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For centuries this Catholic family has orchestrated Britain’s most Anglican royal events

May 4, 2023 Catholic News Agency 2
Arundel Castle in Sussex has been the seat of the Duke of Norfolk’s ancestors for 850 years. / Miles Sabin from Brighton, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

London, England, May 4, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The Earl Marshal of England is little known and rarely seen, but he oversees the world’s biggest spectacles. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral last year is reported to have attracted more than 4 billion viewers, making it perhaps the most-watched event in history. This was the finest moment for the current Earl Marshall, Edward Fitzalan-Howard, more formally known as His Grace the Most Noble Duke of Norfolk.

The 18th Duke of Norfolk, Edward Fitzalan-Howard, is the hereditary Earl Marshal of England and is the country's premier lay Catholic. Photo courtesy of WIKIMEDIA PIC
The 18th Duke of Norfolk, Edward Fitzalan-Howard, is the hereditary Earl Marshal of England and is the country’s premier lay Catholic. Photo courtesy of WIKIMEDIA PIC

The 18th Duke spent 20 years planning the late queen’s funeral but has had far less time to arrange the coronation of the United Kingdom’s new monarch, King Charles III, which will take place Saturday, May 6. Despite making the news for dangerous driving and his recent divorce and remarriage, Fitzalan-Howard will try to be as inconspicuous as possible at the coronation, just as he was at the queen’s recent funeral, which will be difficult for a man wearing the most extravagant uniform outside the military or the Church of England.

Since 1484 the Earl Marshal has supervised royal events through the College of Arms with assistance from quaintly named characters such as Garter King of Arms and Rouge Dragon Pursuivant. The payment these heralds receive is appropriately medieval.

Although it is often stated that the Dukes of Norfolk have held this position since 1672, the first Earl Marshal of the Howard family was John, 1st Duke of Norfolk, in 1483. A few other families have also had a turn, especially during the tumultuous Tudor era. The most peculiar choice was Henry VIII, made Earl Marshal by his father at the age of 3.

Queen Elizabeth proceeding to Westminster for her coronation in 1559 with the Duke of Norfolk at top right. PUBLIC DOMAIN
Queen Elizabeth proceeding to Westminster for her coronation in 1559 with the Duke of Norfolk at top right. PUBLIC DOMAIN

It’s not surprising that there is confusion bordering on bewilderment about this post. The Howard family has held different titles going back more than seven centuries. On occasion these have been stripped from them — most notably during the reign of Elizabeth I. The unrelentingly Catholic head of the family had his dukedom removed, along with all his income. It would have been little consolation at the time, but Philip Howard was eventually made a saint, canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970. 

Philip Howard, who should have been the 5th Duke of Norfolk, died at the Tower of London in 1595, accused of being a Catholic and a Jesuit conspirator. Philip’s father, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, was beheaded at the same location despite denying being a Catholic before the axe came down. Similar fates befell the 4th Duke’s father and grandfather. It became a tradition among the Howards to suffer for being Catholic.

The Howard family tells us much about British history, especially Catholic history. The Dukes of Norfolk have had demotions — promotions have been difficult as they have been at the top for so long anyway. Some aspired to be kings, while others have been successful statesmen, generals, poets, and cardinals. One was committed to an Italian insane asylum. Most clung to their Catholicism, while a few did not. Others merely talked about converting. Duke Henry, appointed by Charles II when the monarchy was restored after Cromwell’s republic, told the diarist John Evelyn that he “will go to Church and become Protestant” but couldn’t bring himself to do so. His son did instead. 

It is the Howards’ abilities and persistence that helped rehabilitate Catholics as acceptable members of British society. 

One small step was a concession the 12th Duke obtained in 1824, when he was no longer required to deny Transubstantiation — a vital element of Catholic belief. After that date, they could perform their duties as Earl Marshal without needing a deputy to stand in for them. Previously, Catholic dukes had to step aside at the last minute in case the Protestant public gaze should be upon them. 

The 16th Duke of Norfolk, who organized Queen Elizabeth's coronation, was prominent enough in his day to merit a cigarette card. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The 16th Duke of Norfolk, who organized Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, was prominent enough in his day to merit a cigarette card. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Some confusion remains to this day. The Dukes of Norfolk’s ancestral home is in Sussex, far from Norfolk. For 850 years they have owned the magnificent Arundel Castle, recently robbed for relics of Mary Queen of Scots. They also own 16,000 prime acres of Sussex. In contrast, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (better known as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) own no land in that valuable county. Nor are they playing much of a part in the coronation. The Sussexes of Montecito do have a superior title though. 

Part of the secret of the Dukes of Norfolk’s longevity has been keeping up with the times. When the present Duke was charged in court, he told the magistrate that he drives an elderly BMW because he likes “being simple and unpompous.” This is very different from the 16th Duke, who organized Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. When he led the England cricket team to Australia, he famously said: “Gentlemen, I wish this to be an entirely informal tour. You will merely address me as ‘Sir.’”

As is so often the case, the present 18th Duke of Norfolk is not a direct descendant of the 16th Duke. Descent in this family has often been confusing because of an absence of male heirs. If Norfolk had been in Scotland, things would have been different and a woman could have been the key organizer of King Charles III’s coronation. Since the Duke of Norfolk is not allowed to be a woman, there will probably never be a “Countess Marshal.”


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In win for Anglican nuns, Supreme Court orders new scrutiny for New York mandatory abortion coverage

November 1, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
Sisterhood of Saint Mary with bishops from the Anglican Church of North America’s Diocese of the Living Word. / Courtesy of Becket.

