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Catholicism in England 1550-1720

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Catholicism in England 1550-1720

Post by Guest on Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:20 pm


Catholicism in England c.1550-1720

This may be helpful to some who appear to doubt the strength of hidden Catholicism in England in the period up to the start of LGDR. It has perhaps been assumed by mainstream historians that the Elizabethan persecutions and anti-Catholic laws effectively wiped out Catholicism in England. However, beliefs are not so easily changed and much of the period from 1550-1700 has been reassessed with new evidence uncovered by modern historians. The result of their research is fascinating. The period seems to divide into several overlapping sections, which I will post separately. I have included sources and tried to be as objective as the subject allows. For balance, someone might like to research the growth of Puritanism in England. I don't pretend this is an exhaustive treatment, just a few highlights to stimulate your own investigations. Any mistakes or oversights are, as usual, down to me Smile


Elizabethan Martyrs
A fairly well studied period, where earlier sources have focused on the fate of senior nobles and priests. However, the stories of ordinary lay people persecuted for their faith during this period is very revealing. All those mentioned have been declared saints by the Roman Catholic church.

Although Catholicism was illegal, it was still practiced in large parts of the country with the consent and support of those communities Occasionally certain individuals went over the top in being open about their faith, e.g. Robert Bickerdyke of Knaresborough (d.1586), who was arrested for buying a priest a drink of ale. He was acquitted by his local jury much to the annoyance of the judge who illegally arrested him again, tried him in front of a different jury and hung him. Richard Gywn of Wrexham (d.1584) was a teacher, accused of composing “certain rhymes of his own making against married priests and ministers”, for which he was martyred. William Carter of London was accused of printing books (d.1584). More usual charges included assisting a priest or being found in the company of a priest. Margaret Ward of Cheshire (d.1588) after smuggling a rope into prison so a priest could escape. John Rigby of Lancashire was arrested when he appeared as a witness to defend his employer’s daughter who had been charged with recusancy (d.1600). Thomas Sherwood of London (d.1579) refused to reveal details of houses where mass was celebrated. Some were entrapped by Anglicans who claimed to want to convert to Catholicism. Others were simply betrayed: John Finch of Lancashire (d.1584) a lawyer of Inner Temple, was accused to being a priest, despite being married; he sought the protection of the Earl of Derby, but was then betrayed by that noble whose mother was in line to inherit the throne on the death of Elizabeth!

Much of the hostility at a local level was not officially sanctioned by the crown. The story of Margaret Clitheroe of York, a butcher’s wife, is particularly poignant. She refused to plead at her trial on a charge of harbouring a priest. So strong was the support for her in York that the 2 sergeants of the court who were ordered to carry out the sentence could not bring themselves to do it: they hired 4 beggars to kill her instead. After her execution, Queen Elizabeth wrote to the citizens of York to say how horrified she was at the execution and that she should not have been executed.

With all these deaths over a period of 50 years you would perhaps have expected Catholicism to indeed have been crushed, but far from it. Many major nobles had indeed become hidden Catholics, outwardly conforming to Anglican forms of worship, whilst maintaining a network of houses where priests could live and minister to Catholics. Others became Recusants whereby they paid a fine so they could avoid attending Anglican services. Underneath the façade the Catholic structure of English society was weakened, but still existed.



Last edited by The Real Louis of France on Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:36 pm; edited 3 times in total

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Re: Catholicism in England 1550-1720

Post by Guest on Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:22 pm

The Early Stuarts
With both James I and Charles I pursuing Spanish or French marriages, the persecutions died down and Catholics found new ways to keep the faith alive.

The gentry sent their children to be educated in Catholic Benedictine schools in Flanders and Northern France. Many in turn became priests and then returned to England ‘on the missions’ with the blessing of Pope Clement VIII. There they seemed like ordinary and loyal subjects of the crown, enjoying the freedom to travel that their class allowed them and maintaining Catholic instruction for their flocks. The priest, Saint Ambrose Barlow, of Moreleys Hall (nr.Manchester) travelled a route of 20 miles visiting other properties owned by Catholics and performing mass for them. Occasionally they were caught, tried and deported back to Flanders, only to return again.

