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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > D > Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps De Lisle

Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps De Lisle

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Born 17 March, 1809; died 5 March, 1878. He was the son of Charles March Phillipps of Garendon Park, Leicestershire, and Harriet Ducarel, a lady of Huguenot descent. He assumed the name of de Lisle in 1862, when on the death of his father he inherited the estates of the ancient family of de Lisle.

He spent his earliest years at his birthplace and was brought up as a member of the Church of England, receiving his first religious instruction from his uncle, William March Phillipps, a high-church clergyman. In 1818 Ambrose was sent to a private school at South Croxton, whence he was removed in 1820 to Maizemore Court School, near Gloucester, kept by the Rev. George Hodson; The Bishop of Gloucester, having married Sophia March Phillipps, was his uncle by marriage, and so the boy had the advantage of spending Sundays and holidays at the bishop's palace. At school he met for the first time a Catholic, the Abbé Giraud, a French émigré priest, whose holy life struck the boy as inconsistent with what he had always heard of Catholics. On one of his journeys to Gloucester he took the opportunity of questioning the priest as to the real belief of Catholics. The answers he received so excited his interest that he began to read all the books on the subject he could find in his father's library. A visit to Paris in 1823 gave him his first acquaintance with Catholic liturgy. The effect on his mind was shown on his return home when he persuaded the Anglican rector to place a cross on the communion table, but this first effort to restore the cross to English churches was promptly suppressed by the Bishop of Peterborough as savouring of Popery. At this time an incident occurred which left an indelible impression on his mind, and which he thus related to his subsequent biographer: "One day in the year 1823, as I was rambling along the foot of the hills in the neighbourhood of the school, and meditating, as was my wont in those boyish days, over the strange Protestant theory that the Pope of Rome is the Anti-Christ of Prophecy, all of a sudden I saw a bright light in the heavens, and I heard a voice which said: 'Mahomet is the Anti-Christ, for he denieth the Father and the Son.' On my return home in the next holidays I looked for a Koran and there I found those remarkable words, 'God neither begetteth nor is begotten.'"

About this time Mr. Hodson's school was removed to Edgbaston, near Birmingham, and here it was that the boy, now sixteen years old, had a remarkable dream "in which Our Lord seemed to reproach him with not having fully complied with the light he had received." Moved by this, he wrote to a Catholic priest, the Rev. Thomas Macdonnell, asking him to meet him at Loughborough and receive him into the Catholic Church. Mr. Macdonnell met him and was surprised to find him so thoroughly instructed in Catholic doctrine, and after a few days he considered him sufficiently prepared to be received into the Church. Ambrose informed both his father and his schoolmaster, with the result that he was immediately removed from Mr. Hodson's school, at that gentleman's desire, and returned home with his father, who arranged for him to continue his preparation for the university under the private tuition of the Rev. William Wilkinson. He was obliged every Sunday to attend the Protestant church, but did not join in the service. His own account of his conversion will be found in Appendix I, in the first chapter of his biography below.

Ambrose Phillipps went into residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, 16 October, 1826. He found at the university a congenial friend in Kenelm Digby, author of "Mores Catholici" and "The Broadstone of Honour", and, like himself, a recent convert. There was no Catholic chapel then at Cambridge, and every Sunday for two years these two young Catholics used to ride over, fasting, to St. Edmund's College, Old Hall, a distance of twenty-five miles, for Mass and Communion. It was on one of these visits to St. Edmund's, in April, 1828, that Phillipps was seized with a serious illness, having broken a blood-vessel on the lungs. The doctors recommended his father to take him to Italy for the winter, and this necessarily cut short his Cambridge career, so that he had to leave the university without taking his degree. On his return to England in 1829, he became acquainted with the Hon. and Rev. George Spencer, then an Anglican clergyman, and his conversation was largely instrumental in leading to Spencer's conversion, as the latter admits in his "Account of my Conversion" — "I passed many hours daily in conversation with Phillipps and was satisfied beyond all expectations with the answers he gave me to the different questions I proposed about the principal tenets and practices of Catholics." The following winter (1830-1831) he again spent in Italy, on which occasion he met Rosmini, who made a great impression on him.

