The Talbot brothers

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The Talbot brothers of Carton, Co. Kildare, carried on a tradition of noisy political activism: their father William had led a deputation sent to James I to bemoan the packing of the 1613 parliament and was thrown in the Tower for his pains. The eldest brother, Sir Robert, had been briefly imprisoned in the summer of 1646 by his fellow Confederate Catholics as a wrecker. Later that year, at the behest of the lord lieutenant, James Butler, earl of Ormond, Sir Robert helped to suborn the general of the Leinster army and break up the Irish siege of Dublin, their biggest ever operation. Four brothers fled the country after the Cromwellian conquest.

Thomas, a Franciscan and ‘a disgrace to his function, name and nation’ (thus spoke his own cousin), operated as an envoy for the household at the Louvre of Charles II’s mother, Queen Henrietta Maria. ‘Colonel’ Gilbert Talbot was a ‘half-witted fellow’ whose taste for fine clothes and gaming left him even more down at heel than his fellow exiles, and he kept in contact with Charles’s court as it migrated from Paris to Spa, Aachen, Cologne and Bruges. Peter, a Jesuit, was a man of more substance. As Mazarin wooed Cromwell into an anti-Habsburg alliance, Charles fixed on the Spanish as his likeliest sponsors. An occasional envoy of the Spanish court, Peter was asked in 1654 by Ormond, one of Charles II’s two top courtiers, to request Spanish support. Whereas Henrietta Maria’s ‘Louvrians’ favoured concessions to Catholics and English Presbyterians, the ‘Old Royalist’ faction typified by Ormond and Charles’s chancellor, Edward Hyde, wanted an Anglican religious monopoly restored, and neither could bear the religious aspirations of a Jesuit whose disdain for Anglicanism is amply proclaimed by the title of his Reflexion upon the Nullitie of the English Protestant Church and Clergy (Rouen, 1657). Yet they needed Peter’s linguistic skills (he was conversant in Spanish, French and Italian) and diplomatic contacts, especially given Hyde’s ‘little Englander’ distrust of popery and his rudimentary language skills (he could not even speak French). For the moment Peter was useful, and this grudging entrée to Old Royalist circles gave Peter’s younger brother, Richard, a chance to make a name for himself at court.

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