Italian School 18th Centry
Portrait of Henry Benedict Thomas Edward Maria Clement Francis Xavier Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York 1725 – 1807
Cardinal Duke of York


oil on canvas
64 x 76 cm. (25 x 30 in.)


Henry Benedict Stuart; styled Henry; known as Cardinal York] (1725–1807), cardinal and Jacobite claimant to the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones, was born Henry Benedict Thomas Edward Maria Clement Francis Xavier in the Palazzo Muti in Rome on 6 March 1725, and baptized there some hours later by Pope Benedict XIII. He was the second son of James Francis Edward (1688–1766), king of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland in the Jacobite succession, and his wife, the Polish princess Clementina, née Sobieska (1702–1735). His father claimed to be James VIII and III, the rightful king of England, Scotland, and Ireland; his elder brother, Charles Edward (1720–1788), was known to the Jacobites as prince of Wales, and Henry bore the title of duke of York. The atmosphere within the family was turbulent. Clementina, immature, vivacious, and hot-tempered, was impatient with James's gloomy reserve, and when Henry was eight months old she became convinced that her husband was having an affair and fled to the Ursuline convent of St Cecilia. Her family did not see her again until the summer of 1727, when she emerged, appointed Winifred, fifth countess of Nithsdale as Henry's governess, and threw herself in to a life of piety and good works.

A small, pretty, dark-haired boy, Henry impressed everyone who saw him with his charm of manner, and in 1729 his father proudly declared himself to be 'really in love with the little duke, for he is the finest child can be seen' (Fothergill, 23). Henry had his mother's quick temper though, and when, at nine, he was refused permission to accompany his adored elder brother to the siege of Gaeta, he flung his sword across the room in a tantrum, and had his Order of the Garter removed by their father as a punishment. In 1735 Clementina died, worn out caring for the poor of Rome, leaving her sons sick with grief. That same year the Englishman Samuel Crisp saw the Stuart princes in Rome and reported that Henry had 'more beauty and dignity in him than ever one can form to oneself in idea. He danced miraculously, as they say he does all exercises, singing, I am told, most sweetly' (Vaughan, 14).

Henry had inherited not only his mother's love of music, but the asthma which had plagued her, and her piety. In 1742 his tutor James Murray, earl of Dunbar, described how he spent much of his time in agitated prayer, sometimes hearing as many as four masses a day and seemed in a constant state of anxiety, his watch always in his hand, lest he miss any of his religious observances. He appeared to be 'unable to take pleasure in anything', said Dunbar, and by the evening often had 'a blackness about his eyes, his head quite fatigued and his hands hot' (Tayler and Tayler, 108). Henry was not told when, in 1744, his elder brother slipped away to France to lead a Jacobite invasion of Great Britain, for fear that he might inadvertently betray the secret. Once he did know he was eager to help, and his father told Louis XV, 'He cannot endure the idea of having to remain in Rome while his brother is in Scotland' (Fothergill, 43).

Finally Henry, too, was allowed to go to France, setting off secretly on 29 August 1745. Given nominal command of a naval expedition being prepared by the duke of Richelieu to invade England, Henry spent that winter at Dunkirk, but when news came of his brother's retreat from Derby the French lost interest and the proposed invasion was abandoned. Henry remained on the coast until the disastrous defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden on 16 April 1746. Desperately anxious about Charles's fate, he instigated various naval rescue attempts and served bravely with the French army at the siege of Antwerp, later visiting his cousin the duc de Bouillon at the Château de Navarre. Louis XV then gave him a house at Clichy, near Paris, and it was there that he learned of Charles's safe arrival at Roscoff in October 1746. He set out at once to meet him, and after a glad reunion they travelled together to Paris.

The brothers' formerly close and affectionate relationship now came under considerable strain. Humiliated, tortured by the knowledge of his followers' sufferings, and unable to accept defeat, Charles was drinking heavily and only too ready to lash out at the person closest to him. Hurt and embarrassed, Henry became more and more convinced that his own vocation lay within the Roman Catholic church and he felt that the collapse of the 1745 rising had absolved him of any obligation to take part in political or military affairs. He was aware that his father had always gone to great lengths to play down the family's Catholicism, knowing it to be unacceptable to the protestant British whom he regarded as his subjects, but James was sympathetic to his younger son's needs and advised Henry to return to Rome without disclosing his intentions to Charles, who would be sure to be angry.

In a state of nervous apprehension, Henry handled the matter clumsily, inviting his brother to dinner on 29 April 1747 and then disappearing without a word before they could meet. Several weeks later Charles received a letter from their father, explaining, 'I know not whether you will be surprised, my dearest Carluccio, when I tell you that your brother will be made a cardinal the first days of next month'. Appalled, Charles declared the news to be 'a dager throw my heart' (Tayler and Tayler, 209) and refused to have Henry's name mentioned in his presence. The Jacobite cause was undoubtedly damaged by Henry's career choice, but he himself was content. On 30 June 1747 he received the tonsure from his godfather, Pope Benedict XIV, and on 3 July was given the red hat at a ceremony in the Sistine Chapel. Appointed cardinal-deacon with the title of Santa Maria in Campitelli, one of the parish churches in Rome, he had his scarlet garments trimmed with regal ermine, was addressed as 'royal highness and eminence', and was known as Cardinal York. At his own request he was ordained as a priest on 1 September 1748 and twelve days later was elevated to the office of cardinal-priest.

