Recusancy and Female Jesuitresses: A Historiographical Essay on Early Modern English Catholicism

Jordan S Sly, December 2015 – Before the late nineteen-fifties and early nineteen-sixties, historians of English Catholicism focused primarily on the high-water mark of medieval religion —the world of Bede and Chaucer— and far less so on the complex identities, constructions and networks of the Early Modern English Catholic communities. When Early Modern Catholics were written about the focus was typically on their legal status as recusants and both their recalcitrance in the face of the official English Protestantism and either their privileged position under the Catholic Queen Mary or their persecution under Elizabeth. The story is of course more complex than this as is the historiography after the important work of Hugh Aveling and Roger Manning who expanded the understanding of the roles of the gentry in the sustaining of medieval traditions through the years of illicit Catholicism. It is John Bossy, however, who changed the reading of Early Modern English Catholicism and saw the development of Catholic communities as a more specifically European and Post-Tridentine construction. Bossy saw, in similar evidence presented by previous historians, the death of the medieval church and the development of a new form of Catholicism directly influenced and shaped by domestic seminary priests, lay gentry ecclesiastical interpretation, and the Jesuit agents of the post-Reformation Church. With Bossy, there was a new lens with which to view Early Modern Catholics and soon new histories focusing on the important gender dynamics within the domestic-religious sphere and the shifting nature of male clerical power and control as well as the increasingly radicalized nature of some Early Modern Catholic Communities.

Hugh Aveling’s early pioneering work studying the Yorkshire Catholic gentry proposed the ideas that English Catholicism was a product of tradition, location, and purposeful recusancy.[1] Northern Catholics (1966) captures the “heroic years of Catholic Recusancy” as one of his chapter titles makes clear. This is the era from about 1583-1603 what Aveling describes as the “…classical age of martyrdoms, of the full seminary priest and Jesuit missions, of plots and hiding-holes…”[2] Aveling’s focus, however, is primarily on the gentry that make up the Ridings (subdivisions) of Yorkshire. Additionally, Aveling spends little time discussing the quotidian aspects of Catholic life and instead keeps his focus on what he describes as the “…slow but remarkable development of the official machinery of action against the religious dissidents…”[3] Aveling’s focus on the gentry is not without reason. As he makes note, “between 1570 and 1579 about 130 laypeople in the [North] Riding were accused of Catholicism, and the overwhelming majority of them were gentry.”[4] Importantly, Aveling’s argument credits the preserving nature of the recusant gentry with the continuity of Catholicism through the worst years of the machinery of persecution in addition to the seminary and missionary work from exiled clergy. While there is tremendous value in Aveling’s early work on local history, the evolution of the study of English Catholics favors more nuanced accounts of the lives of all involved in the continuation or, as Bossy argues in the recreation of Catholicism in England.

Roger Manning provides a similar account to Aveling’s Yorkshire, but in the southern county of Sussex. Manning’s Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex: A Study of the Enforcement of the Religious Settlement, 1558-1603 is equally important in that it demonstrates that while the north was a hotbed of recusancy, the plight of English Catholics existed around the country. Additionally Manning discusses the need for recusant families to intermarry as a result of both the lack of options as well as the need to consolidate and close ranks in the effort of preserving traditional Catholicism.[5]

In his 1962 essay “The Character of Elizabethan Catholicism,” Bossy works within a similar set of material as Aveling, but highlights differing elements of the gentry in his construction of what he terms “bastard-feudal Catholicism.”[6] Bossy argues that by bringing Catholicism into the household and making private what was once a community event, the nature of the religion changed in multiple different ways. Many of these ways, as will be discussed, created the path for the continuing study of English Catholics but include social and gender components of far reaching importance. In addition to Christianity’s role in people’s belief in salvation and maintaining community order, the Church maintained the cycles that ran the medieval calendar. From feast days to harvest and planting cycles, to daily prayer, various aspects of community and personal life were controlled by the power of the local Church. What then, Bossy asks, is a Catholicism without these sets of observances or moral dramas? To this question he applies the term “survivalism” which historian A.G. Dickens used in his 1941 work, “The First Stages of Romanist Recusancy in Yorkshire.” Dickens’ notion of survivalism – that the gentry’s holdout preserved Catholicism through the storm – is the running model from which Aveling and, to a lesser extent Manning work. Aveling departs from Dickens somewhat, however, in that he believes that ingrained medieval Catholicism died with the Henrician schism and that it was an altered form of Catholicism that the gentry preserved. Even in this early work, it is Bossy assertion, that what developed through the process of underground Catholicism was a product of seminary exiles and Jesuits missionaries — those, in Bossy’s words, exercising different degrees of “clerical enterprise”[7] — and that the product of this influence was a new form of Catholicism, a Seigneur Catholicism and not merely a survival of the “Old Religion.”[8]

