Report: Representing Popery in British History, c.1520-1900

The fourth workshop in our series, ‘Representing Popery in British History, c.1520-1900’ took place at Newcastle University 10-11 April 2019. 23 speakers from 5 different countries took part, and papers included topics as diverse as theatre, resistance theory, Hispanophobia, material culture, stigmata, laughter, and Antichrist. Discussion was vibrant and engaged with the core problem of the network: how do we write a history of ‘popery’? The subject is inherently representational. ‘Popery’ was not a definable thing with a consistent presence in British history, but was intrinsically malleable and dependent in many ways upon the definition of the person/group identifying it at a given political moment. As such, its representation is inseparable from its content. The problem for historians is that we may end up writing the history of a term – ‘popery’ – rather than a subject. Once we have identified that it is perennially changeable, what else do we say? How do we add coherence to a history of something so slippery? These were questions to which we returned throughout the two days of the workshop. The problem of anti-popery’s lack of consistency is a pressing one for this network. Some participants very sanguine about facing the challenge. They stressed that contingency is part and parcel of all ideologies, and is not specific to anti-popery. Others were more sceptical: for them the inconsistency of the subject across the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries is so vast that there is perhaps nothing which holds anti-popery together as a subject at all beyond the word ‘popery’ itself. Discussions suggested that the issue of solvency was a determining factor in the core aims of this network: to establish what a history of anti-popery in British history might actually look like; and to outline the best way(s) forward in moving towards writing one. Many thanks to all participants for a highly stimulating two days.

Our first session was the roundtable ‘Working with Representations’. Here Susan Griffin, Adrian Streete, and David Manning outlined the methodological problems of studying representations of anti-popery in a range of source material – nineteenth-century fiction, seventeenth-century theatre, and early modern polemic, respectively. Susan Griffin introduced us to a central feature of anti-Catholic fiction in the nineteenth century: its gendered language. Tales of women variously tricked into, abducted, or imprisoned by life in a nunnery were commonplace in this period. They were a mainstay of canonical literature by Bronte, Hawthorne, and others, and a sub-genre of popular literature in their own right – the story of Maria Monk, for example, was a best-seller. Griffen outlined a series of key features for us to focus on in studying representation. We must acknowledge that anti-Catholic plot-lines were somewhat formulaic, but note that this was an opportunity for authors, not a limitation. Writers worked and re-worked an established genre and established plot lines. Readers were expected to recognize these anti-Catholic tropes, and author expectation of that recognition allowed for a degree of creativity in which the latter could play with the former’s expectations in order to create meaning. The point, then, is that it is not enough for scholars to simply create a taxonomy of anti-Catholic representations – stereotypes, iconography, plots, characters, and so on. We must consider how those elements were used in a given moment to inject them with (often surprising) meaning. And we need to consider why particular cultural narratives re-occurred at specific times. What historical forces were at work to make anti-Catholic texts – which represented the worst things imaginable as defined by this culture – relevant in the nineteenth century? Griffen explained that these texts were less about the Catholic ‘other’ – the manipulative priest, sexual exploitation, slavery – than they were contemporary anxieties about religion, masculinity, and femininity. ‘Popery’ as defined by a given author or authors was a series of binary negatives which re-affirmed cultural, political, and gendered positives. These fictions were in a sense didactic: they helped nineteenth century authors and audiences work through core issues and problems of their period.

The varied meanings to which anti-popery was put was also a prominent feature of Adrian Streete’s paper, which, in discussing seventeenth century theatre, treated materials two century earlier. Streete showed us that scholarship which focusses on the role of anti-Catholic theatre during the political crises of the Stuart reigns, although important, only gets us so far in assessing the true value of anti-popery to early modern audiences. Anti-popery could be a moderate language as much as it was an oppositional one. It was never out of fashion, and provided ways of thinking-through important political issues – Britain’s place in the European politics in general, and the Thirty Years’ War in particular, for example. Anti-popery was also representational in more subtle ways. It gave authenticity to certain scenes and settings, for example. Streete showed this to be the case with many of Shakespeare’s history plays – Catholic settings and stereotypical ‘popish’ character-traits conjured the past and a lost world in post-Reformation England. Above all else, Streete urged us to be sensitive to the varieties of anti-Catholicism. ‘Popery’ appeared in multiple ways – and was put to multiple ends – in the same play. It was in no sense of a monochrome ideology.

Although two centuries apart, both Griffen’s and Streete’s papers pointed to a common factor in how anti-popery worked on audiences: frisson. There was a thrill in anti-popery. In Streete’s material this rested on the somewhat illicit nature of the representations which Protestant audiences enjoyed. Catholic characters might be dressed in or be use items which had been outlawed as idolatrous, for example. They may appear in settings associated with an anti-Christian religion. Playwrights were well aware of the appeal and dangers of this. They toyed with the taboo aspects of representing popery. For early modern people, ‘popery’ was dangerous because it was hyper-sensuous, hyper-representational, and, as such, hyper-seductive. Representing it on the stage, therefore, was thrilling and dangerous. Much anti-theatrical polemic pointed to the inherent dangers of representation, or which popery and the stage were the main culprits. Once again, we see anti-Catholicism being used not as an end in itself, but to think through important issues of the day. In Griffen’s nineteenth century scenes of debauchery, seduction, and corruption, popery was presented as monstrous. This, she noted, was an attraction/repulsion dynamic. Popery was at once horrifying and appealing: it thrilled and terrified audiences in equal measure. Discussion noted that this attraction/repulsion element was common in polemic, poetry, and visual culture across the centuries which the network covers. That dynamic, it was suggested, might be both a point of consistency across the centuries, and a major source of anti-popery’s continued utility as both a rhetoric and ideology in British history.

The final paper in this roundtable – by David Manning – challenged us to think carefully about how we approach the topic of representation. Working through a series of late-seventeenth century polemics on rational religion, Manning noted that representation was inherent as a problem in the Catholic-Protestant exchanges of the period’s religious culture. It was, in essence, central to how truth could be defined and known, and to how the divine was to be experienced. The significance of this – Manning warned us – is that if we are to gauge the relationship between ‘representation’ and ‘popery’ accurately we must take contemporary understandings of the former term seriously. At present, the use of broadly secular approaches to studying the past in the academe – sociology, anthropology, linguistics – interprets source material in ways which would be foreign to those who produced it. Manning noted that contemporary Christian metaphysics of representation are vital to our understanding of popery, and stressed that those concerns were longstanding in British history. Discussion noted that they were prevalent from the sixteenth into the early-eighteenth century. It also noted that this emphasis on Christian metaphysics should cause us to be careful about how we approach anti-popery as a topic. Perhaps, it was suggested, we have over-played the political and cultural aspects of the topic (or, at least, underplayed the continuing religious ones). Taken together, these three papers – and the discussions which followed them – laid the groundwork for the entire workshop.

The next session – ‘Anti-popery and Memory’ – featured 4 papers treating a core theme which has emerged in the network’s previous workshops: the way in which anti-popery was situated in historical consciousness, how that process was different in the 4 nations, and the extent to which the ways in which anti-popery was remembered both informed continued iterations of anti-popery and was the source of those iterations’ on-going malleability. Was this, we asked, the key area to study if we wanted to unlock the tension between the continuous presence and inconsistent application of anti-popery in British history with which the workshop opened? Aidan Norrie’s paper certainly suggested so. He showed us how Elizabeth I was presented in anti-Catholic pamphlets during the Exclusion Crisis (1678-83). Elizabeth was tied to a triumphalist, providential depiction of England’s past to which the queen herself bore no relation. Norrie argued that anti-popery has re-invented Elizabeth as a ready-made typological device during the seventeenth century. She was re-imagined as an exemplar of ‘Protestantism’ as understood by whichever author/group used her memory. In this paper, we saw how anti-popish ideology bent history to serve its ends. It created an allusion of continuity between past and present to validate a given political action at a given political moment.

Ceri Law introduced us to the roles of anti-popery in the conversion narratives and experiences of those who abjured their Catholic faith during the sixteenth century. Those narratives might have a political application – they might be set-pieces our cause célèbres – or play vital roles in the life-writing of individuals. Law noted an ambivalence in the anti-popery at the heart of these narratives: converts stressed their rejection of a faith which they now saw as foolish, corrupt, and dangerous, but also had to stress the depths of their involvement in it in order to cast their narrative in an effective way. Was this, discussion asked, another version of the attraction/repulsion dynamic at work? For Law, this ambiguity has two applications for historians. First, it shows us how generic anti-Catholic tropes (the gospel dispelling human tradition, the seduction of the senses) were vital in articulating individual experience. We tend to think of anti-popery as a collective ideology or part and parcel of party conflict, but in Law’s scholarship we see what it meant to individuals and how malleable application of its tropes created specific meaning for them, too. This, Law argued, was how ideology was both normalised in society and humanised individuals. Second, the way in which those individuals spoke about their involvement in and rejection of the Catholic Church was indicative of a cultural ambivalence at the centre of sixteenth-century anti-Catholicism: Protestants might be simultaneously accepting of Catholics and/or a Catholic past and agitated towards ‘popery’.

The shifting significance of a Catholic past was also central to the discussion of the next paper, by Muirrean McCann, which dealt with materials 3 centuries later. McCann traced the changes in how Catholic priests educated in seminaries in Europe were viewed both by their fellow Catholics, and British Protestants, between 1793 and the mid-nineteenth century. Because the seminaries in which they were trained fell under the control of Napolean, these priests were suspected by the Catholic hierarchy and Protestants alike. Had they been trained to venerate French despotism? With the emergence of the debate about the British government’s funding of the Maynooth College in the mid-nineteenth century and the rise of a Catholic nationalism led by Daniel O-Connell, however, the European-trained priests were seen in a much more favourable light in the future generation. Priests emerging from Maynooth were now seen as quarrelsome and associate with the repeal movement by Protestant commentators, and the European-educated priests were presented, by way of contrast, as advocates of toleration. This shows us two things, McCann argued. First, anti-popery could be re-membered very quickly indeed – these changes occurred within living memory. Second, what we see here is the continuity of an anti-Catholic trope (the rebellious, untrustworthy priest) and discontinuity in its application. The relationship between those two things – continuity and discontinuity – is central to the longstanding power of anti-popery in British history. Several participants suggested that the oscillation between the two is inherent in intellectual and cultural traditions.

Ireland was also the subject of our next paper, by Annaleigh Margey. The subject here was memory of the 1641 rebellion of Gaelic and Old English Catholics against Protestant landholders and the state in the up to the British Civil Wars. The role of violence against Protestant civilians in this rebellion in memory is significant. For Protestants, 1641 is a seminal event in Irish history (we need only think of Orange marches). For Catholics, it has been disremembered. In mid-seventeenth century England, memory of Irish Catholic violence against Protestants was fixed by a series of lurid and sensationalist publications. That Catholic violence then conditioned in part how the Civil Wars were explained – anti-Catholicism helped a culture to cope with trauma – and was shaped by a longstanding belief in a perennial popish plot against Protestant churches and states. In outlining the role of these various representations in Irish historical consciousness, Margey introduced us to the 1641 Depositions Project, in which evidence from witnesses and victims of the rebellion was digitised in an attempt to use history to dispel myth and help the peace process move forward.  She showed us how anti-popery both shaped memory – 1641 had a powerful hold on protestant views of history – and was shaped by it – the witness statements in the depositions reflect stock anti-popish views, stereotypes, and tropes. The power of the dialectic between continuity and discontinuity was brought out clearly and powerfully in this paper and the discussion which followed.

The next session was a roundtable on the subject of ‘Popish Protestants’. Here each speaker introduced us to the ways in which representations of popery were often removed from Catholics, or anything relating to Catholics, in early modern polemic. ‘Popery’ had a much wider application, and existed as a moral language which regulated and contested the boundaries between various groups of Protestants, and what was acceptably ‘godly’, at all periods after the Reformation. Anthony Milton noted that there were three broad categories in which this occurred. ‘Popery’ as a polemical strategy (in which one protestant called another ‘popish’ to dismiss them or to gain the upper hand in discussion); correspondences (in which similarities between the views of a given protestant on a given subject and Roman Catholicism were not understood to be accidental, but evidence of an actual relationship to popery); and, finally, direct identification (in which a given protestant was actually a papist in masquerade). Milton focussed on the vital roles which these anti-popish tropes in English intra-Protestant relations and the de-stabilisation of English politics between 1630 and 1660, Richard Allen considered how Quakers were variously presented as ‘popish’ throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Hayley Ross examined how Scottish Presbyterians were presented as ‘Jesuitical’ in the late-seventeenth century, and Clare Loughlin outlined the multiplicity of ways in which anti-popery was used against various groups of Scottish protestants at the turn of the eighteenth century.

