Francis Carolus Eeles

Francis Carolus Eeles (1876-1954) was an Anglican liturgical scholar and ecclesiastical historian, contributing throughout his life to the preservation of British churches and their contents. He was also a significant donor to Lambeth Palace Library, leaving the institution around two thousand printed and manuscript books. (Portrait of Eeles in 1944, FCE/MISC/11)

Portrait of Eeles in 1944,  FCE/MISC/11

Eeles demonstrated his interests in ecclesiastical history throughout his long and active life. He was born in London in 1876, the only child of his parents Francis and Isabella. The elder Francis supervised Eeles’s early studies, which involved many trips around the country to look for noteworthy antiquities; Lambeth Palace Library holds many of the resultant drawings and writings in its archives. This juvenilia, which Eeles created between the ages of nine and thirteen, demonstrates a precocious interest in ecclesiastical and architectural history, and a similarly precocious artistic and scholarly ability.

Left image: Illustrations of medieval crosses in Cornish churchyards, 1888, FCE/JUV/7/1. Right image: Illustration of St. Dubricius in the parish of Porlock, c. 1887, FCE/JUV/2

Eeles and his family settled in Kincairdshire during his mid-teens, and he intended to enrol at Aberdeen University as soon as he was able. However, despite his obvious academic prowess, Eeles was unable to pass the mathematics sections of the multi-disciplinary entrance exams required for universities in the late nineteenth century. Regardless of this initial disappointment, he was determined in his work and studies. Amongst other scholarly achievements in Scotland, he became the Honorary Librarian of the Aberdeen Diocesan Library in the late 1890s and delivered the Rhind Lectures for the Society of Antiquaries for Scotland in 1915, his chosen subject being “The liturgy and ceremonial of the medieval church in Scotland”, which was subsequently published as a book. He also participated in church life more directly, having been licensed as a Lay Reader by the Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney in 1903.

Advertisement for Eeles's Rhind Lectures, FCE/MISC/12/11
Advertisement for Eeles’s Rhind Lectures, FCE/MISC/12/11

Eeles moved with his wife Mary and widowed mother Isabella to London and joined the staff of the Victoria and Albert Museum, cataloguing liturgical manuscripts and vestments. During this time, Eeles participated in discussions with Bishop Gore, Dean Ryle and Sir Cecil Harcourt Smith, who was then the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, about creating a new protective system for English churches. Eeles had long been passionate about the preservation of church buildings, having watched some renovators unknowingly destroy a medieval mural painting in a church in Selworthy when he was 13 years old.  The resultant organisation would go on to become the Central Council for the Care of Churches (CCCC), and Eeles would channel his enthusiasm into his role as Secretary from 1917. This organisation still exists today, although it has been named the Church Buildings Council since it merged with the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England in 2007. Since its inception, it has worked with and advised churches and dioceses on the care, conservation and development of church buildings. Eeles was incredibly active as Secretary, visiting all corners of England by train and bicycle to attend committee meetings and offer advice. He worked on a completely voluntary basis until 1926, when he accepted a salary.

Around the time that Eeles was founding what would become the CCCC, his mother became a member of the Church Crafts League, producing traditional embroidery for the church. Images of her work can be found in H5013.C72 [P], where she is included in the Lists of Artists and Craftsmen of the Church Crafts League.

Church Crafts League, List of artists and craftsmen, [1920], H5013.C72 [P]
Church Crafts League, List of artists and craftsmen, [1920], H5013.C72 [P]

Throughout his life, Eeles contributed to an astonishing number of societies and clubs; amongst many others, he was a Fellow of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries; the Secretary of the Henry Bradshaw Society (for editing rare liturgical texts), a member of the College of Counsel of Liverpool Cathedral; a member of the Council of the Alcuin Club (for preserving and restoring church ceremony); and helped to found the Warham Guild (to create church ornaments and vestments according to agreed standards).

Eeles’s work as a liturgist and liturgical scholar ran alongside his work with the CCCC and various Societies. On some occasions, he wrote full liturgies for churches and cathedrals, such as the development of a Holy Communion service for St Edmundsbury Cathedral in 1944. He also played an equally significant role as advisor for others revising their liturgies, engaging in extended correspondence with a huge number of people. His letters, held in Lambeth Palace Library archives and available for consultation on request, reveal his expertise, enthusiasm and generosity on the topic. He advised his correspondents on all liturgical matters, from practical consultation on how to design a church service to the theological and historic implications of various styles of church service. He appears to have by nature been a traditionalist in liturgical matters, greatly valuing the most ancient forms of service as invoking the memory of centuries.

His letters further demonstrate a knowledge of subjects including, but not exclusive to: bibliography; early modern manuscripts; church music; archaeology; natural history; church architecture; and church decoration.

In 1937, Eeles received a Lambeth Degree from Archbishop Lang, and was also honoured with an O.B.E.

Letters patent for Eeles's Lambeth degree, FCE/MISC/16
Letters patent for Eeles’s Lambeth degree, FCE/MISC/16

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Eeles devoted himself to the preservation of London churches and their contents from the destruction of the Blitz, organising the safe transfer of church ornaments and other items to safe locations in Somerset, where he lived. He also stored records of various institutions, plate from some synagogues, and other assorted treasures. In addition, he appealed for photographs of churches in order to organise their repairs in case of bomb damage. Eeles’s contribution to the preservation of historical ecclesiastical monuments in England therefore difficult to truly comprehend.