Washington D.C., Nov 1, 2021 / 15:56 pm (CNA).

Foes of mandatory coverage of abortion in New York State insurance law will have another hearing after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a New York state court to reconsider their decision. The law’s narrow religious exemption wrongly disqualifies many religious groups which object to providing abortion, critics said.

A group of Anglican nuns is among the objectors.

“We believe that every person is made in the image of God,” said Mother Miriam of the Sisterhood of Saint Mary, an Anglican body. “That’s why we believe in the sanctity of human life, and why we seek to serve those of all faiths—or no faith at all—in our community. We’re grateful that the Supreme Court has taken action in our case and hopeful that, this time around, the New York Court of Appeals will preserve our ability to serve and encourage our neighbors.”

The Sisterhood of Saint Mary, also known as the Sisters of the Community of St. Mary, is aligned with the Anglican Church in North America. It was founded in 1865 and claims to be the oldest Anglican religious order in the United States.

The Anglican sisters are part of a coalition of religious groups challenging the New York State mandate requiring employers to cover abortions in their health plans. They are represented by attorneys from the religious freedom legal group Becket and the law firm Jones Day.

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, alluded to the Little Sisters of the Poor who fought a years-long court battle to secure relief from a federal mandate to cover contraceptive drugs, including drugs that can cause abortions.

“New York clearly learned nothing from the federal government’s own attempts to force nuns to pay for contraceptives and is now needlessly threatening charities because they believe in the dignity and humanity of every human person,” Baxter said Nov. 1.

“Punishing faith groups for ministering to their local communities is cruel and counterproductive,” he said. “We are thankful that the Supreme Court won’t allow the New York Court of Appeals’ bad ruling to be the last word on the right of religious ministries to serve New Yorkers of all faiths.”

On Nov. 1, the Supreme Court vacated the state appellate court’s judgment in the case Diocese of Albany v. Lacewell. The lower court must now reconsider the decision in light of Fulton v. Philadelphia, a case in which the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the City of Philadelphia violated a Catholic foster care agency’s free exercise of religion by requiring it to certify same-sex couples as foster parents.

Becket said the religious exemption is “so narrow that Jesus himself would not qualify for it.” Only religious groups that primarily serve and employ people of their own religion are exempt.

The Anglican nuns’ sponsorship of a 4-H club and their agricultural outreach ministry program that allows local youth to lease their goats would disqualify them for the exemption, the legal group said.

The Sisters of the Community of St. Mary, Eastern Province have two houses: one in Greenwich, New York, and one in Luwinga, Malawi. They claim a Benedictine ethos, seeking to “draw near to Jesus Christ through a disciplined life of prayer set within a simple agrarian lifestyle and active ministry in their local communities,” their website says.

For over 150 years, the sisters’ province was linked to the Episcopal Church. In 2021 they affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America after controversies in the Episcopal Church, including the disciplining of an Episcopal Bishop of Albany who refused to bless same-sex couples.

The 2017 mandate from the superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services required that employers cover “medically necessary” abortions in their employee health insurance plans. The stated justification was that the state’s insurance law bars limits on or exclusion of coverage based on medical condition or treatment, the New York Times reports.

At minimum, medically necessary abortions would include abortions of pregnancies conceived in rape or incest or those in which the unborn child is malformed. However, the superintendent said that the determination of medical necessity is made by a patient’s health care provider, in consultation with the patient.

“The mandate thus appears to cover abortions of babies afflicted with Down Syndrome and other maladies,” said the petitioners’ brief.

The coalition of petitioners against the New York mandate also includes the Catholic dioceses of Albany and Ogdensburg; their Catholic Charities affiliates, as well as Catholic Charities, Diocese of Brooklyn; and the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. The First Bible Baptist Church of Hilton, New York is also a petitioner.

If the groups do not comply with the mandate, they could face fines of millions of dollars per year. Their petition to the Supreme Court argues that the state is making religious organizations choose between violating their core beliefs, being financially crushed, or closing down services.

Attorneys for the state of New York argued that the mandate’s exception mirrors language used in other contexts. They argued that there is no evidence that health insurance plans that cover abortions cost more money.

“The record thus contains no evidence that by purchasing policies that include the subject coverage, a purchaser funds, even indirectly, medically necessary abortion services,” they argued, according to USA Today.

For his part, Roman Catholic Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany said he was “confident” that the regulation will be “completely overturned as incompatible with our country’s First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty.”

“We are gratified and grateful that the Supreme Court has recognized the serious constitutional concerns over New York State’s heavy-handed abortion mandate on religious employers,” he said.

Some Supreme Court justices appeared more favorable towards giving the case a national platform. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch would have granted the petition for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While religious freedom was for decades an unquestioned American principle, various controversies over health care mandates and LGBT rights claims have made it an area of dispute.

As CNA has previously reported, multiple wealthy donors have poured millions of dollars into a patronage network that aims to limit religious freedom protections that conflict with their vision of LGBT rights and abortion access. Some of these donors, such as the Arcus Foundation, have also backed religious groups that reject Christian teaching on abortion and sexual ethics.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also resulted in religious freedom debates and legal challenges about congregations and individuals who refuse to comply with pandemic mitigation measures and vaccine mandates.


The Dispatch

Old and new – and Newman

June 3, 2019 Joanna Bogle 2

The parish of St. Elizabeth in Richmond, Surrey, dates back to the 1790s and the present church was completed in 1824, making it one of the oldest Catholic churches in Greater London. Five years later […]