Born the great-grandson of a Protestant Archbishop, Henry Essex Edgeworth emigrated to France at the age of four, after his entire family, including his Protestant minister father, converted to Catholicism. He was educated at the Sorbonne, and turned down an Irish bishopric in order to stay in France. He eventually became the personal confessor of Madame Elisabeth, the sister of King Louis XVI.
When the Archbishop of Paris fled the terrors of the French Revolution, he entrusted his bishopric to the care of the Abbe Edgeworth. As the Reign of Terror continued, Abbe Edgeworth continued to see to the spiritual needs of the French royal family, in particular the King. When Louis was eventually condemned to die for the crime of refusing to recognize the supremacy of the Revolution over the Catholic Church, the abbe asked to accompany him during his travel to his execution knowing that he was setting himself up as an enemy of the State.
During the two hour carriage ride from prison to guillotine, Abbe Edgeworth and the King of France read from Edgeworth’s breviary, prayed, and read Psalms. The Abbe walked with the royal prisoner all the way to the foot of the scaffold, and then following the King’s suggestions, he faded away into the crowd. His eyewitness testimony of the beheading of Louis XVI can be read here.
He eventually went to his family in England, and then to the French exiles in Russia because he believed that he had never been released from the duty he’d assumed from the Archbishop of Paris. When Napoleon’s armies invaded in 1807, Abbe Edgeworth cared for the French soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Czar’s forces. He eventually died of a contagious fever contracted while tending to them.
For his bravery in caring for the people of his adopted homeland, never laying down the burden which had been laid upon his shoulders, and faithfully accompanying a martyr to his death; we’re shining this week’s spotlight on the Abbe Henry Essex Edgeworth.
Image from a drawing of Edgeworth by Benezech in the Public Domain