Cecil Torr was born on the 11th October 1857. He was brought up in and near London. His Parents were Unitarians. His early education was by way of a private tutor. He attended School at Harrow 1872 to 1876. From then he went up to Trinity College Cambridge. He then read for the Bar and was called to the Bar in 1882. His father's death whilst he was at University, left Cecil with independent means. In addition to his early career as a Barrister, he travelled widely and as a classicist, he wrote a number of books; Rhodes in Ancient Times, 1882; Ancient Ships, 1894. His greatest love, was of the district in which he had settled - Wreyland in Devon. From this love he became a local historian. Four books appeared; Wreyland Documents, 1910, and three in a series; Small Talk at Wreyland, 1918, 1921, and 1923. Torr died on the 17th December 1928.
He was a very relaxed individual. He was not a campaigner, although a few
comments of criticism appear in his writings, these comments being critical
of local and national government. An article provided by an anonymous 'Knight'
which appeared in a Christian Journal did arouse a scathing contempt for
an institution he considered founded on falsified historical evidence;
The Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem
The article concerned was:- Anonymous (A Knight of the Order )- The Sovereign Order of S. John of Jerusalem in Anglia. in; The Newbery House Magazine (A Monthly Review for Churchmen and Churchwomen), Griffith Farran Okeden and Welsh, Newbery House, Charing Cross, London. Vol. ii, Jan. 1890 pages 91-95.
Torr 's reply to the above article was through contributions to The Athenæum, an Academic Journal, which appeared in January, and June, 1890. Replies to his contributions referred to in the text of the Athenæum, did not appear in the Journal, or in the Newbery House Magazine and may have been by private correspondence.
Even though the comments in the Athenæum directed at 'The Grand Priory
of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England' were severe,
no rebuttal ever appeared in the Journal.
Not every criticism Cecil Torr made was valid, for example whilst the Order of Hospitallers originally had for their duty the running a Hostel for Pilgrims, added to that original duty, was the care of the sick. This became identified with the title 'Hospitaller'. The telling criticisms, concerned the claims of authority for the French Commission, which initiated the English Branch, and the subsequent claims for that branch. Original research by a Barrister challenged those claims without reply.
The texts of Torr's criticisms are provided below;
Correspondence in The Athenæum - Journal of English and Foreign
Literature, Science and the Fine Arts, Music and the Drama, John C. Francis,
The Athenæum Press, 22 Took's Court, Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane
London EC, Volume for 1890. No.s 3245 Jan 4th, page 16, 3248. Jan 25th, pages
117 and 118. 3267 June 7th, pages 737-739. 3268 June 14th, page 770.
Source: British Library pp 5639 (No.s 3245, Jan. 4; 3248, Jan. 25; 3267, June 7; 3268, June 14; 1890)
No 3245, Jan. 4, '90 THE ATHENÆUM 16
THE HOSPITALLERS IN ENGLAND.
THE Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem was divided for administrative
purposes into several Nations, one of which was the Nation of England. The
Grand Priories of England and Ireland were subdivisions of the Nation. The
Bailiff of England was the chief dignitary in the Nation, and the Grand Priors
of England and Ireland ranked next to him.
The Act 32 henry VIII. cap. 24 declared the Order to be dissolved and void in England and Ireland, and granted the lands and goods of the Order in those countries to the king. Outside England and Ireland the Act was necessarily inoperative, and the Nation of England with the Grand Priories of England and Ireland flourished as before, though with diminished resources.
In 1888 a charitable society was incorporated by charter as "The Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England," under the presidency of a Grand Prior. This society has assumed the Maltese cross, which is the badge of the real Order ; and its constitution is adapted from that of the Grand Priory of England in the real Order. The charter itself discreetly avoids all reference to the real Order, and merely recites that the society has existed for more than fifty years.
It certainly does seem strange that a number of ladies and gentlemen could not form a charitable society without doing things calculated to create the impression that they are members of a venerable Order, to which they have no claim to belong. But as they have chosen to place themselves in this equivocal position, it is peculiarly incumbent upon them to see that none of their number overstep the line dividing those statements which merely suggest false inferences from those statements which are palpably untrue.
