This week saw the ninety-eighth birthday of Fr Jean-Marie Charles-Roux, who is, in every sense, a survivor from a distant and in many ways more pleasant age.
Fr Charles-Roux used to be well known in London, living for many years at St Etheldreda’s, Ely Place, where he used to be the preacher at the 11 am Mass, and quite a draw. His sermons were long, elegantly constructed, arresting, and sometimes rather unusual, in that they reflected his own somewhat individual views on European culture and history. Fr Charles-Roux championed Charles I, Mary Queen of Scots, and Marie-Antoinette, all of whom he saw as martyrs for the faith. The last of these was a particular favourite. There were quite a few sermons in which she had a starring role.
Fr Charles-Roux’s father had been a French diplomat. He had two sisters, one, Edmonde, is a famous and influential French writer ; the other, Cyprienne, married an Italian prince and became the Principessa del Drago. It was to be near her that he moved to Rome, the city he was born in, some twenty years ago, though at the time he remarked that he was going to Rome “to die”.
Both Fr Charles-Roux and his sister knew many of the key figures of the twentieth century, and they were always willing to talk about them too, which made for interesting conversations. Cyprienne had seen Mussolini, il Duce; and both she and Fr Charles-Roux had known the Duce’s daughter, Edda Ciano. Indeed Fr Charles-Roux was a papal diplomat in his youth, which coincided with the mid-century. He had known de Gaulle, and Churchill, and in the course of the war, Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who was then living in Athens, and who was the subject of a recent television programme. I asked him once about her. What had she been like? “Very, very beautiful; very, very charming, and very, very mad,” was the reply.
Fr Charles-Roux had also met the Queen, through his great friend Lady Thorneycroft. “You can be informal with Prince Philip,” he told me. “But with her, you never for a moment forget that she is Queen.”
I have got lots more Charles-Roux memorabilia, and may share some of it at a future date. But for now, to this great man, in Rome, who is a model of wit, kindness and piety, and deeply devoted to the traditional liturgy of the Church, I send my best wishes for his ninety-ninth year.