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At an early age he entered the Society of Jesus in Portugal, where he pursued his sacred studies with great distinction. He was ordained priest at Rome, and subsequently for some years held the chair of theology at the College of Antwerp. Meantime, through the Cromwellian usurpation, Charles II and the royal family were compelled to seek a refuge first in Paris and then at Cologne. Throughout the whole period of the king's exile, the four brothers of Dr. Talbot were attached to the royal Court. The eldest brother, Sir Robert Talbot, had held a high commission under Lord Ormond in the army in Ireland during the Federation period, and was now reckoned among the king's most confidential advisers. A younger brother, Colonel Richard Talbot, was also remarkable for his devotedness to the cause of the exiled monarch and stood high in royal favour. Under James II he became Duke of Tyronnell and Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.
Dr. Talbot himself was constantly in attendance on the king, and his Court. On account of his knowledge of the continental languages he was repeatedly dispatched on private embassies to Lisbon, Madrid, and Paris, and in all of them gave abundant proof of ability and fidelity to the royal cause. It appears unquestionable that during his exile in Cologne, Charles II received instruction in the Catholic faith, and was privately received into the Church by Dr. Talbot. It used to be said of the king by his friends that whenever he was in a serious mood he was a Catholic, but when he was in a merry mood he bade adieu to all religion. Unfortunately this second mood generally prevailed, especially after the Restoration, and this explains why he needed to be again received into the Church on his death-bed by Father Hudlestone, O.S.B.
On the return of the king to London, Dr. Talbot received an appointment as Queen's Almoner, but the Clarendon and Ormond faction, that was then predominant, feared his influence with the king. A plot was devised against him. He was even accused of conspiring with the aid of four Jesuits to assassinate the Duke of Ormond, and so fierce was the persecution stirred up against him that he was forced to seek safety by resigning his position at Court and retiring to the Continent. The king allowed him a pension of three hundred pounds a year.
Before his return to England Dr. Talbot had, with the approval of the General of the Jesuits, dissevered his connexion with the Society. He was appointed Archbishop of Dublin on 11 January, 1669, and was consecrated at Antwerp, assisted by the Bishops of Ghent and Ferns. It was a propitious time for appointments to the Irish sees. Lord Ormond was no longer in favour and was soon after removed from the Viceroyalty, and those who succeeded him were supposed not to be so hostile to the religious interests of Ireland; they were even said to have received instructions from the king to be lenient in their dealings with his Irish Catholic subjects, and to show special favour to Dr. Talbot.
The archbishop entered with great zeal on the administration of the diocese and was untiring in his efforts to promote the interests of his long persecuted flock. In the month of August, 1670, he held his first diocesan synod in Dublin. It was a memorable event that gave joy to the Catholic body. It was opened with High Mass, which for forty years many of the faithful had not witnessed. To add to the solemnity, rich embroidery and other ornaments were sent from the viceregal castle to adorn the altar. One of the abuses that called for remedy tells of the difficulties that pressed upon the priests of those days in their endeavour to meet the wants of the faithful. On week days they had been accustomed to duplicate, whilst on Sundays they had to celebrate holy Mass three times.
In the same year an assembly of the archbishops and bishops and representatives of the clergy was held in Dublin, having for its main purpose the consideration of a form of Declaration of Allegiance which was drawn up by Father Peter Walsh and his associate Remonstrants, and which was urged on the bishops for general acceptance by the Ormondist party, the better to sow dissensions among the Irish Catholics. The assembled bishops and clergy rejected the proposed form of allegiance, but, to prove that this was not done through any lack of loyalty, they drew up another Declaration expressive of their due allegiance, but omitting some phrases offensive to Catholics that had been cunningly inserted in the rejected Declaration. A fierce discussion was in consequence raised by the Remonstrants backed by the Ormondists, that distracted the country for several years.
At this assembly the question of precedence and of the primatial authority gave rise to considerable discussion and led to an embittered controversy between the Archbishop of Dublin and Ven. Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh. Both prelates considered that they were asserting the rights of their respective sees, and each published a learned treatise on the subject. Whilst this controversy lasted Dr. Talbot wrote some severe censures regarding the Archbishop of Armagh, but when in prison for the Faith in later years, he addressed to the Archbishop of Armagh, then a brother prisoner, an ample apology asking his forgiveness for the harsh things that had been formerly written, and the Ven. Oliver Plunkett, as we will just now see, showed in a most practical manner how sincerely and affectionately he was reconciled to his former opponent.