The strongly Puritanical Long Parliament of 1640 pushed for a return to executions which led to many arrests, including that of one of my favourite martyrs, St.Alban Roe (d.1642). There is a lengthy article about him on Wikipedia, though it seems to miss out many of the more interesting details from contemporary sources. Fr.Roe was a great debater who ran rings round his accusers at his trial after pleading not guilty and objecting to being tried by “12 ignorant jurymen”. He turned the proceedings into a mockery to the point that the judge had to stop the trial. He was then sent back to prison where some fellow priests convinced him to give the prosecution a chance at convicting him. Catholics are wonderfully sporting about martyrdom. However, having embraced martyrdom a furious judge suspended the sentence. This turned him into a celebrity and visitors flocked to his cell to bring him the necessary to say mass in his cell. His execution was similarly dramatic.

There were three significant developments in this period which affected overall Catholic numbers. First, the Catholics at Court were obliged to compromise their public faith in order to retain influence and/or accept appointments. There are some notable exceptions such as Sir George Calvert, Secretary of State 1619-1625 who resigned his office and declared himself Catholic. King Charles created him Lord Baltimore and he was sent to the Americas as the founder of Maryland. Inigo Jones and Van Dyck were both openly Catholic in the service of the Stuarts. More seriously, the Court Catholics lost touch with ordinary catholics in the country as there was no Catholic bishop to provide a link. This, according to David Mathew (Catholicism in England 1535-1935) is the main reason why attempts by Catholics to seize power were not promoted. There was jealousy between the Jesuits and Benedictines in France as to who should lead the missions. This was resolved in 1623 in favour of the Benedictines with the appointment of Dr.William Bishop as Vicar Apostolic of England.

The third reason was the growth of high-church Arminian sacraments favoured by King Charles I and William Laud. This seemed to offer a compromise to many Catholics who would rather demonstrate their loyalty to the King and play their part in opposing radical Puritanism than to remain barred from political office. The number of deathbed reconciliations is testament to the insincerity of those who remained Catholic in their heart and could not in conscience die without receiving the sacraments of the Catholic church.

Estimating the numbers of Catholics in England during this period is very difficult and many historians don’t give definitive figures. Dr.Albion Charles I and the Court of Rome quotes some figures from the Barberini archives of 300,000 recusants and 600,000 Catholics attending some form of Protestant worship. Kevin Philips in The Cousin’s War offers a low estimate of the number of Catholics in England and their geographic split at the time as follows: “If Puritans probably represented 10–20% of the national population, most of them still worshiping within the Church of England, Catholics were much harder to count. Open 'recusants' numbered 60,000 in 1640. Many more, however, reluctantly attended services on Sunday with scowls or for as short a time as possible. The more identifiable of these were called 'Church Papists'; the less important, ordinary grumblers who merely talked of preferring the older ceremonies were uncountable. In the north and west, at least half the population outside the towns were Catholic to some degree. By this broad definition, Catholics would have numbered 10–15% of the total English population. Practicing Catholics, however, could not have been more than 2–3%. Catholicism survived most strongly among the nobility, of whom 15–20% clung to the old faith, including many leading magnates in an arc from Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire south to Derby, Worcestershire, and Herefordshire. However, even solidly Protestant East Anglian counties like Suffolk and Essex each had three, four, or a half-dozen aristocratic families holding to the religion of their forebears. This is perhaps one reason why the populace took Catholic 'plots' so seriously: What they called popery was especially visible among the powerful and influential."

Philips’ estimates look low and are distorted due to the size of London. He acknowledges that in some traditional areas outside London Catholics formed the majority of the population. The response of Catholics to the Civil War and the proportion of gentry sent to Catholic schools in Flanders also suggests a much higher core of support than is reflected here.

