De Lisle, Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14
De Lisle, Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps

by Thompson Cooper

DE LISLE, AMBROSE LISLE MARCH PHILLIPPS (1809–1878), catholic writer, eldest son of Charles March Phillipps, esq., of Garendon Park, Leicestershire, by Harriet, youngest daughter of John Ducarel, esq., of Walford, Somersetshire, Marquis de Chateaunuy, and Vicomte de Bonnemar in France, was born at Garendon on 17 March 1809. At nine years of age he was sent to a school at South Croxton, kept by the Rev. W. Wilkinson, and about two years later he was transferred to another school kept by the Rev. George Hodson at Maisemore Court, near Gloucester. He was in the habit of spending his Sundays with his uncle, Dr. Ryder, bishop of Gloucester. When that prelate was translated to Lichfield in 1824, he conferred the archdeaconry of Stafford on Mr. Hodson, who thereupon removed his school to Edgbaston, near Birmingham. In 1824 Phillipps was received into the Roman catholic church by the Rev. Thomas Macdonell of St. Peter's, Birmingham, and was in consequence dismissed from the school and sent back to Garendon, where he resumed his studies under the tutorship of another Anglican clergyman.

In 1826 he was placed at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he contracted a close friendship with Kenelm Digby [q. v.], author of the ‘Broadstone of Honour,’ who was, like himself, a recent convert to catholicism. During the two years they were at college together they used to ride over every Sunday to attend mass at St. Edmund's College, near Ware, a distance of twenty-five miles. Illness obliged Phillipps to leave the university in the spring of 1828, and in the autumn he visited Italy. In 1835 he went to reside at Gracedieu, where he had built a small Tudor manor-house, and in the course of that year he gave 230 acres of land on Charnwood Forest (of which only forty were cultivated) for the re-establishment of the Cistercian order, exactly three centuries after its suppression. At first the monks occupied a cottage, but through the munificence of the catholic public, and especially of John, earl of Shrewsbury, who contributed 2,000l., a stately monastery was afterwards built. About 1837 Phillipps made the acquaintance of the Rev. Mr. Bloxam, and from that period he maintained for many years a constant correspondence with the leaders of the high church party at Oxford. During a visit to Rome in 1837 he received the habit of the Third Order of St. Dominic from the hands of the general of the order, Father Javalow. Proceeding to Paris shortly afterwards, he was introduced to Archbishop de Quelen, and all the principal priests and communities, and it was then that the ‘Society for Prayers for the Conversion of England’ was formed. In 1839 the Count de Montalembert went to Gracedieu to make the acquaintance, as he said, ‘of a kindred spirit,’ and the two friends visited the ruins of all the Cistercian abbeys founded in England during the time of St. Bernard. In 1857 the ‘Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom’ was established, Phillipps being one of its principal founders, though he promptly withdrew from it when it was condemned at Rome in 1864. On the death of his father in 1862 he inherited the family estates, and assumed the name of De Lisle. In 1868 he was high sheriff of Leicestershire. He died at Garendon on 5 March 1878, and was buried in the church of St. Bernard's monastery. He married in 1833 Laura Mary, eldest daughter of the Hon. Thomas Clifford, fourth son of Hugh, fourth lord Clifford of Chudleigh, by whom he had sixteen children, eleven of whom survived him.

Among his works are: 1. ‘The Lamentations of England,’ London, 1831, 8vo, translated from the Italian of Father Dominic, Passionist. 2. ‘A Vindication of Catholic Morality, or a Refutation of the Charges brought against it by Sismondi in his “History of the Italian Republics in the Middle Ages,”’ London, 1836, 8vo, translated from the Italian of Count Alexander Manzoni. 3. ‘The History of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Duchess of Thuringia’ (1207–31), London, 1839, 8vo, 1840, 4to, translated from the French of de Montalembert. 4. ‘Remarks on a Letter addressed to the Rev. R. W. Jelf, D.D., in explanation of No. 90 in the series called the “Tracts for the Times,”’ London, 1841, 8vo. 5. ‘Appeal … in behalf of the Abbey Church of St. Bernard, Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire,’ London, 1842, 8vo. 6. ‘The Catholic Christian's Complete Manual,’ a collection of prayers and offices, London, 1847, 12mo. 7. ‘Letter to the Earl of Shrewsbury on the Re-establishment of the Hierarchy … and the present posture of Catholic Affairs in Great Britain,’ London, 1850, 8vo. 8. ‘A Few Words on Lord John Russell's Letter to the Bishop of Durham,’ London, 1850, 8vo. 9. ‘Mahometanism in its relation to Prophecy; or an Inquiry into the Prophecies concerning Antichrist, with some reference to their bearing on the events of the present day,’ London, 1855, 12mo. 10. ‘On the Future Unity of Christendom,’ London, 1857, 8vo. 11. A large number of inedited letters by him, relating principally to the reunion of Christendom, are in the possession of his friend and former chaplain, the Rev. Frederick George Lee, D.D., vicar of All Saints, Lambeth. Other letters by him are printed in the ‘Life of the Blessed Paul of the Cross,’ 1853, and in the ‘Life of Fr. Ignatius of St. Paul’ (the Hon. and Rev. George Spencer), 1866.

His eighth and youngest son, Rudolph Edward Lisle March Phillipps De Lisle (1853–1885), born at Gracedieu 23 Nov. 1853, entered the training-ship Britannia 2 May 1867, and, after serving as a midshipman and sub-lieutenant in cruises to all parts of the world, arrived at Alexandria in her majesty's ship Alexandra in February 1884. In August following he was appointed to the naval brigade attached to the Upper Nile expedition sent to relieve Gordon at Khartoum. His last letter, dated 13 Jan. 1885, describes his arrival at Gakdul, desert of Bayuda. Four days later he was killed at the battle of Abu Klea, and buried on the battle-field. His devotion to the catholic faith and his unselfish manliness made his character remarkable. His letters, without showing much literary merit, contain good descriptions of the war between Chili and Peru in 1880, and of the burning of Lima, together with other interesting events which he witnessed on his cruises. A full memoir by the Rev. H. N. Oxenham was published in 1886.

[A Short Sketch of his Life prefixed to Two Sermons preached at his funeral (privately printed), 1878, 8vo; Tablet, 16 March 1878, p. 238; Gillow's Bibl. Dict.]

T. C.