HENRY ESSEX EDGEWORTH, ABBE DE FIRMONT (1745 – 1807) – KING LOUIS XVI’S LONGFORD BORN CONFESSOR
The Rectory in Edgeworthstown, County Longford, was built in 1732, possibly as a dower house for the Edgeworth family.
One of the more enterprising babies to have been born at The Rectory was Henry Essex Edgeworth, later Abbé de Firmont, who attended to the 39 year old King Louis XVI just before he was guillotined by the Parisian riff-raff on 21st January 1793.
The Abbé’s father, Robert Edgeworth, was Rector of Mostrim (ie: Edgeworthstown) and married a granddaughter of Archbishop Ussher of Armagh. However, following a visit to France, the Reverend Edgeworth became enamoured of the Roman Catholic cause. He was thus obliged to leave Ireland permanently because the authorities were hard at work trying to implement laws, for instance, advocating the castration of all Popish priests. He fled with his family to Toulouse and sent Henry off to be educated at the Jesuit College and, later, the Sorbonne.
Henry was ordained a priest in 1769 and rather pompously dropped the name “Edgeworth” in favour of “de Firmont” (the name of the family home in Ireland). Initially, the Abbe de Firmont was occupied with the poor of Paris but, owing the whiff of the slums got the better of him and soon he reckoned he’d be wiser to stick to the wealthier Irish and English exiles in Paris.
By now, the Republicans were gearing up to lopping off aristocratic heads all across France. Henry had risen to become Confessor to King Louis XVI’s sister, Princess Elizabeth. When King Louis was escorted to the guillotine on 21st January 1793, he actually asked for the Abbe de Firmont to attend to him during his final moments. The Abbe complied, witnessing the King’s head cut off from an unenviable close viewpoint. Being privy to the last words of a despised monarch is a dangerous position to be in, not least in revolutionary France. And so, in the absence of any Scarlet Pimpernel’s, the Abbe made haste for England.
Prime Minister Pitt offered him a pension. He was also offered the presidency of Maynooth and an Irish Bishopric. He declined all such offers, preferring to rejoin the Royal House of France at their residence-in-exile in Brunswick. He was appointed chaplain to the Pretender, Louis XVIII (1755 – 1824), whom he accompanied on forays into Austria and Russia. On a trip to St. Petersburg, he so impressed the Tsar of Russia that the great man knelt down for his blessing and gave him a pension of 500 roubles.
Unfortunately the Longford exile caught typhus while attending to some sickly French POWs in a Latvian prison near Riga (to which King Louis had now moved his exiled court). He died at Mitau on 22nd May 1807.His epitaph was written in Latin by Louis XVIII, King of France from Napoleon’s fall in 1814 until his death in 1824.
Oscar Wilde’s sister Isolde was staying at the same Edgeworthstown Rectory when she died.