The discussion which followed Ross’s and Loughlin’s papers was helpful in moving us forward. To return to Griffen’s opening paper, we must do more than simply outline a taxonomy of anti-popery. On the topic of ‘popish Protestants’, it is easy to show at great length how Protestants hurled the label ‘popish’ at one another, how this was a product of shifting political loyalties and rivalries, and how the term ‘popery’ was highly malleable as a rhetorical construct. But what might we do beyond noting that? Loughlin and Ross showed us that ‘popish Protestants’ were more than simply a visible part of early modern culture – their representation shaped the political realities of that culture. They noted that the fragmentation of Scottish protestantism after 1688/9 (into Presbyterian and Episcopalian factions, broadly speaking) was shaped by how each side understood anti-popery. And noted that the relationship between the ideal of religious uniformity and the reality of religious plurality was thought-through and contested through anti-popish ideology and language. Representations of popery did not merely reflect the world for these Protestants: they shaped it by giving their reality meaning.

The second day of the workshop began with another engaging roundtable followed by extensive discussion. The theme ‘Popery & Reason’ has been under-explored in scholarship (with the exception of an excellent article by Clement Fatovic). We are accustomed to thinking of anti-popery as a rhetoric or ideology engaged in othering, and as such in seeing it as something through which positive attributes – Protestant, Nation, Masculine, Feminine – were defined in specific contexts. One area in which anti-popery’s role is under-heralded and under-studied is intellectual culture. Discussions within the network (and the following roundtable) focussed on how, and to what extent, anti-Catholicism was involved in shaping core ideas in British history. Examples mentioned included the state (perhaps defined against ‘Catholic’ tyranny), toleration (in part defined against ‘Catholic’ persecution), and reason (here conceived broadly to mean ‘rational’ and potentially involving priestcraft as anti-popery re-imagined, and Enlightenment conceptions of superstition being indebted to Reformation concepts of the same term). Discussion suggested that this is a topic ripe for future research.

Our speakers – Adam Richter, Kristof Smeyers, and Karie Schultz – showed the varied roles which anti-popery had in intellectual culture across several centuries of British history. Richter introduced us to his work on the intersection between science and religion at the formation of the Royal Society. Here he outlined the relationship between anti-Catholicism and science during the mid-late-seventeenth century. Richter showed us how anti-Catholic attitudes shaped the ways in which individual members of the Royal Society reacted to the ideas (generally non-religious ideas) of thinkers from Catholic countries, like Descartes, and to practices, like the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, associated with the papacy (accepting it would be a tacit admission of papal supremacy in England, some authors claimed). Anti-Catholicism, then, shaped what was permitted as ‘reasonable’ in the period: it had applications far beyond the wholly religious. Richter broadened these specific cases out in to a wider discussion about how religious belief might affect scientific decisions. Kristof Smeyers moved discussion forward to the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, with specific reference to discussion of apparent cases of stigmata. He showed us that traditional anti-popish tropes – Catholicism as ‘foreign’ or ‘Irish’, and credulous – were at work in Protestant reactions to this phenomena. But he also showed that the ideology worked in more nuanced ways to shape the debate on living miracles in this period. Anti-popery here was an important rhetoric used by those who believed in those miracles to present that belief as ‘reasonable’ against ‘popish’ credulity. The idea of attraction/repulsion was again picked up here. As was the inherent continuity/discontinuity in the tradition of anti-popery. Next, Karie Schultz move discussions to universities in seventeenth-century Scotland. She showed that Catholic humanist ideas were vital in shaping political thought among Protestants during the turmoil of the mid-century wars. They were particularly significant in justifying resistance to the monarchy. Focussing on the work of Samuel Rutherford, Schultz showed how medieval anti-papal conciliarism found new life in anti-monarchical works of intellectual thought. Moreover, the ambivalence inherent in anti-popery which we saw in other papers was at work here, too: Rutherford cited Catholic authors, but also defended himself from charges of ‘popery’ in his re-imagining of the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms in the service of resistance theory.

Discussion of these papers forced us to consider the boundaries of anti-popery – is simply using the work of Catholic authors enough to suggest that anti-popery was a ‘qualified intolerance’? Or should we work from the assumptions that a) anti-popery was malleable and b) that early modern people – regardless of how anti-Catholic they were – were capable of identifying aspects of the past, and of contemporary Catholic culture, which were useful to them? These questions aside, it is clear that the role of anti-popery in intellectual culture is an important one. That it is understudied is perhaps a reflection of the Cambridge School of intellectual history’s neglect of religious history.

Our next panel – ‘Art & Material Culture’ – focussed on source material which historians also used to neglect, but which are becoming an increasingly regular (if not quite routine) avenue of their research: plays and material objects. Alexandra Walsham presented a paper which outlined just how extensive – and varied – the material culture of early modern Protestantism was, and noted that this tells us how present anti-Catholicism was in the home. In a paper which discussed toys, plates, pots, jugs, tiles, playing cards, and a host of other items embellished with anti-Catholic imagery, Walsham unpicked the ludic aspects of this material. In protestant polemic from the Reformation on, Catholicism was presented as a childish faith, a series of games, trash, and trifles, which distracted from the ‘proper’ business of belief. In these ludic objects that polemic representation was given life. ‘Popery’ was something which might be played with – in card games like ‘Pope Joan’ – or trivialised and laughed at. What might we do with this? Walsham – in an echo of Griffen’s opening paper – suggested that these representations of monstrosity were oddly didactic. They were meant to be educational, and were how anti-Catholicism was learnt in the domestic sphere. Play and inculcation were linked. Here, we see representations of popery at work in fomenting and sustaining traditions of memory – ideology embodied in objects.

Thomas Freeman’s paper on Elkanah Settle’s 1680 play, The Female Prelate (about Pope Joan) also highlighted the role of imagery – in this instance, imagery from John Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ – in shaping popular attitudes through memory. In a close-reading of the text, Freeman showed us how Settle expected his audience to be able to recognise allusions to key anti-Catholic images from Foxe on the stage. This was partly to add value as entertainment – Settle was a man who understood currents of popular thought (shown by his routine shifts of political allegiance) and had his finger on the pulse of opinion. But it also tells us important things about anti-popery over the centuries. For Freeman, discontinuity must be grounded in the study of the topic. He noted that despite the re-use of old images, we are not studying a tradition here. Grasping when and why anti-popery changed is essential to any history of it. Failure to foreground this risks injecting coherence where there was none. Discontinuity, he argued, was anti-popery’s core strength as a rhetoric. He demonstrated this by showing how different medieval Popes might be used by Protestant polemicists according to which aspect of ‘popery’ they wished to ridicule at a given moment (tyranny, sorcery, miracles, or immorality). Foregrounding the internal inconsistencies of anti-popery, he argued, is a necessary and vital part of the network’s task.

The final panel of the workshop – ‘Spain, Empire, and Antichrist’ – developed the importance of discontinuity. Here three core elements of anti-popery – its relationship with universal monarchy, its ties to Hispanophobia, and the ever-present fear of Antichrist – were shown to be highly contingent on context for their significance. They were not evidence of an unchanging tradition of intolerance or a monolithic ideology: they were, rather, a series of tropes and motifs given meaning in a specific moment by the way in which they were used by those who deployed them. In an analysis of English anti-Catholic pamphlets produced in the 1580s, Sara Bradley showed us that two of those elements – Antichrist and Hispanophobia – had few points of contact. Antichrist, she suggested, had little to do with the Black Legend. In a discussion of anti-Catholicism and European politics in the early Stuart period, Emma Turnbull showed us how the locus of anti-Catholicism – Spain or the Papacy – was highly flexible. Authors alternated between an anti-Catholicism which was anti-papal or anti-Spanish with alarming speed depending on the shifting political context or perceived needs of the audience for which they were writing. Turnbull argued that the ‘Black Legend’ of Spanish cruelty did not imprison early modern thought. Authors who desired the Stuarts to adopt a pro-Spanish foreign policy could think through it as context required, while still adopting a resolutely anti-Catholic position. She showed us how continuity and contingency necessarily worked together to keep anti-Catholicism relevant and accord it power in political culture: rapid changes in the political climate of Europe between 1618 and 1648 demanded that anti-popery changed with equal rapidity.   

That changeability was equally present in papers by Jeremy Fradkin and Alan Ford. Fradkin showed us how anti-popery helped to shaped Protestant ideas about empire and the treatment of indigenous peoples in the seventeenth century. Jews and South American natives persecuted by Catholics in the past and the present had points of contact with the godly – both were victims of Antichrist’s cruelty. Thinking along these lines helped to shape intellectual culture during the Civil Wars and Interregnum. Representations of Jews, ‘Indians’, and Catholics also played vital roles in how various groups of English Protestants positioned themselves in the English state. Like Turnbull, Fradkin outlined one aspect of anti-Catholic discourse and showed how an apparent continuity of tropes and images belied a discontinuity in application. It was in this marriage of continuity and discontinuity that the ‘meaning’ of anti-popery was constructed in a given context. In a heroic display of learning, Alan Ford traced the varied and evolving definitions of Irish Protestant views of Rome as Antichrist from 1590 to the 1960s. All in twenty minutes! Here we had a theme implicit in most of the papers over the previous two days – Antichrist as the key to anti-Catholic representation in displaying deceit, corruption, and seduction – outlined with clarity and precision. Continuity and discontinuity were again paramount. Presenting Rome as the Church of Antichrist was shown to be vital to Irish Protestants across these centuries, but often for very different reasons. In the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century, the Book of Revelation helped Protestant polemicists plot the history of the early church in Ireland into a narrative of corruption by Antichrist: these historians argued that Christianity had been planted in Ireland separately from Rome, but the involvement of the papacy in Irish affairs led to the steady corruption of the faith in Ireland over the course of the intervening centuries up to the Reformation. Following the 1641 rebellion, the imagery of Roman Antichrist helped to explain the trauma of violence which Protestants suffered at Catholic hands by placing it into a scheme perennial popish plots. In the nineteenth century, the urgency of battling Antichrist helped to spur the evangelical revival in the wake of O’Connell’s Catholic political campaign. And in the 1960s, Ian Paisley and his followers used Roman Antichrist to undercut calls for ecumenicism – the latter, like all liberalism, was presented as a conspiracy to weaken Ireland’s Protestant heritage.

Showing us how a set of images could be used in such contrasting ways in ever-changing contexts, Ford’s paper showed us how interlinked the core themes of the workshop are. ‘Popery’ was inherently representational. And its representation was inherently flexible.  The network’s challenge is to write a history of anti-popery which captures the power of that flexibility as the defining factor of anti-popery’s presence and utility in 4 centuries of British history, but to do so in a way which is more than a mere taxonomy of tropes, motifs, images, and stereotypes.

Transnational anti-Catholicism in Early Modern Europe (1520-1750)?

The current trend in the study of anti-Catholicism is to approach the topic from a transnational perspective. Put simply, this means that the phenomenon of anti-Catholicism in a given country at a given moment is now increasingly seen to be less the result of specific factors in that country at that moment and more the result of historical forces which were pan-, or trans-,national. Scholarship is most advanced in the study of the nineteenth century, where it is noted that the spike in anti-Catholicism in many European and Atlantic countries in the mid-century was not coincidental but due to a convergence of common, pan-national factors. These included: Papal Aggression (1850-51); the culture wars; the Italian Risorgimento (1815-71); and the prevalence of Irish immigration, which not only made Catholicism more numerous and visible in countries where it had previously been in the minority, but spread Irish sectarianism to new territories. These events and processes were not unique to any one country. They were resolutely transnational and, as such, the anti-Catholicism which they stimulated must also be interpreted as transnational in causation and in character.