This line has been decidedly overstepped in an article entitled 'The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem in Anglia,' signed by "A Knight of the Order," and published in the Newbery House Magazine for January, 1890. the writer of that article assumes throughout that the English society is part and parcel of the real Order, and actually states in so many words that "the Order, as it now exists here in the shape of the English 'Langue,' is the legitimate successor of the fraternity of English knights who were known in the Norman and Plantaganet [sic] times as the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem."
No 3245, Jan. 25, '90 THE ATHENÆUM 117-118
THE HOSPITALLERS IN ENGLAND.
THE writer in the magazine underestimates my knowledge of his Society. To
write a history of Rhodes, I had to investigate the history of the Hospitallers
; and incidentally I found out all about this spurious imitation.
He speaks of the charitable work of his Society. The Hospitallers were so called because the exercised hospitality towards pilgrims. But his Society jumped to the conclusion that they were so called because they kept hospitals for the sick ; and accordingly it plunged into hospital work ; and, amongst other things, it established an ophthalmic hospital at Jerusalem, where the Hospitallers originally had their hospice for the pilgrims. I have often wondered how far a disinterested desire to benefit the afflicted was here tempered by a less avowable desire to mislead the public.
He goes out of his way to say that some Roman Catholics sneer at his Society because it is Catholic, i.e. cosmopolitan, in its charities, and not Roman Catholic. Now, I am not in any way concerned about the Roman Catholics or their alleged sneers. But I may point out that the Hospitallers were bound by statues to defend the Catholic faith ; and that in such documents Catholic does not mean cosmopolitan or anything of the sort, but is simply the technical term for things appertaining to the Roman Church. The English Hospitallers took it in this sense in the days of the Reformation.
He justly observes that his Society can exist without my countenance or patronage. But then I did not offer it my countenance or patronage. I merely pointed out that some of his statements about it were untrue.
All these irrelevant remarks of his are obviously calculated to obscure the issue. He hardly attempts a defence of the particular assumption which I attacked, namely, that the Queen and the Prince of Wales would not have joined his Society unless they were convinced that its members were "the representatives of those who, five or six centuries ago, in various ways assisted the cause of Christendom." On a simple question of fact, where the evidence is accessible to every one, it was unnecessary to talk about any one's supposed convictions ; and quite unnecessary to drag the names of these illustrious persons. But I presume that they joined his Society simply from charitable motives, for it would be impertinent to suppose that they know so little about the real Order as to dream of any connexion between the two. In support of this view I may point out that the charter by which they became members of his Society treats it simply as a charitable society of fifty years' standing, and makes no allusion whatever to the real Order or to former times.
I would recommend these two points to his attention : 1. Under the charter of incorporation the position of his Society is legally sound, though morally it may be otherwise. 2. Were his Society part of the real Order, as he alleged in the magazine, it would be dissolved and void under the Act 32 henry VIII, cap 24, which is still in force. Perhaps he will shift his ground now, and base his claim to be considered a Knight Hospitaller upon his chivalrous courtesy to opponents and his zealous quest of truth. CECIL TORR.
No 3267, June 7, '90 THE ATHENÆUM 737-739
THE HOSPITALLERS IN ENGLAND.
A CERTAIN charitable society which obtained a charter of incorporation
in 1888 as "The Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of
Jerusalem in England" has been circulating a very remarkable pamphlet. The
title of the pamphlet is this: "The English, or Sixth, Language of the Order
of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem : a brief Sketch of its History
and Present Position, compiled by a Committee appointed for that purpose
by the Chapter of the Language."
The Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, it should be remembered, was divided for administration purposes into Nations or Languages ; of which Provence, Auvergne, France, and England were respectively the first, second, third, and sixth. The Grand Priories of the Order in England and Ireland were subdivisions of the Nation or Language of England. Speaking of the fate of the knights of the Order at the time of the Reformation, the pamphlet says, p. 21:-
"A general sequestration of their property in England took place. The statute which struck this heavy blow at the prosperity of the Order was dated as the 32nd Henry VIII. cap. 21 (1560). The accession of Mary to the throne of England revived the hopes of the Language, and its restoration was speedily decreed. By a Royal Charter of Philip and Mary, dated 2nd April, 1557, the then existing knights of St. John in England were created a corporation under the title of 'The Prior and the Brethren of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England' with perpetual succession: Sir Thomas Tresham was nominated Grand Prior, and a portion of the property of the Language was restored. This revival was, however, but short lived. The death of Mary disappointed the rising hopes of the Language, and one of the earliest acts of her successor, viz., the statute 1 Elizabeth, c. 24, annexed to the Crown all the property of the Order in England. This statute did not, however, enact the dissolution of the corporate body, as has been sometimes stated, but dealt simply with its property."
The facts are these. the Act 32 Henry VIII. cap. 21, dissolved the corporation of the Order in England and Ireland, and granted the lands and goods of the Order in those countries to the Crown. The Act 4 & 5 Philip and Mary, cap, 1, empowered the king and queen to make grants of Crown lands by letters patent. By letters patent#1 dated April 2nd, 1557, the king and queen incorporated the members of the Grand Priory of the Order in England and granted them certain lands in England formerly belonging to the Order. The Act 1 Elizabeth, cap. 21, granted the lands held by all religious bodies in England to the Crown. The lands granted to the Grand Priory were thus recovered for the Crown within a year of their alienation. The purported incorporation was probably bad from the beginning ; for it would have amounted to a partial repeal of the Act 32 Henry VIII, cap. 24, and Acts of Parliament are not repealable by charters from the Crown. All these proceedings were necessarily inoperative abroad ; and the Nation or Language of England remained a division of the Order as before, with the Grand Priories of England and Ireland as subdivisions.
In its list of the Grand Priors of England the pamphlet mentions, p 37 :-
"Thomas Tresham : appointed Grand Prior of England by a Royal Charter of Mary, Queen of England, dated Greenwich, 2nd April 1557."
No man could be appointed to a dignity in an independent sovereign order by a charter from the English Crown. As a matter of fact, the letters patent of April 2nd, 1557, merely contain a recital that Cardinal Pole, the Papal Legate, in the exercise of powers delegated to him for that purpose, had appointed Sir Thomas Tresham to the Grand Priory and various other Englishmen to various other dignities appertaining to the Language of England. It is only by thus garbling these letters patent that a precedent can be created for the charter of incorporation of 1888, in which the Queen purported to appoint the Prince of Wales to the Grand Priory and various other Englishmen to various other dignities appertaining to the Language of England in the Order.
After noticing the misfortune of the three French Languages (i.e., Provence, Auvergne, and France) during the French Revolution, the pamphlet proceeds, p. 27:-
"The fall of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814 removed the ban under which the French knights had lain since the edict of the 19th September, 1792. They at once reassembled in a chapter-general at Paris, and forming, as they did at that time, the most powerful branch of the Order still surviving elected a permanent capitular commission, in which was vested plenary power to act as might seem best for the general interests of the fraternity. The formation of this capitular commission was confirmed by a pontifical bull issued by Pope Pius VII, on the 10th August, 1814, and recognised by the Lieutenant of the Mastery and the Sacred Council in an instrument dated the 9th October following."
The French knights did not reassemble in a chapter-general ; they did not elect a capitular commission, or any commission in perpetuity ; they did not invest an commission with power to act as might seem best for the general interests of the fraternity ; nor did they even purport to do any of these things. By letter of August 2nd, 1814, the Grand Prior of Aquitaine reported to the Council of the Order - the office of Grand Master being vacant - that the three French Languages had appointed a commission at Paris, consisting of himself as president with six members and a secretary, to further the interests of those three Languages in France:- "Elles (les Langues Françaises) ont donc nommé, dans leur sein, une commission dentinée à poursuivre, en France, leurs intérêts généraux." This letter came before the Council on October 1st, and was answered by the Lieutenant of the Mastery on October 9th, 1814. The Lieutenant did not recognize the commission as such, but said that, as a matter of convenience, he would gladly correspond with the Grand Prior and his colleagues about the affairs of the Order in France. The formation of the commission was not confirmed by any pontifical bull or brief. The document of August 10th, 1814, is a letter from the Pope to the Grand Prior, without any reference whatever to the commission. I have before me official copies of all these documents.
