Project Canterbury

Charles Lindley, Viscount Halifax

London: The Catholic Literature Association, 1933.

TO tell the life-story of the second Viscount Halifax is to narrate in broad outline the history of the Catholic revival in the Church of England during the past seventy years. During the whole of that period Lord Halifax put the movement, of which he became both the inspiration and the chief ornament, before every other claim on his time and talents. For this reason, though with no little reluctance, he laid aside the thought of emulating his father and entering into the political sphere. As recently as 1925 he alluded in public to the disappointment that he must have been to his father, who had been engaged in politics all his life, and would have liked him to follow in his footsteps. As it is, his name will ever be remembered as one of the great names in the history of the Church of England.

Lord Halifax was an outstanding example of a man born to a noble heritage in this world, with its attendant responsibilities, who neglected none of it--indeed, he conferred added lustre upon it--and at the same time was dedicated throughout his long life to the service of Christ and his Church.

At every turn of Church history during the sixty-five years that ended with his death, the student will encounter the figure of Lord Halifax. During the last of the cholera epidemics in East London he will find him labouring incessantly in corporal acts of mercy, pausing but little for essential rest and bodily refreshment. In the great controversies which in these latter years have moulded the course of the Church's development in our land, Lord Halifax is to be seen a stalwart figure, unrelenting in the cause of Catholic truth and always by his grace and charity commending the Faith to those unwilling to allow its claims in worship and conduct.

The first years of the century found Lord Halifax in the prime of his spiritual and intellectual vigour. They were days when the witness of his character, knowledge and ardent zeal were invaluable. Reading again, for instance, the evidence he gave before the Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline in 1905, one cannot help being struck with the strength of his conviction. For three days he was cross-examined. He spoke his mind plainly as a Catholic layman rooted and grounded in the whole Faith. His practical wisdom was operative as always, and he told the Commission that the only remedy for the disorder which had brought their enquiry about, was a restoration of synodical action. The Bishops must act as constitutional rulers of the flock, and not expect to exact obedience to their personal whims.

During these years Lord Halifax was in the front line of the education controversy in which his life-long friend, Mr. Athelstan Riley, played so important a role. The right of the Church's children to be instructed in the Church's schools in the Church's Faith was in jeopardy. Lord Halifax threw himself into the campaign with all the passionate ardour of a crusader. By voice and pen he attacked the monstrous giant of Undenominationalism which was assailing the Church's children.


Charles Lindley Wood was born on June 7, 1839. He was the son of Sir Charles Wood, third baronet, who was raised to the peerage as Viscount Halifax of Mount Bretton in the county of York in 1866.

The second Viscount Halifax was born and brought up in the tradition of the Whig aristocracy, and nothing could have seemed more unlikely, in the light of that tradition and of the environment of his early years, than that he would grow up to be the great and venerated leader of the movement which was to spring out of the Assize sermon preached by John Keble at Oxford six years before his birth.

Church life at Hickleton, the Yorkshire seat of the family, had been entirely untouched by the Tractarian Movement. There were services in the parish church on Sundays only, and the Wood family sat in a pew with a large fireplace and red-cushioned seats all round it.

"My father and mother," wrote Lord Halifax, "sat in the two corners on each side of the fire, and the fire was always poked at the end of the Litany. Holy Communion was celebrated four times a year, and no one in the village, except two or three old people and the parish clerk, ever thought of communicating. Lent, Holy Week, Ascension Day, and the Saints' Days were entirely ignored."

Yet even in 1852 there were relics of a better order, and an earnest, surely, of what was to come. "The church bells always rang at eight o'clock on Sundays, though there had not been Mattins or Mass at that hour in the memory of man. On Shrove Tuesday the old shriving bell was rung at twelve o'clock, though no one knew why, or dreamt of such a thing as confession."

A like state of things pervaded the Royal Chapel at Whitehall, where, while his father was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the family worshipped on Sunday mornings in London. "Speculation as to which of the gods and goddesses it was who were surrounding James the First in his apotheosis, painted by Rubens on the ceiling," was the subject which "chiefly absorbed my sister and myself in our retirement at the bottom of the pew during the Litany," he recalled in old age.

Two of his uncles, however, Canon the Hon. John Grey, who lived to be eighty-eight, and Canon the Hon. Francis Richard Grey, who lived to be eighty-seven, were devoted adherents of the Tractarian cause. On his father's side, also, there was his uncle, Samuel Francis Wood, who was at Eton with Gladstone and at Oxford with Newman, to whom he formed a close attachment.


In 1852 young Wood went to Eton, and won great popularity among both masters and boys. His tutor was the renowned William Johnson, who prophesied a great future for his pupil, who at school distinguished himself by winning the Albert Prize presented by the Prince Consort for French. At Eton he was confirmed, and he used to relate how Bishop Wilberforce, with white kid gloves on his hands, approached the pew where he was kneeling and laid his fingers, thus gloved, gingerly on his head. Despite the lingering Hanoverianism of that method of administration of the rite, and of his sole preparation being to copy out into a notebook certain devotional passages and hymns, and of being told that it would be more of a disgrace to be whipped after he had been confirmed than it would have been before, Lord Halifax stated only a few years before his death that he did not think his religious beliefs had changed since he was thus confirmed, more than seventy years before.

While still a boy, Wood was brought into intimate association with the then Prince of Wales, with whom he was afterwards to take service as Groom of the Bedchamber. The Prince Consort had so far modified his conception of the exclusiveness proper to the Heir Apparent as to invite a few boys of noble lineage to play with the young Prince at Buckingham Palace. Young Charles Wood was among those thus selected, and when at Eton he was likewise invited to Windsor, though always their games and companionship were under the vigilant eye of the Prince Consort. Subsequently Wood was of the small party that toured the Lake District with the Prince, and afterwards went on a Continental tour with him. At Oxford the association was continued, and there is no doubt that the Prince of Wales held Wood in the highest esteem. The story has more than once been told of how he said: "If ever I take to religion, it will be Charlie Wood's religion." Very many years later, when Lord Halifax entered the death-chamber of King Edward, he saw lying at his bedside a book of devotion--The Treasury of Devotion--which he had given him as a Coronation gift.

The association with the Prince of Wales, so far as official connexion was concerned, was broken as the result of the passing of the Public Worship Regulation Act in 1874. Six years before Wood had been elected to succeed Colin Lindsay as president of the newly-formed English Church Union, and the new Act of Parliament came as a challenge, and much against the Prince's desire Wood insisted on being entirely free. His own account of the occurrence, written in 1925, was as follows: " Certain people in high places objected to my remaining in the Prince of Wales's household, in which I had been since his marriage. The Prince refused to accept my resignation, which I was more than ready to give; but I did not wish to compromise him in any way, so I insisted, and we parted the best of friends." That act of separation was the beginning of the long life of sacrifice by which Lord Halifax denied himself so much of those things to which his position, to say nothing of his charm and great ability, would naturally have entitled him.


Wood was only twenty-nine when he was elected president of the English Church Union, but so sound was the choice that for more than fifty years he continued to be elected to the position. It gave him an admirable platform for the expression of his views on the ecclesiastical and religious affairs of the day, and gave him also authority which crowned, as it were, his brilliant gifts of leadership.

With the growing membership of the English Church Union he stood for the principle of the inherent Catholicity of the Church of England, and of the fulness of sacramental belief and teaching. At the end of his days he could look around and see that almost everything for which he and his friends then contended had become, if the term is not inappropriate, a commonplace in every town and country district in the kingdom.

In the year that Wood became president of the English Church Union the attack on Catholic ceremonial was launched with persistent determination against Alexander Heriot Mackonochie, vicar of St. Alban's, Holborn. Though Sir Robert Phillimore in the Court of Arches had decided mainly in Mackonochie's favour, he was overruled by the Court of Appeal. The position was that Mackonochie refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the Privy Council in spiritual matters and ignored its ruling. In consequence he was suspended for three months. Meanwhile other so-called Ritual cases were coming before the courts, and the wisdom of the young president of the E.C.U. was thus early put to the test in the guidance he gave to the Catholic party.

More insidious than the legal proceedings was the almost fanatical eagerness of Queen Victoria, supported to no small extent by the two Archbishops, Tait and Thomson, to crush the Catholic revival by the use of the secular arm of the State. There was no pretence that the Public Worship Regulation Act was not aimed at the suppression of the Catholic party. Disraeli said as much in the House of Commons when he openly avowed that it was framed "to put down ritualism." The disapproval of Convocation was ignored and the new Act was widely acclaimed as a powerful weapon in the cause of No-Popery. In repudiating the new Act which substituted the authority of the secular court for that of the courts spiritual the E.C.U. expressed the indignation of thousands of churchmen who enlisted themselves in its ranks. Under the provisions of the Act a number of the clergy were sent to jail, and the very nice question arose as to whether the Union should support the persecuted priests by defending them in courts the jurisdiction of which it repudiated. Mr. Wood decided that it should, on the ground that otherwise the Catholic cause would go by default.

Thus, in the first years of his presidency, Mr. Wood was in the forefront of a defensive battle. Very wisely, however, he led the Union to formulate certain positive aims. At the annual meeting in June 1875 he commended the adoption of the familiar "six points." The present generation may like to be reminded that they consisted in the eastward position, Eucharistic vestments, altar lights, the mixed chalice, unleavened bread, and incense.

Wood's father was still alive in the early days of his son's leadership of the Anglo-Catholic party, and there is no doubt that he was distressed by it. He had, in fact, been one of the supporters of the Public Worship Regulation Bill. It was, however, a great happiness to Lord Halifax that in the end his father, whom he venerated above all men, came shortly before his death to think that his son had acted wisely and rightly. That his father should thus change his attitude was remarkable in one of the old-fashioned Protestant habit of mind, loyal by nature to inherited tradition and intolerant of change. As it was, he made confession to a priest on his death-bed.

In 1886, the year after his father's death, Lord Halifax was appointed an Ecclesiastical Commissioner. There could have been no more striking testimony to the success of the movement with which he was identified than this public recognition of his position in the Church of England.

But if ceremonial controversy, so far as it related to the main principles at stake, was over, other controversies no less distracting and decisive were about to arise. The famous volume of essays entitled Lux Mundi, published in 1889, precipitated a new crisis. Among the contributors were Charles Gore and several others of the Catholic party. Their views, now for the most part fully accepted, if not old-fashioned, were regarded by the more orthodox as highly subversive, and Canon Liddon in particular, Lord Halifax's great friend from Oxford days, was greatly alarmed. The book is said indeed to have hastened his death. Thanks largely to Lord Halifax's sound judgment and the excellent sense of proportion which he brought to bear with great calmness when passions were fevered, the controversy abated without serious harm done.


For a great number of years Lord Halifax devoted himself to the cause of the reunion of Christendom. He was mainly instrumental in reopening with Rome the question of Anglican Orders. For that purpose he made at least two visits to Rome in order to have audiences with the Pope and discuss the reunion of the different parts of the Catholic Church.

In 1911 extracts were published from the diaries kept by Abbot Gasquet and Mr. Lacey, afterwards Canon of Worcester, during the sittings of the Commission appointed by the Vatican in 1896 to consider the question of Anglican Orders; and in 1912 Lord Halifax wrote a bulky volume entitled Leo XIII. and Anglican Orders, giving a full history of the events which led up to the appointment of the Commission. Like all Lord Halifax's writings, the book was thoroughly frank and straightforward. No one could read it without being impressed by his industry, his zeal, and his truly Christian desire to promote the unity of the Church. It was the history of a movement which failed.

The crucial moment, Lord Halifax thought, was that when the AbbéPortal brought to England a letter written to him by Cardinal Rampolla, the Papal Secretary of State, in response to his solicitations for a direct letter from the Pope to the English Archbishops. Of this letter the AbbéPortal and Lord Halifax desired Dr. Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, to express his favourable opinion, and thus pave the way to further negotiations. But Dr. Benson felt that it was impossible for him to do so, on the ground that Cardinal Rampolla's letter contained expressions which were inconsistent with the primitive model to which England appeals. Lord Halifax considered that the Archbishop threw away a great opportunity. That, however, was not the view taken by the public.

In 1923 Lord Halifax published a full account of his visit to Paris in 1896, when his hopes were raised by the sympathetic talks he had with high ecclesiastics. In the previous year Mgr. Duchesne had written to the Rev. T. A. Lacey telling him that his arguments in favour of Anglican Orders were "incontestable" and also that Mgr. Gasparri, afterwards Cardinal Secretary of State, had been converted to Lacey's view.

Alas! nothing came of all their hopes. The Roman Catholics in England took alarm and were successful in preventing the Vatican pronouncing favourably.


Lord Halifax was bitterly disappointed by the publication of the Bull Apostolicæ Curæ in 1890, which pronounced against the validity of Anglican Orders, but he showed no bitterness at the way in which his efforts had been misrepresented. He longed for the reunion of Christendom with all his soul, and his efforts at the Vatican sprang from his belief that a better understanding between the severed branches of the Church could be brought about by such discussions as he initiated. To the end of his life he laboured in the same cause, and was a leading member of the party of Roman and Anglican theologians which assembled between 1921 and 1925 at Malines on the invitation of the late Cardinal Mercier. In 1930 he published the original documents relating to the Malines Conversations. He had not, however, neglected his own fellow-churchmen of the Evangelical school, and few things were more touching than his public and private intercourse with them.

In June 1927, when in his eighty-ninth year, Lord Halifax addressed a vast gathering in the Royal Albert Hall in the course of the Anglo-Catholic Congress then being held. At the appearance of his graceful and venerable figure the whole assembly rose to its feet, and it was some minutes before the aged leader could begin to speak. It was a most affecting scene, for almost all present felt that they were listening for the last time to the voice of one of the most revered and saintly sons of the Church of England.


Lord Halifax took small part in affairs which did not touch the Church, but some of his speeches in the House of Lords on Imperial matters are well remembered, especially that on the resolution of thanks to Lord Milner at the end of his tenure of office in South Africa, and his defence of him just after a bitter attack in the House of Commons. He was naturally a staunch upholder of the sanctity of marriage, and used his vote and voice in Parliament to resist all assaults upon it.

One of his last appearances in Parliament, in 1920, was the occasion of a pathetic and moving scene. He was opposing the Matrimonial Causes Bill introduced by Lord Buck-master to facilitate divorce. Presently he paused. There was complete silence in the Chamber as with strained anxiety the House waited for him to proceed. Then he begged forgiveness, and explained that he had been ill and must end his speech. His concluding words were: "I shall probably never address this House again--the sands of my life are running low---but what I have said comes from my heart. I do urge your lordships to consider the real welfare of the people of England in this matter."

The scene recalled that other historic incident in Parliament when the elder Pitt uttered his dying words in the House of Lords. He had come down to the House to tell the Government that they were provoking the American colonists to rebellion. As he spoke he fell.

Lord Halifax was, however, to intervene in debate once more, and this he did in 1927 to speak against the ill-fated Prayer Book Measure.


Lord Halifax possessed an enchanting personality, and all who came in contact with him were drawn irresistibly to him. His every action was illumined by qualities of heart and mind which won him the love of men of most opposed tradition and diverse station. He had not only charm of manner, sweetness of character, and passionate sincerity of purpose, but he was possessed also of a physical grace which he retained to the very last. Though frail of figure in these latter days, somewhat small of stature, and, towards the end, of imperfect sight and hearing, he had the look, at a short distance, of a young and lithe man. The force of his intellect was unabated. As a host he was the very pink of courtesy, retaining those manners of an earlier age which have all but suffered extinction. It was his habit, for example, to the very last, himself to conduct a caller to the door of his house in Eaton Square, and to stand at the open door until his visitor had passed out of sight.

