Today is the anniversary of the death of Henry Benedict Maria, Cardinal Duke of York and, at least to legitimists, Henry IX of England. He never sat on the throne of England : but the proximity of his tomb to that of S. Peter might just possibly be more precious.
He was made a Cardinal in 1747, being ordained priest the following year at the age of 23 and immediately made Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica; and shortly afterwards Cardinal Camerlengo. Thereafter he was consecrated titular bishop of Corinth in 1759, and became Cardinal Bishop of Frascati on 13 July 1761. He became Bishop of Ostia & Velletri, and Dean of the Sacred College, in September 1803, although he continued to reside at Frascati. He was a pious and earnest man, who did much good for the Church, although the French Revolution, and subsequent invasion of Italy, left him destitute until George III gave him an annuity. Although he sometimes signed himself ‘Henry R’ after the death of his brother in 1788 he never publicly claimed the throne of England, and referred to himself (and was referred to by the Vatican) as the Cardinal Duke of York. However, he did ‘touch for the king’s evil’, and was the last person to do so.
Many years ago now I had the privilege of handling his solid silver sermon case, which bore his arms – the royal arms of England complete with Cardinal’s hat and his Crown : and I also remember his reliquary of S. Andrew. It was essentially a baroque column, with the base and capital in heavy gold topped off with the cross of S. Andrew, and with the column itself made of crystal and containing the relic (although I don’t think the particular relic in it was his).
The priest who owned the reliquary subsequently became Catholic and lived in Fr Ray Blake’s parish; but although he apparently told Fr Ray that he would leave it to him, I understand that he died intestate, so that S. Mary Magdalene never received it.
Perhaps in an odd way that’s a fitting end to the story of a man – even a family – whose motto might have been ‘Never quite . . .’ May he rest in peace, and rise in glory.