Along with the importance of Bossy’s argument about the development of Early Modern English Catholicism is the important shift in the story that he is beginning to tell by including a wider cast of historical actors, despite the scene still set in the homes of the gentry. Where Aveling and Manning focus on local institutional history and the family histories of the gentry, Bossy starts the conversation about the roles of the servants within the homes, priests returning from Douai and other seminaries, and the women who played very important roles in the perpetuation of Catholicism. Additionally, there is a critical difference between Bossy and his contemporaries and predecessors in the language employed when referring to English Catholics. In Bossy’s now classic 1976 work, The English Catholic Community, 1570-1850, he discusses the important shift in perspective that informs his use of language, “I do not speak of ‘recusants’ or ‘recusancy,’ for men who were recusants in the eyes of the church and state were Catholic in their own.”[9] This is an important shift of focus that takes the necessary step in looking at Catholicism as neither alternative to the official church or recalcitrant vestige of medieval religion, but instead as an active choice and an evolving sect within English communities.

Bossy argues that Catholics were part of a larger makeup of faiths in sixteenth-century England and that while illegal and a minority, they were not the only minority religion and therefore existed in a mélange of influence and ideas. This assertion follows historian of the English Civil War Christopher Hill’s illustration of the English faithful and political in the much debated but influential book The World Turned Upside Down. Hill describes a polito-confessional cum intellectual historical moment where sects such as the Baptists, Quakers, and Muggletonians interacted with Diggers, Levellers, and Fifth Monarchists.[10]  Bossy argues that the use of the term minority implies a dichotomous, or near dichotomous choice, but that the reality was more muddled. Bossy argues that confessional reality should not be divided into two simplistic modes, but into something more like “Anglicans, Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists, Fifth-Monarchy men, Quakers, Unitarians, Methodists of various colours, Jews and a good deal more.”[11] Bossy continues by explaining that he is not interested in the relationship between Church and state, but with “…the body of Catholics as a social whole and in relation to itself, with its internal constitution and the internal logic of its history.”[12]  Additionally in the context Hill provides Bossy believed that the “Catholic community ought properly to be considered a branch of the English nonconforming tradition.”[13] This explanation of investigating the community in its own context is important to the continued study of English Catholics in all periods of study.

John Bossy’s work while important and lasting is not immune from criticism. Prominent historian Christopher Haigh critiques Bossy’s study of the internal history as lacking the same assiduous use of “official secular and ecclesiastical sources” that Aveling had used. Haigh criticizes Bossy’s reliance instead on “sources produced by Catholics, the priestly biographies, Jesuit annual letters, seminary records and the papers of Catholic families.”[14] This criticism, while certainly valid, highlights specifically why Bossy’s work continues to inspire new and more intricate studies of English Catholicism because, despite its flaws, Bossy’s work fits squarely into the then evolving Cultural Turn and thus seeks to understand more about the multiple experiences of English Catholics as opposed to a purely positivist recounting. The work of Manning and Aveling, however, is crucially important and should not be overshadowed by Bossy despite his lasting importance in the field. In fact it is the combination of the methods of all these historians that has led to valuable modern works by historians like Eamon Duffy and Peter Lake who have interpreted traditional forms of evidence such as churchwardens’ accounts and trial records with the evidence common in the modern social history intrepretation influenced by the social sciences and the direction of history following the development of the Bossy model.