Of his private life it is not easy to write, for his intimacies were so completely woven with his religious life. It may not, however, be out of place to record that, except during his illness, it was his habit both at Hickleton and in London to attend the service of Holy Communion every morning at an early hour. In London he resorted to St. Mary's, Graham Street, where he was a churchwarden. At Hickleton the beautiful parish church, on which he lavished gifts, was within his own park.

As has been said, his friendships were with men of every sort, and he never seemed too old to make new friends. One of the strongest attachments of his life was that to Cardinal Mercier, who on his death-bed begged Lord Halifax to come to him. Despite extremely bad wintry weather and poor health, Lord Halifax went at once, and was at the Cardinal's bedside when he died. To him the Cardinal bequeathed his episcopal ring. For the rest of his days Lord Halifax wore the ring suspended out of sight by a chain about his neck.


Lord Halifax, himself of an ancient Yorkshire family, and a descendant on his mother's side of Lady Jane Grey, was married in 1869 to Lady Agnes Courtenay, daughter of the eleventh Earl of Devon, and the marriage was a notable event of the London season of that year. Lady Halifax died in 1919, the year in which with great rejoicings her golden wedding anniversary was celebrated at Hickleton. There were six children of the marriage, four sons and two daughters. Three of the sons died in early youth, and Lord Halifax was succeeded by his fourth son, who was raised to the peerage as Lord Irwin on his appointment in 1925 to the Viceroyalty of India. The present viscount was married in 1909 to Lady Dorothy Onslow, younger daughter of the fourth Earl of Onslow.

Hickleton Hall, the family seat, stands on an eminence between Barnsley and Doncaster. It overlooks hills and dales for miles, and many of the trees are of great age and size. Away in the valley ascending smoke tells of the encroachment of industry, to which the great Lord Halifax himself contributed by the enterprise which he infused into the Hickleton Main Colliery, from which much of the family fortune is derived. The hall, which is famous for its house-parties in Doncaster Race Week, is full of treasures, and the parish church at the park gates is enriched with every beautiful adjunct which could rightly be brought to the Church's worship. In the churchyard there is a life-size Calvary, coloured after the fashion of those in Brittany and Spain, which Lord Halifax erected some years ago. Pride of family had its due place in Lord Halifax's life. He greatly loved the many fine pictures of his ancestors which hang in the hall, and in the little parish church are the tattered banners which testify to the valour of his Yorkshire forbears on the field of battle.


In 1931 Lord Halifax was recalled to the Presidency of the English Church Union, and in the following June presided over its seventy-third anniversary meeting at the Church House, Westminster.

In a voice which could be heard throughout the hall, he delivered an address of an hour's duration. He touched on many topics, among them the regrettable diversity in the manner of saying Mass, and concluded with an extraordinary plea for Christian unity.

He pointed to the example of Mussolini in reuniting the kingdom of Italy with Rome.

"Is it impossible," he asked, "that the still greater difficulties which for so long have separated England from the Roman See may be overcome, and, by the blessing of God, it may be the privilege of each one of us to have a share in so glorious a work?" No call from God could, he said, be more imperative than the call to spare no effort to restore those ancient ties of duty and affection which once bound the Church of England to the rest of the Western Church.

A little more than two years later occurred those events which are fresh in the minds of Churchpeople. Slighting references to the Church of Rome and the Anglo-Catholic Congress appeared in the Church Union Gazette, the official organ of the E.C.U., and Lord Halifax resigned as a "protest against the present regime." He followed his protest with a letter rallying all adherents of the Anglo-Catholic Cause to his side. The result was that within a few weeks the E.C.U. and the A.C.C. were amalgamated, and a new body, the Church Union, came into being.

