Papers of Baron Friedrich von Hgel

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 227 ms2200-3233 (msB3280.H8), ms36362/1-43, ms37194, ms 30420 and many others
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Physical Description
      1196 letters + 43 diaries + many other letters and copies of letters scattered throughout the collections.

Scope and Content

The letters and diaries which form the core of the von Hgel papers reflect all aspects of his character, capabilities and commitments. Discreet to the end, there is sufficient evidence in the surviving papers to show that von Hgel himself, towards the end of his life, filtered out and probably destroyed anything that might have shown his correspondents in a poor light [e.g. ms2822]. What survives is a substantial archive reflecting the wide range of contacts and friendships von Hgel sustained with scholars in Germany, Scandinavia, France, the Low Countries, and Italy.

The main elements of these papers are 43 diaries, 1877-79, 1884-1900, 1902-1924 (ms36362) and correspondence from 1874-1925 (ms2200-3233/msB3280.H8, ms37194, ms 30420 and many other references).

Administrative / Biographical History

Born 5 May 1852, the elder son of the then Austrian minister to Tuscany, Friedrich Maria Aloys Franz Karl Freiherr von Hgel came to England when his father retired in 1867. His mother, Elizabeth Farquharson, was a convert to Roman Catholicism and he was brought up in this faith, marrying Mary Catherine Herbert and settling first in Hampstead and then in Kensington. A frequent visitor to Rome, a self taught biblical scholar, with a fluency in French, German and Italian as well as his adopted English, his willingness to consider the possible advantages of new approaches in biblical criticism, allied to a sharp rejection of much of the immanentism in contemporary theology, brought him into contact with a wide group of Catholic scholars who wished to see the Vatican permit a greater degree of freedom of exploration in subjects thus far seen as the exclusive preserve of the dogmatic theologians.

As the influence of historical and scientific methods grew in the academic world and the implications of the new social and psychological sciences impinged on traditional academic disciplines, Roman Catholic scholars in the last years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the new century began, hesitantly, to propose that their own communion should adopt what was best in the new disciplines to enhance the presentation of their faith to the contemporary world. In this they enjoyed the sympathy of many fellow Christians, not of their communion, who nonetheless sought to sustain them by example, by encouragement and by mutual support. Von Hgel played a central role in this Roman Catholic Modernist movement.

Rome, under the elderly Leo XIII (1878-1903), seemed tolerant of such initiatives, but his successor Pius X (1903-1914), prompted by Cardinal Merry del Val, reacted fiercely, condemning many of the leading figures. In the personal and religious turmoil which followed, von Hgel did much to restrain the impetuous while holding firm to what he considered inalienable truth.

Impressed by the work of Eucken and Troeltsch, von Hgel did much to bring it to the attention of the English speaking world, despite the widespread hostility during and after the First World War to all things German.

A man of prayer, an authority on the great mystical writers, sensitive to the emotional and spiritual burdens of human kind, von Hgel was much sought out as a counsellor, a guide and a spiritual master. He was familiar with suffering, with grief, most especially at the loss of his closest daughter Gertrude, and with the constant toil of spiritual advancement, and it was as much for the loss of these qualities as for his gifts as a scholar that so many mourned at the news of his death on 27 January 1925.


Alphabetical by correspondent and then chronological.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted.


Friedrich von Hgel, the scholar at the centre of this group, directed that at his death his papers and library should pass to the University of St Andrews and the university library became in consequence a favoured repository for the papers of others who contributed to the modernist debate. By gift, loan, bequest or purchase, the library has come to hold the papers of Wilfrid Philip Ward, Frank Rooke Ley, Alfred Leslie Lilley, and George Walter Young. At various times, for the convenience of scholars, various researchers in the field have deposited copies of original, related, papers held in other archives, notably the Archives Bremond in Lyon, the Stadtbibliothek, Trier, (Francis Xavier Kraus) and the Byzantinisches Institut of Abtei Scheyern, Bavaria (Albert Ehrhard). In addition the library has acquired material relating to Evelyn Underhill, not herself a modernist, but a close disciple of von Hgel.

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

The collection has been listed and is available on the manuscripts database of the University of St Andrews Special Collection Department.

Alternative Form Available

Some material is held in copy form as xeroxes or on microfilm.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 227 procedures.

Custodial History

ms2200-3233 were bequeathed by von Hgel in 1925. The volumes in ms36362 were given to the library at various times between 1971 and 1976. Other items have been acquired by gift or purchase by the University since 1961.

Related Material

Papers of Arthur Leslie Lilley, Charles Edward Osborne, Wilfrid Ward, George W Young, Evelyn Underhill and Frank Rooke Ley are held at GB 227 as the papers of the Roman Catholic Modernist Movement.


For a bibliography on von Hgel see T.M. Loome, 'Liberal Catholicism Reform Catholicism Modernism', in Tubinger Theologische Studien 14, 1979, partially supplemented by H. Rollmann in The Downside Review 100, 1982.

Additional Information

Some material is original.