Eamon Duffy’s substantial 1992 work The Stripping of the Alters posits the central idea that late Medieval Catholic traditions influenced post English Reformation religious life including Early Modern English Catholicism through long-standing traditions that were important to the character of the community and individual personal faith. This focus on individual and importantly lay faith is a crucial illustration of the shift in focus around the study of Early Modern England broadly, and more acutely Early Modern English Catholic communities. The Medieval Church controlled much of community life through contextual liturgy which informed both calendar events like festivals, harvests, and holidays as well as the nature of reverence and the tone and order of worship. Additionally, the church through its ceremony and mystery imbued a sense of the magical on to objects used in the liturgical process which led to instances of theft of these objects and their personal use as a talisman against violent weather and other dangers.[15] Through the liturgy, the church cemented both their own place within society and the laity understood their place within the world. Duffy presents this world of mostly Catholic heterodoxy with the important nuanced view that the laity both understood the importance of their religion and that it served their lives as much as they served the church. By investigating the common practices of devotion, Duffy illustrates that despite lacking the theological education and the ability to read Latin “the rhythms of the liturgy on the eve of the Reformation remained the rhythms of life itself.”[16]  Duffy’s central aim is to give a voice to the laity and to demonstrate that the traditions of Medieval Catholicism were not so easily cast-aside during the periods of iconoclastic destruction, but were instead driven underground or made domestic where the nature of devotion and the traditional power structures were dramatically changed.

It is this focus on the individual and importantly the focus on the intensity of personal faith that sets the tone and a precedent for an Early Modern sense of lay inclusion and activity centered on increased literacy and female readership of religious works. Religious education in the form of De informacione simplicium — a medieval schema developed to teach the fundamental practices and lessons of the faith to the laity — had established and maintained a tradition of that was described as the “lay folk’s catechism.”[17] Additionally, the increase in printed material from important printers like William Caxton stoked the desire from the laity for religious literature.[18] Among others, these traditions of religious education and literacy that, despite the official separation from Rome, were important elements of community religious life that were difficult to eradicate.

The stories of the Early Modern English Catholic communities ebb and flow with the whims of the crown. From toleration to persecution the communities have found ways of maintaining traditions and, through the actions of gentry families, learned laity, and of post-Tridentine actors like the Jesuits have kept Catholicism from becoming simply a relic of the medieval past. While historians have importantly expanded the understanding of Recusant Catholics away from the simple understanding of a persecuted and recalcitrant outmoded minority, English Catholics did exist in a position of deteriorated privilege as Christopher Haigh described in his 1981 refutation of Bossy’s thesis.[19] The late sixteenth and early seventeenth-centuries were periods of new laws and regulations regarding English Catholics partially due to the influence seen from external missionary societies and schools. In 1559, Queen Elizabeth was contending with parliamentary voices asserting her ineligibility to serve as protector of the faith. Despite these doubters, the Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy were enacted and Queen Elizabeth took the title of “Supreme Head” of the English Church.[20] Following this official move to make the Church of England the official and intolerant religion of the county and in response partly to the fears of ultramontane divided loyalty to Catholic enemies, Catholics in England were under more intense scrutiny then they had been previously. The fines for discovered Recusancy and Church-Papacy were increased and the evidence of hearing or giving mass was punishable by imprisonment and more frequently enforced. While some literature tends to downplay the nature of the persecution against these Catholics, it is important to remember that simply being a priest was a crime punishable by death and approximately 120 priests were put to death in this period along with approximately 60 lay Catholics.[21]

The stricter enforcement of anti-Catholic laws made the private faith in the form of lay — and importantly increased lay female — agency an increasingly dangerous practice. The expanding bibliography of works covering English Catholic women illustrates the increasing understanding of female agency and practices private and public of faith in the Early Modern period. By 1585 open association with the Roman Church was severely punished. Simply being ordained which, by necessity would have been from a seminary in France, Belgium, or the Low Countries was a felony. By extension then, the harboring of these missionary priests was tantamount to treason. Patrick McGrath and Joy Rowe take the story told by Aveling and Manning and extend the narrative to be more inclusive of the important women who took great risk in housing long-term resident priests, missionary priests, Jesuits, and so-called “rungate” or travelling priests.[22] McGrath and Rowe illustrate the vast dangers in bringing these men into their homes. Regular raids from local authorities were commonplace and suspected families would be scrutinized and their homes ransacked searching for the elusive Catholic artifacts and the notorious priest holes. Additionally, not all of these priests were exactly who they claimed to be. In an interesting example, McGrath and Rowe tease the story of Anthony Sherlock a “rungate” priest who after being caught by authorities confessed to being harbored by multiple widows and wives. Sherlock may have indeed been a bogus priest which illustrates one of the many dangers of clandestine Catholicism, but this story also highlights two important aspects in the developing historiography of Early Modern English Catholic Women: the active role of women in the harboring of priests and the continued sense of authority that the priests held throughout this period. McGrath and Rowe in this early article expanded the evidence presented in works by Aveling and Manning and by beginning to highlight the often precarious position these priests put women in.

