John Gayford considers the life of Henry Manning who moved from Anglican Chichester to Roman Westminster


With recent attention on the canonisation of John Henry Newman, the other Victorian Anglican convert who became a cardinal, Henry Manning, receded from focus.

Henry Edward Manning was born in 1808 at Copped Hall, Totteridge, in Hertfordshire which was his grandfather’s home. He was the youngest son of William Manning and his second wife Mary. William Manning was first married to Elizabeth by whom he had two daughters but after her death he married Mary who bore him four sons and four daughters, Henry being the youngest, by some accounts was spoilt. He was educated by private tutors until he went to Harrow School in 1822 at the age of 14. In the autumn of 1827 he went up to Balliol College Oxford and in 1829 he became a member of the newly formed Oxford Union (debating Society) along with William Gladstone who became a lifelong friend. Manning was known to be able to debate strongly on many subjects, a talent that was to serve him well in the future. At this time it promoted his election to President of the Oxford Union. He was a passionate cricketer.

There was economic depression at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 which affected the Manning family. William his father was director of the Bank of England from 1792-1831, Lord Mayor of London and MP from 1794-1830. There were financial difficulties and he had to declare himself bankrupt in 1835. If William Manning had not gone bankrupt Henry was destined to follow a career in politics but instead he took an insignificant job in the Colonial Office. Henry’s dreams of a political career were over but instead he felt a calling to the Church. In 1832 he was elected to a fellowship at Merton College and was ordained deacon. Henry may have preferred to stay for further theological studies but John Sargent, Rector of Lavington and Graffham, near Chichester wanted him as his curate. Within months he was engaged to Sargent’s third daughter the 21 year old Caroline. The Rector died of pneumonia in May 1833 but his mother had the right of appointment to the living and appointed Manning who was still a deacon not to be ordained priest until June 1833. Henry married Caroline in November of the same year. He settled into the life of a country parson visited his flock and taking an interest in the poor agricultural workers supported by his wife but he could see her health was failing. She died in July 1837 having asked her mother Mary Sargent to look after Henry, and she became his house keeper. For weeks Henry sat by Caroline’s grave writing his sermons. Work and more work was his way of dealing with his bereavement. It was in the same 1837 that he became Rural Dean of Midhurst and Archdeacon of Chichester in 1840.

Some biographers of Cardinal Manning have tried to play down the role and influence of his wife Caroline on the life of the cardinal. The majority of opinions now agree this was far from the truth. The history of pulmonary tuberculosis was to strike again in Caroline’s family. Henry wrote to Newman describing his distress at seeing his wife wasting away coughing up blood. She died in the evening of 24th July 1837, aged only 25 and Henry was only 29. Samuel Wilberforce who officiated at the wedding also presided at the funeral. Later he became Bishop of Oxford and Winchester and described Manning as a man who usually hid his emotions, but there were tears on the anniversary of Caroline’s death. This left Henry with a wound from which he never recovered.

Manning’s sermons on big occasions were beginning to cause offence to the Evangelicals, but this did not stop him being appointed Diocesan Secretary for Education in 1838, then Archdeacon of Chichester in 1841. The 90 Tracts for the Times written between 1833 and 1841 were the first stage of Anglo-Catholic revival in the Church of England, written mainly by clergy from Oxford University in the nascent Oxford movement. Manning wrote Tract 78 but was critical of Tract 90 and in 1843 could still preach a strongly anti-Papal sermon before the University. After Newman’s conversion Manning was seen as the natural the leader of the Oxford movement. There was continual correspondence between Manning and Robert Wilberforce who like him was a Tractarian Anglican Archdeacon. Manning declined a chaplaincy to Queen Victoria in 1850 and in the same year resigned his living at Lavington. The Gorham Judgement (when judicial power was taken from bishops and given to secular authority) rocked Manning’s faith in the Church of England. The Calvinistic Reverend George Gorham was presented as the parish priest in the Diocese of Exeter but the bishop refused induction on the grounds that his doctrine was heretical. A legal battle ensued which Gorman won. This was too much for Manning and Wilberforce who were received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1851. Manning was ordained priest ten weeks later by Cardinal Wiseman but Manning only agreed to this if he was allowed further study in Rome. On his arrival he was summoned to see Pope Pius IX who insisted that he studied at the Accademia Ecclesiastica, an indication he was destined for high office. Pope Pius IX acted as a truly fatherly figure to Manning seeing him on about a monthly basis and held open informal discussions with him on a variety of topics. When Pope Pius IX offered him the post of Privy Chamberlain Manning refused but he did accept an Honorary Doctorate. Wiseman wanted to have Manning back in England. At first the Pope refused but then a year later granted Wiseman’s request.

