Strickland, Thomas John Francis (DNB00)

STRICKLAND, THOMAS JOHN FRANCIS, known as Abbé Strickland (1679?–1740), bishop of Namur and doctor of the Sorbonne, born about 1679, was fourth son of the Right Hon. Sir Thomas Strickland, knight-banneret, of Sizergh, Westmoreland, by his wife Winifred, eldest daughter and coheiress of Sir Christopher Trentham. He was brought up in France, his parents living at St. Germain, whither they had repaired in 1689. He studied divinity for four years at Douay, and returned to England after his graduation in 1712. It appears that he subsequently entered the English seminary of St. Gregory at Paris. In 1716 he was proposed as a coadjutor to Bishop Gifford of the London district, but was rejected on the score of his youth and unfamiliarity with England (Brady, Episcopal Succession, iii. 154). For some time he resided at Bar in Lorraine, at the court of Stanislas Leszczynski, the exiled king of Poland, from whom, according to Berington, he ‘obtained the honour of the Roman purple, which he afterwards resigned.’ At Rome he gained the esteem of Clement XI and of the college of cardinals; and at Vienna, which capital he thrice visited, he was honoured by the emperor Charles VI (Coxe, Walpole, ii. 309 n.) Though his family had always been adherents of the Pretender, Strickland incurred the resentment of the court of St. Germain by his negotiations to induce the English catholics to acknowledge the de facto government, and Queen Mary Beatrice personally interfered to prevent his preferment. An anonymous pamphlet, ‘A Letter from a gentleman at R[ome] to a friend at L[ondon],’ printed in 1718, further exasperated the jacobites by its frank criticism of the Pretender's bigotry. It was attributed to Strickland, and the Earl of Mar, whom it especially attacked, speaks of the author as ‘a little conceited, empty, meddling prigg.’ But jacobite opposition could scarcely retard Strickland's advancement, and on 23 Nov. 1718, writes Dangeau, ‘the Abbé Strickland, to whom the Duke of Orleans had promised the abbey of Saint Pierre de Préaux in Normandy, on the recommendation of the ministers of King George, was presented this morning to his royal highness, to whom he tendered his thanks.’ The presentation doubtless took place at the Palais Royal, Paris. The abbey was worth 12,000 or 15,000 ‘livres de rente.’ His promotion was effected mainly through the efforts of Lord Stair (Graham, Correspondence of the Earls of Stair, 1875, ii. 63).

Strickland now proceeded to England, where, settled in London, and in close connection with the British court, he exerted all his influence in the cause of his catholic brethren with a view to reconcile them to their de facto sovereign after the disastrous events of the recent rebellion of 1715. In 1719 a project was formed for favouring the catholics, to which, it is related, the ministers of the crown cordially acceded. A committee of catholics therefore met, and some progress appeared to be made; but the spirit of jacobitism ultimately prevailed, and the scheme was abandoned. The principal agent in this affair was the Abbé Strickland. It was alleged ‘that he was an enemy to his religion and inclined to Jansenism,’ but he indignantly repelled the accusation.

It is asserted that in the latter part of the reign of George I he maintained a correspondence with the opposition, through whose interest with the emperor he was raised to the see of Namur. He was consecrated on 28 Sept. 1727 (Gams, Series Episcoporum, p. 250). Subsequently he became an information agent in the service of the English ministry, and rendered himself so useful that he was considered a proper person of confidence to reside at Rome for the purpose of giving information with regard to the Pretender. With this view William Stanhope (afterwards first Earl of Harrington) [q. v.] went so far as to apply to the emperor for his interest to obtain for Strickland a cardinal's hat.

A few years later, in the autumn of 1734, Strickland was at Vienna, and the emperor, catching at a last straw in his endeavour to secure England as an ally in his war with France, resolved to employ him upon a delicate mission. Strickland represented that he could either force the British administration to enter into a war with France, or else drive Sir Robert Walpole from office by detaching Harrington and others from the majority. The emperor accordingly furnished Strickland with private credentials to the king and queen of England. The bishop came to England in 1734 under the assumed name of Mr. Mosley, was graciously received by their majesties, and held conferences with Lord Harrington, who, though Walpole's colleague as secretary of state for the northern department, was anxious to support the emperor against France in the war of Polish succession (1733–5). But the equilibrium of Walpole and his peace policy were not so easily disturbed. Walpole was soon informed of Strickland's negotiation, and Strickland was civilly dismissed (Coxe, Hist. of the House of Austria, ii. 145). He died at Namur on 12 Jan. 1739–40, and was buried in his cathedral.

Strickland made additions to his cathedral, founded and endowed the seminary at Namur, and built the episcopal palace, which is now the seat of the provincial administration and the residence of the governors. Lord Hervey gives a most unfavourable picture of Strickland, who was famed, he says, for dissolute conduct wherever he went. Walpole, who was no less hostile to him, denounces his ‘artful and intriguing turn,’ but admits his reputation for good management and disinterestedness within his diocese. M. Jules Borgnet, state archivist at Namur, who perused Strickland's correspondence (1736–1740), describes him as a man of heart and intelligence, a friend of religion and of the arts (Annales de la Société Archéologique de Namur, ii. 383–95, iv. 2, v. 403, xvi. 14, seqq.).

There are two portraits of the Abbé Strickland at Sizergh, and a third is at Namur. His portrait has been engraved in mezzotint by J. Faber, from a picture by Van der Bank, painted for the first Viscount Bateman, and now in the possession of Mr. W. G. Strickland (cf. J. Chaloner Smith, Mezzotinto Port. i. 428; a fine impression is in the British Museum print-room); and also by Thomassin (Noble, Continuation of Granger, iii. 169).

[Butler's Hist. Memoirs of English Catholics (1822), iii. 170–8; Catholic Magazine and Review, iii. 104; Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian Soc. (1889), x. 91 and pedigree; Journal du Marquis de Dangeau, xvii. 420; Michel's Écossais en France, ii. 398 n.; Castlereagh Corresp. vol. iv. app.; Hervey's Memoirs, ii. 56; Addit. MSS. 20311 ff. 291 sq., and 20313 f. 149; Stowe MS. 121; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ii. 198, 237, 270; Panzani's Memoirs, p. 408; Stanhope's Hist. of England, ii, 274; private information.]

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