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From Jacobite to Loyalist: The Career and Political Theology of Bishop George Hay

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2021

Gregory Tirenin*
Department of History, Boston University, 226 Bay State Road, Boston, Massachusetts02115, USA Email:


Although Catholics were marginalized and strongly associated with Jacobitism under the early Hanoverians, the reign of George III saw a gradual assimilation of Catholics into mainstream political culture. The Vicars Apostolic of Great Britain played a key role in this process by emphasizing passivity and loyalty. The bishop who most strongly personified this Jacobite to loyalist transition was George Hay (1729-1811). A convert to Catholicism from the Scottish Episcopalian faith, Hay served the Jacobite Army as a medic in 1745 and was imprisoned following that conflict. After his conversion and subsequent ordination, Hay became coadjutor of the Lowland District of Scotland in 1769 and was promoted to the Apostolic Vicarate in 1778. Hay actively engaged with many high-profile statesmen and political thinkers, including Edmund Burke. Most notably, he constructively utilized Jacobite political theology to criticise revolutionary ideology. His public involvement in politics was most remarkable during the American and French Revolutions, when he confidently deployed the full force of counterrevolutionary doctrines that formerly alienated Catholics from the Hanoverian state. However, since the Age of Revolution presented a stark duality between monarchy and republicanism, Hay’s expressions of passive obedience and non-resistance endeared him and the Catholic Church to the British establishment.

Research Article
© Trustees of the Catholic Record Society 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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I would like to thank Dr. Max Skjönsberg for supervising my St Andrews M.Litt dissertation on this topic and for reading earlier drafts of this article. Grateful thanks are also due to Dr. David Allen for his feedback on the dissertation and other papers throughout the year. Many thanks also to staff of the University of Aberdeen’s Special Collections and to Mr. Angus Hay for showing me various locations in Aberdeenshire associated with Bishop Hay.


1 The Church established a Prefecture Apostolic from 1653, which lasted until the creation of a more permanent Vicariate Apostolic in 1694. The Vicariate differed from the Prefecture because it allowed for a resident bishop (Vicar Apostolic). Since the Vicariate was not an actual diocese, the Vicars Apostolic were granted the titles of various titular sees (sometimes called a dead diocese). Thomas Nicolson, the first Vicar Apostolic in Scotland was consecrated Titular Bishop of Peristasis, located in modern day Turkey. While estimates concerning the Catholic population of Scotland during Hay’s life are varied, a 1794 report to Propaganda Fide estimated the number at 45,000. James Augustine Stothert, ‘The Life of George Hay’, in James Frederick Skinner Gordan and David Hay Fleming, eds. The Catholic Church in Scotland: From the Suppression of the Hierarchy till the Present Time: Being Memorabilia of the Bishops, Missioners, and Scotch Jesuits (London: James McVeigh, 1875), 12-453 at 230.

2 For an excellent overview of English Cisalpinism see Eamon Duffy, ‘Ecclesiastical Democracy Detected: I (1779–1787)’, Recusant History 10 (January 1970): 193–209; Eamon Duffy, ‘Ecclesiastical Democracy Detected: II (1787–1796)’ Recusant History 10 (October 1970): 309–31; John Bossy, The English Catholic Community, 1570-1850 (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1975).

3 Mark Goldie, ‘The Scottish Catholic Enlightenment’, Journal of British Studies, 30 (1991): 20-62 at 27.

4 Cousin to Hay’s coadjutor, Bishop John Geddes.

5 Hay to Dauley, 2 November 1789, Scottish Catholic Archives, Historic Archives, University of Aberdeen, Blairs Letters (hereafter SCA BL) 4/9/16.

6 Hay to Geddes, 28 May 1779 SCA BL 3/316/19.

7 Goldie, ‘The Scottish Catholic Enlightenment’.

8 Goldie, ‘Common Sense Philosophy and Catholic Theology in the Scottish Enlightenment’, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 302 (1992): 284.

9 Mark Goldie, ‘Alexander Geddes at the Limits of the Catholic Enlightenment’ Historical Journal, 53 (March 2010): 61–86. Other studies on the eighteenth century Scottish Catholic Church include: Christine Johnson, Developments in the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, 1789-1829 (Edinburgh, 1983), which contains valuable and information, but is largely descriptive and does not actively engage with other scholarship. Much of the book discusses Scottish Catholicism from 1700. The same can be said of Peter F. Anson, Underground Catholicism in Scotland (Montrose: Standard Press, 1970), which is less inclusive of political and constitutional history than Johnson’s monograph. There is only one comprehensive biography of Bishop Hay himself: James Augustine Stothert, ‘Life of Bishop Hay’, which makes use of Hay’s papers and recounts many details of his life. This work was also published under the title: James Frederick Skinner Gordon, Journal and Appendix to Scotichronicon and Monasticon (Glasgow: John Tweed, 1867).

