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Pope Pius IX and Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara: Revised View

A few weeks ago I printed a story that I found in several 19th century sources. I looked into matters further and believe that Eton’s provost misremembered many of the details and confused things. Based on my research, this is my revised view.

Letitia Dorothea Foster was born in 1792, the same year that Count Giovanni Mastai was born. Letitia was the daughter of Reverend William Foster and Catherine Letitia Leslie. When she was younger, she had a crush on John Staunton Rochford (born 1763) and something happened between them. I believe that this happened sometime between 1810 and 1814, closer to 1810. She was 18 or so and he was 47. He was widowed in 1810 and he then married his first cousin, Mary Burgh in 1814. She was the daughter of his mother’s brother, Thomas Burgh.

In December, 1818, Leticia married John Henry North, a prominent barrister in Ireland. They had no children. Later in life, (Dec 3, 1827) Letitia mentioned this incident in a letter to her older sister MMe. La Comtesse de Salis in Pisa Italy, and, now being an older and wiser 35 year old woman and the wife of a prominent individual, decries how parents do not see how a young woman could fall for a significantly older man right under their noses!

After this incident happened, Letitia, her sister and her husband went to Rome, Italy and spent time there from 1814-1815. It was there that Letitia met Count Giovanni Mastai, who had arrived in Rome in 1809 for higher studies. In 1812, he suffered from some sort of disease, akin to epilepsy, and he had to interrupt his studies. He entered the Papal Guard in 1815, but because of his illness was immediately discharged.

Mastai met Letitia and fell madly in love with her. He stalked her, repeatedly proposed to her and she repeatedly declined all of his proposals. Later in life, Letitia told her niece, “We never drove out in Rome that Mastai was not sure to spring from behind some column or ruin, or otherwise suddenly appear.”

Her sister and husband, Count de Salis, felt it prudent to move to Paris, perhaps because of the previous untoward incident with Rochford.

Bereft of his romantic love and his career aspirations, he threw himself at the feet of Pope Pius VII who elevated him, and encouraged him toward theological studies. He served briefly in the Tata Giovanni Educational Institute, he participated as a catechist in 1816 in a memorable mission in Senigallia and, immediately thereafter, decided to enter the ecclesiastical state.

Count Mastai became a priest in 1819. Then, in 1846 he became Pope Pius IX.

It seems clear that he still harbored strong feelings for the young woman he had wished to marry, as shortly after he became Pope, he sent a gold and lapis lazuli tiara in a case to Henrietta de Salis who had discouraged the relationship between him and her sister Letitia. He inscribed it with the words, “Presented to Henrietta, wife of Jerome, Count de Salis, by Pope Pius IX, in memory of past days.”

Letitia herself received a small parcel containing an engraving of himself in his pontifical robes. Underneath were the words, “You made me pope.” [This information as well as photos of the gifts can be found in “Letters to the Countess,” published by N.C.F. De Salis, in 2014.]

When Mastai first became Pope he was a liberal—he opened up the Jewish ghetto. However, he eventually made a complete turnaround and reinstituted the ghetto. In June of 1858, the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition (also called the Holy Office), the body of cardinals responsible for overseeing and defending Catholic doctrine (of which Pope Pius was the head), sent the Papal police to take away a Jewish child who was allegedly baptized by a Catholic servant. The six-year-old child’s name was Edgardo Mortara.

The parents made every effort to get back the kidnapped child, but in vain. Eventually, Pope Pius IX adopted young Edgardo as his own child. He sat him on his lap and told him that he was his son. Eventually, Edgardo became a priest himself.

Was the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara a repercussion of the desperation seen in his younger years? Was his judgment so warped on account of this that he defied all moral decency in kidnapping and adopting this child?

Letitia Dorothea Foster1,2

F, #387872, b. 1792, d. 28 November 1852

Last Edited=25 Sep 2021

Consanguinity Index=0.0%

Letitia Dorothea Foster was born in 1792.2 She was the daughter of Rt. Rev. William Foster and Catherine Letitia Leslie.3 She married John Henry North, son of Richard North and Lucinda Gouldsbury, on 28 November 1818.1,4 She died on 28 November 1852, without issue.1

From 28 November 1818, her married name became North.1


  1. [S47] BIFR1976 page 428. See link for full details for this source. Hereinafter cited as. [S47]
  2. [S2667] Sylvia McClintock, “re: McClintock Family,” e-mail message to Darryl Roger Lundy, 10 February 2008. Hereinafter cited as “re: McClintock Family.”
  3. [S47] BIFR1976. [S47]
  4. [S6289] The History of Parliament Online, online http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org. Hereinafter cited as History of

Her father and siblings:

Rt. Rev. William Foster was born in 1744.1 He was the son of Rt. Hon. Anthony Foster and Elizabeth Burgh.1 He married Catherine Letitia Leslie, daughter of Reverend Henry Leslie and Catherine Meredyth.1 He died in November 1797, with other issue.1

He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin University, Dublin, County Dublin, IrelandG.1 He was Chaplain of the House of Commons between 1780 and 1789.1 He graduated with a Doctor of Divinity (D.D.)1 He held the office of Bishop of Cork and Ross on 14 June 1789.1 He held the office of Bishop of Kilmore in 1790.1 He held the office of Bishop of Clogher in 1796.1

Children of Rt. Rev. William Foster and Catherine Letitia Leslie

  1. Elizabeth Foster+2
  2. Hon. John Leslie-Foster+2 b. 1781, d. 9 Jul 1842
  3. Catherine Foster+2 b. 1785, d. 5 Sep 1842
  4. Henrietta Foster+2 b. 9 Oct 1785, d. 27 Oct 1856
  5. Anna Elizabeth Foster+2 b. 1789, d. 15 Nov 1833
  6. Letitia Dorothea Foster2 b. 1792, d. 28 Nov 1852
  7. Reverend William Henry Foster+2 b. 1796, d. 1861
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