But perhaps the most convincing evidence is found by looking at the architectural evidence of the existence and distribution of priest holes. Most priest holes were found outside traditionally catholic areas, the reason being that in other areas Catholic priests could rely on the support of their own followers and were far less vulnerable to arrest. It is in the houses of the southern Squires which were more openly Anglican where the greatest numbers are found. This is strongly suggestive of a core of traditional catholics in these areas, far greater than the official figures. Consequently the real figure could well be closer to Dr.Albion’s figure, or around 20% of the population.

One modern source which covers this period and focuses on local breakdowns is Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage and Religion, c.1550-1640 (Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History) by Michael C. Questier, ISBN 0-521-06880-0.




Last edited by The Real Louis of France on Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:38 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Catholicism in England 1550-1720

Post by Guest on Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:29 pm


The Civil War/Cromwell/Restoration
I won’t even try to put numbers to the Catholics who fought for the Stuarts during this period. However, what seems to have happened is that those Catholics who survived did so by going into exile with King Charles, to have their lands and positions restored in 1660. Many exiles married French Catholics and brought up their children in that faith though not all returned, being content to live in France under King Louis. King Charles II had to maintain a balance between protestant and Catholic ministers, despite being a secret Catholic himself.
With the Court favourable to Catholics, the protestants grew rather desperate, the obvious example being the contrived Popish Plot, sponsored by the anti-Catholic Danby. This backfired spectacularly and the rather fortunate Titus Oates was granted a state apartment in Whitehall and an annual allowance of £1,200. As the political winds changed, Oates met his end before the ever-so-impartial Judge Jeffreys, though in a bizarre twist of fate he was pardoned at the Restoration, receiving a somewhat reduced pension of £260/year.

1688-1720
David Mathew suggests numbers of Catholics remained roughly stable despite the attitude of William. Although it was relatively easy to force conversions to Anglicanism for political advantage, it seemed very difficult for those conversions to last and if people were not secretly Catholic, then shortly before their death they became openly so. Having had the advantage of Catholic schools there developed a prosperous Catholic middle class in London to balance declining practice in some rural areas.

Many Catholics rallied to the Jacobite cause in 1715, though this was not primarily an issue of religion. After this it is surprising how many Catholics contributed to English society in this period, identifying with the traditional, conservative politics. They include Thomas Arne, composer of Rule Britannia, and Alexander Pope, the writer.

It is difficult to obtain figures for secret Catholics or those with catholic sympathies. However, there are figures for recusants, conveniently displayed on this map created by Thomas Gun for Wikipedia from The English Recusants by Brian Magee:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Distribution_of_English_Recusant_Catholics,_1715-1720.png

Remember recusants were required to pay a fine in order to continue practicing their religion. In a majority of areas 10-20% of the population were so determined to keep their Catholic faith that they were prepared to pay the fines. If previous ratios are accurate, then it could well be that counting hidden Catholics or those sympathetic to the old religion there was indeed a Catholic majority in many areas, especially strong in the north east, north west, and down through the midlands, with isolated pockets in the south.

I don’t know whether we will see a Catholic England in a game of LGDR, but with this level of support, it is surely possible should the right leader appear.


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Jason
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Re: Catholicism in England 1550-1720

Post by Jason on Tue Aug 21, 2012 5:12 pm

That's interesting, thanks Louis Smile

I do remember reading a research paper many years back about the private papers of wealthy Catholics in 18th Century England that had an interesting revelation in it. There was a trend to want to be Catholic but at the same time not support the restoration of a Catholic England in case that led to a restoration of monasteries etc who would want their lands back, that they now owned (apparently there was a similar fear when Queen Mary did restore a very small number after her brother Edward's death).

As to a Catholic England in LGDR, I wouldn't want to hazard a guess...anything is possible Wink

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Re: Catholicism in England 1550-1720

Post by Guest on Tue Aug 21, 2012 8:00 pm

Thank you Jason. Fear over the restoration of monastic lands was a major political barrier as Henry VIII sold many of those lands to his supporters who for obvious reasons didn't want to give them up. Some lands were bought by Catholics to keep them out of the hands of others in the hope they could be restored later, but once estates were broken up this proved impossible. At the restoration in 1660 King Charles II did not entertain such claims. The classic text is by David Knowles, Bare Ruined Choirs which chronicles the destruction of the monasteries. He also wrote extensively on the Religious Orders of England and Medieval Religious Houses.

