The Presentation of British Officers to Pope Pius VI, 1794. Oil on canvas by James Northcote, R.A., 1800. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
From late 1793 to early 1795, Michael Head of Ashley Park served as a subaltern (Capt. Lt.) in the 12th Light Dragoons. The regiment left Ireland in 1793 to support the efforts by the dynastic powers of Europe in trying to reverse the outcome of the French Revolution and restore the French monarchy. While stationed in the Italian seaport town of Civitavecchia, news of the regiment's good conduct reached Pope Pius VI, who announced his intention of presenting, in Rome, a gold medal to each of the officers. Three junior officers were chosen to represent the regiment, Capt. Lt. Michael Head holding the sword, Lt. the Hon. Pierce Butler next to him, and Major Robert Browne kneeling. All three of these Anglo-Irish officers rose to the rank of general.
Northcote's painting shows the moment when the Pope took Capt. Browne's helmet in his hands and expressed the wish "that Heaven would enable the cause of truth and religion to triumph over injustice and infidelity." In 1796, French troops commanded by Bonaparte invaded Italy, defeated the papal troops, and occupied the Papal States. Having refused to renounce his temporal powers, Pius was taken prisoner two years later and transported to France. He died in Valence in August 1799.