10 Goldie, ‘The Scottish Catholic Enlightenment’, 26, 58.

11 Paul Kléber Monod, Jacobitism and the English People, 1688-1788 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 142.

12 Glickman does identify a small number of Catholics who welcomed the Revolution and futilely sought to draft an oath of allegiance acceptable to George I and English recusants. Gabriel Glickman, The English Catholic Community 1688-1745: Politics, Culture and Ideology (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2009), 12, 129-150.

13 Frank McLynn, Charles Edward Stuart: A Tragedy in Many Acts (London: Routledge, 1988), 474-475.

14 Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). Her argument was later modified by Tony Claydon, who argued that England was part of a ‘Protestant International’ network that dissolved in the late eighteenth century due to the challenges of running a multi-confessional empire. Tony Claydon, Europe and the Making of England, 1660-1760 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

15 Leslie J. Macfarlane, ‘Letter of Bishop George Hay to Prince Charlie’, The Innes Review 22 (December 1971): 112.

16 Paul Alexander Richardson, ‘Serial Struggles: English Catholics and Their Periodicals,1648-1844’, (PhD. Durham University, 2003), 52.

17 John Gother, A Papist Misrepresented and Represented, or a two-fold Character of Popery (London: J.L, 1665).

18 Stothert, ‘The Life of George Hay’, 18.

19 Brian M. Halloran, ‘Hay, George (1729–1811), Vicar Apostolic of the Lowland District’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (hereafter ODNB), online edn September 2004 [ Accessed 1 September 2020].

20 Ibid .

21 Hay’s two volume book The Scripture Doctrine of Miracles Displayed (London: J.P. Coghlan, 1775), with its noted defence of transubstantiation, attracted the ire of the Scottish Episcopalian William Abernathy Drummond, who would go on to instigate the anti-Catholic riots of 1779. Hay replied to Drummond’s rebuttal with his Explanatory Remarks on the Dialogue between Philathes and Benevolus (Edinburgh: C. Elliot, 1776). Hay’s other theological works include his apologetic The Sincere Christian (London: J.P. Coghlan, 1781), which was translated into foreign languages, his sequel, The Devout Christian (London: J.P. Coghlan, 1783), which concerned the laws and commandments of God, and The Pious Christian (London: J.P. Coghlan, 1786) which built upon the previous two publications with its devotional exercises. All three of these works underwent multiple publications and influenced generations of Catholics across Britain and Ireland.

22 Halloran, ‘Hay, George’.

23 Stothert, ‘The Life of George Hay’, 80-82.

24 Goldie, ‘The Scottish Catholic Enlightenment’, 29.

25 Ibid ., 27.

26 Stothert, ‘The Life of George Hay’, p.371. Downie’s sentence was ultimately commuted to transportation.

27 Halloran, ‘Hay, George’.

28 Mary Louise Sanderson, ‘Our Own Catholic Countrymen: Religion, Loyalism, and Subjecthood in Britain and Its Empire, 1755-1829’, (PhD. Vanderbilt University, 2010), 301-02.

29 Alasdair Roberts, ‘Faith Restored: Highland Catholics and the King’s Commission’, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 85 (2007): 153.

30 William Forbes-Leith, Memoirs of Scottish Catholics: During the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1909), 360.

31 Roberts, ‘Faith Restored’, 154.

32 Hay to Dalrymple, 1 Jan 1779, SCA BL 3/316/1.

33 Goldie, ‘The Scottish Catholic Enlightenment’, 37.

34 Mitchell Edward Oxford, ‘“This Very Important & Almost Unbounded Trust”: The Commission to Canada and the Place of Catholics in Revolutionary America’, U.S. Catholic Historian 36 (2018): 21.

35 Jean-Olivier Briand, Pastoral Letter, 29 December 1776, quoted in Martin I. J. Griffin, Catholics and the American Revolution 3 vols. (Ridley Park, Pa: The Author, 1907), 1: 98-99.