On 25 July, 1833, Ambrose Phillipps married Laura Mary, eldest daughter of the Hon. Thomas Clifford, son of Hugh, fourth Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. The marriage proved a most happy union, and on this occasion Mr. Charles March Phillipps gave his son possession of the second family estate, the manor of Grace-Dieu in Leicestershire, which before the Reformation had been a priory of Augustinian nuns. Here Ambrose Phillipps built a new manor-house during the years 1833-34, and in the mean time he and his wife resided at Leamington, or at Garendon Park. Marriage made no difference to the ardour with which he devoted himself to the interests of the Church and the spread of Catholicism, and this at a time when the great influences of later days had not made themselves felt. Writing a few years before his death (Letter to the Rev. W. R. Brownlow, 10 Dec., 1869, Life, I, 349) he thus summed up the chief aims of his own life: "There were three great objects to which I felt after my own conversion as a boy of fifteen specially drawn by internal feeling for the whole space of forty-five years which have since elapsed. The first was to restore to England the primitive monastic contemplative observance, which God enabled me to do in the foundation of the Trappist monastery of Mount St. Bernard. The second was the restoration of the primitive ecclesiastical chant, my edition of which is now recommended by the Archbishop of Westminster for the use of churches and chapels. The third was the restoration of the Anglican Church to Catholic Unity." In the foundation of the Cistercian Abbey he received generous support from his friend John, Earl of Shrewsbury, but it was he himself who conceived the idea, believing it necessary that the ascetic aspect of Catholic life should be presented to the English people. He gave both land and money, even crippling his own resources in providing the necessary buildings. This work was begun in 1835 and completed in 1844, while, during the same period, he founded missions at Grace-Dieu and Whitwick. His disappointment was great when he found that the Trappists were prevented by their rule from undertaking active missionary work, because he attached the greatest importance to a supply of zealous missionary priests who would labour in English villages. "I would have them go about and preach everywhere on the foreign plan, in the fields or in the high roads even" (Letter to Lord Shrewsbury, 1839; Life, I, 105).

Besides the material assistance thus given to the spread of Catholicism, he devoted himself with persistent energy and faith to spiritual means in which he believed even more strongly. In 1838 he joined his friend Rev. George Spencer in establishing and propagating the Association of Universal Prayer for the Conversion of England. This remarkable crusade, the results of which cannot be estimated, met with deserved success due to the untiring efforts which Spencer and Phillipps put forth. The sanguine hopes which both entertained of a speedy, if not immediate, return of England to the Catholic Faith lent force to the vehemence with which they urged their point, and accounts for the co-operation they everywhere met with. In a continental tour they made together, accompanied by Mrs. Phillipps and two of her children, in 1844, they passed through Belgium, Germany, and North Italy, meeting many distinguished Catholics and everywhere enlisting the sympathy of prelates and clergy in the cause. Wiseman was co-operating in Rome, and soon the movement spread widely through the Catholic world. In this work Mr. Phillipps laboured without ceasing; by interviews and by letters he aroused the interest and awakened the enthusiasm of others, so that he became the lay apostle of prayer for the conversion of England; It is natural to see the first-fruits of this prayer in the numerous conversions that resulted from the Oxford Movement, and in that movement Mr. Phillipps played a unique part. He was for some time the only Catholic who was in confidential correspondence with the leaders of the party at Oxford; His ideal of the conversion of England had always been corporate reunion; the reconciliation of the Anglican Church as a body, rather than individual conversions however numerous; and in the Oxford Movement his sanguine spirit saw the beginning of this process. Accordingly, he set himself to remove obstacles on both sides and to act as a mediator, the more useful as he was unofficial; This he looked upon as his vocation, as his son has stated (Life and Letters, I, 254, note): "National Conversion by means of Corporate Reunion he likened unto the Apostolic practice of fishing with a net 'gathering in multitudes of all kinds of fishes.' And this he considered to be his own special call from on High, to prepare the way and hasten the time when the Divine Word should again be spoken to Peter, 'Cast your nets into the deep'." With this end in view Mr. Phillipps did much to obviate misunderstandings by promoting at Oxford fuller knowledge of Catholic life; This he did by personal intercourse and correspondence with Newman and others, and by receiving several Oxford men as his guests at Grace-Dieu. His efforts were rewarded by the numerous conversions that took place and the impetus given to the Catholic cause.