It is this sense of danger that Marie Rowlands takes one step further. McGrath and Rowe illustrate the interesting and harrowing examples of priests informing on their hosts in order to gain favor with the state authorities and avoid severe punishment. Rowlands relies on many of the same examples, but reads more into the gendered nature of those who were recorded in the recusancy lists. As Rowlands discusses, it is the nature of responsibility and control that made women the target during the years of persecution. Much like with the modern reading of the persecution of witches in the Early Modern period women who were violating aspects of gender normativity or were marginal figures were particularly vulnerable. Thus “Women — spinsters, wives, and widows — featured prominently in the lists of those who failed to attend [Church of England Services],” but the nature of the punishment could be determined by the individual’s place within society.[23]  Women who were no longer under the care of men such as “Spinsters of competent age and widows…”[24] were seen as accountable for their own actions and could be more easily convicted and punished for their abstaining from the English church or for their role in the harboring of priests. Married women, however, were likely to be seen as being under the influence of their husbands. According to Rowlands, however, the husbands were less likely to be the initiators of harboring or other drastic recusant activity. While men were just as devout, they often worked hard to maintain their position in the community and keep the authorities from their doors. Furthermore, it was the women of the household who were more likely to be home when either the clerical or the state authority “pursuivants” arrived.[25] Often these men, in Rowlands’ words, “exploited [the women’s] supposed frailty” and used their position to gain favor with women outside of their husband’s control.[26] The daily activity of hiding the priest, quelling rumor, and silencing the children fell on the women of the household. While much of the history written about particular English Catholic women like Margaret Clitherow and Mary Ward focuses on their agency, personal faith, and their sacrifice, Rowlands contends that for the majority of Catholic women their status in the community determined the extent of control that either the church, the state, or their husbands which predetermined their choices for recusant activity.

Rowlands is not discounting the experiences of the women who were “vigorous, active and capable of making an impression,” but argues that female English Catholics were a “distinct group” controlled by multiple actors.[27] Rowlands’ work, like John Bossy’s sets the tone for a particular reading of Early Modern English Catholic history. Within the framework of control that Rowlands builds, the stories of English Catholic women in this period could be told in a different light than it had before. Where Bossy’s early work sat in the critical junction of the Cultural Turn, Rowlands’ work is similarly located with other works focusing on a gendered and feminist reading of history.

Critically, this work does not detract from the efforts of scholars like Dorothy Latz whose presentation of hitherto unseen writings of Catholic women in “The Glow-Worm Light”: Writings of 17th Century English Recusant Women from Original Manuscripts, demonstrates the devotion to faith of the “vigorous” women described by Rowlands as a counter-example. These writings highlight the nature of personal faith, and the education and understanding of religion that Duffy illustrates. It is Latz’s position that these works fit into the Aveling, Manning, and Haigh model of continued tradition despite changing circumstances. Importantly, many (but not all) of the writers collected in Latz’s compendium were not recusant laity as previously discussed, but were associated with English Benedictine in Paris and Cambrai working assiduously at “preserving their heritage from oblivion and destruction,” by “copying, transcribing, translating, composing, and preserving” the documents and books important to Catholic tradition.[28]

For Catholic women unable to join an order like many of those presented in Latz’s work, there was still an option for guided study of religious texts. Through the harboring of priests, faith became a domestic activity in ways it had not been before. Alexandra Walsham summarizes much of the vast historiography of the print culture of Early Modern English Catholics. As with Duffy, Walsham posits that the printing of religious materials and the devotion of the English Catholics to these traditional texts stoked the embers of the faith and kept it alight during the dark years of persecution by the Tudor and Stewart monarchies. The reading and knowledge of these texts provides a stereotype of the “Church-Papists” or the nominally Anglican who would, as contemporaneous images depict, stroke their rosary beads and feign reading the Cranmer prayer book while instead reading their Bible.[29] Importantly the printed material allowed for private study and engagement with the discourses on Catholic thought; a practice discouraged elsewhere. This allowed the female devout to develop intellectual and religious muscles in the manner described by Walsham as the “militant and muscular brand of spirituality patented by the Society of Jesus.”[30] It is in this regard that English Catholicism was, in Bossy’s model, reborn after the English Reformation.