36 Edward Kelly, ‘The Reverend John McKenna, Loyalist Chaplain’, CCHA Report, 1 (1933-34), 31-44. Hay personally knew Fr. McKenna and spoke of his return from America to his native Ireland in a letter to Geddes. Hay to Geddes, 21 May 1779, SCA BL 3/316/13.

37 Marianne McLean, The People of Glengarry: Highlanders in Transition, 1745-1820 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991), 93-94.

38 Robert Hole, Pulpits, Politics and Public Order in England, 1760-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 101.

39 Horne, ‘Submission to government… A Sermon: 25 October 1789’ quoted in Ibid ., 109.

40 Hay, Pastoral Letter, 7 May 1798, SCA Scottish Mission (hereafter SCA SM)15/2/13; Hay, Pastoral Letter, 12 July 1793 SCA SM15/2/7; Hay, Pastoral Letter, 1 February 1794, SCA SM 15/2/10.

41 Hay to Grant, 23 January 1778, SCA BL/3/304/1.

42 Ibid .

43 Hay to Geddes, 8 April 1778, SCA BL 3/304/11. At the very least, it is certain that Catholic loyalists in New York received commissions: ‘Glendale is a Captain in America, Donald a Lieutenant, the Glengarry people that went to Albany were much harassed by the Americans and the Gentlemen are mostly all in Government service.’ Hay to Geddes, 21 May 1779, SCA BL 3/316/13.

44 Hay to Geddes, 8 April 1778, SCA BL 3/304/11.

45 Dalrymple is best known for his Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland from the dissolution of the last parliament of Charles II until the sea battle of La Hogue (Dublin: David Hay, 1771).

46 Copy of Hay to Dalrymple, 16 February 1778, SCA BL 3/304/4.

47 Copy of Hay to Dalrymple, 18 February 1778, SCA BL 3/304/4.

48 Hay to Challoner, 28 March 1778, SCA BL 3/304/9.

49 Ibid .

50 Hay to Geddes, 8 April 1778, SCA BL 3/304/11.

51 Macfarlane, ‘Letter of Bishop George Hay to Prince Charlie’, 112.

52 McLynn, Charles Edward Stuart, 459-60.

53 Johnson was awarded a pension by George III in 1762 and was explicitly told by Lord Bute that the pension was not ‘for anything you are to do, but for what you have done’. James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (London: Penguin, 2011), 444, 199. Since the publication of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, historians have debated the extent of Johnson’s Jacobitism. Macaulay’s enduring portrait of Johnson as a backward reactionary was rejected by Donald J. Green, The Politics of Samuel Johnson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960). Green argued that the reactionary, Jacobite depiction of Johnson was a mere caricature, and instead situated Johnson within a more Namierite framework. However, historians including Howard Erskine-Hill and J.C.D. Clark have argued for a robustly Jacobite Johnson as part of their wider reassertion of Jacobitism’s importance, vitality, and plausibility. J. C. D. Clark, Samuel Johnson: Literature, Religion, and English Cultural Politics from the Restoration to Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 4-5; Howard Erskine-Hill, ‘The Political Character of Samuel Johnson’ in Isobel Grundy, ed. Samuel Johnson: New Critical Essays (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1984), 107-136.

54 In 1757, Shebbeare was imprisoned for libel following his anti-Hanoverian tract, A Sixth Letter to the People of England. While imprisoned he wrote his allegorical work, The History of the Sumatrans, which, though thoroughly anti-Hanoverian, concluded with glowing praise for both George III and Bute. He was awarded a yearly pension of £200 in 1764 by George III. Ibid., John Cardwell, ‘Shebbeare, John (1709–1788), Physician and Political Writer’, ODNB, online edn Sept 2004 [ Accessed 20 August 2020].

55 Jeremy Black, George III: America’s Last King (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 188.

56 Prior to formally considering English Catholic relief, Pitt collected authoritative views on Papal dispensing power from domestic clergy and Catholic universities in Europe. The resultant study assured Pitt that Rome claimed no civil authority in England. John Ehrman, The Younger Pitt: The Reluctant Transition, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983), 82.

57 Johnson, Developments in the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, 20-28.

58 Paul Langford, ‘English Clergy in the American Revolution’ in Eckhart Hellmuth, ed. The Transformation of Political Culture: England and Germany in the Late Eighteenth Century, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 276-307; Richard B. Sher, Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment: The Moderate Literati of Edinburgh (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1985), 262-270.

