Vicar Apostolic of the London District

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The Vicar Apostolic of the London District was the title given to the bishop who headed an ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church in England, the Vicariate Apostolic of the London District, from 1688 to 1850.

Background[edit]

Soon after the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, the bishops of England were forced to choose between taking the Oath of Supremacy, thus denying the authority of the Pope, and losing their episcopal sees. Those who chose to continue their allegiance to Rome were subsequently deposed and replaced in their sees by priests of the Church of England. Most of the deposed Bishops were imprisoned in various locations and died in captivity over a period of years, though some left the country and continued their work overseas. The last of the deposed bishops was Thomas Goldwell, Bishop of St Asaph, who died in Rome on April 3, 1585.

Vicar Apostolic of England[edit]

In 1623, after 65 years of formal absence from England, the Pope Urban VIII, decided once again to appoint a bishop with actual jurisdiction in England. His choice fell upon William Bishop, who was given the title of Vicar Apostolic of England. Bishop landed secretly in England at midnight on 31 July 1623, but was to die only nine months later.

Bishop was succeeded in office by Richard Smith, also ordained a bishop, who arrived in England in April 1625. However, two warrants were issued for Smith's arrest in August 1631, and he was forced to resign and flee to France, where he eventually died in Paris in 1655. After 1631, there was no Roman Catholic bishop in England for another 54 years, and the void was to some extent filled by a dean and chapter of rather unsure legal status, first established by Bishop and confirmed by Smith.

It was only in 1685 that a successor was appointed by Rome, in the person of John Leyburn, a Doctor of Divinity of the Sorbonne and a former President of the English College at Douai, who was consecrated bishop in Rome on 9 September 1685. In 1623, Bishop had divided England into six areas, at the head of each of which he placed a superior with the title of vicar general, and this had remained the system thereafter. Leyburn reduced these six areas to four. In the summer of 1687 he toured the North of England and confirmed over 20,000 Catholics there.

Vicar Apostolic of the London District[edit]

On 20 January 1688, the number of bishops in England was increased by the Pope to four vicars apostolic, as a result of which at the same time the territory of the former single vicariate apostolic was reduced, being centred still on London, with the title of Vicariate Apostolic of the London District. The first such Vicar Apostolic, from 30 January 1688, was Bishop John Leyburn, who had previously since 24 August 1685 served as Vicar Apostolic of All England and Wales.

Although the vicariates as a whole were later more finely divided over the years, and notwithstanding intermittent persecution, a Vicariate Apostolic of the London District continued in existence until on 29 September 1850 Pope Pius IX issued the bull Universalis Ecclesiae, by which thirteen new dioceses were created, among them the Archdiocese of Westminster, a new jurisdiction which formally replaced the previous vicariate.

The last Vicar Apostolic of the London District was Bishop Nicholas Wiseman (d. 1865), who on 29 September 1850 was assigned the title of Metropolitan Archbishop of Westminster. The following day he was created a cardinal.

List of Vicars Apostolic[edit]

Vicars Apostolic of England
From Until Incumbent Notes
1623 1624 William Bishop,
Titular Bishop of Chalcedon
Formerly priest 1581–1623. Appointed vicar apostolic on 15 March 1623 and consecrated titular bishop on 4 June 1624. Died in office on 13 April 1624.
1624 1632 Richard Smith,
Titular Bishop of Chalcedon
Formerly priest 1582–1632. Appointed vicar apostolic on 29 November 1624 and consecrated titular bishop on 12 June 1625. Resigned in 1632 and died on 18 March 1655.
1632 1685 Vacant
1685 1688 John Leyburn,
Titular Bishop of Hadrumetum
Appointed vicar apostolic on 24 August 1685 and consecrated titular bishop on 9 September 1685. Became Vicar Apostolic of the London District on 30 January 1688.
In 1688, England was divided into four vicariates apostolic – the London, Midland, Northern, and Western districts.
Vicars Apostolic of the London District
From Until Incumbent Notes
1688 1702 John Leyburn,
Titular Bishop of Hadrumetum
Hitherto Vicar Apostolic of England 1685–1688. Appointed vicar apostolic on 30 January 1688. Died in office on 9 June 1702.
1703 1734 Bonaventure Giffard,
Titular Bishop of Madaurus
Previously Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District 1687–1703. Appointed vicar apostolic on 14 March 1703. Died in office on 12 March 1734.
1734 1758 Benjamin Petre, O.S.B.,
Titular Bishop of Prusa
Appointed coadjutor vicar apostolic on 23 June 1721 and consecrated titular bishop on 11 November 1721. Succeeded vicar apostolic on 12 March 1734. Died in office on 22 December 1758.
1758 1781 Richard Challoner,
Titular Bishop of Doberus
Appointed coadjutor vicar apostolic on 12 September 1739 and consecrated titular bishop on 29 January 1741. Succeeded vicar apostolic on 22 September 1758. Died in office on 12 January 1781.
1781 1790 James Robert Talbot,
Titular Bishop of Birtha
Appointed coadjutor vicar apostolic on 10 March 1759 and consecrated titular bishop on 24 August 1759. Succeeded vicar apostolic on 12 January 1781. Died in office on 26 January 1790.
1790 1812 John Douglass,
Titular Bishop of Centuria
Appointed vicar apostolic on 10 September 1790 and consecrated titular bishop on 19 December 1790. Died in office on 8 May 1812.
1812 1827 William Poynter,
Titular Bishop of Alia
Appointed coadjutor vicar apostolic on 6 Mar 1803 and consecrated titular bishop on 29 May 1803. Succeeded vicar apostolic on 8 May 1812. Died in office on 26 November 1827.
1827 1836 James Yorke Bramston,
Titular Bishop of Usula
Appointed coadjutor vicar apostolic on 4 February 1823 and consecrated titular bishop on 29 June 1823. Succeeded vicar apostolic on 26 November 1827. Died in office on 11 July 1836.
1836 1847 Thomas Griffiths,
Titular Bishop of Olena
Appointed coadjutor vicar apostolic on 30 July 1833 and consecrated titular bishop on 28 October 1833. Succeeded vicar apostolic on 11 July 1836. Died in office on 12 August 1847.
1848 1849 Thomas Walsh,
Titular Bishop of Cambysopolis
Previously Vicar Apostolic of the Central District 1840–1848. Appointed vicar apostolic on 17 July 1848. Died in office on 18 February 1849.
1849 1850 Nicholas Wiseman,
Titular Bishop of Milopotamus
Appointed coadjutor vicar apostolic on 29 August 1847 and succeeded vicar apostolic on 18 February 1849. Became the first Archbishop of Westminster when the district was elevated to an archdiocese on 29 September 1850.
In 1850, the London District elevated to the Archdiocese of Westminster when the hierarchy in England and Wales was re-established.

Sources[edit]

  • Basil Hemphill, The Early Vicars Apostolic of England 1685-1750, Burns & Oates, London, 1953.
  • Godfrey Anstruther, The Seminary Priests, St Edmund's College, Ware / Ushaw College, Durham, vol. 1, pp. 321–322.
  • Godfrey Anstruther, The Seminary Priests, St Edmund's College, Ware / Ushaw College, Durham, vol. 2, pp. 193, 195-200.

See also[edit]