There are two striking facets to this interesting topic:
- even today the Church struggles to prove ownership of some of its land, how it was transferred and whether covenants were attached to it. This is having an impact even today with the problems over Chancel Repair Liability where today's owners of monastic lands sometimes find they are liable to repairs to the former monastic church. I guess this would not be the case if they found a way of giving the land back to the original owners, but somehow that wouldn't be very popular.
- the way that people of all classes were attracted back to traditional forms of worship for many different reasons. Some during times of civil strife, others because of dissatisfaction with reforms, particularly when they were politically driven. But how was this so if Catholicism was really as repugnant to the souls of the English as the puritans believed? I'm sure there were devout and not so devout followers across the spectrum of sects, but even when the Catholic infrastructure of the country was destroyed, its priests and religious butchered, its followers outlawed and subject to financial penalties, the faith survived. Perhaps it demonstrates how little secular governments can do to impose their will on those who believe?

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Re: Catholicism in England 1550-1720

Post by Stuart Bailey on Tue Aug 21, 2012 9:59 pm

Oddly after the Gunpowder plot onwards the in theory Anglican Governments of England and Scotland seems to have spent more time & effort in bashing Protestant dissenters than Catholic ones!

In one year - 1683 - the Bristol Quakers alone paid £16,440 in fines for non attendance and 1500 Dissenters were being prosecuted in one way or another. While in Scotland "The Killing Time" was much worse being a virtual civil war between followers of Bishops & their opponents.

Interestingly two of the leading Stuart Government Commanders in Scotland were the Duke of Monmouth Charles II illegitimate son who later lead a "Protestant" revolt V James II and "Bonny Dundee AKA Bloody Claverhouse......depending on your viewpoint" who revolted against the Scots Government in support of James II .

Basically its wrong to think of the British Isles being split between Catholics & Protestants it was more a spectrum and even today a "High" Anglican Church in some area's can look and feel just like a Catholic one while a "Low" Anglican Church can look and feel very like a Chapel.

In fact I know "old style" Catholics in Bristol who prefer a very high Anglican Church to their own rather "modern" Church.

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Re: Catholicism in England 1550-1720

Post by Guest on Wed Aug 22, 2012 8:27 am

Interesting Stuart, I don't know enough about the situation in Scotland to comment constructively. Monmouth apparently was brought up a catholic, converted to Protestantism to lead his rebellion, but considered converting back to Catholicism to curry favour with James II when he was caught. He strikes me as being a political opportunist who was manipulated by those around him - nothing really to do with religion.

I think it is difficult to compare religious diversity in 1700 with what we find today. It is only since the Vatican 2 reforms in the 1960s that Catholics have enjoyed services in English, so of course today's services will seem far more similar to some Anglican or even Methodist services, whereas this was far from being the case in 1700. Also in 1700 there were laws requiring church attendance. If those same laws were brought in today, it would be interesting to see how many people would opt to pay fines rather than attend, or indeed whether they would merely opt for the local and most convenient church and sit at the back reading the newspaper.

The evidence above does indicate some solidly Catholic areas that resisted change and were even strengthened by persecution. I think your suggestion of a religious spectrum is more likely to apply by the mid-1700s when the Methodists made inroads in some formerly Catholic areas and the population increased with industrialization.

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Re: Catholicism in England 1550-1720

Post by J Flower on Wed Aug 22, 2012 2:50 pm

Could it be that Guy Fawkes was the only person ever to go to Parliment with good & clear idea of what he wanted to acheive?
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Re: Catholicism in England 1550-1720

Post by Regor on Wed Aug 22, 2012 4:27 pm

Excellent stuff - really helpful. Thanks to you all Very Happy

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Re: Catholicism in England 1550-1720

Post by J Flower on Wed Aug 22, 2012 4:42 pm

I agree with REGOR the amount of detail & research that many of you put in to answer questions & quieries, is absolutly amazing. Thankyou all very much.

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