Quebec’s bishop as pawn: Saint Vallier’s imprisonment in England 1704-1709

James Thomas

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1 This note is derived from a paper presented to the Portsmouth City Records Office Seminar in March 1993. I am obliged to archivists on both sides of the Atlantic for help during research visits, to Rev. F.G. Morrisey, O.M.I., Saint Paul University, Ottawa, for his supportive encouragement when the work was at an early stage, and two anonymous assessors and the journal's Associate Editor for their comments and criticisms. Paula Heiron kindly produced the final copy. In August 1704 it was reported from Deal in Kent, that: Her Majesty's Ships the Dreadnought, Oxford and Falkland, ... have brought in a considerable Prize, being a French Man of War from Rochfort, richly laden, of 36 Guns, but can carry 40, and 300 Men, 20 of them being Land Officers, who were going to Canada, whither she was bound; there were also on Board, a Bishop, and several Priests, which they took in their Voyage homewards to the Latitude of 46 Degrees. (1) The report raises certain key questions. Who was he? What was he doing at sea? Why should a bishop, accompanied by sixteen fellow ecclesiastics when captured off the Azores, have become what was essentially a diplomatic pawn? Jean-Baptiste de la Croix de Chevriers de Saint-Vallier, second Bishop of Quebec, had been en route for his vast diocese when naval craft had diverted him to England. Landing there, he was placed under open house arrest. The War of the Spanish Succession had been raging for two years, a Grand Alliance, led by England and the United Provinces, was pitted against the combined forces of France and Spain. During the eleven-year struggle there were four main theatres of operations - the Spanish Netherlands, the Iberian peninsula, the Italian peninsula, and the New World. The significance of New World involvement was explained by the late J.S. Bromley in his usual masterful way: The Succession War was won in Europe, but the succession itself included the greater part of the Americas in the world's principal source of silver and what were regarded as underdeveloped markets awaiting some livelier touch than the arrival of a fleet every two or three years from Cadiz. From their forward bases in Curacao and Jamaica, Dutch and English smugglers already traded slaves and manufactures to the coastal populations of what are now Venezuela and Colombia. (2) For England the war was to be identified with victories at Blenheim, Ramillies, and Oudernarde, with the capture of Gibraltar in 1704 and of Minorca in 1708. Substantial numbers of prisoners were taken, some French and Spanish prisoners being held in Jamaica. (3) In England they were housed mainly in three communities - Coventry, Lichfield, and Nottingham (4) with some high-ranking prisoners, such as Saint-Vallier, being held elsewhere. An examination of the man, his attributes and activities sheds light on why he was held as a pawn in a game of early eighteenth-century international power politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-160
Number of pages10
JournalHistorical Studies
Publication statusPublished - 1998


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