The purpose of the blog-post is to consider whether them same might be said of the early modern period. There are, of course, a series of complicated questions about the relationship which historians should adopt between national and transnational perspectives. Once we have characterised an historical process as transnational, what do we do to ascertain the significance of that characterisation? Might we run the danger of losing nuance (“this was happening everywhere”)? Events and processes may be common across Europe/the Atlantic, but it does not follow that they were not experienced or interpreted in ways which were distinct in each national territory, or that their significance in those territories were not unique. Pointing to a historical phenomenon being “transnational”, then, is not to deny that it might also be “national”, too. The close relationship between anti-Catholicism and national identity in countries with a strong Protestant heritage captures this paradox neatly: many countries styled themselves as the “Protestant Nation” through an anti-Catholic discourse which was resolutely trans-national in origin, style, and content.

One of the most useful things which has emerged from this network is how fruitful the transnational approach to anti-Catholicism has been. We have discussed the extent to which the perspective is applicable and useful for other periods. The early modern period (roughly 1520-1750 for the purposes of this subject) is a perplexing one in this regard: is the anti-Catholicism common in multiple countries in the wake of the Reformation usefully described as “transnational”? If so, how might this affect our approach to anti-Catholicism as a central ideology of British history which this network is designed to investigate? The problem is central to the project: is the phenomenon which we are studying distinctly “British” in any meaningful sense? If not, what effect does this have on our understanding of the role(s) of anti-Catholicism in British history? What follows is very much a thinking piece in which I try to pull together some ideas on this topic. Everything which follows is tentative.

To unpick the applicability of the label “transnational” to the early modern period requires us to gauge what the label actually means. It has been used in very different ways to very different ends, some of which are readily applicable to the phenomenon of anti-Catholicism and some of which are not. In its loosest sense, transnational history recognises that the history of one nation is shaped by events and processes occurring in others. We can surely recognise that this is true of early modern anti-Catholicism. A range of events in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the assassinations of William of Orange in 1584 and of Henry IV of France in 1610, and Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 – took on an international perspective and significance. In Britain such actions were presented as typical of “popery” and in this sense events in one European region were integral in shaping how another viewed its Catholic citizens, characterised the “threat” of Catholicism as international, and understood its own position in Europe. This was highly significant. In a culture in which printed news became an increasingly European phenomenon, the spread of information and perspectives about events in other territories became a common feature of British national culture. Much of the opprobrium directed at James VI and I and Charles I as “popish” monarchs, for example, was directly linked to their failure to act as champions of protestantism on the international stage during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48). Knowledge of the events in that war – and its perceived importance to Britain – was crucial in shaping anti-Catholic sentiments. On this definition, we can indeed see that early modern anti-Catholicism contained elements which are usefully described as transnational.

Transnational approaches to history have also highlighted the importance of movement – of persons, goods, and ideas – as a crucial stimulus in history. To return to the nineteenth century, we can see that the movement of Irish Catholic migrants around the Atlantic world was crucial in stimulating rising anti-Catholicism in the mid-century. This phenomenon was not unique to any one nation, but cut across many. Equally significant were bestselling novels and accounts of atrocities committed in monasteries and convents, best captured in narratives of cruelty surrounding Maria Monk. These moved between audiences, crossed national boundaries, and were translated into multiple languages to disseminate commonplace anti-Catholic tropes and motifs. The central anti-Catholic attitude of the culture wars – that Roman Catholicism was a medieval and archaic brake on progress and liberalism – was also common across multiple national boundaries. To reiterate: anti-Catholicism grew in the nineteenth century to a large degree (but not exclusively) as a result of forces, events, and the movement of ideas across national boundaries.

This was true in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, too. Although by no means as developed as the nineteenth century, the printed and public spheres grew exponentially during the early modern period. As such, the translation and transportation of texts from one nation to many others was commonplace. This was highly significant during the Reformation. Here the polemical models employed against the Catholic Church, theological disputes between Catholic and Protestant, and re-interpretation of medieval history to paint the Roman Church as Antichrist in Revelation all relied on the exchange of ideas, evidence, and materials between protestant churches across Europe. “Anti-Catholicism” as a literature was decidedly transnational from its inception in the protest against the Catholic Church in the 1520s. The perspective of this literature was also not national. Rather, it foreground “the Church” as the main point of perspective. The battle between Catholic and Protestant in Reformation polemic well into the seventeenth century was predominantly between “True Church” and “False Church” as outlined in Revelation. Members of those churches were not exclusive to one territory and texts like John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1563) – while received as a patriotic text or keystone of national identity in later centuries – were conceived as advocates of an international Protestantism rather than an exclusively English one. Particular nations might be given prominent roles at particular moments in this eschatological emplotment of human history against Revelation’s divine schema, but the Reformation was not primarily understood as a national event in historical and polemical writing.

Recognising this is important. Indeed, the early modern period would benefit enormously from a study of the passage of anti-Catholic stereotypes, motifs, and materials across regional boundaries in systematic detail comparable to Lisa Dittrich’s path-breaking monograph on the nineteenth century. The problem which this would leave us with is easily definable: where does the national perspective sit in all of this? Anti-Catholicism was undoubtedly common (and commonplace) to much of European, American, and (as the centuries progressed) colonial territories. But a cursory examination of source material for each of these territories reveals very quickly how immediately each nation or group felt anti-Catholicism to be about them. Writing a history of the subject which recognised both that anti-Catholicism was transnational in scope, form, and rhythm, and had a particular iteration in different territories is a difficult, but necessary, task. There is a danger that transnational perspectives might flatten historical and regional differences. For the early modern period we might ask whether the “British” aspects of anti-Catholicism in Britain become lost when we recognised that the ideology was prevalent across Europe and early America.

The centre-point of anti-Catholicism for most of the early modern period – that the papacy was Antichrist prophesised in Revelation and 2 Thessalonians – provides a very useful example with which to think through this problem. Although huge variations existed in details depending on the polemical agenda of the author, treatments of Antichrist shared several common features. That Catholic Church as the false church in Revelation was an historical phenomena through which Antichrist did its work on earth. As such, Catholicism was an image of evil which crossed boundaries – both time (it unfolded across a millennium of history) and space (it was present in all territories in which the Catholic Church was active and those who had only “half-reformed” after the Reformation). Antichrist (and “popery”, its manifestation in history) was first and foremost diffuse. Its malleability and mutability was a key to its power. This, above all else, made the Catholic Church so potent as a source of conspiracy theory: no-one was safe from its clutches, and even Protestant territories which had nominally ‘escaped’ it might be re-corrupted. Reading history through Revelation, then, suggested that popery was a problem without boundaries. This clearly lends itself to a transnational perspective for the early modern period. And yet Revelation was also a source of nascent national identities through which various territories styled themselves as “the Protestant Nation”. The battle with popery was common to all Protestants as members of a pan-national True Church. But specific events in their national history suggested that their people were more favoured than others, or that they were more important in defeating Antichrist during the last days. Such events became part of the mythos on which all national identities rest. In this way a transnational phenomenon took on uniquely national characteristics.

What we have, then, is a contradiction. Anti-Catholicism and national identity became increasingly tied in the early modern period. But they did so, oddly, as a result of transnational encounters. What does this tell us? That the “national” and “transnational” perspectives are not mutually exclusive approaches to the past nor contradictory historical forces – in both cases the relationship between them is complementary. The transnational perspective on history is richest when it recognises the importance of the local, but situates developments in that local in a broader context. “British” approaches to anti-Catholicism in the early modern period must do just that: only by recognising the elements of anti-Catholicism which were common across borders can we appreciate what aspects were unique in a given period and region.

The constitutional crises of the seventeenth century – the Civil Wars, Exclusion Crisis (1678-83) and Revolution of 1688/9 – provide excellent examples. As Jonathan Scott has shown, each was driven in part by anti-Catholicism. But that anti-Catholicism was itself shaped by an acute awareness of events taking place in Europe: the Thirty Years’ War and the absolutism of Louis XIV being crucial examples. For seventeenth century British people, “popery” was a European and global problem. The reaction to that problem – anti-popery – while certainly sharing common elements with anti-Catholicism in other Protestant countries, was tied to specific political and cultural moments in Britain. Anti-Catholicism was at once transnational in scope, form, and language, and national in its iteration.

Anti-Catholicism: Moderate and Militant

It is always a pleasure to read a book which makes your brain race with ideas and causes you to re-evaluate your own approach to a subject. I experienced that particular pleasure over the past week while reading Adrian Streete’s Apocalypse and Anti-Catholicism in Seventeenth-Century English Drama (Cambridge, 2018), a provocative account of the various roles which anti-Catholic imagery played in the public sphere in early modern England which wears its learning very lightly. Streete considers the role of theatre in the public sphere through detailed readings of John Martson’s, The Dutch Courtesan (1605), Thomas Middleton’s The Lady’s Tragedy (1610), Philip Massinger’s Believe as You List (1631), James Shirley’s The Cardinal (1641), and John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee’s The Duke of Guise (1682). This book is of value to literary scholars intimately familiar with these plays who may well see them in a new light, and those of us (like me) who approach the early modern stage as a hobbyist rather than as expert, but who will find multiple connections here with the anti-Catholicism of their own source material.

We are now accustomed to interpreting the stage as a political forum in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Two generations of scholars have historicised early modern literary texts to underscore that they must be read in light of with the political and cultural moment in which they were performed in order for us to appreciate their ability to commentate on contemporary debates, mediate trauma and crisis, or critique and counsel a given regime. Streete’s locating of anti-Catholic drama as a decidedly political discourse therefore operates in an established paradigm of literary scholarship. What his study shows us is how varied and flexible anti-Catholicism was in the seventeenth century as a tool of political commentary and counsel. His account of his subject is sensitive to both consistency and nuance: anti-Catholicism is shown to have been used with varying degrees of zeal, oppositional sentiment, and sincerity, but regardless of the specific religious, factional, or party leanings of a given playwright or audience Streete shows that anti-Catholicism was always a potent language with which they thought-through the challenging foreign and domestic situations of their day. Playwrights used anti-Catholic language “for a wide variety of reasons. They might attack, satirise, or modify a particular political view; mediate between competing political ideologies; defend a particular political faction or religion from attack; comment on court politics; explore the utility of prophecy; interrogate monarchy, especially in its European context; or defend parliament” (20). 

These various uses of anti-Catholicism were tied together by apocalyptic interpretations of history, which Streete outlines in chapter 1. Here the ways in which multiple apocalyptic traditions – classical, Christian, and popular – were developed in the seventeenth century to help contemporaries think-through problems of state is shown in clear and precise detail. Critical to the moral force which apocalyptic anti-Catholicism possessed for protestants was the longstanding associations between imperial thought and apocalyptic interpretation. The idea that the end of the world would be signalled in part by the rise of a Universal Emperor whose powers of renovatio would reform corruption in both spiritual and temporal realms before the second coming was particularly important. This legend helped to invest the English Reformation with apocalyptic significance. The Royal Supremacy which emerged from the break from Rome in 1533/4 positioned the English monarch as an “emperor” in order to justify its claims to jurisdiction over both church and state, and the Tudor dynasty subsequently made much of imperial iconography and rhetoric. Doing so presented the fight against Roman Catholic usurpation – first against the jurisdiction of princes and subsequently over the word – as an act of renovatio, and accorded the English monarchy eschatological significance in many quarters of protestant thought and writing. When Catholicism became more militant in Europe during the seventeenth century these eschatological expectations placed the Stuart monarchy in a difficult relationship with many parts of its people: the latter saw opposition to Papal, Habsburg, and latterly French superiority as a duty of the English crown, and Stuart reluctance to live up to the ideal of leading a militant, international protestantism in the service of renovatio caused strains in church and state, and between rival conceptions of national identity. Streete builds on important historical scholarship by Jason White, Anthony Milton, and Thomas Cogswell here. His subsequent chapters argue that the playwrights he studies utilised this commonplace apocalyptic anti-Catholic language in order to navigate, discuss, and contest the scope of monarchical power caused by competing ideals of “Protestant England” within the Stuart church and state.