It is precisely this practice of domestic monasticism where the nature of control discussed by Rowlands truly hinges. As discussed above, the practice of harboring priests changed the nature of devotion and the structures of traditional religious authority through mutual reliance and personalized study of religious texts. In particular, many women began to study with the guidance of their clerical boarders. This practice of spiritual guidance was not an invention of the Reformation nor was it unique to England, but what is unique is the domestic setting of this guidance, the focus on the laity, and the mission of the advisors. Ellen Macek confronts the issue of spiritual direction and reads from the examples of Dorothy Lawson, Wary Ward, and Margaret Clitherow a determined sense of personal faith, female agency and “confessional identity.”[31] Macek’s focus is primarily on the devotee’s upending of the traditional gender structure of Early Modern life. The examples that Macek provides make this point well. Margaret Clitherow was an adult convert to Catholicism and her personal faith went against her husband’s wishes. Her devotion and spiritual journey were recorded by one of her spiritual directors, John Mush, and emphasizes her devotion to her adopted faith. According to Macek, Clitherow feared that her efforts were not great enough to please God and submitted fully to her advisors who in-turn supported and coached her efforts.[32]

Macek discusses Clitherow’s dedication in the context of subverting state authority and marital conventions. Clitherow was the wife of a butcher and did not have the means to support a missionary or Marian priest with the same level of comfort or safety as a devout women Catholic of the gentry. While the examples that Macek provides illuminates one aspect of normative subversion, her analysis ignores the question of religious control that Rowlands posits some years earlier. Macek provides some quotations from Mush that hint at the duel nature of control in interesting, but ultimately unanalyzed ways. As an example, Mush pushes Clitherow further in her studies despite her husband’s protestations, and convinces her that her duty is to God and that she does not need to differ to her husband for permission to carry out her religious mission.[33] This is a very interesting, but unexamined aspect of Macek’s argument that if using Rowland’s reading illustrates the spiritual director’s assertion of intellectual, bodily, and spiritual control over Clitherow; a control that led to her imprisonment, execution, and martyrdom.

In Peter Lake and Michael Questier’s book, The Trials of Margaret Clitherow: Persecution, Martyrdom and the Politics of Sanctity in Elizabethan England, more nuanced analysis is given to the nature of priestly control, male privilege, unease about rumored sexual impropriety with the priests, the domestic aspect of Clitherow’s religious education, zealotry, and Clitherow’s place within the “radicalization” of post-Reformation English Catholicism.[34] Lake and Questier’s account places Margaret Clitherow in a less favorable light than Macek’s and call her unwillingness to cooperate with the state aggressively passive.[35] Their reading of the events leading up to Clitherow’s imprisonment and execution due to refusal to comply with what amounted to official acknowledgement of the illegality of Catholicism is that her death was avoidable, but also perhaps inevitable given the state of English Catholics following the Acts of Supremacy and the subsequent excommunication of the Queen and her subjects by Pope Pius V.  They attribute the zealotry that Clitherow displayed to an increasing sense of Catholic radicalization and a vigorous Catholic dissent in the North of England which resulted under Elizabeth in the failed 1569 Rising of the North as well as various plots which made English Catholics, in the words of Susan Brigden, “potential enemies of the realm: traitors within.”[36] It was in the wake of this penultimate rebellion that the Jesuits— that familiar bogeyman of post-Tridentine Catholicism— made their presence known and began their work to stir the traditional but underground Catholic communities of the North which eventually led to the attempted assassination of the Stewart king James I with the Gunpowder Plot conspiracy. It is within this context that Lake and Questier discuss the seminary priest’s role in “radicalizing” recusant Catholics including Margaret Clitherow thus continuing John Bossy’s assertion that the Catholicism that developed as a result of being driven underground was altered by the influence of domestic priests and Jesuits.[37]

