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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

8th January 2016

History and healing: remembering the Stuarts

Commemoration of 250th anniversary of funeral of James Stuart
HM Ambassador Nigel Baker lays a wreath at the tomb of James Francis Edward Stuart, 8 January 2016

On 8 January, with the gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen, I laid a wreath at the tomb in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica of James Francis Edward Stuart, 250 years after his burial there. The message on the wreath was very simple: “In memoriam – James Francis Edward Stuart – ‘The Chevalier’ – 1688-1766”.

Why, you may ask? What has that to do with the British Embassy to the Holy See?

James Francis Edward Stuart had other names. ‘The Chevalier’ to his friends and admirers, he was “The Old Pretender” to his enemies (to distinguish him from his eldest son, ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie, ‘The Young Pretender’), and to his supporters – and, when it suited him, King Louis XIV of France – King James III of England and Ireland, VIII of Scotland. He was the son of James II, deposed in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 after a crisis precipitated by his son’s birth, and lived and died in exile. After his death in Rome on New Year’s Day 1766, Pope Clement XIII accorded him the honour of a magnificent State Funeral the following 8 January. In his lifetime, successive Popes always recognised him as King. However, significantly, Clement XIII did not extend that recognition to his sons, in tacit and later explicit recognition of the Hanoverian succession.

So our simple wreath-laying ceremony was, in a way, one of historical reconciliation. The Chevalier always considered himself a patriot, and his court in exile welcomed Britons of all political and religious stripes. His younger son, Henry Benedict, Cardinal York, received a pension from the British Crown after his lands had been seized by Napoleon, and the Prince Regent offered to contribute to the magnificent Stuart monument by Canova that can still be seen in St Peter’s. The tomb in the crypt where I laid the wreath was restored by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, through the good offices of my predecessor, Sir D’Arcy Osborne, in the early 1940’s. And in 2012 HRH The Duke of Gloucester unveiled a restored Coat of Arms of Cardinal York in the Pontifical Scots College, where the original Stuart gravestones had been transferred.

Memory runs deep in Rome. Cardinal Comastri, Archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica (and, as such, a successor of Cardinal York) participated in the wreath-laying ceremony. The Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Gallagher, also attended alongside a number of other senior Holy See officials. The Rectors of the Irish, Scots and Venerable English Colleges – whose predecessors were fired by Clement XIII in 1766 for their untimely enthusiasm for the Stuart cause – attended alongside the Rector of the Pontifical Beda College, representing the British and Irish seminaries in Rome. As did Anglican, Methodist and Church of Scotland guests.

The Chevalier was known for his deep faith, but I hope would have been pleased to have seen participants across the ecumenical divide at this occasion. The presence of the Irish ambassador to the Holy See also reminded us of the importance of commemorating together, rather than remembering apart. The past leaves many wounds. But do not underestimate the healing power of history and remembrance, done well.

3 comments on “History and healing: remembering the Stuarts

  1. I have taken a couple of days in order to cool down. As president of the association – Alliance France-Ecosse- who succeeded in restoring our James VII’s honour in St Germain en Laye back in 1997, now I might as well have a bash at restoring James VIII’s. As a Scot and as a Jacobite, the notion of Auld/Old or Young Pretender just don’t exist. Neither of them were ‘pretending’ at anything – they just WERE. When working on the project in St Germain en Laye and so as not to get things wrong re the text on our memorial plaque, I sought out guidance frae Dr Christopher Smouts – Historiographer Royal in Scotland and also The Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh (and from the French ‘Monuments Historiques’ and the Architects des Batiments de France). Our home grown Scottish authorities on the matter confirmed that as from James VI, King of Scots and 1st of England, it is the Scottish title (being the auldest), that takes precedence over the English one. It thus should be James VIII, King of Scots and III of England. Now I have ‘cooled off’ it just leaves me to say all the best to one and all and Alba Gù Brath

  2. I am pleased to see this take place. I am descended from the brother of Ignatius White, Minister of State to James II, who went into exile with that monarch and died in France in 1694. Honoring the history of the Jacobite cause, without attempting to reverse history, can do much to heal deep divisions. By now, even those of us with ancestors who ardently supported James II also are often descended from those who opposed him. We are also seeking healing within ourselves, as we always should do.

  3. It was good to represent a group of Christians (the Methodists) who were close to Catholics in the 18th century. John Wesley`s mother Susanna was a Stuart supporter. Methodists in the 1740s were suspected of being Jacobites. John Wesley held out an olive branch to Catholics in his letters and sermons. History and its recollection is a great healer of memories especially when it brings those previously divided together. We are grateful to HE Nigel Baker and his colleagues for arranging this simple yet meaningful ceremony in the crypt of St. Peter`s Basilica
    Tim Macquiban, Director of the Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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