The significance of this for readers of this blog is it shows anti-Catholicism to have been a common rhetorical device, ideology, and world-view for both moderates and militants in the seventeenth century. Anti-Catholicism was “a common language for various stripes of religious [and political] opinion” and, as such, became “a flexible and sophisticated discourse capable of considerable political nuance” (23). The binary nature of its language and imagery (which rested on Revelation’s extreme contrasts between darkness and light, and truth and falsehood) often tricks scholars to interpret anti-Catholicism as exceptionally zealous or vitriolic by default. This in turn leads us to presume that it was more often than not the preserve of oppositional or radical religious and political groups. Although it was certainly a commonplace of protest against the Stuart crown, Streete shows us that anti-Catholicism was equally used by friends and defenders of the regime. His consideration of Massinger’s Believe As You List (1631) is significant here. This played responds to the political and religious tensions in the early years of Charles I’s reign and comments on conflicts within the regime about foreign policy. Charles’s failure to live up to the expectations of militant protestantism by intervening in the Thirty Years’ War to defend protestant interests in Europe had caused strains with parliament, who saw this rejection of the English monarch’s imperial role of renovatio as denting national pride. These strains bled into other tensions during the late 1620s between conflicting understandings of the boundaries of parliamentary liberties and royal prerogative which led to accusations that Charles was an arbitrary, “popish” monarchy in the wake of the crisis of 1629 which ushered in Charles’s period of personal rule (in which he did not call Parliament for 11 years). The rise of an equally “popish” branch of Arminian, anti-Calvinist protestantism within the English church only added to resistance to the monarchy, and led to a public downplaying of the apocalyptic anti-Catholicism which had been an important ideological point of unity in the church since the Reformation. Massinger’s play shows us that anti-Catholic language still had political potency despite its official downgrading, however, albeit in ways which were more moderate than radical. Streete shows that Massinger’s treatment of the apocalyptic figure Antiochus – at times a reference to both Charles and Ferdinand II (whose election as Holy Roman Emperor had triggered the Thirty Years’ War) – served as a form of moderate criticism of both Charles and his critics. Antiochus is a deeply flawed figure in the play, and this is a “moderate Protestant reflection on what happens when imperial apocalyptic expectations are invested in flawed political figures” (159) like Charles. The renovatio tradition here is presented as futile. In doing so, however, Massinger develops a wider criticism of the imperial kingship which the Caroline regime was keen to appropriate, and presents it as teetering on tyranny. Both sides of the dispute of Caroline foreign policy and political legitimacy are therefore criticised through a play which used apocalyptic anti-Catholic language in an intelligent and sceptical, rather than polemical and de-stabilising, way. Anti-Catholicism is something with which Massinger thinks rather than merely asserts.

Each of the other chapters unpicks the anti-Catholic language in a given play in a similar way. The conclusion develops the insights drawn from the close reading and historicising of each play into a more general thesis about what the relationship between apocalyptic anti-Catholicism and drama tells us about British history more broadly. Surveying the continued presence of anti-Catholic drama in the period 1688-1789, Streete argues that even in an age increasingly attached to professing itself “reasonable”, “tolerant”, and “Enlightened”, anti-Catholic language and ideology continued to play important roles in negotiating and contesting politics in much the same way that it had in the previous century. During this period anti-Catholic drama negotiated the tensions caused by a disconnect between the ideals of the 1688 Revolution and the compromised manner of its implementation. It also responded to the threat to the protestant constitution caused by Jacobitism as a real and present danger to the Williamite and Hanoverian regimes. In this context, plays with anti-Catholic plots which teeter on the hyperbolic or fantastic to us must be understood as “not simply the paranoid warning[s] of […] anti-Catholic fanatics who see plots at any turn. They are the product of a political culture where the hegemony of the Protestant polis is anything but secure”. And herein lies the key point. Apocalyptic anti-Catholicism may be associated with bigotry to us, but it was reasonable to contemporaries and as such intrinsically associated with the birthpangs of the modern state. This, above all else, is what the polemical visions of Catholicism were wrestling with in a period during which the ideal of the protestant state was based upon the rejection of Roman tyranny and universal monarchy. Anti-Catholicism is not something which we can dismiss precisely because it was so intimately tied with the making of our modern state: “the roots of what we presently call the United Kingdom emerge[d] from [a] decidedly troublesome religious soil” (261). Anti-Catholicism is inherent in modern British history.

This study has the potential to make a much larger contribution to our understanding of the roles of anti-Catholicism in English culture between the reigns of Henry VIII and William III. It really set me thinking. The underlying reason anti-Catholic discourse proved so useful in helping seventeenth century playwrights and audiences to negotiate and contest confessional and political issues, Streete tells us, is because “popery” articulated anxieties about monarchy, the limits and strains of political authority, and the meaning of national identity.

This is undoubtedly true. Seventeenth century English/British protestants had good reasons to be anxious about “popery”, and understanding that anti-Catholicism was not a hysterical reaction or wholly irrational world-view, but rather one which developed from a series of specific political, cultural, and religious tensions, is now a truism of our approach to the topic. Anxieties about the unfinished nature of the English Reformation had been prevalent among hotter protestants since 1559 – the Church of England, many worried, was a half-reformed, “popish” church, and the nation had spurned the opportunity offered by God’s providence to build New Jerusalem. In the face of a strident Counter Reformation Catholicism in the seventeenth century – which saw the 30 Years’ War significantly scale-back protestant territories and was booked ended by two Catholic superpowers, Spain and France – these anxieties about the credentials and security of English protestant nationhood were exacerbated and, as Jonathan Scott has shown, provoked a series of constitutional crises in which the nature of political and religious liberty, and the respective powers of parliament and monarchy, were re-defined under the mantle of safeguarding the nation from “popery”.

Alongside the Reformation and the shadow of Catholic Europe, that anxiety had a third strand, however: the strength of Catholicism within England. A generation of scholarship (Peter Lake, Michael Questier, Alexandra Walsham, Gabriel Glickman, and others) has shown us that far from the older image of a spiritually moribund and politically quiescent faith, English Catholicism was a strident, transnational, and dedicated community capable of contesting the historical, political, and religious claims on which the protestant Reformations – and the state which had emerged from them – were built well into the eighteenth century. The Reformation(s) in England is now presented as a non-linear, multifaceted, and multifarious phenomenon which resulted in religious pluralism rather than a monolithic “Protestant England” and in which all claims to political and religious authority by the state were contested by protestant non-conformists and Catholics. Catholics may have moved from monopoly to minority over the course of the sixteenth century, but that they were not a spent political, religious, or cultural force is surely part of the reason that anti-Catholicism had the potency to articulate multiple views in the public sphere which Streete’s superb study shows it to have done.

Consequently, anti-Catholicism is perhaps best studied as a discourse which helped English protestants to negotiate and contest relationships between themselves and with their fellow (and often rival) Christians. Seeing it as a language which shaped relationships between Anglican and Dissenter, conformist and non-conformists, and (perhaps) Catholic and Protestant is one way in which we might begin to fully understand its prevalence and potency in early modern society as a moral language variously co-opted by different groups to justify conflicting political and religious points of view. Streete’s demonstration that it was common to both radicals and moderates during all political crises of the seventeenth century provides an excellent model for how this broader study of the topic might be conducted.     

Report: Anti-Catholicism in Europe and America, c.1520-1900.

The network’s second workshop – ‘Anti-Catholicism in Europe and America, 1520-1900’ – took place in the Armstrong Building at Newcastle University 11-13 September 2018. We had a packed programme: 33 speakers covering 4 centuries and multiple academic disciplines. The workshop opened with a plenary address from Michael Gross (North Carolina) who introduced a key theme of the workshop, the relationship between the national and transnational in the study of anti-Catholicism. Gross argued that anti-Catholicism – like Catholicism – must be seen as a transnational phenomenon during the culture wars of the 19th century, but that it was inflected by the history and culture of specific regions and nations. He suggested that the ways in which the liberal side of the culture wars in the German-speaking world used anti-Catholicism in the 19th century was indebted to older, post-Reformation tropes, but that they nonetheless transformed it into a modern ideology. Anti-Catholicism became associated with liberalism, learning, and science, with Rome presented as the irrational, medieval ‘other’ against which these forces of progress were defined and their advocates saw themselves as fighting. Gross concluded by suggesting that the scientific nature of anti-Catholic discourse from the mid-century anticipated antisemitism in Germany in subsequent generations.

Our first panel – ‘A global phenomenon? Anti-Catholicism in the Nineteenth Century’ – complemented and developed the themes of Gross’s plenary. Don MacRaild (Roehampton) traced the spread of Irish sectarianism across the English speaking world with Irish immigration. He focussed on rival organisations and movements – Orangeism and Ribbonism – to show that Protestant anti-Catholicism was matched by pro-Catholic organisation, and traced the spread of violence and unrest to Canada. These phenomena had their origins in Ireland, but cannot be seen as wholly ‘Irish’: they took on new associations in different territories, and were part of international processes relating to the growth of the Catholic Church in the nineteenth century. Geraldine Vaughan (Rouen) outlined the importance of anti-Catholic networks in the British Empire in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. She argued that the connections between evangelical societies in the empire promoted a shared concept of ‘Britishness’ grounded in anti-Catholicism. Those societies had social and political functions which helped to ground anti-Catholic identities in lived reality through socialisation, events, and community in disparate part of the globe. As such we must balance our appreciation of anti-Catholicism as a transnational phenomenon with an understanding that it existed in specific local contexts which were vital to shaping it. Our final speaker in this panel, Rosa Matucci (Pisa), introduced us to a fascinating series of Italian exiles in nineteenth-century London. Matucci outlined the connections between anti-Catholicism and Republicanism in the thought of these exiles, and the use of a shared past (in images of Savonarola) to create common ground with British Protestants.

Our final speaker of the first day was Maura Farrelly (Brandeis), whose plenary paper introduced us to key themes in her recently published Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620-1860 (Cambridge, 2018). Farrelly argued that anti-Catholicism is a highly changeable ideology. In the American context, it changed as prevailing definitions of freedom changed: as the prevailing ‘other’ from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, anti-Catholicism had to mutated with concepts and ideals of American society. She expressed scepticism about claims made by other scholars that anti-Catholicism remains ‘the last acceptable prejudice’ in American society, but ended by asking us to think about connections between historical anti-Catholicism and contemporary fears of ‘the foreign’ in the US. Discussion then centred on the merits of whether we should be more or less presentist in our use of history, and on whether or not the remit of this network should extend beyond the nominal 1900 end date.

Our second day began with an excellent panel on Ireland: ‘Anti-Catholicism and the creation of a Protestant “National Identity” in Ireland from the seventeenth to the twentieth century’. Continuing the discussion from Farrelly’s plenary all four of our speakers – Alan Ford (Nottingham), Ian D’Alton (Trinity College, Dublin), Miriam Moffitt (Maynooth), and Andrew Holmes (Queens Belfast) – suggested that the twentieth century must be included in a history of anti-Catholicism in Ireland. Ian D’Alton began this panel by considering the role which anti-Catholicism played as a form of ‘soft power’ for Irish Protestants in the Free State during the 1920s and 1930s. Accustomed to power and influence and struggling with a situation in which British withdrawal had lessened both, the notion of ‘saving’ Ireland from Catholicism provided this group with a moral purpose and influence which allowed them to style themselves as the moral arbiters of the nation. As with papers by MacRaild and Vaughan on the previous day, D’Alton demonstrated how anti-Catholic intolerance was grounded in social practice – societies, groups, protest, songs, socialisation – and was intimately involved with how life was lived: Sabbatarianism was a distinctly Protestant activity, and one which kept Protestant away from Irish games and activities traditionally played on Sundays.

