John Leyburn

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The Right Reverend
John Leyburn
Vicar Apostolic of England
Appointed 30 January 1688
Term ended 20 June 1702
Predecessor Richard Smith
Successor Bonaventure Giffard
Other posts Titular Bishop of Adramyttium
Consecration 9 September 1685
by Federico Baldeschi Colonna
Personal details
Born 1615
Cunswick, near Kendal, Westmorland
Died 20 June 1702(1702-06-20) (aged 86–87)
Nationality English
Denomination Roman Catholic
Parents John Leyburn and Catharine Carr
Alma mater English College, Douai

John Leyburn (1615 – 20 June, 1702) was an English Roman Catholic bishop who served as the Vicar Apostolic of England from 1685 to 1688 and then when it was divided served as the Vicar Apostolic of the London District from 1688 to 1702.[1] He was not only a theologian, but also a mathematician, and an intimate friend of Descartes and Hobbes.


He was the fourth son of John Leyburn and Catharine Carr, nephew of George Leyburn, and descended from Westmorland MP Sir James Leyburn.[2] He was educated at the English College, Douai, where he was admitted a student on 20 June 1633. He received holy orders, was engaged for some time in teaching the classics in the college. During the time of the English Civil War he was tutor to Francis Browne, eldest son of Viscount Montague, and made the Grand Tour with his pupil. He was one of the divines recommended to the authorities at Rome in 1657 as successor to Richard Smith, Titular Bishop of Chalcedon, as Vicar Apostolic of England. For about twelve years he resided in England as domestic chaplain in the family of Lord Montague. Unlike his uncle, he regarded the Old Chapter in England as validly erected, and confirmed by the Holy See.[3]

He was appointed President of the English College at Douai, that post being surrendered to him by his uncle George Leyburn, in May 1670. He resigned the presidency in 1676, and went to Rome, when he became secretary and auditor to Cardinal Philip Howard. In a particular congregation for English affairs held in the Quirinal Palace on 6 August 1685, the Propaganda, on the relation of the Cardinal, elected Leyburn vicar-apostolic of all England, and the Pope gave his approbation the same day. He was consecrated at Rome on 9 September, with the title of bishop of Adrumetum, in partibus. In the following month he arrived in London, and James II lodged him in St. James's Palace, and allowed him a pension of £1,000 a year. With him came Ferdinando d'Adda, as papal nuncio. He made a pastoral visitation of the kingdom, administering confirmation to many people, for there had been no catholic bishop resident in England since 1629. During his residence at court he was on terms of intimacy with Thomas Cartwright, bishop of Chester.[3]

Leyburn tried to moderate James II's zeal for the Catholic cause, and he told the king that the fellows and students of Magdalen College, Oxford had been wronged, and that restitution ought to be made to them on religious as well as political grounds. In 1688, England was divided into four parts, the Vicariate Apostolic of the London District, the Vicariate Apostolic of the Midland District, the Vicariate Apostolic of the Western District and the Vicariate Apostolic of the Northern District; Leyburne was named Vicar Apostolic of the London District, the senior position. He became the first vicar-apostolic of the London district, created by letters apostolic of 30 January 1688.[3]

When the Glorious Revolution broke out, Leyburn and Bonaventure Giffard were seized at Faversham on their way to Dover, and were under arrest when the king was brought there. Both prelates were committed to prison, Leyburn being sent to the Tower of London. On 9 July 1690 he and Giffard were liberated on bail by the court of queen's bench, on condition that they transported themselves beyond sea before the last day of the following month. Afterwards he was frequently alarmed and summoned when any disturbance happened in relation to the government, but eventually the ministry took no further notice of him, and only desired to be made acquainted from time to time with his place of abode. He died in London on 9 June 1702, and was succeeded in the vicariate-apostolic of the London district by Giffard.[3]


Leyburn translated into Latin Sir Kenelm Digby's treatise on the soul, under the title of ‘Demonstratio Immortalitatis Animæ Rationalis,’ Paris, 1651 and 1655. With Giffard, P. Ellis, and James Smith he published ‘A Pastoral Letter from the four Catholic Bishops to the Lay-Catholics of England’ (on the re-establishment of Catholic episcopal authority in England), London, 1688, 1747.[3]


  1. ^ "Bishop John Leyburn". David M. Cheney. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  2. ^ History of Parliament Online
  3. ^ a b c d e Dictionary of National Biography, Leyburn, John, D.D. (1620–1702), catholic prelate, by Thompson Cooper. Published 1892.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Richard Smith
Vicar Apostolic of England
Divided into four districts
New title Vicar Apostolic of the London District
Succeeded by
Bonaventure Giffard
Other offices
Preceded by
Francis Turner
Lord High Almoner
Succeeded by
Philip Howard