Holy See–United Kingdom relations

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Holy See–United Kingdom relations are foreign relations between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.

Holy See–United Kingdom relations
Map indicating locations of Holy See and United Kingdom

Holy See

United Kingdom


During the Middle Ages and until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland were Catholic kingdoms with diplomatic relations with the Papal States. In 1479 King Edward IV appointed John Sherwood as the first Resident Ambassador in the Papal States. Following the establishment of the Anglican Church by King Henry VIII, diplomatic relations were broken in 1536. Relations were re-established in 1553 under Queen Mary I, who appointed Sir Edward Carne as her Ambassador. It was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that diplomatic relations were broken again due to the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis in 1570, and Sir Edward Carne was recalled. Thereafter, English law prohibited any official relations with the Papal States. However, occasional contacts were made between the two countries. In 1621, the English court despatched George Gage to the Papal court in order to obtain permission for the marriage of King Charles I and the Spanish infanta, a marriage that did not take place eventually. However, Charles I married a French Catholic princess named Henrietta Maria, this with the blessing of Pope Gregory XV, who used the opportunity to despatch as envoy to England Gregorio Panzani. Panzani was followed as Papal envoy by the Scottish Franciscan George Conn.

In 1686 King James VII of Scotland and II of England despatched as envoy to the Papal States the Earl of Castlemaine and received Papal envoy Count Fernando D'Adda. However, relations were broken again following the Glorious Revolution in 1688. The Papal States recognised James Francis Edward Stuart as James VIII and III until his death in 1766, but not his son Charles, subtly giving recognition to the reigning House of Hanover. This helped start the reform of the anti-Catholic penal laws, such as the Quebec Act and the Papists Act 1778. Sir John Coxe Hippisley's brief mission to Rome in 1779–1780 failed; he was to explore the possibility of restoring relations.

Unofficial relations were formed again during the French Revolution, as both the British and the Papal courts were interested in coordinating policies against the spread of the revolution across Europe. In 1792 The British court despatched Sir John Coxe Hippisley to Rome as envoy, a position he held until 1795. The Papal court despatched Monsignor Charles Erskine to London as envoy, a position he held until 1801. Both countries found themselves at various times enemies of France during this period and therefore had a degree of commonality of interests, not least because of the Dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution and the Roman Republic of 1798–99.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland came into existence in 1801 with the union of the Kingdom of Ireland to Great Britain (which had been formed from the union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England in 1707). With the Anglo Irish Treaty of 1921 all of Ireland became an independent dominion, however Northern Ireland exercised its right under the Anglo-Irish Treaty to withdraw from the remainder of Ireland and maintain the union with Great Britain, thus creating the current state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Holy See is the pre-eminent episcopal see of the Catholic Church, forming the central government of the Church and recognised in international law as a sovereign entity with which diplomatic relations can be maintained.[1] The Pastor Bonus an apostolic constitution, defines the Vatican's diplomatic relations with states as the Holy See.[2]

Due to the continuity of the Holy See from early times it is possible to see that the various parts of the United Kingdom had relations with the Holy See prior to their incorporation within the Union (and in Ireland's case, following it - see Holy See – Ireland relations).

Following the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, legal obstacles to relations with the Papal States were removed, but the British government still refrained from accrediting an envoy to Rome. However, British envoys to some Italian city states were also charged with conducting negotiations with the Papal court. During the Irish tenants'-rights Plan of Campaign in the 1880s, the Papacy condemned the activities in the encyclical "Saepe Nos" (1888), even though most of the tenants were Catholics.[3]

The United Kingdom did not re-establish relations until December 1914, following the outbreak of the First World War, as the British government was apprehensive about possible growing German and Austrian influence over Vatican policies. The first envoy selected for that purpose was Henry Howard, a British Catholic, who was followed by the 7th Count de Salis. However, in order to make the impression this diplomatic mission was temporary in nature, it was titled "Special Mission to the Vatican". It was only in 1923 that the mission's title was changed to "His Majesty's Legation to the Holy See".

In May 1949 Princess Margaret Rose of Britain visited Pope Pius XII in the Vatican City. It was the first historic visit of a British Royal to the Holy See after hundreds of years. [4]

The problem of Northern Ireland has been a major issue in British-Vatican relations, and during the 1970s the Holy See expressed its hopes for a speedy and just solution on the issue, as can be seen in the Papal message of Paul VI on 1 June 1974, calling on all armed factions to take part in peace talks:

"We earnestly beg that all violence should cease, from whatever side it may come, for it is contrary to the law of God and to a Christian and civilized way of life; that, in response to the common Christian conscience and the voice of reason, a climate of mutual trust and dialogue be reestablished in justice and charity; that the real and deep-seated causes of social unrest - which are not to be reduced to differences of a religious nature - be identified and eliminated".[5]

as well as in the words of Paul VI to the British Minister Dugald Malcolm upon presenting his credentials on 19 June 1975,:

"The difficulties you have mentioned which impede full understanding and cooperation in Northern Ireland are an anxious burden for us too. [- - -] We bless the efforts of all those who are truly seeking a solution by means which are within the framework of God’s Law and for the benefit of all citizens without distinction".[6]

The Holy See also supported the British efforts at bringing to an end the racial segregation policy in Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe), as can be seen in the words of John Paul II to the British Minister Mark Evelyn Heath on 22 May 1980:

The good auspices under which Zimbabwe has joined the independent nations of the world can be attributed to an initiative of the British Government that happily combined courage with patience. I pray God to grant that such positive results will continue to come from the same source.[7]

On 17 October 1980, the Pope sent a congratulatory message to Queen Elizabeth II, commending her for her activities for peace among nations, and for peace between Catholics and Anglicans.[8]

John Paul II was also concerned with events in Poland surrounding the struggle between the Communist government and Solidarity movement, and his hopes for action by the British government can be seen in his statement to the first full British Ambassador to the Holy See as he presented his credentials on 1 April 1982:

I welcome the reference which you have made to recent events in Poland and your deep interest in the well-being of the Polish people. (- - -) Thus no country can fully enjoy its own freedom, knowing that in other countries the dignity of the human person is being violated.[9]

Recent developments[edit]

Full relations were recognised in 1982 when Pope John Paul II visited the UK. This led to the first ever UK – Holy See exchange of full Ambassadors in that year.

On 9 September 2011, Ambassador Nigel Marcus Baker presented his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI. In his speech, the British Ambassador presented three main goals of Vatican-UK relations, namely facing existential threats such as climate change and nuclear proliferation, promoting interfaith dialogue to achieve peace and working to reduce world poverty.[10]

The UK Embassy to the Holy See is co-located with the UK Embassy to the Republic of Italy at Via XX Settembre in Rome. This follows the closing of the UK's Embassy to the Holy See's rented building in 2006 which led to protests from the Vatican "that senior Holy See officials cannot be expected to go to Villa Wolkonsky", the UK Embassy to the Italian Republic.[11]

The Holy See's Nunciature to Great Britain is the diplomatic post of the Holy See whose representative is called the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain with the rank of an ambassador. The office of the nunciature is located at 54 Parkside, Wimbledon Village, London.

State visits[edit]

Queen Elizabeth II first visited the Vatican during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, before her own accession.

Her second visit to the Vatican was a private visit (during a state visit to the Italian Republic) on 5 May 1962 when she was received by Pope John XXIII.

She twice paid State Visits during the pontificate of John Paul II – firstly in 1980 and then in 2000.

Pope Benedict XVI became the first Pope to make an official Papal Visit to the United Kingdom on 16 September 2010, this was accorded the same status as a state visit. In a break with normal arrangements for state visits he arrived in Edinburgh rather than London and was granted an audience of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at her official residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyrood House. On the evening of the same day he celebrated only the second Papal Mass ever held in Scotland at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, with over 250,000 Scottish Catholics participating in the celebration.[12] The first Papal Mass in Scotland was celebrated by his predecessor Pope John Paul II at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, during his Pastoral Visit in 1982.[13]

Queen Elizabeth II and her consort, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in her most recent papal encounter- while on a lunch and visit with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano- were then received in an informal audience by Pope Francis, on Thursday, 3 April 2014. It was her seventh encounter with a Pope and the fifth different Pope she has met. The Queen, wearing a lavender dress and purple hat, gave Pope Francis 18 items from the different royal estates: a dozen eggs, a bottle of whisky, two types of honey, and Sandringham handmade aromatherapy soaps. Pope Francis gave Queen Elizabeth a gift- a sphere made of the precious stone lapis lazuli, topped by a sharp silver cross of St. Edward- for her great-grandson, Prince George of Cambridge, to enjoy when he is older.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kunz, "The Status of the Holy See in International Law" 46 American Journal of International Law (1952) pp. 309-313.
  2. ^ "Pastor Bonus; Section II". The Holy See. Archived from the original on 23 February 2001. Retrieved 20 September 2010. 
  3. ^ "CATHOLIC LIBRARY: Saepe Nos (1888)". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  4. ^ "Princess has brief visit with Pope". Chicago Tribune. 28 May 1949. 
  5. ^ "Message for the peace in Ireland, 1 June 1974 - Paul VI". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  6. ^ "Address to the new Minister of Great Britain, 19 June 1975 - Paul VI". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  7. ^ "All'Inviato Straordinario e Ministro Plenipotenziario di Gran Bretagna presso la Santa Sede in occasione della presentazione delle Lettere Credenziali (22 maggio 1980) - Giovanni Paolo II". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  8. ^ "To Queen Elizabeth II of England (October 17, 1980) - John Paul II". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  9. ^ "To the first Ambassador of Great Britain to the Holy See (April 1, 1982) - John Paul II". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  10. ^ "Speech by British Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Marcus Baker to Pope Benedict XVI On the presentation of Credentials". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  11. ^ Owen, Richard (9 January 2006). "Britain sparks row with Vatican over proposal to close embassy". The Times. London. 
  12. ^ "Los Angeles Times: Archives - Pope Appeals for Unity of 2 Faiths in Scotland". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  13. ^ "SUNBURN AND SONGS: THE MEMORIES OF BELLAHOUSTON THE PAPAL VISIT TO SCOTLAND It was summer, 1982, and Pope John Paul II was in Scotland. His mass at Glasgow's Bellahouston park touched thousands". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  14. ^ "News". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 


  • Thomas E. Hachey (ed.), Anglo–Vatican Relations 1914–1939: Confidential Annual Reports of the British Ministers to the Holy See (Boston, 1972)

External links[edit]