became Catholics) removed to Toulouse in France, where Henry Essex, then four years of age, received his early training for the ecclesiastical state. Subsequently he went to the seminary of Trente-Trois, Paris, at the suggestion of Bishop Moylan of Cork (at one time a curé in Paris). After a course of theology at the Sorbonne, Henry Essex Edgeworth was ordained priest and the capital of France became the theatre of his apostolic labors. The Irish bishops offered him a mitre in Ireland, an honor which he declined with his usual humility. On the removal of her confessor, Madame Elisabeth, sister of the ill-fated Louis XVI, requested the superior of Les Missions Etrangères, where the abbé resided, to recommend her another and he unhesitatingly selected the Abbé Edgeworth. The Archbishop of Paris approved of the choice, and introduced him at court. Thus he became known to the royal family as a devoted friend. In their fallen fortunes he stood by them at the risk of his life, followed the survivors after the Revolution into exile, and died in their service.

When the Archbishop of Paris was obliged to fly in 1792 in order to save his life, he vested the Abbé Edgeworth with all his powers, making him his grand vicaire, and committed the great diocese to his care. In answer to the urgent entreaties of his friends to seek safety in Ireland or England, at this time, the abbé replied: "Almighty God has baffled my measures, and ties me to this land of horrors by chains I have not the liberty to shake off. The case is this: The wretched master [the king] charges me not to quit-this country, as I am the priest whom he intends to prepare him for death. And should the iniquity of the nation commit this last act of cruelty, I must also prepare myself for death, as I am convinced the popular rage will not allow me to survive an hour after the tragic scene; but I am resigned. Could my life save him I would willingly lay it down, and I should not die in vain" (Letter to Mr. Maffey, priest in London).

At last, on the 20th of January, 1793, he was summoned by the Executive Council to proceed to the Temple prison at the desire of "Louis Capet", who was condemned to die on the following day. The abbé, having remained in the Temple all night, said Mass in the king's apartment on the morning of the execution, sat beside him in the carriage on the way to the scaffold, and, when the axe of the guillotine was about to fall, consoled his beloved master with the noble words: "Son of St. Louis, ascend to heaven." In his graphic and authoritative account of the last moments of Louis XVI (the original of which in French is preserved in the British Museum) the abbé is silent about this fine apostrophe, which everyone has heard of; but, when asked if he made use of the memorable expression, he replied that, having no recollection of anything that happened to himself at that awful moment, he neither affirmed nor denied having used the words. He was allowed to leave the scene of the execution unmolested, and so escaped; but soon after his head was demanded in several clubs, so that he was obliged to quit Paris and take refuge at Bayeux, whence at that time he might easily have escaped to England. Three chief considerations, however, bound him to the land of horrors. He had a great diocese committed to his care; he had promised Madame Elisabeth, then in prison, never to desert her, and he could not abandon his mother and sister, still living in Paris. Dressed as an ordinary citizen, and passing under the name now of Essex, now of Edgeworth, and again of Henry, he eluded capture and the guillotine, until finally in August, 1796, after the death of his mother, and the execution of Madame Elisabeth, he escaped to Portsmouth, and proceeded to London.

Mr. Pitt offered to settle a pension for life on him, but he respectfully declined it. During the three months he spent in London he was lionized by fashionable society. His brother, Ussher, who resided at Firmount, and his relatives at Edgeworthstown, proud of his fame and renown, were most anxious to see him in Ireland; and, in fact, he was on the point of revisiting the land of his birth when he was entrusted with confidential despatches for Louis XVIII, then at Blankenburg. This changed all his plans. At the earnest entreaty of the exiled king he resolved to remain with him as his chaplain, going afterwards with the royal family to Mittau in Russia, where he spent the remainder of his days, revered and honored by all with whom he came in contact. The Emperor Paul settled a pension of 500 roubles per annum on him. When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1807 it happened that some French soldiers were taken prisoners, and sent to Mittau. A contagious fever broke out among them, and in attending to their spiritual wants Abbé Edgeworth, never of a robust constitution, fell a victim to the plague. The daughter of Louis XVI, despite the manifest danger of contagion, attended night and day at the sick bed of her "beloved and revered invalid, her more than friend, who had left kindred and country for her family", to use her own words. He was interred at Mittau. Louis XVIII wrote his epitaph, a copy of which, together with a letter of condolence, was sent by Louis' orders to Mr. Ussher Edgeworth, the abbé's brother, residing in Ireland.

C. S. EDGEWORTH, Memoirs of the Abbé Edgeworth; containing the Narrative of tha Last Hours of Louis XVI (London, 1815); THIERS, Histoire de la Révolution française (1827); R. L. EDGEWORTH, Memoirs (London, 1820); WEBB, Compendium of Irish Biography (Dublin, 1878); GORDON, Five Unpublished Letters of l'Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont in The Tablet (London, 28 April, 1900).


Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, though not its largest city, derives its name from the time (about A.D. 620) when the fortress of Edwin's burgh was raised on a lofty spur of the Pentland Hills, overlooking the Firth of Forth, and established the Anglian dominion in the northern part of the Northumbrian Kingdom. Edinburgh Castle was a royal residence in the reign of Malcolm Canmore, husband of St. Margaret, who died there in 1093. Round the castle the town grew up, and a little lower down the collegiate church of St. Giles, predecessor of the present church bearing that name, was erected in the twelfth century. St. Margaret's son, King David I, founded the Abbey of Holyrood, at the foot of the castle hill, 1128; but the town of Edinburgh for several centuries did not extend beyond the ridge sloping eastwards from the castle. In the middle of the fifteenth century Edinburgh became the real capital of Scotland, that is, the seat of the Parliament and the Government, as well as the residence of her kings, and the scene of many of the most important provincial councils which regulated the affairs of the Scottish Church. James II was the first king crowned at Edinburgh instead of in the Abbey of Scone, and he and his successors conferred many privileges on the capital, and did all in their power to develop it and increase its prosperity. The buildings of the city gradually spread outside the ancient walls, all along the sloping ridge which extends from the castle at the top to Holyrood at the bottom; and towards the end of the nineteenth century the New Town was built to the northward, beyond the extensive lake (since drained) which stretched under the castle hill.

During the past hundred years Edinburgh has steadily increased in population and wealth, if not so rapidly as other cities which are greater centers of manufactures and commerce. The unrivalled beauty of its situation, and the social and other advantages which it offers as the capital of the country, as well as the remarkable educative facilities afforded by its many splendidly equipped schools and colleges, have always made it exceptionally attractive as a place of residence. Literary taste and culture were long the special characteristic of Edinburgh society, and it still possesses some of the literary charm which won for the city the title of the Modern Athens in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, when Scott, Wilson, Jeffrey, Brougham, and others made it famous by their personality and their genius. Modern facilities of travel and of intercommunication have inevitably given to Edinburgh, as to every center of population in the kingdom outside London, a certain note of provincialism; but it has not altogether lost the dignity and charm proper to a capital. The population of Edinburgh is now (1908) 317,000, an increase of more than 100,000 in the past thirty years; and its total area is nearly 11,000 acres. It returns four members to Parliament, and is governed by a town council of fifty members, presided over by the lord provost. Printing, brewing, and distilling have long been, and still are, the principal industries of the city. Edinburgh is the seat of the supreme court of Scottish law, which in its external forms as well as in many essential points differs greatly from the law of England. The presidents of the courts are the lord-justice-general and the lord-justice-clerk; and the judges, properly entitled "senators of the college of justice", enjoy the official title of lord. The supreme courts occupy the ancient Scottish Parliament house, a stately seventeenth-century building; and under the same roof is the Advocates' Library, one of the most extensive and valuable collections of books and manuscripts in the kingdom.

EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY, the only one of the four Scottish universities not founded in Catholic times, was established in 1582 by royal charter granted by James VI, and was speedily enriched by many benefactions from prominent citizens. Its buildings occupy the site of the ancient collegiate church of St, Mary-in-the-Fields, or the Kirk o' Field (well known as the scene of the mysterious murder of Lord Darnley), and have in recent years been greatly extended and embellished. The university comprises the usual faculties of divinity, law, medicine, and arts, and has produced many eminent men. The Edinburgh medical school has a world-wide reputation, and attracts students from all parts of the empire, as well as many foreigners. No religious tests prevent Catholics from enjoying the full benefit of university education in Edinburgh; but the number of Catholics frequenting the schools is remarkably small. The total number of students frequenting the university is between three and four thousand.

ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY.—Edinburgh is naturally much bound up in its ecclesiastical history with the country at large. In the earliest centuries of its existence, belonging as it did to the Kingdom of Northumbria, Edinburgh was included in the Diocese of Lindisfarne, as we find from the list of churches belonging to that see compiled by Simeon of Durham in 854. The early connection of the city with Lindisfarne is shown by the dedication to St. Cuthbert of its oldest church, founded probably in the ninth century. St. Cuthbert's church was presented to the newly established Abbey of Holyrood by King David; it was the richest church in Edinburgh, and possessed several outlying chapels, such as St. Ninian's, St. Roque's, and St. John Baptist's. When the diocesan system came to be fully established in Scotland, under Malcolm and Margaret and their sons, Edinburgh was included in the metropolitan Diocese of St. Andrews, and continued to be so until the suppression of the ancient hierarchy in the sixteenth century. The archbishop's see, as well as the episcopal residence, was of course in the primatial city of St. Andrews, beyond the Firth of Forth; and there was no building known as a cathedral in Edinburgh prior to 1634, when the new Anglican Diocese of Edinburgh was formed out of the ancient archdeaconry of Lothian, and Forbes became the first occupant of the see. The old collegiate church of St. Giles was at this time, and during the revival of Episcopalianism in Scotland, used as the cathedral of the Protestant bishop. As regards the Catholic Church, Edinburgh was the headquarters of the vicars Apostolic of the Eastern District of Scotland from the time of the foundation of that vicariate in 1828, when the church now known as St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral had been in existence for some fifteen years. It has no architectural interest, but a spacious chancel was added, and other improvements carried out, in 1891. A cathedral for the Episcopalian body (whose bishop resides in Edinburgh) was erected about 1878, at a cost of over $500,000, from funds left by two charitable ladies. It is a Gothic building of much dignity, and by far the finest ecclesiastical building, either ancient or modern, now existing in Edinburgh. The Presbyterians have some handsome churches, but the grand old church of St. Giles, now in their hands, has been hopelessly vulgarized by the "restorer". A new church built by the Irvingites is adorned within by some fine mural paintings.