Martyrdom is an important aspect of this discussion and one that both plays into the notions of control and has been less often discussed in the Catholic context as Anne Dillon writes, “there was no Catholic equivalent of Foxe.”[38] Dillon builds on the work of previous historians of the Early Modern Catholic Communities and print culture. Dillon’s The Construction of Martyrdom in the English Catholic Community, 1535-1603 and expands the extent to which martyrs like Clitherow were used as propaganda by the seminary priests and the Jesuits. Dillon asserts that “martyrdom is a powerful symbol of persecution,” and that both Protestant and Catholic propagandists used printing to develop identities and solidify communities.[39] It is within this world of the powerfully influential images of martyrdom and Jesuit and priest distributed Catholic samizdat that Lake and Questier build their argument for the radicalization of the marginalized Catholic communities. An example of both the strategic use of the Martyr to rally the support of Catholic Europe and supporters in Ireland and evidence that Elizabeth’s concerns about the intentions of the priests can be seen in the Theatrum crudelitatum haereticorum nostril tempris; the theatre of cruelties. This work was the extremely gruesome and explicit martyrology that catalogued the persecution of English Catholics leading up to and including the reign of Elizabeth.[40] Included in the Theatrum crudelitatum is a prominent depiction of the trial and violent execution of Margaret Clitherow. Additionally the martyrology includes depictions of the hanging, drawing, and quartering of Jesuits and seminary priests wrapped up with a rhetoric bow describing the status of Elizabeth as being “still queen.”[41] Both Lake and Questier and Dillon describe a world of strategic recruitment and radicalization of the formally privileged community lending to a perhaps darker interpretation of Bossy’s notion of a changed Catholic community following the incursions of the Jesuits and the seminary priests.

The example provided by Glyn Redworth of the Spanish missionary Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza provides a poignant example of the question of clerical control over the devout. Carvajal was born in post-Tridentine Spain and was brought to England by a group of Jesuits to work as a spiritual advisor and link to the larger Catholic world.[42] Religiosity surrounded Carvajal. As a girl, she read the grotesque accounts of Catholic persecution in the Theatre of Cruelties and was raised by an uncle whose religious devotion extended to the humiliation of the flesh; a fact that Redworth perhaps reads too much psychoanalysis into. The fact remains that Carvajal was groomed to infiltrate the English Catholic communities and work towards the reuniting of England with Rome. Redworth is not as coy about his wanting to point to the Jesuits as an agent of control in Carvajal’s missionary zeal. Describing her decision to travel to England as one “undoubtedly influenced by men of the cloth,” Redworth continues by describing these men of the cloth as a “huddle of priests, usually Jesuits, who had little desire to see mutual toleration take root among the Protestant and Catholic countries of Europe.”[43] Importantly Redworth explicitly raises the question about the extent to which Carvajal could determine her own destiny in what he describes as a “hothouse world of fanaticism.”[44]

For all the evidence of clerical power and the omnipresent caricature of the scheming Jesuit, there is an important counter example in Mary Ward, a woman who concerned both Protestant and Catholic officials with her Ratio Instituti; a plan to educate her female spiritual advisors in Europe and reimport them back to England with the goal of reestablishing Catholicism as the majority religion. In Lowell Gallagher’s writing about Ward, she describes what was “innovative and unorthodox was Ward’s approach to the conceptual boundary maintaining distinctions between male and female agency and vocation in the cultivation of an engaged and informed Christian social practice,” thus taking what was a male practice of spiritual direction and developing a series of institutes for teaching women many of the same practices.[45] Additionally Gallagher highlights that Ward’s institutes differed greatly from other religious orders for women in that her institutes were not placed under the local church control and therefore was based on the Jesuit model of localized internal —and importantly female— control. Thus using the Jesuit model, Ward’s “Jesuitresses” would read and perform “Ignatian exercises and Salesian devotions” and read other devotional literature like the Imitatio Thomas à Kempis thus as Gallagher posits, performing a pattern of typological imitation of Christ in much the same vein as the Society of Jesus and other Early Modern Catholic orders.[46] But in so doing subverting religious hierarchy, state security concerns, and societal gender normativity. Gallagher challenges the notions of typical male control with the example of Mary Ward’s Jesuitresses and asks the counter question to the concerns of Lake and Questier, Dillon, and Redworth through the paraphrasing of both Protestant and Catholic literature condemning Ward’s institutes: “What is more dangerous than a Jesuit? A Jesuitress.”[47]