When in 1851 he was travelling to Rome a bag containing Caroline’s letters was stolen at Avignon. Although a very large reward was offered for their recovery there was no success. Henry was very silent and sad at the loss but eventually had to admit that the loss was necessary to sever the bond. Nevertheless he kept under his pillow and valued a small book of her prayers and meditations that he claimed he used on almost a daily basis. His great niece Dorothy Wilberforce would visit him to bring flowers from Caroline’s grave which he would kiss and receive with gratitude and tears. Some say that he carried the marks of this throughout his life only opening his heart to Herbert Vaughan who was to be his successor as Archbishop of Westminster as he lay dying in January 1892, describing the experience as chastising, bruising and awakening. There are reports that Cardinal Manning last visited his wife’s grave in the late 1880’s where he just stood silent for a time. Although she had died over 50 years before she still had a place in his heart.

The idea of founding a company of missionary secular priests at St. Mary of the Angels at Bayswater based on the Oblates of St. Charles Borromeo had developed while Manning was in Rome. Wiseman was wholly behind the idea. The Oblates were formed with Manning as head and Herbert Vaughan as his deputy. The results of the Oblates speak for themselves. In seven years four churches were built, four convents established with 50 nuns and eight schools accommodating 790 children. 

When Wiseman died in 1865 Errington was the first choice of the chapter and Manning’s name was not even mentioned but Pope Pius IX appointed Manning. The new archbishop was consecrated by Bishop Ullathorne of Birmingham at St. Mary Moorfield on 6th June 1865. This was only 14 years after he had become a Roman catholic. Money had been raised in memory of Wiseman for the building of a cathedral, Manning had authorised in 1884 the purchase of land (the site of the second Tothill Field Prison) for the new cathedral. This did not progress until the time of Manning’s successor as he gave a priority to education. In 1870 Manning was in Rome for the First Vatican Council, by then he spoke for Papal Infallibility and made long Latin and Italian speeches in support. These views he held always thereafter. He was created a Cardinal Priest in 1875. In 1878 Cardinal Manning was in Rome again for the conclave that elected Pope Leo XIII. Manning’s name was put forward but he requested it should it be removed and he put his diplomatic skills into action in support of the future Leo XIII. In 1883 Manning published The Eternal Priesthood setting forth the moral duties of priesthood. Manning was a keen supporter of the Catholic temperance movement and shares a platform with General Booth of the Salvation Army. In1884 he served on the Royal Commission that investigated conditions of working class housing. It was said he could attend a royal banquet and only drink a glass of water which may in retrospect seem unwise with what we know of cholera in the royal household.

Although Henry Manning lived to the age of 83 he looked old before his time with an almost cadaverous appearance. He could be the Ultramontane but he also involved himself in matters of social concern. His sharp logical mind remained with him to the end. He could relate to a wide social spectrum of people and retain their loyalty and support. In spite of his many duties he never forgot the poor and acted as their champion throughout his life and was called the poor man’s cardinal.. His role in the Dock strike of 1889 is a typical example of Manning at his best. The strike was beginning to crumble; the strikers and their families were starving and starting to drift back to work having achieved nothing. When Tom Mann one of the union leaders arrived at his lodgings his landlady told him there was a priest who had been waiting all afternoon to see him. In the kitchen was the 81year old cardinal reading the latest Sherlock Holmes story. Manning offered to negotiate on behalf of the Dockers. The result was that the Dockers won their “tanner” and in spite of their poverty held a collection and presented £160 to the Cardinal who endowed a bed at the London Hospital. 

Cardinal Manning died on 4th January 1892. The funeral liturgy was held at Brompton Oratory. On the processional route to the Roman Catholic Cemetery at Kensal Green, there were crowds not seen since the funeral of the Duke of Wellington some 40 years previous. 1n 1907, his remains were transferred to the newly-built Westminster Cathedral. Manning had been Archbishop of Westminster for 27 years personifying high spiritual standards and ascetism. While Newman represented the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, Manning represented the spirit of the First Vatican Council. Gladstone testifies Manning’s intellectual abilities and Hilaire Belloc claims that the Victorian age produced many great Englishmen of which Manning is among the greatest. He was a driving force in Catholic humanisation putting dogma at the service of spiritual development. Although a man capable of emotional sentiment he preferred to hide this under the veil of austerity.


Suggested Further Reading

Newsome, D. The Convert Cardinals: Newman and Manning. John Murray London 1993.

Pereiro, J. From Anglican Archdeacon to Council Father at Vatican I. Gracewing Leominster 2008.

Sparkes, R. Cardinal Manning and the Birth of Catholic Social Teaching. Catholic truth Society. London. 2012.