Next Alan Ford introduced us the fascinating case William Kerr, Bishop of Down and Dromore (1873-1960). Ford showed us how Kerr’s writings summarised 300 years of Protestant anti-Catholic polemic in the Church of Ireland but also marked the end of that tradition. Kerr’s polemic was historically rigorous and rested on key arguments and stereotypes which had been made since the seventeenth century: Protestantism was tolerant and Catholicism persecuting and tyrannical; the Church of Ireland was founded in Ireland by Patrick in the 5th century, and the Roman Church in that country was therefore a usurpation of a true church. The reason that this tradition of thought, which had lasted for centuries, declined, Ford suggested, was because of changing circumstances. During the Cold War the new threat was secularism and Catholics and Protestants became allies in the fight against it. As a result, ecumenicism grew in Ireland during the 1960s and both churches struggled against what they perceived as a growing materialism. In this new context, the world could not be so easily divided into ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ as it had been for Kerr. Miriam Moffitt’s paper on the changing role of anti-Catholicism in textbooks of Irish history used at Trinity College, Dublin in the twentieth century also charted shifts in tradition. Moffitt used linguistic analysis to show that narratives often creep into historical writing in unspoken and unnoticed ways to shape how a given history is perceived, and that the verbs and adjectives used to describe certain events are essential to inculcating and reinforcing beliefs. Anti-Catholic versions of history at Trinity declined over time as the discipline of History – particularly medieval history – became more professional and confirmation and my side bias declined as a result.

Andrew Holmes’s paper on Presbyterians also introduced to how changeable anti-Catholicism has been in Irish history. Holmes traced how in the late eighteenth century Presbyterianism was closely associated with radicalism against the British state, but the late-nineteenth similar groups were important advocates of union. The key, Holmes argued, was that in the later period union was the surest way for Presbyterians to maintain their power and influence in Irish society. As such, he noted, when we consider how anti-Catholic discourse changes we must always be sensitive to the balance of principle and context in stimulating those changes. The discussion following these papers was vibrant and focussed on the role of history in sustaining anti-Catholicism. Links were made to the discussions about transnationalism on the previous day: perhaps history is one of the processes central to making the transnational phenomenon anti-Catholicism ‘national’ by inflecting with the particular resonances of a given region.

Our next paper – a plenary address by Lisa Dittrich (Munich) – developed these themes. In a superbly learned address, Dittrich asked us to consider how we might overcome the various boundaries – typological, confessional, national – in the study of anti-Catholicism. Dittrich argued that anti-Catholicism was both transnational and national: that is, there are common themes across regions and periods, but that in each nation or context anti-Catholicism has a specific emphasis or tone. The common factor, she argued, are a series of ‘codes’ – tropes, stereotypes, motifs – which were common to all regions and nations during her period of study (the nineteenth century culture wars) and also in other periods. The key to writing a history of anti-Catholicism, Dittrich suggested, is a sensitivity to how that common code was used in each distinct context: in nineteenth century, for example, anti-Catholicism and anti-clericalism elided. The discussion which followed developed these ideas and focussed on how applicable the notion of ‘coding’ is in history. Connections were drawn with Miriam Moffitt’s paper earlier in the day, and it was suggested that a subsequent workshop focusses on language and stereotypes as a key agent of anti-Catholicism across regions and periods. It is clear that we must be attentive to how those common tropes can be marked by their specific application in a given region: in this way, anti-Catholicism might have felt very immediate to a given group or nation even though it was a highly transnational phenomenon.

Our next session was a roundtable: ‘Anti-Catholicism: National or Transnational’? which developed the themes of Lisa Dittrich’s paper and responded to core issues raised by the workshop to this stage. Each participant spoke for 10 minutes on the theme, and then a long and fruitful discussion followed involving all workshop participants. Mary Cornellius (Gladgow) introduced us to her PhD work on Grenada. She showed in fascinating detail how anti-Catholicism in this region had points of contact with that in mainland Britain, but was also inflected by the specific local context as a result of slavery and fear of the French. Anti-Catholicism in Grenada morphed into racism as a result of slave identity increasingly borrowing from Catholicism at the turn of the nineteenth century and of fears of the colony experiencing a revolution similar to that in Haiti. Evan Haefeli (Texas AM) asked us to think about how America fits into British history in relation to anti-Catholicism. He argued that anti-Catholicism only really became ‘American’ after 1776 as before that date anti-Catholicism in America was only really an extension of English anti-Catholicism. After 1776, Catholic resurgence in America and the need to negotiate with Canada against the British Empire was crucial in shaping the forms which anti-Catholicism took: Pope’s Day (November 5) declined in this period because it was associated with loyalty to the British Empire. Haefeli urged us to see political context as the crucial factor in outlining regional differences in the experience of anti-Catholicism.

John Wolffe (Open) then discussed the paradoxes and contradictions of the transnational nature of anti-Catholicism in the nineteenth century. He warned us that comparisons between regions must be careful not to collapse coincidence into commonality. In the Atlantic world, he noted, there were common factors in the nineteenth century – a revival of evangelism, Irish immigration, fear of a resurgent Catholic Church – but what made anti-Catholicism genuinely transnational were connections between anti-Catholic attitudes and groups in those regions. Those connections, he argued, were sustained by communication: print and correspondence between groups. Those connections began to fall down when the evangelical movement in the US and Britain disagreed over the issue of slavery. Our final speaker, Tim Verhoeven (Monash), was cautious on the topic at hand, describing the relationship between national and transnational anti-Catholicism as a ‘complicated dialectic’. Anti-Catholicism might be both things at the same time without contradiction, he noted, and drew important comparisons between France and America in the nineteenth century. Picking up on a theme from Michael Gross’s plenary, Verhoeven noted that the imagined image of ‘Rome’ as an enemy was notably transnational, and it should not surprise that anti-Catholic reactions to it were, too. French and America anti-Catholicism had local resonances and specific focuses, but what made them supranational was an emphasis on Catholicism as an enemy of the modern: reactions against it therefore emphasised a clash of world-views.

Our final panel of day 2 considered ‘Anti-Catholicism, Gender, and Emotion’ and featured 4 papers employing innovative methodologies to push forward their respective fields. Monica Mazurek (Krakow) introduced us to how psychoanalysis might be used to understand anti-Catholicism in Victorian novels. She argued that anti-Catholicism is closely linked to abjection – something which simultaneously disgusts and attracts the viewer – and used presentations of the Whore of Babylon to unpick this theme. Tanis Lovecheck-Saunders (Caspar College) outlined the delicate relationship between female activism and anti-Catholicism in the nativism movement in American 1830-50, and showed how a paradox drove that relationship: women asserted their rights while trying to deny the rights of others (Catholics). Monica Najar (Lehigh) showed how representations of female sexuality changed in convent tales produced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Both periods presented the corruption of women as an issue of religious and national security, but with important differences. Eighteenth-century presentations focussed on the corruption of women by Catholic priests, but also expected readers to revel in that corruption and presented the women involved as sexual actors; nineteenth century presentations presented the women as passive victims. Anti-Catholicism was therefore an important way in which female sexuality was navigated and discussed, and the discussion which followed this paper caused us to reflect on the extent to which the ideology was often subtly prejudicial rather than explicitly hostile. Finally, Edwina Hagen (Vrjie) presented an excellent paper on the connections between culture, politics, and the emotions in anti-Catholicism. Hagen picked up on the use of emotional language in other papers at the workshop – fear, anger, disgust – and challenged us to think about the emotional aspect of anti-Catholicism more seriously and theoretically. Her discussion of late-eighteenth century Dutch material (literary and political) showed that revolutionaries used anti-Catholic registers to manipulate public opinion and to experience collective emotion in public. The discussion following this panel was varied and vibrant, and is a tribute to the quality of the papers. We noted that often anti-Catholicism is divorced from actual Catholics and tells us much more about the attitudes and ideas of a given culture. Perhaps current work on anti-Catholicism is therefore too focussed on politics to really get to the heart of how intolerance works in situ.

Day 3 began with our second roundtable: ‘Protestant Identities and anti-Catholicism’. This involved 5 speakers (4 of whom were early career) and caused all participants at the workshop to reflect on how anti-Catholicism was used as a discourse in the past. Each speaker showed how anti-Catholicism regulated behaviours or intra-Protestant tensions: ‘popery’ meant much, much more than Catholics, and the speakers in this roundtable forced us to recognise that if we are to write a history of anti-Catholicism across periods and regions it will have to focus on how fear of ‘popery’ was often highly malleable.

Simon Lewis (IHR) showed how anti-Catholic discourse was used against Methodists in the eighteenth century and by those Methodists in turn to criticism the Church of England. Both sides used anti-Catholicism to legitimise their own faith and to describe the other side as ‘popish’. Clare Loughlin (Edinburgh) showed a similar case to be true for controversy between Presbyterians and Episcopalians in Scotland in the early eighteenth century. Here the legacy of the Civil Wars and 1688 Revolution was significant. Loughlin introduced us to her PhD work on mission to the Highlands by the SSPCK, and how the introduction of charity schools was debated along Presbyterian/Episcopalian lines. Ryan Mallon (Queens University, Belfast) built on this discussion by showing that anti-Catholicism was used in similar ways to negotiate intra-Protestant tensions in nineteenth century Ireland, and Elizabeth Crawley (Birmingham) introduced us to her PhD work on popular culture and violence in early modern England by showing that violent anti-Catholicism was increasingly directed at both Catholics and at Protestants deemed to be ‘popish’ as the seventeenth century progressed. Sarah Scholl (Geneva) moved our attention to nineteenth century Geneva. She demonstrated that even as the heritage of the Reformation became less important during the culture wars, anti-Catholicism remained vital. Crucial here was the expansion of Geneva to become a Swiss Canton, and the influx of Catholic migrants as a result. In this uncertain and changing climate, anti-Catholicism was a means by which Protestants navigated anxiety caused by co-habitation with another confession and invested in liberty and democracy as new ideals. Jonathan Willis (Birmingham) was also due to speak in this roundtable, but was sadly too ill to attend. His contribution was read by Adam Morton and argued that anti-Catholicism was defined by sixteenth century English Protestants as a form of idolatry. As the false religion it was, as such, essential to Protestant identity and presentation of themselves as the true church.        

Our penultimate panel – ‘Responding to Anti-Catholicism’ – considered how Catholics navigated anti-Catholic intolerance at various moments in the past. Clotilde Prunier (Paris Nantes) introduced us to a series of letters between eighteenth century Scottish Catholics and their friends abroad. Anti-Catholicism was central to these Catholics identity, Prunier argued: it created the sense of persecution and allowed for the creation of rhetoric which presented Scotland as a mission territory by which these Catholics asked for support from their brethren. Eilish Gregory (UCL) traced the various ways in which Catholics responded to sequestration (the seizure of their lands) during the British Civil Wars, and outlined the various strategies – legal and political – open to them. Emma Turnbull (Oxford) presented a detailed account of the various arguments for and against the Spanish Match (1621-23) by which the future Charles I was to be married to the Spanish Infanta. Although much work has shown this to be a highpoint of seventeenth century anti-Catholicism, Turnbull argued that the reactions were actually more nuanced and that fear of ‘popery’ did not blind people to the potential political, cultural, or economic benefits of alliance with Spain. She showed us that although it was a highly powerful ideology, anti-Catholicism could be adapted and moderated according to context. Finally, Carys Brown (Cambridge) introduced us to some excellent case studies of eighteenth century Catholic experiencing intolerance in everyday life in England. These were rich examples of an intolerance in action, and caused the workshop participants to reflect on the fact that studying polemic only gets us so far. Brown noted that although much work on post-Reformation culture has argued that intolerance in theory was mitigated by neighbourliness on the ground to produce a de facto tolerance in practice, this should not lead us to overstate the harmoniousness of confessional co-habitation. The challenge for the future, the questions noted, is for us to see how intolerance works in a manner like this: reflexive, mocking, and tied to intimate relations between kin and neighbours rather than outright sectarianism.

In the final panel – ‘Anti-Catholicism and History’ – 4 speakers developed a theme which had been ever-present over the preceding two days: the role of images of the past in sustaining and developing anti-Catholicism. Thomas Freeman (Essex) outlined the role which anti-Catholic images played in John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments and showed how many of these were tied to instances of papal aggression in the past to sustain and substantiate a vision of the papacy as Antichrist which was so essential to Protestantism. Colin Haydon introduced us to a peculiar aspect of Edward Gibbon’s thought, namely how his hostility to and criticism of the Roman Church in The Decline and Fall was in many ways a reaction against his own conversion to Rome during his undergraduate days at Oxford. Haydon asked us to consider whether this historical polemic was a criticism of Christianity or Catholicism, and noted that the distinction is important and revealing. David Manning (Leicester) unpicked the tricky relationship between history, anti-Catholicism, and Christian metaphysics to challenged assumptions in current historiography on the Reformation more broadly, and Clare Gheeraert- Graffeuille (Rouen) traced the reception history of Lucy Hutchinson’s memoirs. The reason that this work became so popular in the nineteenth century, she suggested, was because of the anti-Catholic and patriotic vision of the past which it was presented as portraying.