Whether through what Alexandra Walsham describes as the “moral panic” over the Jesuits infiltrating the homes of recusant Catholics; or the amount of intellectual and religious control exerted by spiritual advisors or “ghostly fathers” in the religious education of lay women; or as seen with the example of Mary Ward, women taking control of their spiritual education, it is clear that the shifts towards both domestic personal faith and radicalization changed the nature of Catholicism in England between the Elizabethan Acts of Suppression and the end of the English Civil War.[48] The ever expanding historiography of The Early Modern Catholic Community owes much to historian John Bossy whose thesis ran counter to the standard narrative of continued tradition and more closely adhered to the larger narratives of post-Tridentine global Catholicism. With the focus on change, historians have been able to investigate multiple avenues of historical methodology in trying to further understand the diversity and complexity of the Catholic communities in the reigns of Elizabeth and the Stewart kings. The study of Early Modern Catholic communities has evolved as methodological advances in alternate historical methods have gained ground in acceptability. Starting first with the readings in local history with Aveling and Manning, then moving to social interests with a sensitivity to social science methods with Bossy, to a focus on women and gendered history starting with Latz and Rowlands, the continued advances in the understanding of the Early Modern English Catholics is correlated with the ongoing expansion of spotlighted communities in history more broadly. With the current interest in the history of childhood and families, I would hope to see further investigation into the lives of the non-elite families of the Early Modern English Catholic Communities. Lucy Underwood has started the trend in this direction with her excellent Childhood, Youth and Religious Dissent in Post-Reformation England, but at present the focus is largely centered on the recusant gentry families previous investigated in both the early studies of the Catholic communities and the focus on the women faithful in these families. This is due primarily to the nature of the available evidence which hinges around the records generated by the recusant writers, priests and Jesuits engaged with the active practice of religion. Taking from Eamon Duffy’s The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village, a focused analysis of communities caught in the liminal spaces between faiths and the connection with the issues of folk-myths, childhood education, children’s games, songs, and poetry could illuminate the English Catholic world beyond the priests and the gentry.



Aveling, Hugh. Northern Catholics: The Catholic Recusants of the North Riding of Yorkshire,1558-1790. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966.

Bossy, John. “The Character of Elizabethan Catholicism.” Past & Present 21, no. April (1962): 39–59.

———. The English Catholic Community, 1570-1850. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Brigden, Susan. New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors, 1485-1603. London: Penguin, 2000.

Dillon, Anne. The Construction of Martyrdom in the English Catholic Community, 1535-1603. Burlington: Ashgate, 2002.

Duffy, Eamon. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England C. 1400-C. 1580. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

———. The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Gallagher, Lowell. “Mary Ward’s ‘Jesuitresses’ and the Construction of a Typological Community.” In Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England, edited by Susan Frye and Karen Robertson, 199–217. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

———. “Mary Ward’s ‘Jesuitresses’ and the Construction of a Typological Community.” In Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England, edited by Susan Frye and Karen Robertson, 199–217. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Haigh, Christopher. “Monopoly to Minority: Catholicism in Early Modern England.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 31 (1981): 129–47.

———. “The Fall of a Church or the Rise of a Sect? Post-Reformation Catholicism in England.” The Historical Journal 21, no. 1 (1978): 181–86.

Hill, Christopher. The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. London: Penguin, 1975.

Latz, Dorothy. “Glow-Worm Light:” Writings of 17th Century English Recusant Women from Original Manuscripts. Salzburg, Austria: Institut Fur Anglistik und Amerikanistik Universitat Salzburg, 1989.

Levin, Carole. The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

Macek, Ellen. “‘Ghostly Fathers’ and Their ‘Virtuous Daughters’: The Role of Spiritual Direction in the Lives of Three Early Modern English Women.” The Catholic Historical Review 90, no. 2 (2004): 213–35.

Manning, Roger B. Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex: A Study of the Enforcement of the Religious Settlement, 1558-1603. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1969.

Marshall, William. “Recusants.” In The Oxford Companion to British History, edited by John Cannon, 791. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

McGrath, Patrick, and Joy Rowe. “The Elizabethan Priests: Their Harbourers and Helpers.” Recusant History 19, no. 3 (1989): 209–33.

Redworth, Glyn. The She-Apostle: The Extraordinary Life and Death of Luisa de Carvajal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Rowlands, Marie B. “Recusant Women, 1560-1640.” In Women in English Society 1500-1800, edited by Mary Prior, 149–80. London: Methuen, 1985.

Walsham, Alexandra. “‘Domme Preachers’? Post-Reformation English Catholicism and the Culture of Print.” Past & Present 168, no. 1 (2000): 72–123.