The pamphlet then proceeds, p. 27 :-
"This commission exercised important acts on behalf of the Order in general during a series of years; it negotiated, though unsuccessfully, with the king for the restoration of the property of the Order in France ; it treated, in 1814, with the Congress of Vienna for a new chef-lieu in the Mediterranean. In an appeal to the French king and chambers it represented the whole Order in 1816, and again at the Congress of Verona in 1822. Also, as recorded by Sutherland in 1823, when the Greek cause began to wear a prosperous aspect, the same chapter, encouraged by the good will which the Bourbon family was understood to entertain for the Order, entered into a treaty with the Greeks for the cessation of Sapienxa and Cabressa, two islets on the western shore of the Morco, as a preliminary step to the reconquest of Rhodes, to facilitate which arrangement an endeavour was made to raise a loan of 640,000l. in England."
At the Congress of Vienna in 1814 the Order was represented by plenipotentiaries appointed by the Council of the Order. It was suggested in the letter of August 2nd, 1814, that each Language of the Order should send a representative to Vienna to assist the plenipotentiaries ; but this suggestion was rejected in the letter of October 9th, 1814. The secretary of the commission transmitted unofficially to the Congress a note upon the history of the Order ; but this note did not even mention the existence of the commission#2. The Order does not appear to have been represented at all at the Congress of Verona in 1822.
The commission certainly petitioned the French chambers in 1816 for the restoration of the Property of the Order in France ; but it did not even claim to represent the whole Order. The commissioners presented their petition in three capacities:#3 firstly, as a portion (comme faisant partie) of an Order having possessions in France ; secondly, as representative of the Languages of Provence, Auvergne, and France, which owed property in France ; and thirdly, as knights of the Order, and therefore individually entitled to a hearing.
The statement by Sutherland occurs in Constable's Miscellany, vol. lxiv. p. 327, and is quite unauthoritative. I have before me an original prospectus of the loan. It shows that the loan was offered in the name of the Order itself, without any allusion to the existence of the commission. As a matter of fact, however, this loan was started by certain members of the commission, without the knowledge or consent of the Council of the Order. Consequently, by circular letter of March 27th, 1824, the Lieutenant of the Mastery peremptorily forbade the members of the commission to hold any further meetings as a commission or otherwise. I have before me a copy of this letter.
The pamphlet then proceeds, p. 28 :-
"While engaged in these various negotiations for the benefit of the Order at large, the question was mooted of a possible revival of the English Language and the matter speedily received a practical solution. The commission placed itself in communication with the Rev. Sir Robert Peat, D.D., and other Englishmen of position, to whom were submitted the documents constituting the commission. These gentlemen undertook to give their aid in the resuscitation of an interesting relic of ancient chivalry of Europe. The negotiations which were continued for some months resulted in the revival of the English Language of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, for which purpose articles of convention were executed on the 11th July 1826, and on the 21st.August and 15th October, 1827. The Chevalier Philippe de Chastelain and Mr Donald Currie were appointed delegates for formally inaugurating the revival by deed dated 14th December, 1827. On the 24th January, 1831, the Chevalier de Chastelain attended a meeting in London when the English Language was formally reorganised, and the Rev. Sir Robert Peat was invested with the functions and authority of Grand Prior of the revived English Language."
A revival of the Language of England was impossible, for the Language of England was still extant in the Order. But in any case the proceedings were invalid throughout. The commission was only empowered by the French knights to act in France in matters affecting the three French Languages ; and in fact the French knights could not delegate to the commission any larger powers than they themselves possessed. Consequently the commission had no power to act in England or in matters affecting the Language of England. Strictly the commission had no power to act at all, since its formation had not been authorized by the Council of the Order ; and the qualified recognition accorded by the letter of October 9th, 1814, had been cancelled by the letter of March 27th, 1824, two years before the beginning of these proceedings. The argument that the commission was acting on behalf of the whole Order can only be maintained upon the theory that A is necessarily acting on behalf of B because A has tried to borrow money in B's name.
Suddenly abandoning the argument that the commission was acting on behalf of the whole Order, the pamphlet says, p. 28:-
"The articles of convention distinctly recite that in making this revival the French Languages were acting with the concurrence and approval of those of Aragon and Castile, thus, by a representative of five out of the eight divisions of the Order, giving the weight of majority, if such addition were necessary, to the powers of the associated French Languages."
A recital of the concurrence of parties is worthless unless those parties testify that concurrence by joining in the deed ; for otherwise there is no evidence that the recital is inserted with their knowledge or consent. It is not alleged that the Languages of Aragon and Castile joined in these articles of convention. At a meeting of the eight Languages of the Order five could certainly outvote three on any question that arose ; and the question of the revival of the Language of England could not possibly arise, for that Language was extant, and would be present and voting as one of the eight. Sir Robert Peat's appointment to the Grand Priory was utterly invalid. By the statutes of the Order, tit. 13, sec. 3, the right of appointment to all Priories was vested in the Grand Master and council, so that he was not appointed by the proper authority ; and by tit, 13, sec. 10, membership for fifteen years was required before appointment to a Priory, so that he was not even qualified for appointment.
The pamphlet then proceeds, p. 29 :-
"In 1834, acting under the advise of the Vice-Chancellor of England, Sir Launcelot Shadwell (who himself shortly after joined the Order) Sir Robert Peat sought to qualify for office, and at the same time to revive the charter of Philip and Mary, before referred to, by taking the oath de fideli administratione in the Court of the king's Bench. He accordingly attended, on the 24th February, 1834, and the Court, as the records of the Language state :- on its being announced by the Macer that the Lord Prior of St. John and come into Court to qualify, rose to receive him, and he did then and there openly qualify himself before the Lord Chief Justice of England, Sir Thomas Denman, Knight, to hold, exercise and discharge the office of Prior of the Language of England under the Charter of King Philip and Queen Mary. The oath of qualification taken by Sir Robert Peat in the Court of King's Bench is now a record of the kingdom and a copy of the same, authenticated by the signature of the Lord Chief Justice, is in the archives of the Language."
The Act 9 George IV, cap. 17, which was then in force, requires that, as a qualification for office, the declaration therein mentioned shall be made and subscribed in the King's Bench or in certain other courts ; and that "the court in which such declaration shall be so made and subscribed shall cause the same to be preserved among the records of the said court." As the King's Bench records for 1834 contain no declaration or oath by Sir Robert Peat, it appears that he did not qualify for office, as alleged.
The pamphlet continues, p. 30 :-
"The following is a copy :- In the King's Bench. I the Right Reverend Sir Robert Peat Knight Vicar of new Brentford in the County of Middlesex and Prior of the Sixth Language of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem in London, do make and say that I will faithfully truly and carefully and strictly perform, fulfil keep and obey the ancient Statutes of the said Sovereign Order as far as they are applicable in the government of the Sixth Language and in accordance with the other seven Languages and that I will use the authority reposed in me and my best endeavours, and exertions among the Brethren to keep the said Statutes inviolable, this deponent hereby qualifying himself to govern the said Sixth Language as Prior thereof under the provision of the Statute of the 4th & 5th of Philip and Mary in the case made and provided."
This oath seems a purposeless piece of swearing. By the constitution of the Order, the Languages were governed by Bailiffs, with Priors as their subordinates in each Priory; A Prior could not govern a Language, nor could there be a Prior of a Language. There is no statute of 4 & 5 Philip and Mary relating to the order at all ; and the letters patent of those years make no provision for the government either of the Language or of the Priory. Thus Sir Robert Peat merely bound himself to fill an impossible office under an imaginary statute. This examination of the essential portions of the pamphlet shows that this charitable society has no valid claim to be recognized as part of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and further shows that the society has endeavoured to establish that claim by false and misleading statements. CECIL TORR.
P.S.-In a correspondence in these columns last January one of the members of this charitable society referred me to this pamphlet for information, and told me to apply to their secretary for a copy. I applied accordingly, and got no answer. It was by chance that I saw a copy some while afterwards. Still I ought to tender my thanks to that anonymous correspondent for referring me to such an instructive source of information.
#1 These letters patent are partly printed by Dugdale 'Monasticon'
vol. vi. p.811, ed. 1830, with a note that the portion omitted consists wholly
of the lands granted. On consulting the original at the Record Office, Patent
Rolls, 4 & 5 Philip and Mary, xlv 1-32, it will be seen that the note
#2 This note was printed by Klüber "Acten des Wiener Congresses" vol. v. pp. 490 ff. Cf. Vol. vi. p. 466.
#3 See 'Archives Parlementaires,' Series 2, vol. xvii, p. 622.
No 3268, June 14, '90 THE ATHENÆUM 770
THE HOSPITALLERS IN ENGLAND.
IN these columns last week I examined a pamphlet in some detail to show that
a certain charitable society had been circulating false and misleading statements
in support of its claim to recognition as part of the Order of St. John of
Jerusalem. I desire now to direct attention to the very equivocal proceedings
of the Crown with regard to this society.
On May 14th, 1888, the Crown incorporated this charitable society by charter as "The Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England," under the presidency of a Grand Prior, with Bailiffs, Commanders, Knights, &c. Thus the charter gives the society the full title of the Priory of England in the Order, and give certain members of the society the titles of various dignitaries in that Priory ; thereby suggesting the Crown recognizes the society as part of the Order. The charter, however, does not contain any such recognition, or any allusion to the Order at all; and the recital that the society has existed for more than fifty years clearly refers to the formation of this society in 1831, and not to the formation of the Order in the days of the Crusades. In fact, the charter is drawn in such a way that, without committing the Crown to anything, it suggests a false inference.
The charter also prescribes a cross for the members of the charitable society, and a regulation of the Lord Chamberlain of March 11th, 1889, permits them to wear it at Court. The cross of the Order is the eight-pointed cross, commonly called Maltese since the long residence of the Order at Malta. The cross of the charitable society consists of a Maltese cross in glaring white enamel with two pairs of lions and unicorns of diminutive size and subdued colouring stowed away between the arms. In the dexterous subordination of the points of difference to the points of likeness it rivals the most deceptive of fraudulent trade-marks; and yet it is prescribed by the Crown. Thus the Crown does not allow the members to wear the cross of the Order, to which they would be entitled if they really were members of the Order, but nevertheless enjoins them to wear something which may be easily mistaken for that cross.
The Crown unquestionably was acting within its powers in granting this charter of incorporation; but there is considerable room for doubt whether the advisers of the Crown ought not to have foreseen, if they did not actually foresee, that the granting of this charter was calculated to promote an attempted imposture.
Second Series, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1921.
Source: British Library X809/8404.
Many years ago I wrote a couple of volumes on the history of the island of Rhodes: they were published in 1885 and 1887, and now are obsolete. At first I only thought of writing about the Rhodian colonies in Sicily, but the subject led me on to Rhodes itself, and then to the adventures of the Knights after they had quitted Rhodes; but these were not included in the book.
The Knights were the Hospitallers, or Order of Saint John of Jerusalem; and their first home was at Jerusalem. But the Saracens drove them out of Palestine in 1291, the Turks drove them out of Rhodes in 1522, and the French drove them out of Malta in 1798. Malta was taken by the English in 1800; and by the tenth article of the Treaty of Amiens, 1802, England undertook to give up Malta to the Knights within three months. It is ancient history now that England held on to Malta, and thereby made a precedent for dealing with an inconvenient treaty as a scrap of paper.
In 1814 some of the French members of the Order formed a committee at Paris to see what could be done. But there were scamps among them, and these men admitted new members to the Order and made appointments in it-neither of which things had they any right to do-and pocketed the money that they took for entrance-fees, etc. The climax came in 1823 with an attempt of theirs to borrow money in the name of the Order. The office of Grand Master was vacant then, but the Lieutenant of the Mastery sent them a peremptory letter, 27 March 1824, saying that the committee was merely a self-appointed body without authority, and must forthwith be dissolved. The French Minister for Foreign Affairs also wrote a letter, 29 April 1825, saying that the admissions and appointments made by the committee were altogether illegal and could not in any way be recognized. And when the committee proposed to meet again in May 1826, the meeting was stopped by the Prefect of the Police.
