Jacobite relics in Trinity College, Dublin

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Features, Issue 1 (January/February 2018), Volume 26

Was this simply a case of a tourist snapping up collectables with a celebrity appeal, or does the episode reveal a deeper sympathy for the Jacobite cause?

By Estelle Gittins

Above: Not Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) but Prince Henry Benedict Clement Stuart (later cardinal duke of York) by Maurice Quentin de la Tour, 1746/7. On the cardinal’s death in Rome in 1807, most of the Stuart state papers in his possession were purchased by the English Crown, with the exception of some personal items, including his grandfather’s Book of Private Devotions and his parents’ marriage certificate. (NPG, Scotland)

The Library of Trinity College, Dublin, holds two fascinating and little-known manuscripts bought by a nineteenth-century Irish tourist in Rome—a volume of the private devotions of the last Stuart monarch, James II (1633–1701), and the marriage certificate of his son, the ‘Old Pretender’, James III (1688–1766). Both are intimate family documents that share a remarkable, unbroken provenance reaching back to the last of the Stuart line, James III’s son Henry, cardinal duke of York (1725–1807), brother of Charles Edward, a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720–88).

The Book of Private Devotions of James II (TCD MS 3529) is a small volume of letters, prayers and memoirs written in James’s own hand and mostly dated 1698–1700, eight years on from his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne. James was then nearing the end of his life, and his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange occupied his former throne. The volume provides a window into the former king’s psychological state and pious preoccupations while living in exile in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, subsidised by Louis XIV of France. Accordingly, while many of the devotions are written in English, some passages are in French. In one part James proffers advice to an unidentified recipient on how best to spend leisure time—in prayer, meditation and the reading of good books; also admissible are affairs of business, moderate hunting, shooting and tennis (but only for the purposes of exercise and the pursuit of desirable company). He especially advises against balls (not the tennis variety), and also censures operas and plays, but concedes that, ‘if obliged at any tyme to go to any of them, to governe ones [eyes] with discretion, and to let ones thoughts be of the vanity of them’.

Sensational marriage 

Above: Pages from the Book of Private Devotions of James II, in which he proffers advice on how best to spend leisure time—in prayer, meditation and the reading of good books; he advises against balls, operas and plays. (TCD)

The marriage certificate (TCD MS 7574) of James III and the seventeen-year-old Polish Princess Maria Clementina Sobieska (1702–35), the parents of Charles Edward and Henry, cardinal duke of York, is an elaborate object, lavishly decorated with colourful floral borders. Its frontispiece bears the combined Stuart and Sobieski coats of arms above a representation of a hilltop village that bears a strong resemblance to Montefiascone, near Lake Bolsena, north of Rome, the venue for the wedding and the summer residence of the then pope, Clement XI. That the union took place at all is nothing short of remarkable given the events that led up to it, which played out like a Hollywood blockbuster. The bride was ambushed and imprisoned en route at Innsbruck at the behest of King George I in an attempt to disrupt the match. The resulting jailbreak was facilitated by Irishman Charles ‘Chevalier’ Wogan and his band of officers, along with one of their wives who, Wogan tells us, was four months pregnant. A chase across Europe then ensued, involving faked illness, a maid in disguise, lost jewels, false identities, forged passports, broken axles and the spiking of some hapless pursuers’ drinks. The escape party made it safely across the Alps, and James and Clementina were finally married at Montefiascone in a ceremony performed by order of the pope on 1 September 1719. The episode caused a scandal throughout Europe but did not furnish the fairy-tale ending it deserved, as the couple separated soon after their two sons were born.

The Irish collector

Both of the manuscripts now in Trinity College passed into the hands of the last surviving Stuart claimant to the British throne, Henry, cardinal duke of York. On his death in Rome in 1807, most of the Stuart state papers in his possession were purchased by the English Crown, but some of the more personal items, including his grandfather’s Book of Devotions and his parents’ marriage certificate, remained with members of the cardinal’s Roman circle. In the decades that followed, however, these were sold off in piecemeal fashion to foreign tourists.

The purchaser of the Trinity manuscripts was Blayney Townley Balfour (1799–1882), the fourth of that name of Townley Hall in Drogheda, and son of Blayney Townley Balfour III (1769–1856), an Irish MP and Townley Hall’s builder.