Twenty-two years old now, slender and elegant, with a long, oval face and large, dark eyes, Henry soon became a leading figure in Roman literary and artistic circles, organizing concerts and commissioning new masses. Presented with benefices by the kings of France and Spain he enjoyed considerable wealth, and his appointment as archpriest of the Vatican basilica in 1751 brought him an official residence in the piazza della Sagrestia. However, he preferred to go on living in the Palazzo Muti, helping his increasingly frail father with his voluminous paperwork and bickering with him interminably. A month before his death in May 1758 the pope made Henry Cardinal Camerlingo, head of the papal treasury and organizer of the next papal conclave.

The new pope, Clement XIII, created Henry archbishop of Corinth in November 1758, and when George II died in 1760 and there was no public support for the Jacobite claimant, Henry remained immersed in his chosen career. The following year he resigned his titular archbishopric of Corinth to become bishop of Tusculum, moving to Frascati, where his enthronement took place in the cathedral on 13 July 1761. His episcopal palace of La Rocca now became his preferred residence and there he entertained lavishly, continued to patronize the arts, built up a fine library, and at the same time was diligent in his ecclesiastical duties. 'His charities were without bounds: poverty and distress were unknown to his see', the English Cardinal Wiseman was later to remark (Fothergill, 85). When Henry became vice-chancellor of the holy Roman church in 1763, he acquired the magnificent Palazzo della Cancellaria in Rome, but he continued to live in his beloved Frascati, dashing at great speed between his two residences in his coach and six.

His brother, meanwhile, had been expelled from France and was leading a strange life, wandering incognito through Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, sustained by Henry's own pension of 12,000 crowns from the apostolic chamber. In the autumn of 1765 it became evident that their father was nearing the end of his life and Henry tried in vain to persuade Charles to return to Rome. James died on 1 January 1766 and Henry was chief mourner at the funeral six days later, when his father was buried in St Peter's. Charles arrived at the end of the month and the brothers' long estrangement ended in an affectionate reunion. The pope refused to recognize Charles as King Charles III, however, and Henry was soon shamed once more by his brother's drinking and embarrassing behaviour.

In 1769 Pope Clement XIV gave Henry charge of the former Jesuit seminary at Frascati, and he began an energetic programme of reorganization. He extended the premises, reformed the curriculum, installed a printing press and a stage for the student theatrical performances which he so enjoyed, and moved his own priceless collection of books into the library. His peaceful routine was abruptly shattered in March 1772 when he heard without warning that Charles had entered into a proxy marriage with an attractive, impoverished, nineteen-year-old German princess, Louisa, daughter of Prince Gustav Adolf of Stolberg-Gedern. Louisa soon charmed Henry, but a further complication arose the following year when Charles's former mistress Clementine Walkinshaw appeared in Rome with their daughter, Charlotte, seeking an increase in the allowance long paid to her by Henry. When Charles refused to see them, it was left to Henry to fend off their demands.

It was probably a relief to Henry when Charles and his new wife moved to Florence in 1774, but six years later he was appalled to receive a letter from Louisa saying that she had been forced to leave her husband after he had attacked her. All too familiar with Charles's unfortunate propensity for 'the nasty bottle' (Vaughan, 126), Henry was sympathetic, inviting Louisa to take up residence in the Ursuline convent in Rome, where his mother had found shelter. He did not realize that she was having an affair with the dramatic poet Count Vittorio Alfieri. Louisa came to Rome, but did not rest until she had persuaded Henry to let her move from the convent to the Palazzo della Cancellaria, where she held court with Alfieri as a frequent visitor.

Everyone in Rome knew about the relationship except Henry. He remained innocently unaware of the liaison until Charles fell seriously ill in 1783, sent for him, and poured out his side of the story. Appalled at Louisa's deceitfulness, Henry forbade her to receive Alfieri and eventually agreed, reluctantly, to the legal separation of Charles and his wife in the spring of 1784. Louisa promptly went off to live with her lover in Colmar on the Rhine, and in October of that same year Charles sent for his daughter Charlotte and created her duchess of Albany. This dukedom rightfully belonged to the younger son of the king of Scots and Henry was indignant, composing a long protest about what he saw as a threat to his position as heir presumptive. Charlotte, however, adopted a conciliatory attitude to him and he was won over when he saw at first hand the care she took of her frail, increasingly difficult father when Charles returned with her to live in the Palazzo Muti in December 1785.

Charles finally died there on 31 December 1788. Refused permission to have him buried in St Peter's with their father, Henry conducted the funeral service in the cathedral at Frascati, the tears running down his cheeks. Whatever the differences between the two brothers, they had remained deeply attached to one another. The cardinal now considered himself to be the rightful King Henry IX, adjusted his coat of arms accordingly, styled himself 'Cardinal called duke of York', and upon occasion touched for the king's evil. He was deeply hurt when, in 1789, against the background of the French Revolution, the pope decided to recognize George III as king of Britain. Henry issued an indignant protest, but to no avail.