———. “‘This Newe Army of Satan’: The Jesuit Mission and the Formation of Public Opinion in Elizabethan England.” In Moral Panics, the Media and the Law in Early Modern England, 41–61. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009.




[1] Hugh Aveling, Northern Catholics: The Catholic Recusants of the North Riding of Yorkshire, 1558-1790 (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966), 7-9.

[2] Aveling, Northern Catholics, 11.

[3] Ibid, 11.

[4] Ibid, 88.

[5] Roger B. Manning, Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex: A Study of the Enforcement of the Religious Settlement, 1558-1603 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1969), 165.

[6] John Bossy, “The Character of Elizabethan Catholicism,” Past & Present 21 (1962): 40.

[7] Ibid, 50-57.

[8] Ibid, 44.

[9] John Bossy, The English Catholic Community, 1570-1850, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 6.

[10] Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (London: Penguin, 1972), 14.

[11] Bossy, The English Catholic Community, 5.

[12] Ibid, 5.

[13] Ibid, 7.

[14] Christopher Haigh, “The Fall of a Church or the Rise of a Sect?: Post-Reformation Catholicism in England,” The Historical Journal, 21 (1), 1978, 181-186.

[15] Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Alters: Traditional Religion in England c. 1400- c. 1580 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 16.

[16] Duffy, The Stripping of the Alters, 52.

[17] Duffy, The Stripping of the Alters, 54.

[18] Ibid, 78.

[19] Christopher Haigh, “From Monopoly to Minority: Catholicism in Early Modern England,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 31 (1981): 132.

[20] Carole Levin, The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), 14.

[21] William M. Marshall, “Recusants,” in The Oxford Companion to British History, ed. John Cannon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 791.

[22] Patrick McGrath and Joy Rowe, “The Elizabethan Priests: Their Harbourers and Helpers,” Recusant History 19:3 (1989): 210-214.

[23] Marie B. Rowlands, “Recusant Women, 1560-1640,” in Women in English Society, 1500-1800 (London: Methuen, 1985), 149-150.

[24] Rowlands, “Recusant Women, 1560-1640,” 150.

[25] Ibid, 157.

[26] Ibid, 157.

[27] Rowlands, “Recusant Women, 1560-1640,” 149.

[28] Dorothy L. Latz, “Glow-Worm Light”: Writings of 17th Century English Recusant Women from Original Manuscripts (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Salzburg, 1989), 11.

[29] Alexandra Walsham, “’Domme Preachers?’: Post-Reformation English Catholicism and the Culture of Print,” Past & Present, 168:1 (2000): 109.

[30] Ibid, 168.

[31] Ellen A. Macek, “’Ghostly Fathers’ and their ‘Virtuous Daughters’: The Role of Spiritual Direction in the Lives of Three Early Modern English Women,” The Catholic Historical Review, 90:2 (2004): 214.

[32] Macek, “’Ghostly Fathers’ and their ‘Virtuous Daughters,’” 218.

[33] Ibid, 219.

[34] Peter Lake and Michael Questier, The Trials of Margaret Clitherow: Persecution, Martyrdom and the Politics of Sanctity in Elizabethan England, (London: Continuum, 2011), 12.

[35]Lake and Questier, The Trials of Margaret Clitherow, 195.

[36] Susan Brigden, New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors, 1485-1603 (New York: Penguin, 2000), 237.

[37] Lake and Questier, The Trials of Margaret Clitherow, 23-28.

[38] Anne Dillon, The Construction of Martyrdom in the English Catholic Community, 1535-1603, (Burlington: Ashgate, 2002), 7.

[39] Ibid, 4.

[40] Ibid, 243-246.

[41] Ibid, 273.

[42] Glyn Redworth, The She-Apostle: The Extraordinary Life and Death of Luisa de Carvajal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 2-7.

[43] Ibid, 3.

[44] Ibid, 3-5.

[45] Lowell Gallagher, “Mary Ward’s ‘Jesuitresses’ and the Construction of a Typological Community,” in Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England, eds. Susan Frye and Karen Robertson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 200.

[46] Ibid, 212.

[47] Ibid, 205.

[48] Alexandra Walsham, “ ‘This Newe Army of Satan’: The Jesuit Mission and the Formation of Public Opinion in Elizabethan England,” in Moral Panics, the Media and the Law in Early Modern England (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009), 43.


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