Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

In this new study, Michael Mullett examines the social, political and religious development of Catholic communities in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland from the Reformation to the arrival of toleration in the nineteenth century. The story is a sequence from active persecution, through unofficial tolerance, to legal recognition. Dr Mullett brings together original research with the new insights of specialist monographs and articles over recent years and provides indispensable information on how Britain's and particularly Ireland's, present religious situation has evolved.
The book also offers a timely updated review of the role religion has played in the emergence of collective identities in Britain and Ireland between 1558-1829. Controversial and shaking some long-held assumptions, the book is strongly argued on the basis of extensive research and a review of the existing literature.

Table of Contents

1. Catholics in England and Wales, c. 1558–c.1640

Abstract
This chapter surveys the emergence of Catholic recusancy and its consolidation in Elizabethan and early Stuart England and Wales. We begin with a study of the early English Catholic recusant community and its emergence in particular regions as minority groupings, largely rural in location and with Catholic aristocrats leading a predominantly plebeian rank and file; this community was, at the best of times, marginalised and in the worst periods actively persecuted on political grounds, for in the course of Elizabeth’s reign from 1558 to 1603 England’s Catholics were to become linked in the official and the public mind with treasonable conspiracy in alliance with Spain. The Catholic-inspired Revolt of the Northern Earls of 1569 against Elizabeth led to the excommunication and papal deposition of the queen in the bull Regnans in Excelsis of 1570; this was followed by the Ridolfi Plot of 1571, a conspiratorial version of the 1569 rising, sharing its programme of a Catholic marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk backed by Spanish and papal military and financial assistance. The Throgmorton Plot, exposed in 1583, involved French as well as Spanish and papal support for another bid to dislodge Elizabeth, while the Parry Plot of 1585 indicated a high degree of papal intervention in English affairs, and the Babington Conspiracy in 1586 once more centred on the violent substitution of Elizabeth by Mary.
Michael A. Mullett

2. Catholics in Scotland and Ireland, c.1558–c.1640

Abstract
We shall begin this chapter with a survey of the state of Catholicism in Scotland on the eve of the Reformation. We shall see that traditional religion possessed considerable potential for renewal, but that the Reformation, assisted by England, by the support of the nobility and by popular adhesion, dominated the scene in the years after 1559. We shall examine the factors that might have sustained a Scottish Catholic recovery but will also discount their lasting value for underpinning a strong endurance of the old faith.
Michael A. Mullett

3. Catholics in England and Wales, c. 1640–c.1740

Abstract
The outbreak of the civil war initiated one of the most serious crises for Catholics in the British Isles in the whole of their post-Reformation history. The relative favour shown by Charles I to the English Catholics and their grateful response, as shown in the ‘Contributions’ of 1639, revived ‘popery’as a live issue from 1640 onwards; fears of a ‘popish plot’, whipped up by the Irish rebellion of 1641 served as a coda to the mounting tension between the crown and the Long Parliament. The latter’s role as the sounding board of the nation’s Protestantism induced it to demand savage action against priests, with the result that eleven of these were executed in the period 1641–2. The historian Archbishop Mathew noted two points about these victims — their seniority of years (two of them were well past seventy), and the fact that ‘They had lived quietly and laboriously without concealment … [A]ll were well known to the authorities who had suddenly descended upon them.’1 In other words, for Catholics the period around the outbreak of the civil war was one of catastrophe because it brought renewed suffering on a community, and above all on its priests, that had in the preceding decades been building up a comparatively stable presence in England and Wales.
Michael A. Mullett

4. Catholics in Scotland and Ireland, c.1640–c.1745

Abstract
The situation for Catholics in Scotland between the mid-seventeenth and the mid-eighteenth centuries was bleak, though perhaps not entirely so: established communities continued to exist in Banffshire and Aberdeenshire and there was continuity — indeed, as we shall see, remarkable growth — in the Highland mission; a few Scots abroad were converted from time to time, attracted, perhaps, by the glamour of Continental Catholicism on display in Paris or Rome; some were persuaded that, although the first, Knoxian, Reformation might have been a necessity, the second, Presbyterian and Covenanting variant was not.
Michael A. Mullett

5. Catholics in England and Wales, c. 1745–c. 1829

Abstract
Our final period in the history of the Catholic communities of England and Wales between the Reformation and Emancipation is in some ways the most intriguing. The decades in question are punctuated with clear marks of transition: the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 as the first breach in the wall of penal legislation; the Gordon Riots as a violent reminder of the stubborn persistence of popular anti-popery; the impact of the French Revolution in softening national anti-popery; the Second Relief Act of 1791, licensing Catholics’ worship by, in effect, extending to them the benefits that Nonconformists enjoyed under the 1689 Toleration Act; the arrival of refugee French priests in the 1790s, bringing refreshment to the faith, especially in its newer urban centres; and, finally, after protracted political struggle, the achievement of full civil rights in 1829.1
Michael A. Mullett

6. Catholics in Scotland and Ireland, c. 1745–c. 1829

Abstract
The period from 1745 to 1829 cannot be categorised in any simple terms of growth or decline for the Catholic Church in Scotland, even though it may be possible to detect the early signs of a ‘second spring’ from around 1790 onwards. Yet for some commentators ‘a severe judgment on eighteenth-century Scottish Catholicism is deserved’. Some might see the symptoms of a more general malaise in the failure of the Scots College, Rome, a key institution set up for ‘the provision of a steady and regular supply of secular clergy who would spend their lives working in Scotland amongst Scottish Catholics’: the early nineteenth-century historian of the College, the Abbé Paul McPherson, claimed that amidst ‘disorders’, serious ill-discipline and chronic financial mis-management ‘the college had failed and failed lamentably and culpably in fulfilling that purpose’. A further sign of contraction in Scottish Catholicism on the Continent was the secularisation in 1744 of the much-reduced ancient Benedictine foundation at Würzburg. While these erosions of the Scottish Catholic presence abroad might, arguably, have had the effect of concentrating attention on the task of the mission within Scotland itself, there was a further problem of Catholic ecclesiastical authority within the country.
Michael A. Mullett

Conclusion

Abstract
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.
Michael A. Mullett
Additional information