The restoration of the hierarchy in 1850 was an event after his own heart, and he exerted himself to reconcile to it some of the Catholic laymen who thought it inexpedient. During the excitement that ensued throughout the country he wrote two pamphlets which met with much success: "A Letter to Lord Shrewsbury on the Re-establishment of the Hierarchy and the Present Position of Catholic Affairs", and "A few words on Lord John Russell's Letter to the Bishop of Durham". The progress of events raised his hopes so high that he regarded the reconciliation of the Anglican Church to the Holy See as imminent, and to hasten its fulfilment entered on a new crusade of prayer, in which the co-operation of non-Catholics was desired. "The Association for promoting the Unity of Christendom", known as A. P. U. C., was founded on 8 September, 1857, by fourteen persons including Father Lockhart, Fr. Collins, O. Cist., and Mr. de Lisle; the rest were Anglicans, with one exception, a Russo-Greek priest. The only obligation incumbent on members, who might be either Catholics, Anglicans, or Greeks, was to pray to God for the unity of the baptized body. At first the association progressed rapidly. Mr. de Lisle writing to Lord John Manners (Life, I, 415) said: "We soon counted among our ranks many Catholic Bishops and Archbishops and Dignitaries of all descriptions from Cardinals downwards; the Patriarch of Constantinople and other great Eastern prelates, the Primate of the Russlart Church. . . . I do not think any Anglican Bishops joined us, but a large number of clergy of the second order". He gave the number of members as nine thousand. The formation of this association was, however, regarded with distrust by Dr. Manning (afterwards Cardinal and Archbishop of Westminster) and other Catholics, who also took exception to Mr. de Lisle's treatise "On the Future Unity of Christendom". The matter was referred to Rome and was finally settled by a papal rescript addressed "Ad omnes episcopos Angliæ", dated 16 September, 1864, which condemned the association and directed the bishops to take steps to prevent Catholics from joining it. This was a great blow to Mr. de Lisle, who considered that "the authorities had been deceived by a false relation of facts" (Letter to Editor of Union Review, 20 Dec., 1864; Life, I, 400). He however withdrew his name from the A. P. U. C. "under protest, as an act of submission to the Holy See". The ground on which the association was condemned was that it subverted the Divine constitution of the Church, inasmuch as its aim rested on the supposition that the true Church consists partly of the Catholic Church in communion with Rome, "partly also of the Photian Schism and the Anglican heresy, to which equally with the Roman Church belong the one Lord, the one faith and one baptism" (Rescript, in Life, I, 388). Mr. de Lisle's own pamphlet was not censured, but the condemnation of the A. P. U. C. was regarded by him as the death-blow of his hopes for the reunion of Christendom during his own lifetime. But his own belief in it persevered and influenced his views in other Catholic affairs. Thus he warmly supported the attendance of Catholics at the English universities, and he even approved of the abortive project of a Uniat English Church.

The rest of his life passed without any very special incident, though he continued ever to take an interest in public affairs as affecting the fortunes of the Church, and in the same connexion he carried on intimate and cordial correspondence with men so different as Newman, Gladstone, and Montalembert. He counted among his friends John, Earl of Shrewsbury, Cardinal Wiseman, Pugin, Faber, and many other well-known Catholics, and though he differed on many points from Cardinal Manning and Dr. W.G. Ward he remained on friendly terms with both. He died a holy death at Garendon, leaving his saintly wife and eleven of his sixteen children surviving him. Besides the pamphlets mentioned above he wrote a remarkable work, "Mahometanism in its relation to Prophecy; or an Inquiry into the prophecies concerning Anti-Christ, with some reference to their bearing on the events of the present day" (1855). He also translated Father Dominic's "Lamentations of England" (1831); Manzoni's "Vindication of Catholic Morality" (1836); Montalembert's "St. Elizabeth of Hungary" (1839); Rio's "La petite Chouannerie" (1842); "Maxims and Examples of the Saints" (1844); and he compiled: "Manual of Devotion for the Confraternity of the Living Rosary" (1843); "Catholic Christian's Complete Manual" (1847); "The Little Gradual" (1847); "Thesaurus animæ Christianæ" (1847); "Sequentiæ de Festis per Annum" (1862). He also wrote many articles for the press, of which many were issued in pamphlet form, but a complete bibliography has not hitherto been compiled.


PURCELL, Life and Letters of Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle, edited and finished by EDWIN DE LISLE (2 vols., London, 1900); ANON., Two Sermons Preached on the Death of Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps de Lisle, Esq., preceded by a short sketch of his life (privately printed. 1878); ANON., Life of Blessed Paul of the Cross (London, 1853), containing some letters; Life of Fr. Ignatius of St. Paul (Dublin, 1866); GILLOW, Bibl. Dict. Enq. Cath., II, 38 (London, 1885); COOPER ln Dict. Nat. Biog., XIV (London, 1888); WARD, Life of Cardinal Wiseman, II, 479 (London, 1897); CRUIKSHANK, Laura de Lisle, her Life and Character (1897).

About this page

APA citation. Burton, E. (1908). Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps De Lisle. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Burton, Edwin. "Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps De Lisle." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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