Louis XVI went to the guillotine in 1793 and Henry held a mass for him at Frascati. Three years later, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy. The pope was twice forced to come to terms and on the second occasion, in 1797, Henry generously placed almost his entire fortune at the pope's disposal, including the fabulous Sobieski ruby which had belonged to his mother. Despite these efforts at appeasement, the French marched on Rome in 1798, captured the city, imprisoned the pope, and declared a republic. Taking some of his valuable plate, Henry fled to Naples with his faithful secretary, Monsignor Angelo Cesarini, and valet, Eugenio Ridolfi. In his absence the French plundered his paintings, books, and manuscripts, putting some of them up for sale at public auction.

Several other cardinals also sought refuge in Naples, but the advance of the revolutionary forces compelled them to move on. Having hired a small vessel, Henry sailed through terrible storms to Messina, his epic voyage lasting twenty-three days. He could not stay there long, for Pope Pius VI was dying and the cardinals would have to assemble in Venice for the conclave to elect his successor. In February 1799 Henry crossed to Reggio, on the coast of Calabria, and along with two other cardinals hired a Greek merchant vessel to complete the journey. Another dreadful storm forced them to put in at Corfu, but they finally reached Venice and found lodgings in a house near the Rialto. Henry then sold his remaining plate and sought shelter in a nearby monastery, that autumn attending the conclave which elected Pope Pius VII.

Henry was now seventy-five years old and not only destitute but in poor health. Somewhat surprisingly, he had made friends with Sir John Coxe Hippisley, George III's envoy in Rome, and Sir John now came to the rescue. The British government owed Henry £1,500,000, the arrears of the jointure of his grandmother, Mary of Modena. Such an astronomical sum would never be paid, but Sir John asked Henry's old friend Cardinal Stefano Borgia to write a letter describing Henry's plight, and this was placed before the prime minister, William Pitt. With any Jacobite threat to the Hanoverian succession long since extinguished, the British government ministers could afford to be charitable. On 22 November 1799 Sir John was able to arrange for a preliminary letter of credit for £500 sterling to be sent to Cardinal York, and on 7 February 1800 the earl of Minto, British ambassador in Vienna, wrote him a tactful letter informing him that George III was granting him an annual pension of £4000. Henry was touched and delighted.

Not long afterwards Napoleon sought better relations with the Holy See, and Henry was able to return to Frascati. His residence was refurbished in preparation for his arrival, his suite of rooms in the Palazzo della Cancellaria was renovated, and he reached Rome on 25 June 1800 amid great rejoicing. Pausing only to take some refreshment, he left at once for Frascati, where crowds lined the streets, brass bands played, and the cathedral bells rang out in welcome. In no time at all he had settled back into his lavish lifestyle, despite his depleted resources. With the death of Cardinal Albani in 1803 Henry became senior cardinal, succeeding automatically to the position of dean of the Sacred College and bishop of Ostia and Velletri. This meant that he had to resign the see of Tusculum, but he was allowed to live on at La Rocca.

Although now very frail, Henry insisted on attending ecclesiastical ceremonies in Rome until, after a special mass in 1804, he felt so weak that he had to be carried from St Peter's in a litter. By 1806 his memory was failing, and in the following summer he caught a feverish chill. He died after a fortnight's illness, on 13 July 1807, the forty-sixth anniversary of his enthronement in Frascati Cathedral. Three days later his body was taken to lie in state in the Palazzo della Cancellaria, and his funeral was held in the nearby church of Sant' Andrea delle Valle, probably on 16 July. He was then buried beside his father in the crypt of St Peter's, and his brother's body was brought from Frascati and placed in the same vault. Most of his resources gone, his pensions spent, and his Mexican properties lost in South American revolutions, he left the remaining royal jewels in his possession to George III, in a gesture of gratitude, and the Stuart archives eventually passed to the Royal Library at Windsor. When in 1819 Pope Pius VII commissioned the white marble monument by Canova which stands above the Stuart tomb, the future George IV contributed £50 towards the cost.

Henry had found great satisfaction as a prince of the church, and his contemporaries saw nothing strange in the contrast between his lavish lifestyle and his genuine piety and philanthropy. Affectionate, sensitive, and intelligent, he was not a scholar but he was rightly admired as a bibliophile and patron of the arts. With his intense religiosity, he had in adolescence seemed to many to compare unfavourably with his more dashing brother, and Jacobites criticized him bitterly for entering the church instead of producing male heirs. Others alleged, however, that he would have had no children, being homosexual. The historian Andrew Lang alluded cryptically to James's comment that his younger son would never marry although many marriages had been planned for him (Shield, x), but there seems to be no conclusive evidence as to Henry's sexual orientation. What is more significant is that while Charles never could accept that the Jacobite cause was lost, Henry had the courage and realism to pursue the career for which he was best fitted.

Rosalind K. Marshall Oxford DNB.