Refugees welcome: 18th century edition

Refugees welcome: 18th century edition


I read Lady Antonia Fraser’s The King and the Catholics over the summer, which I mentioned in my UnHerd piece this week.

The book contains quite a moving description of how French Catholics, escaping the horror of the French Revolution, had found refuge in their old enemy, England. Jesuit Abbe Barruel, safely in London, wrote that ‘the soul seemed to awaken from a terrifying dream of fiends and monsters, into a scene of perfect ease and liberty’.

Lawyer Sir Samuel Romilly, himself of Huguenot origin, commented on a ‘phenomenon’ whereby you couldn’t walk 100 yards in London without seeing two or three priests – just a dozen years after the Gordon Riots.

Fraser describes an episode at Shoreham Beach in Sussex in 1792 where some Benedictine French nuns from Montargis in the Loire Valley arrived with feelings of great uncertainty, but desperate to escape the increasingly demented revolutionaries.

The captain of the ship had warned the inhabitants, and the beach was crowded with large numbers of carriages and people when the French refugees arrived: ‘The nuns cannot have failed to have felt apprehension, to put it at its mildest, given that they were disembarking on an island where for over two hundred years their religion had been proscribed’.

But as they disembarked from the boat, they instead heard wild cheering. ‘Come, come and forget amongst us all that those villains have made you suffer,’ one local said. They were taken to neighbouring house with a great welcome, with locals telling them ‘We will take away the least trace of your misfortunes’ and ‘You will find here none but feeling and compassionate hearts, who will esteem themselves happy in repairing the injustice and cruelty of your fellow countrymen’.

Another told them: ‘We will make every effort to procure you that happiness and peace which you could no longer enjoy in France; take courage, therefore, you have nothing more to fear.’

And they didn’t; the nuns stayed in England.



What do you think?