CollectionGB 3380 Scottish Catholic Archives, Historic Archives
Ref NoSCA B/1
Alt Ref NoB-GH
TitleBishop George Hay, Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic of the Lowland District
Extent3 boxes
Administrative HistoryBorn 1729 in Edinburgh into an Episcopalian family. Apprenticed to a surgeon, he was called into service to the wounded after the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 and remained with the rebel army till its return from Derby. Imprisoned as a Jacobite in Edinburgh and in London. Received into the Catholic Church in 1748. Acting on the advice of Bishop Richard Challoner, he travelled to the Scots College in Rome to study for the priesthood. Ordained in Rome in April, 1758 and appointed as missioner at Preshome for 8 years. Took charge of the finances of the Lowland Vicariate and in 1769 was secretly consecrated Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic to assist Bishop Grant, whom he succeeded in 1778. Tried in vain to extract concessions for Catholics at the time of the American War of Independence. Set up at Aquhorties a new seminary to train future priests in Scotland. Spent the last years of his life at Aquhorties. Died in 1811. A prolific writer on spiritual matters.

George Hay was effectively the leader of the Catholic Mission to Scotland from the time of his appointment as Coadjutor for the Lowland District, and his long episcopate included fundamental changes in the position of Catholics in Scottish society. Hay, the convert, had personally experienced the consequences of the failed Jacobite attempts to restore the Catholic Stuart Kings. His aim became to show that Catholics could be loyal subjects of Hanoverian Kings if the laws against them were modified. Though rarely enforced, the Penal Laws were still a constant threat. It was illegal to train men for the priesthood in Scotland. The laws were an inducement to Catholic-leaning landowners to apostatise in order to secure their property for their heirs. The Church could never have survived without priests or without that protection. Hence Hays policy: patience and resignation on the one hand and on the other, persistent lobbying of government ministers about the Penal Laws. Ministers might be sympathetic but they knew how easily destructive anti-Popery riots could be stirred up. Yet by 1793, despite many setbacks, Hay had obtained significant concessions and Catholics could take their place, albeit still a limited one, in public life. The Scots Colleges abroad were also a constant cause of anxiety because of the upheavals caused by the French Revolution and the spread of anti-clerical ideas across Europe. Hay saw that in the more tolerant climate in Scotland there was now the possibility and probably the necessity to provide a seminary at home, hence the decision to establish Aquhorties. Finance was always a problem, for the Vicariate as a whole, and the grinding poverty which was the lot of many of his priests gave him great concern, especially as he was reluctant to ask poor people for financial contributions. His life was one of constant journeying both at home and abroad and often of loneliness- the penalty of a long life. A practical man, he always carried with him his medical kit believing that well-timed charities have been found by experience to be of the greatest service to souls. His literary output was prodigious. He had realised the lack of works of spirituality for lay people in Scotland and aimed to assist the most unlearned with the famous The Sincere Christian, the Devout Christian, and The Pious Christian, books which were widely read and translated into several languages. He was the greatest of the Vicars Apostolic. His life of unremitting study, toil and travel ended at Aquhorties in 1811.
DescriptionTheology; Philosophy; loose notes; Bishop Kyle's transcripts; biographical material; printed material
Access StatusOpen
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