Discussion following these papers tied them to the themes of the workshop more broadly. We returned the issue of how to unpick the relationship between national and transnational in the study of anti-Catholicism. It was suggested that the study of historical consciousness in a given period was a good way of doing this. The reception of history at a national level, and how a given nation foregrounded certain anti-Catholic events as significant to its mythology, was noted as a crucial way in which the transnational phenomenon of anti-Catholicism became shaped as central to national identity and inflected (to return to Michael Gross’s opening plenary) with a national culture. Lisa Dittrich’s plenary pointed to ‘common codes’ of anti-Catholicism across nations and period: history was surely one way in which those codes became embedded in a given national setting. The conclusion, it seems, is that anti-Catholicism was never national or transnational: it was always both.

"Anti-Catholicism" or "Anti-popery"?

In analysing animus against Catholicism in British history two terms are used interchangeably: anti-Catholicism and anti-popery. Digressions into terminology might seem infuriatingly pedantic, but labels really are very important: they pre-condition our approach to a given topic, involve a host of assumptions which colour our interpretation of that topic, and often predispose us to look for some things in the historical record at the expense of others. They must consequently be used with precision.

‘Anti-Catholicism’ and ‘anti-popery’ obviously overlap to a large extent, but they also speak to two different aspects of the same animus (I am wary of referring to this animus as a ‘prejudice’, ‘intolerance’ or ‘ideology’ because I think that each of those labels also predispose us to approach it in a specific way which might be equally unhelpful in understanding the subject at hand). ‘Anti-Catholicism’, it seems to me, prioritises hostility to the Catholic faith and its claims to be a route to salvation: that is, it is explicitly religious in its focus. This took the form of hostility to Catholic doctrine, liturgy, the cult of saints, and the practice of miracles on the grounds that these things were (at best) erroneous and dependent upon a gullible or superstitious laity or (at worst) a vast, anti-Christian conspiracy to con Christians, ensuring their damnation through an investment of trust in idolatry rather than faith in Christ (as protestants would have it). Both ends of this spectrum are reflected in protestant polemic against the Catholic Church from the beginnings of the Reformation and beyond: anti-Catholicism was inconsistent in its vehemence – ranging from mild distaste to outright damnation – and was reliant to a large degree on a) the context in which it was expressed; and b) the purpose of the author or group who was expressing it. At times it is supercilious and disrespectful – ‘look at these silly things which catholics believe, ha, ha, ha’ – and at others it speaks to a conspiratorial worldview in which truth and falsehood are continually at war – ‘these catholics are peddling lies to damn souls to hell in the service of the Whore of Babylon: they and their faith are dangerous’ –, but at all times it was concerned with a condemnation and fear of what was perceived to be a false religion.

In contrast, ‘anti-popery’ was a much more explicitly political phenomenon. This centred above all else on the supposed political aspirations of the papacy dating from the early church and passing through all eras of history. Both before and after Henry VIII’s break from Rome in 1533/4, the papacy was depicted as a usurper: it fraudulently claimed headship over the western church in order to subjugated princes by interfering in their sovereignty. By rejecting the papal usurper, Henry VIII could thus claim to preside over a church which was properly Christian – ‘no heresy to see here, guv’ – but which was also anti-papal. Big H, after all, was resolute in his Catholic faith: he was convinced of his own piety. The Reformation in this definition was not a religious revolution but a political one which was broadly concerned with exposing to the world the historical corruptions of the papacy against the just power of princes and refuting its fraudulent claims to authority over the church. The Mass, works righteousness, purgatory, and other core aspects of late medieval Catholicism were retained (albeit in an often muted form) in Big H’s English Church.

In its first inception then the English Reformation did not style itself as ‘anti-Catholic’ but ‘anti-Papal’. Officially, those catholics who were prosecuted under Henry or Elizabeth I were tried for treason, not heresy. Their ‘crime’ was failure to recognise the Tudor crown’s political authority over the English church and – following the excommunication of Elizabeth I in 1570 – of being a political threat to the English state.  That state was always quick to distance itself from charges of persecution. Officially, catholics were not prosecuted as ‘catholics’ but as ‘papists’: their loyalty was to a power other than their sovereign. This led to concerns about catholics as willing agents of regicide. In the wake of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, assassinations of Henry IV of France in 1610 and Willian of Orange in 1584, apparent threats of the life of Elizabeth I, and the mass slaughter of protestants by catholic nobles in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, these fear appeared to have some credence and ‘popery’ was understood to be a real and present danger in England. That this was so reveals the remarkable ability of fear to make people accept the exceptional as normative. Whatever the case, by the turn of the seventeenth century ‘popery’ was a distinctly political issue as far as the English state was concerned.

‘Popery’ mutated and evolved across the course of the seventeenth century. It quickly became associated with absolutist forms of government, and was first used against Charles I (and his ‘popish’ personal rule), and then Charles II and James VII and II (who were both attacked for riding roughshod over parliamentary liberty). Most explicitly it was tied to Louis XIV. What strikes us most about the evocation of ‘popery’ in much late-seventeenth century commentary is that the speaker may only be referring to Catholicism or catholic doctrine in a loose way or not at all – they were more likely to be castigating the ‘tyranny’ of French government (because it was non-representative) or religious policy (because it increasingly clamped-down on protestants). Anti-popery here then was an explicitly political language: opposition in parliament and religious non-conformists both accused the British state of being ‘popish’ as a way of trying to secure greater liberties for themselves. It was certainly the case that catholic religion lent itself to ‘popery’ (because it was equally oppressive and un-democratic), but the real fear here was France as the catholic superpower of the late-seventeenth century.

The problem of terminology with which I opened seems to be nothing of the sort, then. We should use ‘anti-Catholicism’ when we are referring to protestant condemnation of catholic religious practices and ‘anti-popery’ when we are discussing fears about papal aspirations for global domination, absolutism, or the ‘disloyalty’ of English catholics. If only it were that simple. The problem with presenting the division so neatly is that the two parts of the division – religion and politics – did not remain separate in English animus towards Catholicism/popery however much the English penal laws tried to make it appear as though they were. The English state certainly distanced itself from charges of religious persecution by highlighting the political threat, but many English protestants elided the two by depicting catholic religion as the corrupting influence which caused ’popery’ to be a political danger to England. The associations ran as follows: catholics were superstitious and therefore credulous; because they were credulous they were not to be trusted as they were easily duped and easily led and could therefore be readily manipulated by Jesuits on the command of the papacy; and belief in the papacy’s ability to absolve sin meant that even heinous acts like regicide or massacres could be committed with relative ease because the perpetrators believed that their sins could be washed away. Illicit faith caused illicit action; religious corruption lay at the root of political corruption. The intersection of religion and politics in these conspiracy theories and stereotypes rested in fear of the hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church: that the laity believed the priest to be a mediator of grace made them (in protestant eyes) very biddable to ‘popish’ corruption by those clergy. In protestant satires and condemnations of monasteries, convents, and the confessional from the Reformation well into the nineteenth century fear was rooted in the capacity for mendacity which the priest’s power over the penitent accorded him. That mendacity led to corruptions of various sorts, but at their heart the sexual corruption of honest English wives and daughters, or the political corruptions of English Catholics were one and the same: each was rooted in the catholic faith itself, as the excessive authority of the clergy over the laity led to the latter being readily corrupted by the former.

This elision of religion and politics in the animus directed towards Catholicism/popery means that neither ‘anti-Catholicsm’ nor ‘anti-Popery’ adequately captures the nature of the fear as experienced and articulated by English protestants. Both terms mislead us, cause us to run the risk of distorting the historical record, and result in us failing to recover the experience of the past for those who lived it. If we are serious about writing a history of anti-Catholicism/anti-popery in British history – and the whole point of this network is that we should be because doing so would cast an important new light on the early modern and modern periods of British history – we desperately need another term to capture that experience.  The further we move away from the Reformation, the more difficult the problem becomes. ‘Popery’ was soon applied to a host of targets. From the late-sixteenth century in was used to condemned the English bishops and church courts who blocked calls for further reformation by those we now call ‘puritans’; soon the whole English church was a ‘popish’ limb of Antichrist by those who rejected it; and by the early seventeenth century these non-conformists were styled as ‘popish’ because their failure to adhere to Royal Supremacy meant that they (like Jesuits) usurped true royal power. None of these groups was formally catholic, and yet they were subject to visceral hostility which has been termed ‘anti-Catholicism’ or ‘anti-Popery’. ‘Popery’, therefore, was much more than a concern with papal power or catholic machinations – indeed, at points in the seventeenth or eighteenth century it became a by-word for almost all types of corruption or, more accurately, almost anything that a given author objected to. Because of this, ‘anti-popery’ is often unhelpful as a label. Although fear of popery was ever-present in British history from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, what ‘popery’ meant was remarkable unstable: talking about ‘anti-popery’ across the centuries implies the existence of a phenomenon which was solid and fixed when in reality this was far from the case.

Moving the perspective to the eighteenth century and to Ireland we run in to another term which has points of contact with ‘anti-Catholicism’ and ‘anti-popery’ but which is also distinct from them: sectarianism. That term clearly has points of contact with both ‘anti-Catholicism’ and ‘anti-popery’ and yet in describing a series of social manifestations of lived differences between catholics and protestants which would ultimately evolved into conflicting ethnicities it speaks to much, much more than either of those terms cover. What do we do beyond acknowledging this difference? Do we deem sectarianism (in Ireland and Scotland) as a ‘hotter’ sort of anti-Catholicism/popery? A different species of the same phenomenon? Or something else entirely? The problem works the other way, too. We can surely learn much about animus against catholics in England by comparing it to the equivalent animus in Ireland/Scotland, but can we say that it was ever ‘sectarian’ and, if so, was it so in the same way? We can find instances of animus against catholics real and imagined in England, Scotland, and Ireland from the sixteenth to the twentieth century – the problem, however, is whether we see all of these instances of that animus as part of one meta-phenomenon which labels lead us to think it is.

My intention here was not to engage in an exercise in academic naval gazing, but to attempt to open up a quandary. What we have in the animus against Catholicism/popery is a subject which is both inconsistent and incoherent. Yet, oddly, it was precisely the inconsistency and incoherence of ‘popery’ which proved to be central to the survival of animus against Catholicism/popery across centuries of British history and to the utility of that prejudice/intolerance as a language of politics and identity. ‘Anti-Catholicism’ and ‘anti-popery’ do not capture the fecundity and fluidity of the subject to which they are applied: they are too solid to do it justice. The question is: what label do we replace them with? Our troubles with labels do not end here. Animus against Catholicism/popery is often characterised as an ‘ideology’, but this too is problematic. A substantial proportion of the literature on this topic considers whether or not an ideology has to be coherent to merit the term. ‘Not really, no’ is the general consensus. But this throws up another question: how incoherent does a phenomenon have to be to cease being accurately (and usefully) labelled an ‘ideology’? How loose can an ideology be before it ceases to be ideological? What we call ‘anti-Catholicism’ or ‘anti-popery’ seems to reflect this impasse. Perhaps it is more fruitfully characterised as a discourse: a series of images, motifs, tropes, and ideas which can be applied loosely over time and space, and whose meaning is conditioned far more by the context in which they are uttered than by any fixed meanings or lasting associations which their utterance brings to that context.

REPORT: Trajectories of anti-Catholicism in British History

On 21-22 March 2018 the first workshop in the Anti-Catholic Network took place at Newcastle University. Despite rolls of yellow tape and a range of signs stating “Warning: Asbestos work” covering the door to the room adjacent, our discussions got off to a buoyant and fruitful start. As organiser, I was particularly heartened to see that my two greatest fears were quickly allayed: the IT worked, and the catering arrived on time (and was also, by university standards, surprisingly edible).

Our first session included 4 papers on anti-Catholicism in the 4 major regions of the British Isles. Ireland (Alan Ford), Scotland (Clotilde Prunier), Wales (Paul O’Leary), and England (John Wolffe). These excellent papers set the tone for the entire workshop – and, perhaps, the entire network – leading to a range of discussions about how we might actually write a history of anti-Catholicism which not only covers 5 centuries, but also gives adequate weight to the respective national perspectives of each constituent part of this “British” phenomena. Each speaker introduced us to the difficult issue of “anti-Catholicism” as it related to “anti-popery” and/or “sectarianism” in their country of focus, and took us through the many ways in which anti-Catholic intolerance changed across the centuries. The role of Irish immigration in the nineteenth century was quickly identified as a point of contact; as was the role of print culture in allowing ideas and attitudes to cross boundaries. We recognised that we need to adopt an approach which respects the specificity of anti-Catholicism in each of the 4 nations, but which also captures the ways in which anti-Catholicism in those 4 nations interacted and contrasted at different points in the British past. This sessions was expertly chaired by Anthony Milton, who raised a series of sinewy questions about the nature of the phenomena which we are investigating and pointed us towards an approach which problematized levels of belief which we might term “Anti-Catholic”.

Our next session was a roundtable entitled “Analysing Anti-Catholicism”. This was chaired with considerable aplomb by Andrew Holmes. Here short presentations by John Craig (the role of anti-Catholicism in the English Reformation and in debates about the legality of torture in the late sixteenth century), Aislinn Muller (the political reactions to the 1570 bull which excommunicated Elizabeth I and the legacy of the bull in seventeenth century British politics), Emma Turnbull (the role of anti-Catholicism in shaping reactions to the Thirty Years’ Wars in England during the mid-seventeenth century), Joan Allen (the role of anti-Catholicism in nineteenth century newspapers) and Don MacRaild (the transnational aspects of anti-Catholicism as shaped by the Irish diaspora and the internationalisation of the Orange movement) led into a broader discussion about how we approach anti-Catholicism as a phenomenon in history. It is striking how many historical topics are shaped – to a greater or lesser degree – by anti-Catholicism. Joan Allen’s comments that studying anti-Catholicism is often a way into the history of other things – in her case the history of popular politics in the nineteenth century, as the campaign for Catholic emancipation bled into Chartism and other democratic movements – underscores just how central the phenomenon is to British history. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, the research outlined in this panel showed how anti-Catholic ideology shaped attitudes and opinions in a range of topics – religious, political, social and economic – across the course of British history.

Our second day began with a session led by two social psychologists – Cristian Tileaga and Jovan Byford – on prejudice and conspiracy theories. Cristian introduced us to developments in current literature which stress the ways in which the disciplines of social psychology and history might interact in a fruitful manner: both are concerned with motivation, behaviour, and (increasingly) emotion. For the purpose of this workshop, that exchange falls on how majorities approach (and demonise) minorities. Cristian then introduced us to his own work on prejudice against Roma people in modern Europe. He showed us how approaches by psychologists like Allport and Bauman remain useful in approaching stereotypes and prejudice, but are flawed because they do not adequately explain the stubborn and enduring nature of those phenomenon. For that, he explained, we need an historical perspective: prejudice – he showed – does not primarily reside in the brain, but in society. Cristian showed us how approaches to the discursive aspects of prejudice – the ability of language to shape thought and action – is a hugely rich avenue of investigation into the ways in which prejudice is sustained. Prejudicial language is hugely affective, and helps to create the conditions in which dignity is removed from minorities (a crucial basis for inequality).

Jovan Byford then demonstrated how social psychology and history might work together to understand conspiracy theories. He used contemporary anti-semitism as a means of illustrating this. Anti-semitism no longer rests primarily on stereotypes of Jews, he argued, but on conspiracy theories about their supposed (and fictitious) power in the world or finance and politics. Like Cristian, Jovan stressed how important the discursive aspects of prejudice are for its ability to endure. Conspiracy theories require believes and sceptics to survive: by engaging with the theorists, the latter force believers to adapt the conspiracy and provide further evidence/rhetoric which serves to add fuel to the fire. In discussion it was agreed that many of the rhetorical tropes which Jovan outlined as critical to conspiracy theories – exposure of secret histories, serving the greater good, the all-powerful conspirator with destructive intentions – were prominent in anti-Catholicism from the Reformation on. This, the delegates agreed is an area in need of greater investigation. Would an approach to conspiracy as a discourse help to explain why anti-Catholicism was so enduring and adaptable in centuries on British history?

Our final session was a roundtable on anti-Catholic stereotypes. Here papers by Susan Royal (the problems of labelling Catholic stereotypes “anti-Catholic” in the early Reformation), Carys Brown (the role of anti-Catholic and anti-Puritan stereotypes in the contested political culture which followed the 1689 Act of Toleration), Nailya Shamgunova (the role of the “sodomite” stereotype in early modern travel literature), and Adam Morton (the role of language analysis in studying how stereotypes mutated across time) introduced us to the complex and multifaceted nature of “popery” as an historical phenomenon. Discussion focussed on how points of contact in the appearance of stereotypes – the Jesuit, the plotters, the sexually corrupt, the traitor – actually mask a series of complex changes. Emma Turnbull was quick to alert us to the fact that although a great deal of anti-Catholic discourse is binary (true/false, dark/light, Catholic/Protestant) the way in which it was used in a given context and the meaning which it intended to convey was often far more complicated. Many thanks to our chair Rachel Hammersley, who guided us through a series of complicated methodological problems with a delicate hand.


There were a range of questions and issues which emerged during the workshop which it was felt needed to be investigated more closely. These included:


    • It became apparent in the first panel of the workshop that historians have a tendency to use three terms – “anti-Catholicism”, “anti-popery”, and “sectarianism” – interchangeably. We noted that there are a range of dangers in our doing so: 1) there is a lack of precision about the phenomena which we are investigating; 2) we must account for differences between our terms for this phenomenon and contemporary terms for it; and 3) the subject seems remarkably under-theorised. This, above all else, was recognised as the most pressing issue for us to take “Anti-Catholicism in British History” forward as a subject.

    • A range of sub-questions emerged out of this:

      • Can we write a history of the term “popery”? Would this adequately capture the malleability of the subject? “No popery” is the most commonplace historical term – perhaps we should start with an analysis of this across the centuries.

      • When does criticism of the Catholic Church (during the Reformation or Enlightenment, for example) become “anti-Catholicism” as an ideology? Not all criticism is ideological, so what is the dividing line?

      • When does “anti-Catholicism” become “sectarianism”? Is the latter a social and political manifestation of the former ideology? Or is it more complicated than that?

      • When did Protestant reformers cease to use the term “Catholic” positively? It was noted that sixteenth and early seventeenth century Protestants tried exceptionally hard to appropriate the term “Catholic” for their own churches. It was suggested that tracing the decline of this might be a significant rupture in the history of anti-Catholicism.


    • The question of how anti-Catholicism was sustained across the centuries led us to recognise that representation is a crucial avenue for analysis. Papers by Carys Brown, Emma Turnbull, Nailya Shamungova, Aislinn Murray and Susan Royal were particularly significant in setting the agenda in this regard.

      • We must analyse the reception of anti-Catholicism through stereotypes in a manner which blends the historical, literary, and art historical together

      • We must pay attention to how memory shaped anti-Catholicism in subtle and nuanced ways without falling into the trap of seeing it as a monolithic or unchanging tradition. It was noted that contested memory of a Catholic past in both English and Irish history is a crucial avenue for future research.

      • We must involve scholars in the field of memory studies in our subsequent workshops.  We also agreed that incorporating perspectives from social psychology – particularly those which focus on the discursive aspects of prejudice – will be invaluable to the published outputs of the network.

      • It was agreed that Representation and Memory will be the theme of our third workshop.


    • The question of whether anti-Catholicism is “British” was noted as highly tricky. Papers in our first panel by John Wolffe, Alan Ford, Clotilde Prunier, and Paul O’leary outlined that a four nations approach to the topic is a fruitful one: this allows us to pay due diligence to the specific elements of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh traditions of anti-Catholicism while noting that the boundaries between these traditions were porous. Consequently each tradition inflected and effected the others. The question then becomes whether this interactions amounts to something which we can term “British”.

    • We also noted three further areas for investigation:

      • 1) The extent to which the history of anti-Catholicism in Britain is indebted to/separate from equivalent traditions in Europe.

      • 2) The problem of America. We noted that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in particular, a “British” approach to the phenomenon of anti-Catholicism would necessarily include the relationship with America and other colonies.

      • 3) Transnational approaches. Particularly in studies of nineteenth century anti-Catholicism, the transnational has become the dominant paradigm.

    • These issues will be the focus on our second workshop.


    • Our session on social psychology provoked a very interesting discussion about the extent to which anti-Catholicism is unique as a prejudice/ideology and how closely it can be related to other forms of intolerance. The workshop concluded that a subsequent session drawing parallels between the forms and structures of anti-Catholicism and Islamophobia, racism, and anti-semitism would be very fruitful. Building on our discussions of the roles of stereotypes and conspiracy theories in maintaining these traditions was suggested as one way of doing this. Our fourth workshop will be dedicated to this theme.


The workshop also recognised that there are several gaps in our collective knowledge about the roles played by anti-Catholicism in British history:

  • The early Reformation: Most of our knowledge of anti-Catholicism dates from after 1570. What role(s) did it play in the reigns of Henry VIII or Edward VI in England? How did it shape the reformations in Scotland before 1560? The issue of origins is a crucial one.

  • The Enlightenment: What role did anti-Catholicism play in defining concepts like superstition, reason, liberty, toleration or priest-craft? What role did fears of absolutism play in stimulating discussion of democracy or government?

  • Intellectual History: Was “popery” used as an “other” against which central concepts in the history of ideas were formed?

If you know of anyone working in these areas, please get in touch!

Report: Anti-Catholicism in 19th Century Britain

This workshop took place in the salubrious confines of 2.49 Armstrong Building at Newcastle University, a space which doubles up as a teaching room and a Classics library and is affectionately referred to by our undergraduates as “Hogwarts”. It was organised by Network members Adam Morton and Joan Allen in conjunction with the Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies at Durham University, who sponsored the event. Generous funding from the “Ideas and Beliefs” research strand in History, Classics, and Archaeology at Newcastle made the event possible, and the day was expertly chaired by Hugh Macleod, who led us through several hours of questions and discussion with aplomb! Joan and Adam would like to express their deep gratitude to Hugh.

The 19th century was one of the high watermarks of anti-Catholicism in British history. Although the conventional view that there was a lull in anti-Catholic opinion between the Gordon Riots (1780) and Catholic Emancipation (1829) was questioned throughout the workshop, it is undoubtedly the case that events like Emancipation of 1829 (by which the penal code against Catholics was largely removed), the Maynooth Grant (a grant made by the British government for Catholic education in Ireland), Papal Aggression (the establishment of a clerical hierarchy and diocese in Britain by Pope Pius IX), the Oxford Movement, and, from the mid-century, growing Irish immigration, saw Catholicism become a live cultural and political issue. That anti-Catholicism spiked as a result is therefore unsurprising.

That spike has been subject to several explanations, including the growth of Protestant evangelism as an international movement (John Wolffe), the emergence of the Orange order across the globe (Donald MacRaild), and the changing social and economic conditions of the mid-century (Denis Paz). Current research focusses on anti-Catholicism as an international phenomenon, either in response to Irish immigration across the English-speaking world, the cultural wars of post-Enlightenment Europe, or in response to the first Vatican Council (1869-70). The notion, commonplace amongst British historians, that anti-Catholicism was an ideology essential to “Britishness” is therefore called into question. Discussion at this workshop stressed that relations with America, Canada, Australia, and Europe clearly conditioned anti-Catholicism in Britain. The question of whether there was anything distinctly “British” about anti-Catholicism, or if it was simply part of a wider phenomenon, remains unresolved. If there was any agreement, it is that this question is ripe for further research!

Our first speaker was Jonathan Bush from Ushaw College, whose expertise lies in local manifestations of anti-Catholicism in the North East of England. His paper explored the extent to which anti-Catholicism can be said to have been "national" when its local manifestations were varied; and outlined similarities and differences between the anti-Catholicism of different political groups (Liberal and Tory) and religious denominations (Anglican and nonconformists). Bush demonstrated that outside of the campaign for civil rights, liberals and non-conformists in the North East were not more tolerant than their Tory and Anglican contemporaries: their anti-Catholicism on many issues (such as Maynooth and the establishment of convents) was vehement and in many ways mainstream. Nonetheless, political circumstances did result in anti-Catholicism having distinct colourings. Radicals, for instance, co-opted anti-Catholicism and anti-clericalism in support of Garibaldi – democracy here was contrasted with papal tyranny.

Bush then discussed Hartlepool as a case study. He noted first that its virulent anti-Catholicism might be usefully compared with that of industrial towns in Antebellum America. Using local newspapers to show that political stance shaped how anti-Catholicism in local political disputes, Bush nevertheless pointed to the fact that aggressive anti-Catholic “fake news” did not seem to have affected local Catholics all that much. Catholic communities paid little attention to anti-Catholicism, which did not hinder the practice of their faith. This discrepancy requires further explanation, Bush suggests. He closed his paper with a call for us to pay more attention to the local. Doing so, he suggested, is the best way to see how anti-Catholicism affected ordinary people. The trend for wider perspectives which transnational approaches to the subject have fostered has enriched our understanding in some ways, but have hampered it in others. Bush concluded by suggesting that a study of anti-Catholicism in one place over the course of a century might allow us to better see anti-Catholicism in action and give us a sense of its contours and malleability.

Our second speaker – Andrew Atherstone, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford – also discussed local manifestations of anti-Catholicism. The focus of his paper was the campaign across England to erect monuments to local heroes and martyrs of the sixteenth-century Reformations between 1840 and 1910. Like Bush, Atherstone demonstrated that anti-Catholicism was appropriated according to local agendas: in the history of monuments we do not see one map which covers all of England, but rather a series of overlapping and competing stories. Atherstone illustrated his presentation with lots of images of the monuments in question – many of which were imposing in pomp and stature! – and demonstrated how despite their claims to represent a communal honouring of a local martyr, they were often the product of considerable dispute and contestation.

Demonstrating that the thrust of this memorialisation was a sense that “Protestant England” was endangered and in need of protection, Atherstone concluded with three points. First, that memory is political and shapes the past in the image of the present. Second, that the movement to remember the Reformation crescendoed with the Oxford Movement and its high-profile conversions in the late-century – by 1910 local communities were more keen to memorialise their more recent dead. Thirdly, that monuments were inherently “plastic” in meaning: those who subscribed to them wanted to remember different elements of the Reformation or the martyrs in question for different reasons; the construction of monuments thus raised debates about the acceptability of the imagery used to do so; and the legacy of the Reformation was contested here according to conflicts between church and chapel. Discussion focussed on the extent to which we might usefully understand anti-Catholicism as a “tradition”. Wolffe and Paz have both been suspicious of that term, as it implies that anti-Catholicism was unthinking or static, a knee-jerk form of prejudice. Did this use of Marian martyrs in the nineteenth century as a response to fears about contemporary “popery” suggest that there were core components of anti-Catholicism dormant in British culture? We have a tendency to focus on the changing nature of prejudice, but discussion of Atherstone’s paper suggests that we need to focus on how memory permits it to survive. The relationship between “memory” and “tradition” is a complex one.

Harry Cocks, from Nottingham University, focussed on how traditional aspects of anti-Catholicism – its recourse to homoerotic and lascivious imagery – changed in significance from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Cocks demonstrated that treatments of “monkish” sodomy, prostitution, and other illicit sexual practices in anti-Catholic polemic were more than mere invective and need to be treated seriously. Tracing its origins to Reformation commentary on Revelation – in which Rome was to become Sodom and whoredom was a mark of Antichrist – Cocks went on to show that sodomy became a rhetoric through which religious conflict was understood in the sixteenth and seventeenth century; and that this significance had important consequences for how the rhetoric of sodomy was used an received in the nineteenth. In one sense we see the repetition and re-cycling of a tradition – stressing fears about the corrupting influence of priests on women in the confessional re-surfaced, as did the polemical connections between clerical celibacy and sodomy. These connections were commonplace, and even used by moderates. In the 1830s, however, this language helped to develop concepts of obscenity and pornography and, as a result, anti-Catholic works were censored. Here, then, we find anti-Catholicism in an unlikely place: being involved in social mores and legal norms concerning sexuality and obscenity. The rhetoric of sodomy was traditional; its reception, novel.

Novelty was also a theme in our final paper, presented by Sarah Roddy from Manchester University, in which we learned that anti-Catholicism shaped popular attitudes to money and charity. As Roddy noted, “you will find anti-Catholicism in the most curious places”! That it could shape the minutae of people’s attitudes in this way is a testament to how quietly pervasive it had become in British/Irish culture by the nineteenth century. Roddy’s work focusses on the consequences of Irish immigration in the nineteenth century. She traces the effects of the Irish diaspora on the various churches in Ireland, the attempts to convert the Irish to Protestantism, and the way in which the Catholic Church influenced the economic culture of Ireland. This final aspect was the focus of Roddy’s paper. She demonstrated that the Catholic clergy’s attempts to raise money for education and other charitable activities was readily interpreted through the lens of anti-Catholicism: Catholic clerics used piety as a mask for avarice; this was a testament to their excessive authority over the Catholic laity; any advance in Catholic fortunes detracted from Protestant ones; and that their greed sapped money from the population and stunted Irish economic development was a cliché of the late-nineteenth century. Roddy used the fascinating case study of lotteries used by the Catholic Church to raise money in England. MPs who campaigned against these lotteries did so not because gambling was immoral, damaging, or illegal, but because they directly helped the Catholic Church: a campaign against gambling, of all things, was conducted in anti-Catholic terms.

General discussion was as wide-ranging as the papers were rich. Three themes emerged as significant, however. First, the question of labels: what – if anything – is the difference between “anti-Catholicism” and “anti-popery” and how do they relate to “sectarianism”? It was suggested that tracing the use of these terms in the nineteenth (and perhaps even eighteenth) century would be highly useful. The question of when anti-Catholicism became sectarianism, the role of Irish immigration in this process (by transporting sectarian violence/prejudice), and what the dividing lines between the two might be were all raised as important questions which a longue duree history of anti-Catholicism must address. Second was the issue of decline (in England, at least) – did anti-Catholic sentiment drop off towards the end of the nineteenth century, and if so was this tied to a decline in the extent to which “Protestant” was key attribute of national identity and patriotism? Third, speakers and delegates agreed that a crucial issue is to uncover anti-Catholicism at its most banal: we have a tendency to study spikes in feeling and sensational events, but to really understand a prejudice, it was felt that we needed to know how it operated in a less dramatic, quieter ways at the point of assumptions about people’s ideas and beliefs about the world.

It is certainly not a reflection on the quality of these papers that we concluded discussions with a call for a history of the humdrum! Many thanks to Jonathan, Andrew, Harry, Sarah and Hugh for providing such stimulating discussion.

What is it all about?

It all started with a question. “Adam”, came the frustrated enquiry of a particularly keen undergraduate during the early stages of their dissertation, “I have been wondering: what exactly was ‘popery’? It seems to be so……..muddy”.

The last word was left to hang in the air of my office as I was faced with the great joy and certain terror of teaching – the startling ability of young people to ask questions which reveal a glaring level of ignorance in those who are supposed to be teaching them. “Mmmm”, I began in a bid for time (never a sign that the answer which follows will lead us down a path marked CLARITY), “well, it was many things to many people” I tried (realising as I spoke that beginning an answer with a cliché is never an encouraging sign).

What followed was a monologue as long as it was unhelpful. I explained that “popery” began life as a product of Reformation polemic against the Roman Church and meant either papal tyranny over princes, or error, superstition, and idolatry in the Catholic Church as understood by Protestants, or both; that it soon mutated into Puritan attacks on the English Church, and that “popery” did not always therefore relate to what was exactly Catholic; that by the 1570s “papist” was synonymous with “traitor” as one who recognised papal supremacy over the church (and thus questioned Royal Supremacy and monarchical power); that in the early-seventeenth century – and increasingly throughout that century – it referred to absolute forms of government (in a manner equated with the papacy and Louis XIV of France), which were seen as tyrannous in many quarters of political thought and agitations about the rights of parliament, and that “popery” was therefore levelled against the Stuart crown as much as it was the Catholic Church; and that by the eighteenth century it could mean simply unreason in the face of Enlightenment assaults on and redefinitions of religion as rational. “Of course”, I finished, “after that it becomes associated with Jacobitism, the French, and then the Irish in the nineteenth century due to immigration abroad and sectarianism at home. But that is after the period of your dissertation”.

Pausing for breath, I added, nervously: “Does that help?”

“Not really”, the student fired back, looking even more confused. “I’d gotten that far from the reading. What I’m unclear about is what actually ties those things together? What makes ‘popery’ popery? There is no constant that I can see”.

Copyright of the Trustees of the British Museum

Copyright of the Trustees of the British Museum

At this point we both realised that I didn’t know. I also realised that I really should know, and that working on the topic had the potential to make important developments in our understanding of British history across multiple centuries – anti-popery, after all, was a central ideology of Englishness (and subsequently Britishness) – for centuries.

The origins of this network – which has been generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) – thus date from a moment of student-induced panic. It is an attempt to work through the problem of popery in British history from a range of scholarly perspectives (historical, literary, psychological). I was heartened that historians, literary scholars, and scholars of political thought from across the UK, Europe, America, and beyond, and whose expertise spanned the 16th to the 20th centuries, were keen to be involved. Together, we will be trying to answer two questions:

  • 1) What was popery? How – and why – did it change across the centuries of British History?;

  • 2) What role(s) did it play in that history?

It has quickly become apparent that question two is massive. Anti-popery has been given a role in pretty much all major political events in British history from the 16th to the 19th century. But what was the nature of that role? Was it a cause of events like the Civil Wars, Glorious Revolution, or Gordon Riots, or a catalyst serving other, more substantial, factors? And is there any constant in the role(s) played by anti-popery across those centuries?

As I discussed this with colleagues it became clear that a history of anti-popery would become even bigger still. There has been a lot of good work on anti-popery at specific moments of British history – the Reformation, in the reign of Charles I, during the Civil Wars, during the Restoration, in response to Jacobitism, during the evangelical movement of the 19th century, in response to Irish immigration, and during the sectarianism of 20th century Ireland and Scotland. The limitation, however, is that this is all very atomised. Scholarship which has analysed anti-popery in specific periods has not led to wider work on anti-popery in British history as a whole. How should we make the leap into this bigger topic? And will doing so produce a “British” account of anti-popery, or were their distinctly “English”, “Scottish”, “Welsh”, and “Irish” traditions of anti-popery? The more scholars who contacted me, the more I realised that I didn’t know, and the bigger the questions became. Was British anti-popery actually “British” or merely a species of European anti-popery? From the 17th century it clearly interacted with anti-popery in America; and from the 18th with anti-popery in other parts of the British Empire. The network will ask how we can write a history of ant-popery which adequately takes these various instances of anti-popery into account.

Copyright of the Trustees of the British Museum

Copyright of the Trustees of the British Museum

Enthused – and more than a little daunted – by a summer spent reading around the subject in centuries beyond my research expertise, and corresponding with scores of scholars on the subject, I returned to anti-popery with my keen undergraduate in the first meeting of the next academic year. I gave them an updated spiel about how we might unpick their questions “what was popery?” and signed-off with an enthusiastic “so, it’s a good question, but not one I am sure that I – or anyone – can answer properly. It’d make an excellent dissertation topic, though”. 

There was a pause. The student then realised that I had meant “a good dissertation, for them”. Wide-eyed, panicked, and recoiling in their seat they rebuffed the offer with a scoff: “sounds more like a life’s work to me, Adam”. Smiling, they looked at me with real a potent mixture of enthusiasm and excitement and said, “I’ve been binge-watching Game of Thrones over the summer, and I’ve decided that I want to do my dissertation on something to do with the Wars of the Roses!!”

A little piece of me died inside.