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.