1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Edgeworth de Firmont, Henry Essex
EDGEWORTH DE FIRMONT, HENRY ESSEX (1745-1807), last confessor to Louis XVI., was the son of Robert Edgeworth, rector of Edgeworthstown in Ireland, his mother being a granddaughter of Archbishop Ussher. When he was three years old his father became a Roman Catholic, resigned his living and emigrated to Toulouse, where the boy was brought up by the Jesuits. In 1769, after his father’s death, he went to Paris to be trained for the priesthood. On taking orders he assumed the additional surname of de Firmont, from the family estate of Firmount near Edgeworthstown. Though originally studying with a view to becoming a missionary, he decided to remain in Paris, devoting himself especially to the Irish and English Roman Catholics. In 1791 he became confessor to the princess Elizabeth, sister of Louis XVI., and earned the respect even of the sans-culottes by his courage and devotion. By Madame Elizabeth he was recommended to the king when his trial was impending; and after Louis’ condemnation to death he was able to obtain permission to celebrate mass for him and attend him on the scaffold, where he recommended the king to allow his hands to be tied, with the words: “Sire, in this new outrage I see only the last trait of resemblance between your Majesty and the God who will be your reward.” It is said that at the moment of the execution, the confessor uttered the celebrated words: “Son of St Louis, ascend to heaven.” But it is certain that the phrase was never spoken. The abbé himself does not quote it, either in his memoirs or in a letter written in 1796 to his brother, in which he describes the death of the king. Moreover, Edgeworth declared to several persons who asked him about it, that the words were not his. In spite of the danger he now ran, Edgeworth refused to leave France so long as he could be of any service to Madame Elizabeth, with whom he still managed to correspond. At length, in 1795, his mother having meanwhile died in prison, where his sister was also confined, he succeeded in escaping to England, carrying with him Elizabeth’s last message to her brother, the future King Charles X. whom he found in Edinburgh. He afterwards went with some papers to Monsieur (Louis XVIII.) at Blankenburg in Brunswick, by whom he was induced to accompany him to Mittau, where, on the 22nd of May 1807, he died of a fever contracted while attending some French prisoners.
Edgeworth’s Memories, edited by C. S. Edgeworth, were first published in English (London, 1815), and a French translation (really the letters and some miscellaneous notes, &c.) was published in Paris in 1816. A translation of the Lettres de l’abbé Edgeworth avec des mémoires sur sa vie was published by Madame Elizabeth de Bow in Paris in 1818, and Letters from the Abbé Edgeworth to his Friends, with Memoirs of his Life, edited by T. B. England, in London in 1818. See J. B. A. Hanet-Cléry, Journal de ce qui s’est passé, &c. (Paris, 1825); A. H. du D. de Beauchesne, Vie de Madame Elisabeth (Paris, 1869); J. C. D. de Lacretelle, Précis historique de la Révolution française (Paris, 1801-1806).