The seven Catholic churches which (besides the cathedral) supply the needs of the Catholic population of Edinburgh are of no particular merit architecturally, the most interesting being the latest erected, St. Peter's, which is in the earliest Byzantine style, and forms, with its presbytery, a little group of much originality and charm. The Catholic Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh (the fourth who has held that office in thirty years) resides in Edinburgh, and has his episcopal seat in St. Mary's Cathedral. St. Andrews (to which the title of Edinburgh was added at the restoration of the hierarchy in 1878) possesses a small Catholic church; but the Catholic population of the primatial city is—except for summer visitors—only a handful. In Edinburgh the Catholics are estimated to number about 20,000. In the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14) a list sent in to the privy council of "Popish parents and their children in various districts of Scotland" gives the number of Catholics in Edinburgh as 160, including the Duke and Duchess of Gordon with their family and household, and several other noble families. The majority of the Catholics of Edinburgh today are of the poorer classes, and of Irish origin; but the past decade or so has witnessed a considerable number of conversions among the more well-to-do inhabitants of the city. Since the great anti-Catholic tumults of 1779, when the chapels and houses belonging to the insignificant Catholic body were burned by the rioters, the spirit of tolerance has made progress in the Scottish capital as elsewhere in the kingdom. Catholics are generally respected, and may and do rise to high positions of trust in the commercial, legal, and municipal world.

Something remains to be said of the religious houses which have flourished in Edinburgh in ancient and modern times. The principal and wealthiest monastery in former days was the Abbey of Holyrood, founded by David I for Augustinian canons, who were brought from St. Andrews. The Blackfriars or Dominican monastery was founded by Alexander II in 1230, on a site now occupied by a hospital. The Greyfriars or Franciscan church (of the Observant branch of the order) stood in the Grassmarket until it was destroyed by fire in 1845. The Whitefriars or Carmelites did not settle in Edinburgh until 1518. Their house of Greenside, near the Calton Hill, was transformed at the Dissolution into a lepers' hospital. Beyond the Carmelite house, nearer Leith, stood the preceptory of St. Anthony, the only house of that order in Scotland. The collegiate churches in and about Edinburgh included those of St. Giles and St. Mary-in-the-Fields (already mentioned), Trinity Church, Restalrig, Corstorphine, Creighton, and Dalkeith. Trinity church, one of the most exquisite Gothic buildings in Scotland, was destroyed in the nineteenth century by a deplorable act of vandalism, to make room for new railway works. Neither the Benedictine nor Cistercian monks, who had numerous houses in Scotland, were established in Edinburgh. The Cistercian or Bernardine nuns, however, possessed the convent of St. Marie-in-the-wynd (or lane) near a hospital, where the sisters tended the sick. The Dominican nuns had also a convent (called Sciennes or Shenes, from St. Catherine of Siena) in the outskirts of the city. The numerous hospitals in Catholic Edinburgh comprised St. Mary Magdalen's in the Cowgate, founded in 1503 (the chapel remains, and is now used as a medical mission-hall); St. Leonard's, at the foot of Salisbury Crags; St. Mary's, in Leith Wynd, for twelve almsmen (converted into a workhouse by the Edinburgh magistrates in 1619); St. Thomas's, near the water-gate, founded in 1541 by Abbot Crichton of Holyrood for seven almsmen in red gowns; and Ballantyne's Hospital, founded by Robert Ballantyne or Bellenden, Abbot of Holyrood. The two religious orders of men now working in Edinburgh and its seaport of Leith are the Jesuits and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The former serve one of the largest churches in the city, and the latter have a house at Leith. There are eight convents of nuns, the oldest being St. Margaret's (Ursuline), founded in 1835, the first since the Reformation. The nuns keep a high-class school and attend several hospitals. St. Catherine's Convent of Mercy has a well-equipped training-college for teachers as well as a ladies' school. The other convents are those of the Sisters of Charity, Little Sisters of the Poor, Sisters of the Sacred Hearts, Poor Clares, Order of Marie Reparatrice, Helpers of the Holy Souls, and Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. The other Catholic institutions of the city include a children's refuge, orphanages for boys and girls, home for working boys, home for destitute children, dispensary, and home for penitents.

MAITLAND, Hist. of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1754); ANDERSON, Hist. Of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1856); CHAMBERS, Traditions of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1825); WILSON, Memorials of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1848); LEES, St. Giles (Edinburgh, 1887); ARNOT, Hist. of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1779); Lectures on the Antiquities of Edinburgh in the Guild of St. Joseph (Edinburgh, 1845); OLIPHANT, Royal Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1890).


Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved