Members of the San Luigi Orders: The Most Revd. J.E. Bazille-Corbin

John Edward Bazille-Corbin (1887-1964) was a member of the Order of the Crown of Thorns. He was the founder and first Warden of the Monarchist League and combined his office as a bishop in the Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West) with that of an Anglican priest.

Bazille-Corbin was educated at Oxford (M.A.) and qualified as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn. He did not practice, however, and served in the Royal Artillery during the First World War. After this, he pursued a teaching career, being a member of the Royal Society of Teachers, and taught classics at a Guernsey college. He entered Cuddesdon Theological College to train for the Anglican ministry, and was ordained priest in 1921. In 1923 he became Rector of Runwell St Mary, near Wickford in Essex, and was to hold this benefice until his retirement on 30 September 1961.

Some idea of the nature of Bazille-Corbin’s interests can be gained from the knowledge that he was a fervent Jacobite, High Tory and devotee of the Sarum Rite, belonging to the High Church party and espousing Ritualism to the full. He was no pastoral priest, and the introduction of the Sarum Rite to his parish (with the knowledge but not the approval of his Ordinary) resulted in a much-diminished flock. It is clear that this approach also made him significant enemies within the Church of England hierarchy, which contained many who were Protestant in their views. In 1951, he would publish Toward a Uniate Rite, being the text of the Sarum Ordinary and Canon, closely rendered into English, which was favourably reviewed in the Catholic Herald. He was also a dedicated local antiquary, and around the same time appeared his Runwell S. Mary: A farrago of History, Archaeology, Legend and Folk-lore, collected and pieced together during an incumbency of many years.

Bazille-Corbin developed contacts within the Free Catholic movement in England during the 1940s, and as many Anglicans had done before him under Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew, sought conditional revalidation of his Holy Orders so that they would be acceptable to Rome. During August 1946, he received conditional re-ordination to all orders up to the priesthood from James Bartholomew Banks, Lord Patriarch of the Old Catholic Orthodox Church. Subsequently, he became concerned with the Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West) under Mar Georgius (Hugh George de Willmott Newman), who was also a member of the San Luigi Orders. The Catholicate of the West had formed in 1944 as the merger of several small British sacramental churches with succession from the major denominations, and aspired to create a Western Orthodox bridge between Rome and Canterbury in continuation from the mission of the Catholic Apostolic Church (“Irvingites”) into which body Mar Georgius had been born and raised. During the 1940s it established an international hierarchy and attracted a diverse following as a result of energetic public outreach, but was marred by a failure to gain lay support and by recurrent internal dissent which weakened its ranks.

Bazille-Corbin was consecrated to the Episcopate by Mar Georgius on 3 April 1948 with the title of Mar Marcus Valerius, Titular Bishop of Selsey. He was appointed Chancellor of the Glastonbury Patriarchate and Catholicate of the West and also appointed to office in the Order of Corporate Reunion. In 1950 the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on him by the Western Orthodox University, which Mar Georgius headed and which was incorporated at the time in India. In 1958 Mar Georgius advanced him to Archbishop ad personam in the United Orthodox Catholicate. Bazille-Corbin’s choice of episcopal title was modelled after Marcus Valerius Corvinus, the friend of Horace, whose cognomen suggested a connexion with his own surname. Every attempt was made to preserve his secular identity as secret after his consecration, and this strategy was successful for some six years. From 1943 to 1953, Bazille-Corbin served as Chairman of the Chelmsford Branch of the National Clergy Association.

In 1954, the Anglican polemicist the Revd. F.H. Amphlett Micklewright, who was well-known for his malicious and frequently unfounded attacks on Free Catholics in the religious press, publicly named Bazille-Corbin in an article in The Pilot. This was intended to cause difficulties for Bazille-Corbin with his Ordinary, the Bishop of Chelmsford (Falkner Allison) who had already on several occasions shown extreme antipathy to the Free Catholic movement. Bazille-Corbin willingly gave to Allison an undertaking that he would not perform episcopal functions outside the Church of England, conditional upon the proviso that he would also not be required to perform such actions within that body. At this time, the Church of England was particularly fearful that there would be a repeat of the situation of the 1910s whereby its clergy, mindful of the invalidity of their Holy Orders in the sight of Rome, would seek conditional validation from Free Catholic prelates such as Bazille-Corbin, or that those holding the benefice of their parishes would find in Bazille-Corbin and Mar Georgius an alternative means of episcopal oversight that would lead to their removal from the Church of England’s effective control.

Certainly, Runwell St Mary was removed from such control under Bazille-Corbin. He regarded his vocation as being within the Catholicate of the West, and discharged the Anglican ministry as a mere “day job”. His letters were signed in purple ink, with the episcopal cross before his name. During the 1950s, Bazille-Corbin became a mentor to Vincent Powell-Smith, who would join him in a number of chivalric associations (including, for a time, the Order of the Crown of Thorns) and would eventually be ordained deacon by Mar Georgius. Both Bazille-Corbin and Powell-Smith served as officers in the Order of the Crown of Stuart, which has been separately described, with Bazille-Corbin as the Order’s Chancellor from 1955 onwards.

Bazille-Corbin came from an armigerous family in Guernsey and he asserted that his ancestor, a physician, had received the title of Marquis de Beuvel from the King of the Two Sicilies. In the post-war years, a number of claimants to long extinct thrones of the Byzantine and other empires obtained legal confirmation of their dynastic rights from Italian tribunals and Bazille-Corbin was further honoured by several of these pretenders, some of whom were also at the time members of the San Luigi Orders, with titles of nobility and membership of chivalric bodies under their headship. It is evident that Bazille-Corbin was possessed both of a sharp legal mind and of the adherence to strict principle familiar to Legitimists, and his acceptance of such honours would presumably thus have been subject to his having been fully satisfied of their basis in law.

In 1943, Bazille-Corbin founded the organization that would provide his most tangible legacy, the Monarchist League, which survives today as the International Monarchist League. This body had a quiet existence in its early years, and it was not until 1959 that, along with the Order of the Crown of Stuart and with several officers in common with that body, serious efforts were made to bring it to a wider public. A newsletter, The Monarchist Guardian, was published from 1960 onwards. After Bazille-Corbin’s death, those who were antipathetic to his outlook wasted little time in committing to print their harshly critical assessment of him, which would certainly have been actionable if published within his lifetime. This in turn seems to have given rise to the curious situation whereby Bazille-Corbin is recalled today chiefly through the words of his enemies, whereas it is clear that among his circle of close associates he was regarded with both respect and affection.