Bishop John Douglass

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names



John Douglass D.D. (1743–1812), catholic prelate, was born at Yarm, Yorkshire, in December 1743, the son of John Douglass and Brigit Senson or Semson. John Douglass (snr) had fled Scotland because he was a Jacobite supporter. The family appears to have met Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 as he and his supporters made their way south.  There is some evidence that he was descended from the Thomas Douglas(1), Baillie of Edinburgh (1616-1686), the son of James, 8th laird of Cavers(1)

He was sent at the age of thirteen to the English college, Douay. He took the college oath in 1764, and defended universal divinity cum laude in 1768.  John Douglas' presence of the seminary at Douai in France came to an end with the French Revolution. In October 1793 the college property was confiscated, so the professors and students returned to England where the penal laws against Catholics had been relaxed. Afterwards he went to the English college, Valladolid, as professor of humanities, arriving there 27 June 1768. At a later period he taught philosophy.

Bishop John Douglass, Vicar Apostolic of the London District, sent the earliest refugees to stay at Old Hall Green Academy, a school near to Ware, Hertfordshire, where a small school had secretly existed since 1769, and there Bishop Douglass established St. Edmund's College as the place of education for the clergy of the London District.

Owing to ill-health he left Valladolid 30 July 1773, and was priest of the mission of Linton and afterwards at York. While he was a missioner at York he was selected by the holy see for the London vicariate in opposition to the strenuous efforts made by the ‘catholic committee’ to have Bishop Charles Berington translated from the midland to the London district. Several catholic laymen, adherents of that association, went so far as to maintain that the clergy and laity ought to choose their own bishops without any reference to Rome, and procure their consecration at the hands of any other lawful bishop. It was even proposed by them, after the appointment of Douglass, to pronounce that appointment ‘obnoxious and improper,’ and to refuse to acknowledge it. Dr. Charles Berington, however, addressed a printed letter to the London clergy, resigning every pretension to the London vicariate, and the opposition to Douglass was withdrawn.

He succeeded the Hon. James Talbot, D.D., as vicar-apostolic of the London district. His election by propaganda on 22 Aug. 1790 was approved by the pope on the 26th of that month, and expedited on 1 Sept. His briefs to the see of Centuria in partibus were dated 25 Sept. 1790. He was consecrated 19 Dec. the same year, in St. Mary's Church, Lullworth Castle, Dorsetshire, by Dr. William Gibson, bishop of Acanthus, and vicar-apostolic of the northern district.

The Catholic Relief Act, passed in June 1791, repealed the statutes of recusancy in favour of persons taking the Irish oath of allegiance of 1778. It was Douglass who suggested that this oath should replace the oath which was proposed during the debates on the measure and warmly discussed by the contending parties. The act likewise repealed the oath of supremacy imposed in the reign of William and Mary, as well as various declarations and disabilities; and it tolerated the schools and religious worship of Roman Catholics.

Douglass was one of the first members of the ‘Roman Catholic Meeting,’ organised in May 1794, in opposition to the Cisalpine Club (Milner, Supplementary Memoirs of English Catholics, p. 201). He seems to have been of a gentle disposition, though he was resolute in matters of principle. He was a determined opponent of the veto, and he severely censured the Blanchardist schismatics. To him St. Edmund's College, Old Hall Green, owes its existence as an ecclesiastical establishment, in which is preserved the continuity of the English college of St. Omer, through its president, Dr. Gregory Stapleton, settling there with his students at the invitation of Douglass, 15 Aug. 1795, after their liberation from imprisonment during the French revolution. Dr. Milner submitted his ‘Letters to a Prebendary’ to Douglass for revision. Douglass erased nearly one-half of the original contents before sending it back to the author, who printed the work in its curtailed form.

Douglass died at his residence in Castle Street, Holborn, on 8 May 1812 (Gent. Mag. vol. lxxxii. pt. i. p. 599). Dr. William Poynter, who had been appointed his coadjutor in 1803, succeeded him in the vicariate-apostolic of the London district.

An account by Douglass of the state of the catholic religion in his vicariate in 1796 is printed in Brady's ‘Episcopal Succession,’ iii. 180 seq. He published some charges and several pastorals, two of which were translated into Spanish. He also for many years published ‘A New Year's Gift’ in the ‘Laity's Directory.’ The volume of that publication issued in 1811 contains an engraved portrait of him, and a bust of him by Turnerelli was executed in the following year.

10 Sep 1790 46.8 Appointed Vicar Apostolic of London District, England, Great Britain
10 Sep 1790 46.8 Appointed Titular Bishop of Centuria
19 Dec 1790 47.0 Ordained Bishop Titular Bishop of Centuria
8 May 1812 Died Vicar Apostolic of London District, England, Great Britain





Editor's notes: 
1. I have not been able to verify this information. The dates seem wrong as the 8th Laird died in 1612. Elsewhere, I record the baillie as John, son of the the 8th Laird.
2. Presumably, as a catholic, he was unmarried and had no children.
3. Alfred Douglass, who built Corio Villa,  is thought to be a descendant of John Douglass and his wife Bridget at Yarm, Yorkshire.



Sources for this article include:
  • Brady's Episcopal Succession
  • Gillow's Bibl. Dict. of English Catholics
  • Panzani's Memoirs

  • Any contributions will be gratefully accepted


    Back to top


    The content of this website is a collection of materials gathered from a variety of sources, some of it unedited.

    The webmaster does not intend to claim authorship, but gives credit to the originators for their work.

    As work progresses, some of the content may be re-written and presented in a unique format, to which we would then be able to claim ownership.

    Discussion and contributions from those more knowledgeable is welcome.

    Contact Us

    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024