No more striking evidence of Lord Halifax's forceful character and personality could be adduced than that master-stroke. In the twinkling of an eye, as it were, the long and apparently fruitless discussions of amalgamation of the two leading Anglo-Catholic organizations were broken off and the feat accomplished. Within three weeks of the birth of the Church Union, its first President had been gathered to his eternal rest, full of years and honour.

No English Churchman who remained outside the Church of Rome has probably ever had a deeper understanding of all that Rome symbolizes for the Catholic. If small-minded or ill-natured people dubbed him 'Romanizer,' it was because they could not see that while every powerful attraction of Rome was drawing Lord Halifax, his loyalty to the Church of his birth was such that he never wavered in his allegiance, even in the darkest hour.

In his little book A Call to Reunion, published in 1922, he stated his position in terms that are as unequivocal as they are moving. He had discussed with Cardinal Mercier the basis of such a conference as was afterwards held at Malines, and having concluded his account of their meeting, he spoke from his heart.

"May I," he wrote, "on the last occasion that I am likely to address my fellow-churchmen, and more especially the members of the society over which I had the honour to preside for fifty years--for there can be little time left to one who has passed his eighty-third year--urge them to labour for that unity which is so near to the heart of our Lord and Saviour; and to determine, so far as in them lies, that nothing shall hinder the fulfilment of so blessed a hope? There may be some who, in the past, have been ready to welcome what I have had occasion to say, who will be startled at what may appear to be involved in what I have stated. They may see in it a surrender to Roman claims, and imagine a change in myself which implies disloyalty to that Ecclesia Anglicana in whose service my life has been spent. Let me assure them--for their friendship and confidence are very dear to me--that such is not the case. From the time of my Confirmation, some seventy years ago, I have tried, however imperfectly, to conform my life to the requirements of the Book of Common Prayer. My communions and confessions have been governed by it. Every one of those seventy years has only strengthened and confirmed my conviction of the truth and reality of the sacraments I have received. Throughout those years the Blessed Sacrament has been the guard, the security, and the happiness of my life. I hope and believe that I would gladly die rather than any action of mine should cast a doubt upon the reality of those sacraments, or the purposes of God in regard to the Church of England. It is because of the absolute security I feel as a member of that Church, that I do not hesitate to advocate the duty of our endeavouring to recognize the need of a visible centre for the Catholic Church throughout the world. By doing so we shall be taking a step which, under God's guidance, will do more than anything else to promote the interests of our holy religion, and to hasten the consummation of that which we so ardently long and pray for--the reunion of Christendom.

"The Cardinal, in the eloquent passage with which he concludes his Pastoral Letter [The Papacy and the Election of H.H. Pius XI.], reminds us that the union of Christ with us, and of us with him, which our Lord likens to the union which makes him one with the Father, is the ultimate source and expression of Christian life and unity. May the Great Head of the Church so inspire Pius XI., that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who alone can make men to be of one mind in an house, he shall so work and pray that there may be again one fold and one Shepherd.

"And shall we not also work and pray that we and our separated brethren may be once more knit together in one Communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of Christ our Lord?

"Imagine what it would be if in our day we might see its accomplishment. The vision of such a reunion is so transporting that all else fades into insignificance in comparison. What would its realization and the knowledge that it was no longer a distant prospect, but an accomplished fact, be to us? Let us, then, pray to God with an earnestness which will take no denial, and with an absolute determination that our prayer shall be granted, that, with our own eyes, we may be allowed to see the representatives of a reunited Christendom, from East and West, from North and South, gathered in St. Peter's to offer, with one heart and soul, the holy, immortal and all-pervading Sacrifice by the hands of Pius XI, in thanksgiving to the Father of all for having, in response to their prayers, given again to his children the blessing of peace."

More than a decade was to pass before Lord Halifax, in the ninety-fifth year of his age, on January 19, 1934, was summoned from the ranks of the Church Militant here on earth.

Project Canterbury