The status of Catholicism in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland within the period of this survey was odd, if not unique. In the great lands of the Reformation elsewhere in northern Europe, and certainly in the Scandinavian realms, where Protestantism was established Catholicsm became extinct, and only the United Provinces of the Dutch Republic existed as a Protestant state harbouring a Catholic minority. If anything, though, that comparison functions better as a contrast, for the United Provinces formed a federal republic, loose, devolved and unmonarchical, exactly the kind of libertarian polity in which people might expect such irregularities as toleration to prevail. The British, or at least the English, state was different — a royal and highly centralised regime, of the kind in which, as in late Bourbon France, the monopoly of a single state church was supposed to prevail. I have offered no grand explanatory scheme in this book for why British Catholicism endured, except to say that it did and that that made it highly unusual. I can hardly question the view that noble and gentry support in England and Wales was crucial in providing protection in the most dangerous periods within the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, the successful integration of Catholic faith with Gaelic speech and culture obviously fostered Catholic durability; in the case of Ireland, it is almost a cliché to write that national or proto-national identity supported and drew support from Catholic resistance to Protestantisation.
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Michael A. Mullett
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