France was now too hot for them, but the rogues found dupes in England. They began admitting new members to the Order and making appointments in it over here; and they appointed the Rev. Dr Peat as Prior. That was the foundation of the present Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in England.
All the English and Irish estates of the Order were confiscated by Act of Parliament in 1540, and the incorporation of the Order was dissolved in England and in Ireland, 32 Henry VIII, cap. 24. There was an attempt, 2 April 1557, to circumvent this Act by Letters Patent under a later Act, 4 & 5 Philip & Mary, cap. I, but this was defeated by another Act next year, I Elizabeth, cap. 24. Of course, these proceedings had no effect outside the realm, and therefore did not touch the Order itself, as that was an international body with headquarters then at Malta. But they cut off revenue and practically closed a good recruiting ground; and there were few Englishmen or Irishmen among the Knights in after years. For administrative purposes the Order had been divided into Languages or Nations, one of which was English and included Ireland. But the members of the Order were simply Knights Hospitallers or Knights of Malta or of Rhodes, not Knights of any separate Nation or Language.
In 1834, Peat took an oath of office as "Prior of the Sixth Language of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in London," swearing "to keep and obey the ancient statutes of the said Sovereign Order," and "to govern the said Sixth Language as Prior thereof under the provision of the statute of the 4th and 5th of Philip and Mary in the case made and provided." By the statutes of the Order (which he promised to keep and obey) he was neither qualified for appointment nor appointed by the proper authority, and there could not be a Prior of a Language-the Languages were governed by Bailiffs, with Priors as their subordinates in the various priories. There is no statute of 4 & 5 Philip & Mary relating to the Order, only Letters Parent; and these make no provision for the government of the Language or the Priory. So he only bound himself to discharge the duties of an impossible office under an imaginary statute.
These people could not even make out mediæval Latin. If a candidate for admission proved his ancestry, he was admitted a knight by right, de justitia. If he could not prove his ancestry, he might be admitted a knight by favour, de gratia. Out of this they have made Knights of justice and Knights of Grace. The hospitale at Jerusalem was a place of hospitality where pilgrims were entertained. They mistook it for a hospital, and then went in for ambulance-work, first-aid, etc., on the strength of their mistake. No doubt, they have done much useful work, especially in this War. But you can very well do useful work without pretending to be something that you aren't. And these non-combatants are posing as successors of the greatest clan of warriors in the age of Chivalry.
They were silly enough to apply for a Charter of Incorporation, and this brought them up against some lawyers with no love for false pretences. Instead of getting a charter as a branch of the real Order, or in some way connected with it, they only got a charter (14 May 1888) as a charitable society of fifty years' standing.
Charity may cover a multitude of sins, but I doubt its covering lies as well; and their lies were multitudinous. They had a statement printed-"The English, or Sixth, Language of the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem: a brief sketch of its history and present position, compiled by a committee appointed for that purpose by the Chapter of the Language." It can hardly be surpassed in puerility. It talks of proceedings at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and at Paris in 1816, as if there were no such things as the Acten des Wiener Congresses and the Archives Parlementaires to show that its statements are untrue in all essential points. It cites the Letters Patent of 2 May 1557 as saying one thing, when they say another, as anyone can see by looking at Dugdale's Monasicon, where the document is printed. (I had Dugdale collated with the Patent Roll, and there is no mistake.) It says Peat's oath of office was sworn in the King's Bench, 24 February 1834, and is on the record. It would certainly be on the record, if it was sworn in the King's Bench, as 9 George IV, cap 17, was then in force. I had the record searched: it was not there.
Not long after I was called to the Bar, an old Queen's Counsel said to me as we were coming out of court-" I can't understand that fellow telling those transparent lies. The whole object of telling, a lie is to deceive. If you don't do that, you don't attain your object, and you have the bad taste in your mouth the same."