Above: Frontispiece (left) of the marriage certificate of James III and Maria Clementina Sobieska, 1719, bearing the combined Stuart and Sobieski coats of arms, and (right) James’s signature. (TCD)

The family was well used to foreign travel (one brother died in Honduras, another in India), and Blayney himself was lieutenant-governor of the Bahamas between 1833 and 1835. After his return to Ireland he became, like his father before him, high sheriff of County Louth in 1841 and married Elizabeth Catherine Reynell of Westmeath in January 1843. In the intervening year he travelled to Rome, where he purchased a series of important items connected to the exiled Stuarts, including a number of personal effects, three portraits and the two manuscripts under discussion. Balfour wrote a number of short accounts of his purchases, including the following, which was transcribed by his son, Blayney Reynell Townley Balfour (1845–1928), for a 1925 publication of the volume of devotions of James II:

‘1842 The things in this drawer were purchased by me this spring from the Marquis Malatesta in an old house at the foot of the Capitol stairs. He inherited them from an uncle, an intimate friend of the Cardinal York’s, who left them to him. They are relics of the Stuart Family. The book of devotions had never been brought out of the family till it left Cardinal York’s house. Lady Bray bought a full length picture the same time. BTB [Blayney Townley Balfour] June. ’

Above: Townley Hall, Drogheda, built by Blayney Townley Balfour III (1769–1856), father of Blayney Townley Balfour IV (1799–1882), the manuscripts’ collector. (MVK Architects)

‘Lady Bray’ was Sarah Otway-Cave (1768–1862), third Baroness Braye, who also purchased a large number of Stuart portraits from the Malatesta family, the bulk of which remain at the family seat of Stanford Hall, Leicestershire. Townley Balfour’s son goes on to state  that

‘… among the other relics purchased by my father were three portraits—of Prince James the Chevalier, Prince Charles Edward and Cardinal York. There was also the marriage certificate of Prince James and Marie Clementina of Poland.’

Not Bonnie Prince Charlie but cardinal duke of York

One of these portraits, a shoulder-length pastel likeness of a man in armour by Maurice-Quentin de la Tour with the same provenance as the Trinity manuscripts, appeared at auction in 1994. Purchased by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (NGS PG2954) as depicting Charles Edward Stuart, it seems to have been the source of numerous presumed likenesses of the Young Pretender. It was, however, the subject of a high-profile re-evaluation in 2008 by Bendor Grosvenor, who persuasively re-identified the sitter as Charles’ brother Henry. It is known that, between 1746 and 1747, both he and his brother sat for la Tour. This took place before Henry’s cardinalship, which would explain why he was depicted in military attire.

As regards the other items purchased in Rome in 1842, we cannot know the full extent of what might have been kept in the drawer mentioned in Townley Balfour’s description, but in other accounts he makes reference to a Stuart-owned pencil case and riding whip. Furthermore, a seal, an amber flask and a scent bottle belonging to the cardinal are all listed as having been purchased by Townley Balfour from the Malatesta family in Bernard W. Kelly’s Life of Cardinal York (1899). The seal referred to is the bloodstone seal of James II, depicting the royal Stuart arms and dated to 1685, which was later acquired by Hever Castle in Kent in 2000 (HCW1406/0600).

Above: The seal of James II, 1685—also amongst the items purchased by Townley Balfour. (Hever Castle and Gardens)

What impelled Townley Balfour to purchase such Jacobite relics? Was this simply a case of a tourist snapping up collectables with a celebrity appeal, or does the episode reveal a deeper sympathy for the Jacobite cause? Despite the Protestant faith of the Townley Balfour family of Drogheda, they were an offshoot of the Towneleys of Towneley Hall near Burnley in Lancashire—one of the major Catholic families of the north of England and renowned as staunch supporters of the Stuarts. Two generations of the Lancashire Towneleys took part in the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745; Francis Towneley (1709–46) was executed for his part in the 1745 rebellion, and the family reputedly kept his severed head in a secret recess in the Towneley Hall chapel. There are other hints of Townley Balfour’s Catholic sympathies, not least in the existence of a number of seventeenth-century family portraits painted by the artist Garrett Morphy, who was known to favour commissions from eminent Catholic patrons, and the inclusion of a number of books and pamphlets on the Catholic faith and the penal laws within the Townley Hall library at Drogheda, which is now housed in the Library of Trinity College Dublin. There is nothing, however, to suggest a political association with what by 1842 would have been a long-dead claim to the throne. Perhaps Blayney Townley Balfour’s purchase of the Jacobite items was partially provoked by the nineteenth-century romanticisation of the Jacobite saga and the popularity of Walter Scott’s Waverley (a number of Scott’s works were also included in the Townley Hall library collection). There is, in any case, more work to be done on the fascinating figure of Blayney Townley Balfour, and his collecting inclinations and motivations.

Estelle Gittins is an archivist in the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library of Trinity College, Dublin.


T. Canavan, ‘Making a hole in the moon: the rescue of Princess Clementina’, History Ireland 1 (4) (Winter 1993).
G. Davies (intro.), Papers of the devotion of James II: being a reproduction of the ms. in the handwriting of James the Second, now in the possession of Mr. B.R. Townley Balfour, Roxburghe Publications, no. 181 (1925).
B. Grosvenor, ‘The restoration of King Henry IX: identifying Henry Stuart, Cardinal York’, British Art Journal 9 (1) (Spring 2008).
B.W. Kelley, Life of Cardinal York (London and New York, 1899).


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