In his later years, Eeles continued to travel around Britain as much as he could. He was given an honorary degree from the University of St. Andrews in recognition of his work for Scottish ecclesiology, which he had continued to carry out in the years since his move to England.

Eeles’s Collections

During his life, Eeles collected a huge number of manuscript and printed books, including incunabula. These books further demonstrate the fascination with all aspects of communal worship in the Anglican church that he showed throughout his life, covering churches and cathedrals, various   forms and styles of liturgy, church music and musical instruments, and ceremonial ornaments and vestments.

The following are some examples of manuscript books from Eeles’s collection:

Left image: Horae (Book of Hours), early 16th century, MS 1508. Right image: Pontificale (A collection of benedictions and other liturgical writings) c. 1522, MS 1509

The following are examples of particularly interesting printed books from Eeles’s collection. The first is a volume titled Tractatus de horis canonicis dicendis, by Johannes Mösch, published in 1489. The title page and text block both show extensive manuscript annotations, including manicules and symbols. Eeles did not remove such annotations, as some collectors tended to, leaving researchers with extra provenance information such as custodial history and an indication of how the book was used.

Johannes Mösch, Tractatus de horis canonicis dicendis [1489] [ZZ]1489.1

The second is a Missale Romanu[m] printed in Venice in approximately 1510. It is printed in red and black and is illustrated throughout with hand-coloured woodcut images. The two images below show a double-paged spread from the middle of the book, which is decorated with scenes from the life of Christ and the Apostles. Again, a manuscript annotation is visible in the middle of the second page.

Catholic Church. Missale Romanu[m]. Venice, [1510]. H2015.A2 1510 [**]

Eeles's bookplate
Eeles’s bookplate, which identifies his books in the collections of Lambeth Palace Library

Eeles gave some instructions for the bequeathing of his collection after his death. However, the correspondence with various institutions, final decision-making, and logistical arrangements were all carried out by his personal secretary, Judith Scott, who also went on to take his place as secretary for the CCCC. Lambeth Palace Library was fortunate to receive the bulk of the collection, but the rest was divided between a further 24 institutions (such as national museums, universities, cathedral libraries and county libraries) and 10 individuals. This required an enormous amount of work from Judith Scott and took her over three years to complete; Lambeth Palace Library and many other institutions are greatly indebted to her efforts. 

An expression of gratitude to Judith Scott from the librarian at the time, FCE/MISC/21
An expression of gratitude to Judith Scott from the librarian at the time, FCE/MISC/21

Eeles and Coronations

Eeles observed four coronations in his lifetime and found them to be of great interest. He collected memorabilia from the coronation of Edward VII, which is now stored in the archives of Lambeth Palace Library:

Left image: One of several photographs of the inside of Westminster Abbey at the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, MS 1545 f. 12. Right image: A service for churches around the country to use on the day of the coronation of Edward VII. Eeles leant this to the Bishop of Liverpool when he was writing a similar service for the coronation of George VI, MS 1545 f. 19.

Edward VII’s coronation in 1902 was the first British coronation in 64 years, and the first in many people’s memory. Appreciating the rise in public interest, Eeles published a book titled The English coronation service: its history and teaching. His last publication, in 1952, was a re-issue of this book for the coronation of the late Queen Elizabeth II as The coronation service: its meaning and history.

Eeles, Francis Carolus. The coronation service: its meaning and history. London, 1953. KA114.L5E3

As we approach the first British coronation in a record-breaking 70 years, we can only wonder how Eeles might have contributed to, or commented on the ceremony. In modern Britain, perhaps he would hope that a ceremony of this scale would be accessible and inclusive, whilst remaining true to centuries of tradition, and for all those who watch it to recognise its importance.



FCE/C/V/12 – Correspondence with Provost of St Edmundsbury on ceremonial at Bury.

FCE/JUV/2 – Notebook

FCE/JUV/7/1 – ‘Churches and Ecclesiastical and other Antiquities near Penzance’

FCE/MISC/11 – Photographs of F. C. Eeles

FCE/MISC/12/3 – Memoir of Dr Eeles by Judith D. G. Scott – revised and retyped

FCE/MISC/12/4 – Copy of list of Dr Eeles’s committee memberships

FCE/MISC/12/11 – Rhind Lectures in Archaeology in Connection with The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

FCE/MISC/12/14 – Material regarding Eeles’s Lambeth Degree

FCE/MISC/16 – Lambeth degree

FCE/MISC/21 – Correspondence regarding the dispersal of Dr Eeles’s papers, books, manuscripts and other items

MS 1508

MS 1509

MS 1545

Printed books:

Catholic Church. Missale Romanu[m] […]. Venice, [1510]. H2015.A2 1510 [**]

Eeles, Francis Carolus. The coronation service: its meaning and history. London, 1953. KA114.L5E3

Mösch, Joannes. Tractatus de horis canonicis dicendis. [Augsburg], [1489]. [ZZ]1489.1