Another meeting of the Catholic gentry, convened by Dr. Talbot, at which it was resolved to send to the Court at London a representative who would seek redress for some of the grievances to which the Catholics of Ireland were subjected, gave great alarm to the Cromwellian settlers and to the Ormondists. It was an attempt, they said, to reverse the Act of Settlement and to foster a fresh rebellion. An address from Parliament was presented to the king praying that by royal edict all the Catholic prelates and clergy, and in particular "Peter Talbot, pretended Archbishop of Dublin", be banished from the kingdom, and further "that all convents, seminaries, and popish public schools be suppressed; that no Irish papist be admitted to inhabit in any corporation of that kingdom; that all the Irish Papists might be disarmed, and no Papist be either continued or admitted to be a commander or soldier in that Kingdom".
The king knew full well how groundless and absurd were the pretences for such a royal edict, but he was too weak to offer any resistance, and thus, in 1673, a fierce storm of persecution was let loose against the whole Catholic body in Ireland, and Dr. Talbot was compelled to seek safety in exile. During his banishment he resided generally in Paris; but by pastoral letters and written instructions he contined to do all that was in his power to guide and comfort his flock. In 1675 Dr. Talbot, worn out with infirmities, obtained permission to return to England only, and for two years he resided with a family friend at Poole Hall in Cheshire.
Towards the close of 1677, he petitioned the Crown for leave "to come to Ireland to die in his own country", and through the influence of the Duke of York his petition was granted. Just then the "Popish Plot" was being organized by Lord Shaftesbury and Titus Oates, and very soon information was forwarded to the Lord-Lieutenant, the Duke of Ormond, to the effect that a rebellion was being planned in Ireland, that Peter Talbot, Archbishop of Dublin, was one of the accomplices, and that assassins were hired to murder the duke himself. Ormond replied that he had no apprehension whatever on these heads, and that as regards Peter Talbot there could be no foundation for them, as he was in a dying state. Nevertheless as it was necessary to give some colour to the existence of such a plot, on 8 October, 1678, he signed a warrant for the archbishop's arrest, and he writes on the same day to the Council in London:
"I have sent a squadron of his Majesty's guard of horse to apprehend Peter Talbot, the Titular Archbishop of Dublin". He was arrested at Cartown near Maynooth at the house of his brother, Colonel Richard Talbot, and, as Carte attests, was removed to Dublin "in a chair, and committed close prisoner to the Castle with a person to attend him in his miserable and helpless condition, the violence of his distemper being scarce supportable and threatening his death at every moment. For two years Dr. Talbot endured with heroic constancy all the sufferings of his painful disease and the hardships and filth of his loathsome dungeon. He died in prison in the beginning of November, 1680.
Ormond, in a postscript to a letter of 20 Nov., 1680, addressed to Lord Sutherland, writes: "I have for two or three posts forgot to acquaint your Lordship that Peter Talbot, the Titular Archbishop of Dublin, is dead, and that care was taken to have the body looked upon by some that knew him." It is the tradition that he was interred in the churchyard of St. Andeon's, close by Lord Portlester's tomb. From his prison cell Dr. Talbot had written on 12 April, 1679, petitioning that a priest be allowed to visit him, as he was bedridden "these six months past" and was now in imminent danger of death. The petition was refused, but the Venerable Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, was a prisoner for the Faith in an adjoining cell, and on hearing of Dr. Talbot's dying condition forced his way through the warders and administered to the dying prelate the last consolations of religion. Dr. Talbot may justly be styled a confessor of the Faith and a true martyr of Christ.
Dr. Talbot, whilst living on the Continent, published several works, as well before his appointment to the See of Dublin, as during his years of exile. His principal writings are: "A Treatise on the Nature of Catholic Faith and Heresy with Reflexions upon the Nullity of the English Protestant Church and Clergy" (8 vols., Rouen, 1657); "The Politician's Catechism", by N. N., printed at Antworp (sic) in the year 1658; "The Nullity of the Prelatique Clergy" (Brussels, 1659); "The Duty and Comfort of Suffering Subjects" (a pastoral letter to the Irish Catholics), Paris, 1674; "Blackloanæ Hæresis, Historia et Confutatio, Auctore M. Lomino Theologo, Gandavi anno 1675" (mainly directed against Dr. Sargent; in the appendix is inserted a letter of the nuncio in Paris of 26 July, 1676, congratulating Dr. Talbot on his excellent work and intimating that Sargent had retracted his erroneous propositions); "Primatus Dublinensis, vel summa rationum quibus innititur ecclesia Dublinensis in possessione et prosecutione sui juris ad primatum Hyberniæ. Insulis, Ex Officina Nicolai de Rache, sub Bibliis aureis, 1674" (an exceedingly rare work; there is a copy in the library of the College of Propaganda at Rome with the inscription, "Ex libris Jacobi Eustachii, Dublinensis, 1683").
APA citation. (1912). Peter Talbot. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14432c.htm
MLA citation. "Peter Talbot." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14432c.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert, Akron, Ohio.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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