59 Hay to Mathison, 10 January 1780, SCA SM 16/2/9.

60 Ibid .

61 Michael E. Williams, The Venerable English College, Rome: A History, 2nd ed (Herefordshire: Gracewing, 2008), 63.

62 Stothert, ‘The Life of George Hay’, 159-160.

63 Ibid ., 145-48.

64 Nigel Abercrombie, ‘The First Relief Act’ in Eamon Duffy, ed. Challoner and His Church: A Catholic Bishop in Georgian England (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1981), 174-193 at 185. For Burke’s own religiosity and relationship with Catholicism, see Ian Harris, ‘Burke and Religion’, in David Dwan and Christopher Insole, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Edmund Burke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 92-103 and Ian McBride, ‘Burke and Ireland’, in ibid ., 181-193.

65 Burke to Boswell 1 March 1779 in John A. Woods, ed. The Correspondences of Edmund Burke, 10 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 4:45.

66 Hay to Burke, 12 July 1779 in Edmund Burke, The Correspondence of Edmund Burke. ed. Thomas Wellsted Copeland, 10 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958), 4: 100. Burke himself visited Geddes during a 1784 trip to Edinburgh, although Hay was not present on that occasion. Stothert ‘The Life of George Hay’, 239.

67 Eamonn O’Flaherty, ‘Burke and the Catholic Question’, Eighteenth-Century Ireland/Iris an Dá Chultúr 12 (1997): 17-18.

68 Penal laws effecting Scottish Episcopalians were only repealed in 1792 after they recognized George III following the death of Charles Edward Stuart in 1788.

69 Hay to Geddes, 9 November 1778, SCA BL 3/305/11.

70 William Abernathy Drummond, The Lawfulness of Breaking Faith with Heretics proved to be an Established Doctrine of the Church of Rome (Edinburgh: A. Murray and J. Cochran, 1778). Drummond published a second tract, A Second Letter to Mr G. H. Concerning Breach of Faith with Heretics…. By the Rev. Wm Abernethy-Drummond, … (Edinburgh, 1779).

71 George Hay, An Answer to Mr. W. A. D.’s [i.e. William Abernethy Drummond’s] Letter to G. H. [i.e. George Hay.] In Which the Conduct of Government in Mitigating the Penal Laws against Papists, Is Justified, Etc. [Signed: G. H., i.e. George Hay.] (Edinburgh: Walter and Thomas Ruddiman, 1778), 4.

72 Ibid ., 5.

73 Ibid ., 12.

74 Hay to Geddes, 9 November 1778, SCA BL 3/305/11.

75 Hay, An Answer to Mr. W. A. D.’s Letter to G. H., 27.

76 Ibid ., 31.

77 Ibid ., 43-44.

78 Robert Forbes and Walter Biggar Blaikie, The Lyon in Mourning: Or, A Collection of Speeches, Letters, Journals Etc. Relative to the Affairs of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press by T. and A. Constable, 1895), 1: 34-36.

79 ‘Pastorini’ was the pseudonym of Charles Walmesley (1722–1797), Vicar Apostolic of the Western District of England. In 1771 he wrote a partially apocalyptic text under the title: General History of the Christian Church from her birth to her Final Triumphant States in Heaven chiefly deduced from the Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle, by Signor Pastorini (London, 1771).

80 Hay to Dauley, 2 November 1789, SCA BL 4/9/13.

81 John Derry, ‘Opposition Whigs and the French Revolution 1789-1815’, in H. T. Dickinson, ed., Britain and the French Revolution, 1789-1815 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), 39-59 at 40-41.

82 Burke to Dupont, October 1789 in Charles William Earl Fitzwilliam, ed. Correspondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke: Between the Year 1744 and the Period of His Decease, in 1797, 4 vols. (London: F. & J. Rivington, 1844), 3: 113.

83 Most importantly in Burke’s tract, An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (London: J. Dodsley, 1791), in which he defended the consistency of his political career between the American Revolution and the publication of Reflections in 1790.

84 Hay to Geddes, 11 June 1794, SCA BL 4/86/2.

85 Geddes to [Unknown] 18 December 1790, SCA BL 4/25/11.

86 Hay to Geddes, 26 December 1790, SCA BL 4/29/15.

87 Hay to Geddes, 22 March 1791, SCA BL 4/46/5.

88 Brian M. Halloran, The Scots College Paris, 1603-1792 (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, 1997), 166-174.

