Britain and the Papacy in the Age of Revolution, 1846-1851

By Saho Matsumoto-Best | Go to book overview

3

The Origins of the Minto Mission

Faced with the mounting crisis in the Italian peninsula in the late summer of 1847 the response of the British government was to decide to send the lord privy seal, Lord Minto, to visit the Italian states. At first glance it might appear that this decision can be explained solely by reference to British interests in Italy and the threat posed by the fear of revolution and of possible Austrian and French intervention. This motive clearly did exist and was very significant; after all the peace of Europe was at stake. However, there were also other reasons for the despatch of Lord Minto, for the summer of 1847 saw the convergence of a number of disparate factors that made the idea of a mission to Rome very attractive. These other factors, namely Britain's continuing desire to use the papacy to legitimate its policies towards Ireland and control the Irish clergy, and the debate over the re-establishment of the English Catholic hierarchy, were concerned not with the fortunes of Italian nationalism and the Austrian threat to the pope's temporal power, but rather with the ecclesiastical side of papal affairs. It is only by looking at all of these areas that an understanding of how and why the Minto mission took place may be reached.


Minto and the Austrian threat to Italy

The origins of the Minto mission and its intended goals have been a matter of debate ever since its inception. As early as April 1847 there had been conversations in Paris between the British ambassador, Lord Normanby, and the papal nuncio, Cardinal Fornari, in which the latter had said that the pope would be willing to meet a special representative of the British government. Some historians have contended that in this exchange lay the seed of the Minto mission. 1 Palmerston himself, however, denied that this was the case. When Fornari himself claimed early in 1851 that he had been the catalyst, Palmerston observed in a letter to Normanby that the nuncio's overtures had not been crucial, and that the advice that had persuaded him of the need to send a representative to Rome had rather come through a completely separate channel. 2 It might be thought that Palmerston was referring here to the

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1
See, for example, Reynolds, 'Politics vs. persuasion', 377—8, and Wallace, 'Pius IX and Lord Palmerston', 14—15.
2
Palmerston to Normanby (Paris), 20 Jan. 1851, Russell papers, PRO 30/22/9A.

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