Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bond, Recusant Bond?

The new James Bond movie has revealed something about Her Majesty's secret agent--something very secret: he is a descendant of Catholic Recusants and/or Jacobites in Scotland! According to this site:

It turns out that “Skyfall” is the name of the Bond family seat, a gothic estate in the remote Scottish countryside. The climax of the story takes place there and that’s where the recusant reveal happens. [A priest hole plays a role--a priest hole in an estate in Scotland was probably built to shelter priests during the Jacobite era, or earlier while the Covenanters and Cromwell were in charge.]

A Facebook friend alerted me to the blog “Roman Christendom” which details in a post from 2009 that the author of the James Bond series, Ian Fleming, either consciously or unconsciously, associated the Bond character with the Bonds of Dorset, a recusant Catholic family. The post is really worth a read. There is another Catholic link to the Bond mythology that came to me via Facebook. Joanne McPortland who writes the always insightful and interesting “Egregious Twaddle”, told me about one of the real historical figures that inspired Fleming’s James Bond was a real life spy by the name of Sidney Reilly, who at one time courted the Catholic mystic Caryll Houselander . If you have never heard of or read Houselander’s literary corpus you are missing out on some of the best spiritual writing of the last century.

It is hard to think of Caryll Houselander as a “Bond Girl”, but truth is stranger than fiction- and at least in terms of what seems to be the Catholic connection to James Bond, somewhat more interesting.

Caryll Houselander, like St. Hildegard of Bingen, was a visionary: she had vivid experiences of seeing Christ in the world and even had a vision of Sidney Reilly suffering in a Russian prison. She had loved Reilly but he had married sometone else--his story was told in the BBC miniseries, Reilly: Ace of Spies in 1983.

The Telegraph in the UK noted the Dorset Bond connection in 2008, but that story emphasizes the Dorset Bonds ties to the Protestant establishment:

A diary has come to light detailing the exploits of John Bond, an Elizabethan secret agent whose family motto is "Non Sufficit Orbis" - The World Is Not Enough.

The Bond family are based in the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset, where Fleming went to prep school.

It was here, at the Durnford School, that he first started hearing Boy's Own stories that inspired his most famous creation.

Experts believe he would have picked up the legendary tales of John Bond whose family are extremely well known in the area.

The journal, which has remained in the family but has previously been unseen in public, was written by Denis Bond, John Bond's son.

Written retrospectively, it tells how his father was a spy for the Queen who assisted Sir Francis Drake on many missions, including the 1586 raid on the Azores, which Spain had just bought from Portugal.

It is believed that he first saw the motto - belonging to King Philip II of Spain - during that mission, and adopted it for his own family to begin with as a bit of a joke.

Mr Fleming is known to have used places and people he grew up around as inspiration for characters in his James Bond novels.

Though he would not have seen the diary, he may well have heard tales of how Bond led a similar life to 007 by travelling far and wide on behalf of Queen and country, although some of his methods though might not be approved by his fictional namesake.

An entry from 1573 tells how John Bond escaped the Bartholomew's Day massacre in France by taking a woman and child hostage and threatening to kill them unless he was allowed to go free.

William Bond, the current head of the family, said he believed John Bond adopted the motto "the world is not enough" - later the title of a Bond film - as a joke at the expense of the Spanish monarch.

The Roman Christendom post cited above mentions Hulme Priory as the country seat of the Recusant Bonds of Dorset, but I believe this refers to HOLME Priory, which was a Cluniac priory in Wareham, Dorset, suppressed in 1539. I do not find on-line sources for a Catholic connection--again, rather, it seems these Bonds were firmly tied to the Church of England:

When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, Holme was first granted to Richard Hamper, then held briefly by the Duke of Somerset until his downfall in 1552, when it passed to the Hannam family of Wimborne Minster with whom it remained until sold to Denis Bond of Grange in the Parish of Steeple in 1722. He bequeathed it to his nephew, Nathaniel Bond, who built Priory House on the site of the monastery. On his death, it passed to the Rt. Hon. Nathaniel Bond KC, a successful barrister and Treasurer of the Inner Temple, who defended author Jane Austen's aunt on a charge of shop-lifting.

Holme Priory continued in the Bond family for several generations, but is perhaps most closely associated with Lady Selina Jane Scott, a daughter of the 2nd Earl of Eldon and great granddaughter of John Scott, first Earl of Eldon who served as Lord Chancellor for a record 25 years. She married a later Nathaniel Bond in 1864 and they set up home at Holme Priory where they enjoyed a brief but happy family life together blessed with eleven surviving children. In 1865 her husband paid John Hicks to build a new parish church dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, as the ancient priory church had fallen into ruin in the mid-1700s and since then the local residents had had to go the neighbouring parish of East Stoke for their religious ceremonies and services. Lady Selina decorated the whitewashed interior of the Church herself with delicate hand-painted leafy scrolls and texts.

The aforementioned post also mentions the recusant Weld family of Lulworth Castle, which contains a Catholic chapel built in 1786, "although it wasn’t until 1791 that Catholics were, by law, allowed public worship services in England. The king at the time, George III, gave permission to Thomas Weld to build a mausoleum and do whatever he wished with the interior. The chapel was the first free-standing Catholic one built for public worship in England since the time of the reformation. North America’s first bishop, John Carroll, was consecrated at the chapel in 1790.

"The chapel interior was designed to resemble a classical garden building. The painted ceiling is domed with clear glass windows. The organ was made in Bristol in 1785, while the candlesticks, altar, and crucifix came from Rome. Inside the chapel are Weld family hatchments, vestments, and church silver."

The Weld family was a true recusant family; the "castle" today has been rebuilt and is a tourist attraction. The Weld family descendants also built a manor house after the castle was destroyed in a fire in 1929. Note one more historical connection at Lulworth: the Bourbons (Charles X as Comte Artois) in exile after the French Revolution lived at Lulworth Castle--and also that Maria Fitzherbert, George IV's secret Catholic wife, was married to Edward Weld for three months in 1775!


  1. Also at 'Word on Fire', Fr Robert Barron's video on the recusant, and more broadly Catholic, overtones of 'Skyfall':

  2. The commendation in John Bond's will is that of a protestant.
    "I commend my soule into the hands of Allmightie God my faithfull creator and Redemer besechinge hym for the worthiness of his only sonne and my alone Saviour and Redemer Jesus Christ to receive it. For my bodie I comitt it to the ground whence it came dust to dust in full assurance that in the resurrect[i]on of the inst I shall receave it againe by the power of my God all sufficient"
    His son, Denis Bond, the writer of the Chronology, (part at least has now been deposited at the Dorset History centre ) was MP for Dorchester.In the 17th Century, Dorchester under the influence of Rev. John White became fervently puritan. Denis Bond himself became President of the Council of State under Cromwell. He was buried in Westminster Abbey but exhumed and reinterred in a common grave at the restoration.