89 Hay to Geddes, 22 March 1791, SCA BL 4/46/5, The Principal of the Scots College, Alexander Gordon was also aware of Burke’s work and transcribed several extracts from Reflections. Gordon, ‘Extracts from [Edmund] Burke’s ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’’ [circa. 1794], SCA Persons (P) /4/3/7.

90 Dominic Aidan Bellenger, The French Exiled Clergy: In the British Isles after 1789: An Historical Introduction and Working List (Bath: Downside Abbey, 1986), 1. Public subscriptions were raised to support the émigré clergy, and the government provided priests and bishops with housing and regular stipends. Some two hundred priests made their way to Scotland, where most were employed in education. Ibid ., 4; Johnson, Developments in the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, 87-88.

91 Dáire Keogh, The French Disease: The Catholic Church and Irish Radicalism, 1790-1800 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1993), 34.

92 Anson, Underground Catholicism in Scotland, 209-210.

93 Catholic Bishops in Scotland, Pastoral Letter, 12 July 1793 SCA SM 15/2/7.

94 Ibid .

95 Ibid .

96 Samuel Horsley, ‘Upon the second reading of the Bill for the Relief of Roman Catholics, under certain conditions’, 31 May 1791, in Samuel Horsley and Heneage Horsley, The Speeches in Parliament of Samuel Horsley, Late Lord Bishop of St. Asaph (Dundee: R.S. Rintoul, 1813), 37.

97 Ibid ., 40-41.

98 Catholic Bishops in Scotland, Pastoral Letter, 12 July 1793, SCA SM15/2/7. Hay and the other bishops circulated a Latin ad clerum instructing priests not to become complacent following the relief legislation. Catholic Bishops in Scotland, Ad Clerum, 17 October 1794, SCA SM 16/2/13.

99 Hay, Draft Pastoral, 14 January 1793 SCA SM 15/2/6. The Scriptural passages quoted above were probably rendered into English by Hay directly from the Latin Vulgate.

100 Ibid .

101 Ibid .

102 Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France Edited by J. G. A. Pocock (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987), 51.

103 Hay, Draft Pastoral, 14 January 1793 SCA SM 15/2/6.

104 J.C.D. Clark, English Society 1660-1832: Religion, Ideology, and Politics during the Ancien Regime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 137.

105 Charles Inglis, Steadfastness in Religion and Loyalty Recommended, in a Sermon Preached before the Legislature of His Majesty’s Province of Nova-Scotia; in the parish church of St. Paul at Halifax, on Sunday, April 7, 1793 (Halifax N.S: John Howe, 1793), 7.

106 James B. Bell, A War of Religion: Dissenters, Anglicans, and the American Revolution, Studies in Modern History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 149. J.C.D Clark draws attention to Inglis’ explicit disavowal of passive obedience and non-resistance and his claimed adherence to the Glorious Revolution in 1776. J.C.D Clark, The Language of Liberty, 1660-1832: Political Discourse and Social Dynamics in the Anglo-American World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 9. However, Inglis’ 1790s sermons suggest that his experience as a loyalist refugee, joined with his abhorrence of the French Revolution, caused him to revaluate the religious merits of passive obedience and non-resistance.

107 Stothert, ‘The Life of George Hay’, 339.

108 Hay, Draft Pastoral, 14 January 1793, SCA SM 15/2/6.

109 [William Jones, of Nayland], A Letter to John Bull, Esq. from His Second Cousin Thomas Bull, Author of the First and Second Letters to His Brother John. (London: Norman and Carpenter, 1793), 5.

110 L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 113.

111 Dáire Keogh, ‘“The pattern of the flock”: John Thomas Troy, 1786-1823’ in James Kelly and Dáire Keogh, eds. History of the Catholic Diocese of Dublin (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000), 217; Keogh, The French Disease, 42, 159-199.

112 Ibid ., 127-135.

113 Hay, Pastoral Letter, [n.d] 1798 SCA SM 15/2/13.

114 Ibid .

115 The regimental chaplain, Alexander McDonnell (1762-1840), later became the Vicar Apostolic for Upper Canada and Bishop of Kingston, Ontario. He was referred to by Canadian politician Thomas D’Arcy McGee (1825-1868) as the ‘greatest Tory in Canada.’ J. E. Rea, ‘McDonnel, Alexander,’ in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, online edn [ Accessed 20 August 2020].

116 Hay, Pastoral Letter, 7 May, 1798, SCA SM 15/2/13.

117 Horsley, The Speeches in Parliament of Samuel Horsley, 40-41.